6. Meeting Your Caloric Needs

Although you don’t have to think about calories 24/7, it is really helpful to understand approximately how many calories it takes for your body to function. This will, in turn, help you to estimate how much you need to reduce your intake of foods in order to lose weight. Once you establish your caloric needs, refer to that fabulous food intake table on the MyPyramid Web site. This can help you tremendously in establishing your personal plan of action. What are you waiting for? Get calculating—it’s fun! Knowing what you are up against is the first step and an important part of the battle.

Resting Metabolic Needs

To determine the number of calories you need to lose weight, you first need to estimate the number of calories you need to maintain your body weight—your body weight at its current level. First you must establish how many calories it takes to maintain your normal body functions at rest. This is referred to as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Once you determine this number, then you will be able to add additional calories to compensate for daily activities and needs for basic body functions. I’ll show you how. Start with this equation:

To determine your BMR, multiply your current weight by ten (for women) or eleven (for men).

A 150-pound woman has a BMR of 1,500. This is the approximate amount of energy (calories) that this individual needs at rest. (Although BMR is primarily calculated from kilogram weight, this formula will still provide you with an accurate estimate of your needs without converting weight to kilograms.)

Activity Needs

Because your body does more than just rest, and because you need energy (calories) to meet physical needs, you must further determine your activity needs.

To determine your activity needs do the following.

  • If you are mostly sedentary during the day (sitting, standing, reading, writing, and not doing much physical activity), multiply your BMR by 0.20.
  • If you are lightly active during the day (doing housework, playing with children, walking two miles or less during the course of the day), multiply your BMR by 0.30.
  • If you are somewhat active during the day (doing heavy housework or gardening, playing tennis, working out at a club, dancing), multiply your BMR by 0.40.
  • If you are very active during the day (working in construction, doing heavy labor, playing team sports regularly), multiply your BMR by 0.50.

So our lightly active, 150-pound woman, with a BMR of 1,500, would multiply 1,500 by 0.30. Her adjustment for activity needs would be 450. That means she needs 1,500 calories just to get by without any physical activity, but she needs another 450 calories on top of that to accommodate her activity. Her total BMR would be 1,500 plus 450, or 1,950 calories.

Basic Digestive/Absorption Needs

About 10 percent of your daily calories are needed to meet basic digestive/absorption functions. Take your total BMR (with activity factored in) times 0.10. So the woman from the last section, with a total BMR of 1,950, would multiply 1,950 by 0.10, to get 195. Add that to 1,950, and you see she needs 2,145 calories to maintain her current weight.

This formula is just a guideline for people to determine their approximate BMR. There are many factors that contribute to it as well. Besides gender differences, BMR is also affected by heredity and body composition.

7. It’s Not Always Your Fault

Cyndi’s Secrets

Metabolism is defined as all the work your body does that uses calories—the work needed to stay alive, think, breathe, and move. And your BMR is a result of your daily basal metabolic needs (about 60 to 70 percent), your daily activity needs (about 20 to 30 percent), and your daily digestion/absorption needs (about 10 percent).

Fast or slow metabolisms can be inherited. (Wouldn’t we all love to have a fast metabolism?) This is why some people stay thin throughout their life while eating whatever they desire, while others feel like the pounds just pile on. Your body composition is also a factor in determining your BMR. Some people’s bodies have more muscle, others more bone, while yet others have more fat. A person who is muscular and lean will have a higher metabolism than someone built with a larger amount of fat. Muscle burns more energy (calories) than fat does. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn. This is why it is so important to build those muscles throughout life.

Differences Between Men and Women

Women are prone to burning fewer calories than men. This is a fact. It’s because a woman’s body contains a higher percentage of fat than a man’s body. It may not seem fair, but, again, it is what it is. Men usually have 10 to 20 percent more muscle than women do, and therefore burn calories at a higher rate. Women’s bodies have increased fat stores to help them compensate for times of special need during their lives, such as during pregnancy and lactation.

Losing One Pound at a Time

Let me show you how many calories are necessary to begin to lose weight in a healthy manner. 3,500 calories equal one pound. To lose one pound, you need to decrease your caloric intake by 3,500 calories. You can see from the above example that it is not possible to put your body in a deficit of 3,500 calories within the course of a day or two. Decreasing your calories sufficiently by 500 calories per day you can lose one pound per week (500 calories multiplied by seven days equals 3,500 calories). The idea is to create a negative energy balance—consume fewer calories than you use up without sacrificing your other nutrient needs. This will allow for a weight loss of about one pound per week. If you want to lose fast this may seem too low for you. But this approach will help you to lose body fat (not muscle or water weight), incorporate a healthier food intake, and achieve permanent results. As you begin to lose weight, you can also increase your activity levels to burn even more calories. This will help burn more calories and guess what? You lose the weight faster.

8. Starting Over at Any Age

I don’t want to hear the age-old excuse—age—when it comes to your weight loss. Sure, you may have to adjust to normal changes in the body but you can do it. One obstacle when it comes to getting older is the decline of metabolic rate. There is an energy reduction of 3 to 5 percent that occurs each decade (after twenty-five to thirty years of age). This happens because of changes such as body composition and hormones. Bodies become less active. Muscle tissue declines. Body fat increases. With less overall muscle mass, fewer calories are burned for normal energy needs.

Cyndi’s Secrets

Unless you exercise regularly, your metabolism can decrease as much as 3 to 5 percent each decade during your adult life. So, no matter what your age, get a move on!

This does not have to be depressing. There are countless studies and examples of people living today who are in better shape now than when they were younger. Exercise and physical activity can help increase your muscle tissue to accelerate your metabolism and calorie needs. By working out your major muscle groups twice each week you can help replace a decade’s loss of muscle mass in several months. Wow! So lift those weights and build your strength to help reduce the aging process. It can make you feel younger and stronger and can improve your sex life, too.

Reasons for Weight Gain

People over twenty-five and up to sixty-five years of age often experience weight gain due in part to aging. However, even young people beginning a professional career just after high school or college often become more sedentary. Weight gain can creep up here and there until a few pounds turn into an overweight or obese condition.

As lifestyles become more affluent, so do higher standards of living, which can mean doing fewer chores. If you hire people to clean your house, cut your grass, or wash your cars, you may save yourself from doing the work but you burn fewer calories. People also eat out more often, enjoy social eating events, and spend more money on food overall. Each one of these can contribute to weight gain over the years.

Do People Have a Predetermined Weight?

You may notice that some people can maintain their weight without a great deal of effort while others fight to lose beyond a certain point. Many nutrition scientists believe in a theory often referred to as the set point theory.

A set point is a weight range that your body aims to maintain. It is based on your genetic and chemical makeup. Your body works hard to stay within a minimal range surrounding this set point. The body’s metabolism decreases when weight drops lower than its set point so weight loss is slow; on the contrary, it increases when weight rises above the set point. The body works hard to keep this balance. Set points are often noticed when comparing two people of the size height and same frame size. Even if these two people ate the same foods, they would not necessarily gain weight the same way or lose weight the same way. The weight they carry is dependent on their genetic makeup and ultimately on their set point. The set point theory can explain many mysteries surrounding weight reduction and dieting.


The energy needs of individuals are different. Yours are unique, too, based on various factors. Determining your particular needs can help you estimate a guideline within which to work. Body size, metabolism, age, gender, activity levels, and genetics all are factors in establishing one’s exact energy needs. Rather than focusing on a specific number, instead try to understand where your energy is coming from and how you can aim to properly meet individual food energy requirements. This can be much more effective in losing and maintaining your overall weight.

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