1,200… 1,400… 1,600… DO YOU EVEN KNOW?
By Kristi Romero
How many calories you should be consuming? Is your goal to shed some unwanted pounds? Maybe you read 1,200 to lose weight in a fitness magazine. Or maybe you heard your friend is eating 1,000 calories and it worked for her to drop 20lbs so you decide to try it too.
THE TRUTH IS…
How many calories are appropriate for you will differ compared to the girl next to you. Several pieces factor in, but the most important to determine how many calories are right for you will be: 1. your body weight and 2. Your goals. This article will focus on the goal of losing weight. I’ll lead you step by step on how to figure out how many calories are right for you and what those calories should consist of. By the end, you will be on your way to creating your own personal program to help you achieve your weight loss goals in a healthy and sustainable manner.
THE PLAN IS…
To begin, start with your body weight in pounds and multiply by 10-12 (BWx10, BWx11, or BWx12). I’m going to use an example of Kate who is a 150lb woman that would like to drop 15lbs. Take this number (150) and multiply by 10-12 to get your starting caloric point. Personally, I like to start off with a higher number of calories (BWx12, 150lbsx12= 1,800 calories), rather than lower (BWx10, 150lbsx10=1500 calories), so I have more room to work with as we continue on our weight loss program.
So, Kate is going to begin her weight loss program at 1,800 calories. You may be thinking that seems high for a weight loss program, but the key to remember is sustainability. If I start her out at a higher caloric set point, we have more room to work with during her journey. She will hit plateaus and her weight will stall, so at that point we can begin cutting her calories (I’ll explain more later).
Now that we have Kate’s caloric set point of 1,800 calories, we need to determine what those calories will consist of. These are called macronutrients or “macros” which are protein, carbs, and fats. I like to begin with protein as this vital macronutrient is essential in the building and repairing of bones, muscles, skin- all our tissues. Here’s where some math comes in, so follow along: generally for woman, anywhere from .8=1.2 grams/pound of body weight is ideal. I like to stay in the middle so I will start Kate with 150g of protein. There are 4 calories in every gram of protein, so of her 1,800 calories, 600 calories are made up of protein, meaning I have 1,200 calories left to work with.
Now that Kate knows how much protein to be taking, we’ll move on to carbohydrates. Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years, but they are actually very important for your brain and body as they are our main source of energy. Carbs also have 4 calories/ gram and I generally use the same .8-1.2g/ pound of body weight to determine how many carbs are appropriate. You can stay on the lower end if you are more sedentary throughout the day and/or like more fats in your diet or stay on the higher end if you have more of an active job and/or you enjoy more carbs versus fats. We’ll pretend Kate has a fairly active job and give her 1.2x150lbs= 180g carbs. So 180gx 4= 720 calories from carbs.
Our last (but certainly not least, especially for females) macro to factor in are fats. Fats are essential for survival and we want to have 20-35% of our total caloric intake coming from fats. In Kate’s example, we have 600 calories coming from protein, and 720 calories coming from carbohydrates, giving us a total of 1,320 calories used up so far (600 + 720= 1,320). If we take her set point of 1,800 and subtract 1,320 we are left with 480 calories to use for fats. There are 9 calories in every gram of fat so 480/9 leaves her with 53g of fat (27% of her total daily caloric intake).
SO NOW WHAT…
Here are Kate’s numbers:
Now that she has her plan in place she can begin tracking her foods very easily on her smart phone. If you have an iPhone, a great app for tracking is MyMacros+. My Fitness Pal works as well (I personally love MyMacros+). I generally suggest 80% of your diet come from whole, single ingredient, nutrient dense foods. But, if you are able to stay within your allotted macro’s and calories, you do have wiggle room (20%) to fit in some of your favorite treats to keep your weight loss journey sustainable and enjoyable.
IT IS A LIFESTYLE NOT A DIET
As I mentioned above, plateaus or stalls in your weight loss efforts will happen and is a part of the process. I recommend reassessing every 2 weeks, whether you are using the scale as a judge, taking photo’s (my personal favorite), or by the way your clothes fit (I recommend a combo of all 3… take a good look at yourself in the mirror or have someone else compare your photo’s). If your progress has stalled, decrease your calories by 10%. For Kate, once she reaches that first plateau, we would decrease her overall caloric intake of 180 calories (10% of 1,800), leaving her with 1,620 calories to work with. Generally you want to leave your protein numbers the same, so you would take those 180 calories from carbs and/or fats. Ex. we could take away 25g of carbs (100 calories) and 8.9g fat (80 calories), leaving her with 150g protein (the same), 155g carbs, and 44.1g fat. This is why I like to start off with a bit higher starting caloric set point so you have more room to work with. Once Kate reaches another plateau, again we would decrease her calories by 10%, taking them mainly from carbs and fats.
THE TAKE HOME
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of how to figure out how many calories are
right for you and what that number should consist of.
Some important points to remember is to be consistent, give it time, and trust the process. Follow your plan honestly for 2 weeks. If you see progress, even if it’s small, stay the course, go another 2 weeks, and reassess. Once you start to hit a wall in your progress, then begin to make small adjustments. Too much too soon may get your quicker results, but they will not be lasting results!
For help on finding ways to get your macronutrients:
Kristi Romero has been active in the health and fitness industry for over 10 years as a personal trainer, fitness competitor, nutritionist, and health coach. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Promotion and certifications with ACE and NASM. As a new mom, her passion for health and wellness has grown to specialize in women and children.
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