How many calories a day should I consume?

  1. Do you ever wonder if you are eating the right number of calories each day? 
  2. Are you noticing that every year you put on a couple more pounds even though you are active and eat pretty well?  
  3. Have you ever noticed the phrase “Percentage Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet” on every nutrition label and wondered what that meant?

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A survey by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that women averaged consuming 1,600–2,000 calories a day, men averaged 2,000–3,000 calories, and children between 1,800–2,500 calories. Since that was too much information to put on small nutrition labels, the FDA proposed using a “standard” daily calorie intake of 2,350 calories a day. Nutrition educators and other experts were worried that recommending a 2,350 calorie a day intake was too high and would encourage overconsumption. The FDA then settled on an intake recommendation of 2,000 calories a day. That means that, in general, according to the FDA, it’s OK to consume 2,000 calories a day. It is simply a frame of reference. It’s a general statement which needs to be considered based on your own situation.

Gender, age and activity level have a tremendous impact on how many calories you can consume to maintain a healthy weight. 

So, who can actually eat 2,000 calories a day and maintain a healthy weight? Get ready for this:
A male, 25 years old, weighing 150 lbs., 5ʹ9ʺ tall, who does not exercise.
If he exercises 3 times a week, he can consume 2,307 calories a day and maintain a healthy weight. That is so NOT me. I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum. I’m older and female. 

So, how many calories do others really need a day to maintain or lose weight? Here’s the bad news.  The more we age, the less we need to eat. Our metabolisms slow down, and we just don’t need that much food. What we do eat needs to be the really good stuff.

Here is a very general breakdown of how many calories are recommended based on this set of criteria:
A female, 5ʹ5ʺ tall, weighing 130 lbs., who works out 3 times a week

At age 25
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,838 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,470 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss she can only consume 1,130 calories a day

At age 30
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,804 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,443 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,082 calories a day

At age 35
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,769 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,415 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,062 calories a day

At age 40
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,735 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,388 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,041 calories a day

At age 45
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,701 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,360 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,040 calories a day

At age 50
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,666 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,333 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,040 calories a day

At age 55
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,632 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,305 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,040 calories a day

At age 60
To maintain her weight, she can consume 1,597 calories a day
To lose fat, she needs to consume no more than 1,278 calories a day
For “extreme” fat loss, she can only consume 1,040 calories a day

These numbers will change depending on your height and weight but as you can see a 2,000 calorie a day intake is more than most women need. 

Based on this, what are some strategies for maintaining or losing weight?  

1) Start by understanding that you can’t “out-exercise” a bad diet. What you see when you step on a scale is 80% about your diet and 20% about your activity level. If you are eating the wrong foods, exercise won’t be able to compensate for it. You’d need to be working out for hours a day, everyday, which is not likely to be sustainable. Exercise has so many health benefits and can help maintain a healthy weight and improve your overall health, so don’t stop. If you aren’t active, do start, but understand that what you eat is a much bigger factor.

2) Try calorie counting. If you know that you can only consume 1500 calories a day in order maintain a healthy weight or to reduce fat, keep track of what you are eating. You’d be surprised how a bite here and there can add up. The first couple of days calorie counting will take you some time. Be patient and figure out how many calories are in all the things that you frequently eat. Write them down so it’s easier the next time you eat that same thing.  After about a week, you’ll have your own “food calorie library” as an easy reference. 

Don’t forget to include beverages. A sip here and there adds up too. (Here’s a tip: If you are really hungry and don’t feel like adding up the calories on what you are about to eat, eat something that’s on your list. You already know the calorie count for that item. Sometimes, the time it takes to calorie count can tip you over, and you’ll find yourself wolfing that piece of cake down before you know it.) In the beginning, this process takes a little time and some sound discipline, but it can be a real eye-opening experience.

3) Use tools to help you eat better overall. There are so many resources out there to help you eat well. The trick is to plan ahead. It’s easy to make good food choices when you have them available. If you are not a cook or a meal planner, use healthy meal planning websites to get you organized and moving in the right direction. If you are not a confident cook, look for easy, video recipes which are easy to learn from. A picture speaks a thousand words, and easy, healthy video recipes will get you up to speed in the kitchen in no time.

By understanding what your body really needs to be healthy and being aware of what and how much you are consuming, you can achieve your goals without feeling completely deprived or pressured to work out twice a day.  

It’s hard to eat well in America. In the land of plenty, we have plenty of things we can eat that are flat out bad for us. Take control of your food. Be committed to eating fresh ingredients, and stick with it. A resolution to change your eating habits is the first step, but discipline is what you’ll need to truly make those changes stick and become permanent lifestyle changes.

Eat well. Eat mindfully. Be happy. Enjoy good food!

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