One of the most common questions we hear is “How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?” so we thought we’d try to tackle this question and explain why calories aren’t as important as most people trying to lose weight or diet would think they are.
Firstly, it helps to have a general understanding of what a calorie is. In the most basic definition, Calories are simply a unit that measures the amount of energy/heat it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. To people who study this type of thing it has great significance, but to most of us who just want to adopt a healthier lifestyle it is not so important.
A lot of diet programs and diet food manufacturers rely on counting calories as a means of losing weight. A program might be based on consuming between 1200-1800 calories per day. Nutritional data labels that you see on most food products are based on a 2000 calories diet, which is considered average for a health active adult.
Many foods have labels that say “only 100 calories!” or other types of claims that trick you into believing they are healthy for you and will help you to lose weight. In many cases, reducing the amount you eat can result in temporary weight gain – but unfortunately a lot of these types of plans and programs neglect two very important factors: nutrition and exercise. Many times they do not have adequate nutrients or may reduce portions to sizes so small they simply are not even filling. This leaves the dieter in most cases feeling hungry and possibly even irritable. They might count calories but they take no consideration into things like protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals or grams of sugar and fiber. You need a balanced diet in order to be healthy and the best way to do that is to eat a variety of foods – not restrict what you eat all because of the number on a box.
Another thing with these types of plans is that a lot of programs “recommend” exercise, but they don’t typically stress the importance of it enough. If you’re exercising, you’re burning calories – which makes it a heck of a lot easier to lose weight than if you’re just trying to not eat them.
Beyond possible nutrition deficiencies and lack of exercise there’s another very important reason you should be wary of a diet that is counting calories only: it’s a pain in the neck. And if your meal plans are a pain to figure out or stick to it’s likely you’re going to quickly give up or get sick of it. Life is pretty busy for most of us and I doubt too many of you have the time or the patience to go to a nutrition data website and look up the nutritional information for every single thing you plan on eating for that day.
Losing weight isn’t about counting or measuring. Yes, you do need to have awareness of these things but you don’t have to become obsessive with it. In fact, a lot of low calorie foods can actually be worse for you than ones that have higher calories. The perfect example? Whole grain bread versus refined grain bread. Whole grain bread has a few more calories. It also usually has more carbs. Sometimes it even might have fat. But do you know which one is better for you? Which one will help you lose weight more effectively? Which one is going to give you a healthier life? Yup – the whole grain bread, the one with all the extra calories.
If you’re asking how many calories should I eat to lose weight, the answer is pretty simple and will work for anybody, no matter what your correct weight for height or size is: it doesn’t matter.
What DOES matter is that each day you eat balanced sensible meals that incorporate all of the food groups AND exercise at least three times a week. If you do that, you’ll likely get the right number – without all of the grief.