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Can’t lose weight? Find out how many calories you really need

By Brierley Wright, August 5, 2010 - 11:05am

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I’ve never been the type of person that counts calories on a regular basis. For me, the “are my pants getting too tight?” method works well enough to let me know when I’ve been overeating. Everyone is different though—and for some, counting calories is the only way to keep their weight in check.

That said, when my pants are feeling a tad snug, I become more mindful of how many calories I’m eating and drinking versus how many I actually need. 

Most people will lose weight on a daily diet of 1,500 calories. (Find out what a 1,500 calorie day looks like in pictures here.)

If you want to be even more precise, this simple calculation will give you a daily calorie goal—and can help you lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Calculate your calorie goal:
YOUR CURRENT WEIGHT X 12 = calories needed to maintain your weight

• To lose 1 pound per week: Cut 500 calories/day
• To lose 2 pounds per week: Cut 1,000 calories/day

[Disclaimer: For healthy weight loss, EatingWell doesn't advise losing more than two pounds per week. If you calculate a daily calorie goal that's less than 1,200, set your calorie goal at 1,200 calories. Below that, it's hard to meet your nutrient needs—or feel satisfied enough to stick with a plan. This calculation is just a suggested starting point. It’s a formula that’s used in many clinical weight loss trials—and it assumes that the person using the equation is sedentary. If you're an active person and you're finding that your result (say 1,200 calories) is too low, bump it up gradually to one that feels satisfying to you. The point is not to starve yourself. Most people will lose weight on a 1,500 calorie diet, some on an even higher caloric level. The best gauge for whether you're at the right level is how satisfied you feel (you shouldn't be hungry all day!) and whether you're losing weight. If you're losing weight on 1,800 a day and you feel great, stick with that.]

Now that you know your calorie target, get creative and mix and match these breakfast, snack, lunch and dinner options to stay within—and stick to—your calorie goals:

Breakfasts for 300- to 350-calories
Snacks for 250 calories or less
325 to 400-calorie lunch ideas
500-calorie dinners ready in 30 minutes or less

People tend to underestimate calorie intake by 20 to 40 percent, so follow these foolproof tips to help combat “portion distortion” and make meeting your calorie goals even easier.

• Divide your plate. Imagine a dinner plate and divide it in half: fill one half with vegetables, fill one quarter with lean protein (fish, skinless poultry, lean beef, beans or tofu), fill the other quarter with a grain-based or starchy side dish, preferably a whole grain like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or a slice of whole-grain bread (as in the picture above). If you focus on making most of your meals look this way, you’ll automatically choose appropriate portions and follow sound nutrition guidelines.
Try it on for size. No need to whip out measuring cups every time you want to serve up the perfect portion. Just figure out how much your ladle holds, or how far up your bowl a serving a cereal reaches.
Choose tall, skinny glasses. People drink about 34 percent more from short, wide glasses than from tall, skinny ones. So when mixing cocktails or pouring a glass of juice, (think drinks that contain calories), forgo those shorter, fatter glasses for taller, slender ones.
Order the smaller portion. Obviously, the smaller sized option will have fewer calories, and research shows that people tend to eat, on average, 22 percent more when they’re offered a bigger portion of food.
Be wary of enticing menu names. Giving a menu item a fun name can make it more appealing. Wouldn’t you rather order the “Black Forest Double Chocolate Cake” than just the “Chocolate Cake”?
Eat delicious, satisfying meals. Studies show that people would rather have a dessert after a mediocre meal than after a really great one.

How do you keep your calorie intake in check? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Brierley Wright, Diet Blog, Diet, Weight loss

Brierley Wright
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.

Brierley asks: How do you keep your calorie intake in check?

Tell us what you think:

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