A calorie is technically defined as the “energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree”. Although that definition means absolutely nothing to most of us as we see “calories” as the thing that makes us gain weight! While it may be true that too many calories can lead to weight gain, there are many other factors that play a role in our body size. The diet industry has us convinced that to lose weight we can simply decrease the amount of calories we consume each day. While this may work in the short term, decreasing calories indefinitely is not a successful solution. Our body’s require a minimum amount of calories per day and when too little is consumed, it negatively effects the body. For example, when someone eats less than 1200 calories per day (the bare minimum for all adults) the metabolism slows down, fat is conserved, muscle is consumed and energy levels greatly decrease leading us to be sluggish and unmotivated to be active. Our bodies are so smart and they interpret this low calorie consumption as a state of deprivation which sends the body into survival mode. Our body will hang on to whatever nutrients it is getting and as a result and the weight will not come off, despite how little you are consuming!
So how many calories is enough to keep your body running optimally while still allowing you to get rid of the extra pounds you desire to shed? Honestly there is no one perfect answer to that question. You can google “how many calories per day” but many different equations, theories and personal opinions will pop up. However, none of them will work 100% for all people. Everyone’s body is so different and require different nutrients each day! The standard equation for calories is a good baseline, although it should never be used as an end all be all answer for your unique calorie needs! If you want to calculate it for yourself, go ahead, but I encourage you not to use that number as a set in stone amount. These formulas can give us a good idea of what to shoot for when counting calories, but in the end, your body should be the one to determine how much it needs!
According to the Center for Disease Control, an average female in the US is 5’4” and weighs 166.2 pounds, while the average male is 5’9.5” and weighs 195.5 pounds. Based on this data, the average female should consume a MINIMUM of 1484 calories per day and the male 1870 calories per day. This caloric amount is the least amount of calories that their body would need if they were in bed all day, just breathing and blinking! However, when daily activity is factored in, the caloric needs increase. For example, if both the female and male are moderately active during the day, they would need 2270 and 2899 calories per day, respectively. If they were trying to lose weight, say a pound per week, they would need to subtract 500 calories per day. Many people calculate these numbers (which are determined using only gender, age, height and weight) and try to eat that exact amount each day. Many people are soon disappointed though as they realize their weight isn’t changing and they are still unable to reach ultimate goal! Why isn’t the weight coming off when one decreases their calorie intake? Isn’t weight loss a simple calorie in versus calories out equation? Not quite.
Society has taught us that to lose weight we simply must eat less. I hate to break it to you, but it is not that easy! Our bodies are not machines and our needs can’t be calculated by specific calorie equations. Each day and moment our body’s wants and needs change! The calculated calorie equations don’t factor in our metabolism, muscle mass, sleep patterns, stress levels, daily routines, exercise type and many other things! So how do we know how many calories to eat? We tune in and listen to our body. Listen to your hunger signal and honor them as well as your fullness. These signals from the body are the one and only way to properly nourish our bodies and achieve optimal health and reach our body’s unique ideal weight.
When you listen to your body, you are able to sense when and what you are truly hungry for rather than following some doctored opinion of how and when you should eat. No google search, meal plan or doctor will ever be able to tell you exactly how you should eat for your unique body! I know it a tough concept to understand, but I promise you, your body is so much more knowledgeable than any outside source regarding how to nourish itself! I encourage you to stop allowing your brain to think it knows best and start trusting what your body is naturally made to do, which is to survive and thrive!
When you start listening to your hunger and fullness signals, you may find some days you eat more while on others you eat less. This is normal and natural! However, for people on strict calorie calculated plans, they are under the impression that each day must be the same. Some people even take it a step farther by calculating the ratio of carbs, protein and fats that they are “supposed” to have each day. But in real life, these ratios change daily! Once again, if you feel the need to calculate these values then go ahead. But please don’t obsess over meeting them perfectly! Your body will not be drastically changed by eating a little more or a little less some days but it will feel better (and you will be more sane) when you listen to your body’s needs rather than the calculators values.