Weight Loss 101

One of the funniest things about reading weight loss articles and how to’s is the advice about whether to or not to count calories. Now, most of us know that calories are listed on the back of most products you can buy thanks to the handy nutritional label. But how does one count calories? And how does one know how many calories to eat in order to lose weight?

The magic number of calories you should eat is: non-existent person has different calorie needs and it’s necessary to identify what your personal caloric needs are before you can answer the question of how many calories you need to eat. The easiest solution is to burn more calories than you consume. This is the same solution you apply to any situation of supply and demand. Your supply should be lower than your demand, but you cannot just starve yourself either.

Now if you think that’s a contradiction in terms – it is and it isn’t. The body comes with some preset programming that includes taking care of itself during periods of famine. Famine causes the body’s metabolism to slow down dramatically. It needs to conserve every bit of fat that it can. That means a body in famine conditions can make 10 to 20 calories go the 100 to 200 calorie mile.

So why do people in countries of extreme famine seem so deeply underweight? Because they were likely never overweight to begin with. Yes, if you starve yourself long enough – chances are you will lose weight – but you will also lose muscle mass and do damage to your internal organs. None of these are good answers to weight loss 101.

How Many Calories Do You Eat Right Now?

Most people can handle weight maintenance. For example, what you eat right now probably maintains you at the weight you are now. So if you can figure out how many calories you are consuming in the moment to maintain the weight you are at. The way to do this is to use a simple formula called the Harris-Benedict principle. It assesses your basal metabolic rate.

The basal metabolic rate or BMR is what your body burns to function. For most of us, we use about 60 percent of the calories we consume each day to do things like breathe, eat and live. The are a lot of factors that influence our BMR including our sex, our weight, our height and our age. Here is how you figure out what your BMR is:

For Women:
655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years) = BMR

So if you are 35, weigh 180 pounds and stand 65 inches tall, your BMR would be:

655+ (4.35 x 180) + (4.7 x 65) – (4.7 x 35) = BMR

655 + 783 + 305.5 – 164.5 = BMR

1579 = BMR

Now, that’s just step one. For men the formula is a bit different:
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)

So the second step to figuring out your calorie counting and BMR is:

Multiply your daily activity and caloric output versus your BMR.

  • Sedentary = BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly Active = BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately Active = BMR x 1.55
  • Very Active = BMR x 1.725
  • Athletic = BMR x 1.9

So let’s say our 35 year old woman is lightly active: 2172 is the answer to how many calories you are taking in at your level of activity in order to maintain your current weight. So to create your caloric deficit to lose weight, you need to burn an extra 500 calories a day, you can lose about a pound a week.

You can do this by burning 250 calories extra in exercise and cutting back 250 calories per day from the diet. You can push this up to burning 500 calories a day in exercise and cutting back 500 calories out of your diet per day. This puts you in a target goal of losing .5 to 2 pounds for week.

Does your head hurt?

This may seem pretty complicated, but once you have worked through the formula once – you have the basis for working up a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise designed to get you to your target weight. What methods work for you?

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About Heather Long

Heather Long is 35 years old and currently lives in Wylie, Texas. She has been a freelance writer for six years. Her husband and she met while working together at America Online over ten years ago. They have a beautiful daughter who just turned five years old. She is learning to read and preparing for kindergarten in the fall. An author of more than 300 articles and 500+ web copy pieces, Heather has also written three books as a ghostwriter. Empty Canoe Publishing accepted a novel of her own. A former horse breeder, Heather used to get most of her exercise outside. In late 2004, early 2005 Heather started studying fitness full time in order to get herself back into shape. Heather worked with a personal trainer for six months and works out regularly. She enjoys shaking up her routine and checking out new exercises. Her current favorites are the treadmill (she walks up to 90 minutes daily) and doing yoga for stretching. She also performs strength training two to three times a week. Her goals include performing in a marathon such as the Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness or Team in Training for Lymphoma research. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience through the fitness and marriage blogs.