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One pound is equivalent to 3,500 calories.
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Losing weight can be one of the most frustrating challenges that we face in our daily lives, but it doesn't have to be. Cutting calories is necessary for any weight loss plan, but if you drop too low you can either become ill or send your body into starvation mode where it holds on even more stubbornly to the calories you do consume. Choosing the right number of calories and the right type will help you achieve your weight loss goal without having to starve yourself.
How big of a calorie deficit you need depends on your age, activity level, how much weight you need to lose and how quickly. Generally, a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day is recommended.
Understanding What Calories Are
Calories aren't little evil things seeking to sabotage your diet. They are nothing more than a unit of measurement, the same way a pound is, or a centimeter. In this case, 1 calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water to 1 degree Celsius. If all calories were the same, dieting would be snap, but they are not.
All calories are made up of carbohydrates, protein or fat, each of which has a different effect on your body. So, what kind of calories you eat is even more important than how many.
Calories that are mostly from carbohydrates can either be harmful or useful. Refined sugar and processed flour don't offer your body any appreciable nutritional benefit. If the carbs contain no fiber they are processed so quickly that they can cause an unhealthy spike in your blood sugar, which provokes an insulin response from your pancreas. Carbs loaded with fiber are processed more slowly, so they keep you full for longer and also support regular elimination.
Protein and fats work the same way. The lean protein in chicken or fish offers a healthy protein to fat ratio, allowing your body to use most of the calories for energy rather than storing them. The ratio of protein to fat in a double chili cheeseburger with bacon is not balanced nearly as well.
When planning your meals, center your diet around fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats such as those found in fish and avocados. Learn appropriate portion sizes and it won't take long to make counting your calories a simple, automatic task.
Figuring Out Your Basic Caloric Needs
The general recommendation for caloric intake to facilitate weight loss is to stay between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day if you are a woman and between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day if you are a man. This would be fine if all women were the same size and age as each other and so were all men. It makes no sense when some women are tall, muscular 22-year-olds who sit all day and others are short, round 45-year-olds who run three times per week.
It is necessary to calculate how many calories you need just to function so that you know how many calories you can safely cut out of your diet. This is called your basal metabolic rate, or BMR and the Harris Benedict formula helps you calculate it. The formula looks like this, with W=weight in kilograms, H=height in centimeters and A=age:
- Men: BMR=66.47+ (13.75 x W) + (5.0 x H) - (6.75 x A)
- Women: BMR=665.09 + (9.56 x W) + (1.84 x H) - (4.67 x A)
Fortunately, there are dozens of online calculators which will do the math for you. You can also just multiply your weight in pounds by 10 if you are a woman and by 11 if you are man, which will not be as accurate but will be enough to get you started without having to take night classes in algebra.
Once you have figured out your BMR, multiply it by 1.2 if you are mostly sedentary, 1.55 if you are moderately active and 1.9 if you are an athlete.
Once you have that final number, subtract 500 calories. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, so a deficit of 500 calories per day should help you lose 1 pound per week. If your total caloric needs are above 3,000 calories per day, you can try a deficit of 1,000 calories as long as it doesn't cause extreme hunger pangs or fatigue. If your calorie needs are fewer, try cutting only 250 per day.
Adding regular aerobic exercise and weight workouts will help you burn calories even faster.