Friday, May 9, 2008

Counting Calories for Weight Loss

healthy weight-lossAs the awareness for staying healthy and fit increases day by day, more and more people are looking towards ways to achieve healthy weight loss, and the most important step in doing so is to count your calories and create a deficit or increase to achieve your target healthy weight. No matter how much time you spend at the gym, if you consume more calories than you burn, you'll never lose weight. But as daunting as it may sound, there's a formula to measure how many calories you should eat based on your BMR(Basic Metabolic Rate), and its advisable to choose a good diet and fitness plan based on this figure so that your weight-loss plan is more meaningful and successful. (img credit)

What is BMR(Basic Metabolic Rate) and how to Calculate it?
BMR is the amount of energy your body needs to function. We use about 60% of the calories we consume each day for basic bodily functions, and this number is based on your height, weight, age and sex. There's a general formula that can be used for adults to calculate your BMR:

Adult Women
BMR= 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

Adult Men
BMR= 66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Activity Factor
Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Mod. active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)
Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)
Extr. active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job)

Maintenance Calorie Level = BMR x Activity Factor

Calorie Deficit to Lose Weight = 15%-20% of Maintenance Calorie Level

How Many Calories Do I need?
Depending on your physique and work, the above number indicates the amount of calories you can eat every day to maintain your current weight and work demands. In order to lose or gain weight, you'll need to take in fewer or more calories than this number. Keep re-assesing your new BMR as you see a change in your weight, then re-calculate your calorie target accordingly. But remember, there's always a minimum calorie threshold that you should meet so your body can function without feeling weak. Dropping down to a very low calorie intake can make you anorexic! You will lose weight very fast, but that is NOT Recommended. Do not cut back to fewer than 1,200 daily calories for women or 1800 calories for men without medical supervision, as it can lead to serious health problems. There are several online calorie-counting tools to estimate how many calories are there in your food. Use these or consult a nutritionist to get a rought estimate of your daily intake and decide how to plan your diet to meet the calorie target.

Creating a Calorie Deficit for Healthy Weight Loss
The basic law says that 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound. So, if you create a deficit of 500 calories a day, you should be able to lose about one pound per week. But this deficit can be created by a combination of cutting back on food and burning the remaining calories by working out (such as cut back 250 calories in food & burn an extra 250 calories in the gym). However, keep in mind that Muscle weighs more than Fat. So when you do strength-training, you may see that your weight increases, but that's actually your fat being converted into muscle, which is good, nothing to worry about. Even when your weight increases, you'll lose inches and be more toned than before.

Example:
Your BMR is 1339 calories per day
Your activity level is moderately active (work out 3-4 times per week)
Your activity factor is 1.55
Your MCL = 1.55 X 1339 = 2075 calories/day
Target Calories for weight loss = 2075 - (15% of 2075) = 1764

The easiest ways to cut calories from your food is by using simple substitutions. Leave out the condiments, use skimmed-milk instead of whole, wheat-grain instead of all-purpose flour, eliminate all white foods(cakes, cookies, muffins), cut back on sugar and sodas, and stuff yourself with vegetables,fruits and lean meat. Space your meals correctly, and you won't even feel like you are dieting!

Rapid Weight Loss is not Healthy Weight Loss
A healthy weight loss goal is to lose 0.5 to 2 pounds per week. Losing more than 2 pounds per week will mean the weight is less likely to stay off permanently. Its easy to stop eating for a week and see your weight drop 5 pounds drastically, but as soon as you start eating again, those pounds will come back, much faster than you expect, and you'll have more fat in your body, which in turn will be harder to burn! So stick with a target of losing maximum 2 pounds (or 1000 calories deficit daily) a week. As you can see, this by itself is a difficult goal to achieve! But keep a diary of your progress, re-evaluate your goals every month, and change your calorie target accordingly.

Achieving healthy weight-loss by counting and cutting back on calories is not something that should scare you. Just by understanding how the calorie-counting works, and then defining your diet and exercise regime accordingly can help you maintain a healthy body, and you'll feel happy and satisfied as your weight loss will be permanent. Hope these tips guide you in achieving your target weight-loss!

Disclaimer: Please consult your doctor or nutritionist before changing your diet or starting a new exercise regime.

Similar Articles:
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Foods that Fight Bad Cholesterol
How to Combine Cardio with Strength-Training

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