We hear over and over that calories in should equal calories out in order for us to maintain our weight.
Do we even know how many calories our bodies need right now, how many they need to lose a pound a week or to maintain our weight once we achieve the number we desire?
Probably not. And how does our physical activity on any given day impact how much we should eat? Will it change the amount one way or another?
Most people who want to lose a few pounds — or many pounds — for their health (or to feel more comfortable in their clothes or feel better about the way they look) understand that they need to pay attention to their overall intake.
What you eat and how much of it, even if it is all healthy food, will affect your weight.
How Much Do You Really Need?
Some healthcare professionals may tell us not to worry about calories, that there is no need to count calories anymore, and that we should just eat a balanced meal and exercise to be healthy.
To a degree that is absolutely true. We shouldn’t have to walk around with calculators trying to count every single calorie, but it is important to know how much our bodies need versus how much we are actually eating to give us valuable information to form goals and shape our plans.
It is helpful to read food labels and now restaurant menu boards to be aware of exactly how many calories are in each serving of the foods we choose in order to make informed decisions about what we choose to eat. We don’t need to memorize each food, just increase our awareness of the foods we routinely eat.
Some people think eating salads at dinner every night will help them lose weight. That is not going to be enough to reach your weight loss goals because we tend to pour on the toppings almost mindlessly without considering what they are contributing.
Just think of the calories in the beverages people drink throughout the day for a pick me up without realizing their nutritional content!
What about buying weight loss supplements, appetite suppressants, green tea, herbal remedies, shakes, or other remedies that are likely ineffective and may even be dangerous? Small changes in the amount and choice of the foods they eat may be enough to achieve weight loss goals without putting your health and pocketbook at risk.
At some point, we need to know that we are putting excess energy in the form of food calories into our bodies every day and won’t be able to achieve our goals until we take the necessary steps to achieve energy balance.
There are ways to make calculations, using your current weight and height, to determine how many calories you need to maintain it as well as to lose weight. The easiest way is to use a fitness wearable that helps track not only your steps each day, but also your intake, weight, and calorie needs based on the data you input.
You can also calculate your estimated daily calorie need at your current and goal weight using this handy calculator from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) based on the Dietary Reference Intakes. It will also calculate your BMI (body mass index) and provide you with a diet guideline to help you plan your personal nutritional intake.
Cut 500 Calories a Day
Most calculators you use will give you data based on your current weight with recommendations to reduce your daily intake by 500 calories in order to achieve a one pound per week loss.
In order to cut out 500 calories a day, you could:
- Choose non-caloric beverages. Eliminate soda, juice, smoothies, and lattes that are loaded with calories. You can save anywhere from 150-500 calories per drink you avoid. Drink enough water to keep you full and well hydrated.
- Use a plate. Sounds simple but many of us eat out of the snack box, sitting or standing, and don’t realize until it is too late how much we’ve eaten. Sit at a table and use a plate or bowl to ensure you eat a measured amount and really enjoy what you eat.
- Pass up the second helpings. Fill your plate with a variety of foods in appropriate portion sizes. Put the fork down between bites. Alternate a bite with a sip of water. Converse with your dinner partners. These actions will give you time to listen to your fullness cues and realize a second helping isn’t needed or wanted. This could save up to 500 calories each meal (or more depending on the portions).
- Switch up your snacks. If you tend to search for an afternoon or evening snack, pick one that is lower in calories. How about popcorn instead of potato chips, fruit instead of candy, or veggies and dip instead of carrot cake? Removing temptation and keeping healthier snacks on hand will make this easier.
- Renovate your recipes to substitute lower calorie ingredients in your family favorites. Applesauce instead of oil, yogurt instead of sour cream, or roasting instead of frying will all save calories without skimping on favorites. Check out my Recipe Renovation® section for some ideas or check out my cookbook.
- Avoid fried and fast food choices. Skip the French fries by selecting fresh fruit cup, apple slices, or a baked potato. Try grilled chicken instead of fried. Side (or dinner) salads with dressing on the side are available. At home, use other cooking techniques, such as stir fry, grilling, roasting, or poaching, to reduce what you eat by 500 calories.
- Take a walk. Is there a high calorie food you eat all the time that needs to be replaced? Do you eat a donut at work or an ice cream cone with the kids? Just walk away – take a walk, find an healthy alternate or bring one with you so you can join the fun without the calories.
- Doggie bag it as soon as the meal arrives. When eating out, put half of your served portion immediately in a doggie bag to bring home for the next day. If you wait until everyone is finished, you may have eaten more than anticipated. Removing it from the plate removes the temptation.
- Be mindful. Observe what you normally eat and find ways to change one thing each meal to reduce calories. Don’t add the mayonnaise or butter, don’t finish what the kids left, enjoy the company not the calories, skip the cocktail, and take your time eating. Eat to live, don’t live to eat!
- Increase your exercise. Energy balance is the goal. It isn’t that hard to cut out 500 calories a day for most of us, but increasing exercise by walking up the stairs, parking further away, walking the dog a little farther, or playing with the kids also helps achieve a healthier energy balance. Only 1 in 4 adults do the recommended amount of physical activity!
You got this!