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How to Calculate Your Caloric Needs and Lose Weight

Posted on 07/28/2015

Daily Calorie IntakeDetermining your individual caloric needs sounds almost as confusing as the most difficult problem you can think of, like solving the U.S. debt or finding world peace! 

Many people don’t understand how much food they need to eat to properly function -- it can be overwhelming and downright confusing. Going too low is dangerous and too high is bound to result in weight gain. It really is a balance of calories in versus calories out to properly maintain weight or fewer calories to lose weight

Here’s a way to better understand daily caloric needs, so you can find the right amount of calories you need more easily. 

First, a few “basics” to understand how it all works. 

What are Calories?

Calories are a way to measure energy. Energy is the food and drink you consume for fuel. The technical definition of a calorie is the amount of heat required to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius. While metabolism is the number of calories the body burns. 

What is Metabolism?

Metabolism essentially is the process in which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy.  Even during rest, such as sleep, your body needs energy to function. 

Activity level is everything you do to burn calories through your job, daily activities and of course, physical activity or exercise. 

Remember, caloric needs are personal and calculated using one’s age, weight, height, sex and activity level. 

What is Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)?

The amount of calories your body burns to maintain vital bodily functions such as organs and cells. This is determined at rest and on an empty stomach. It is the number when you wake up in the morning and didn’t move, this would be your BMR. It is impacted by one’s lean body mass and their total body mass, meaning the greater the mass you have, the higher your BMR. It accounts for the majority (60 to 70 percent) of all the calories burned. 

What does activity level have to do with caloric needs?

Activity level includes the amount of calories burned through your job, daily activities, physical activity and exercise, as well as recreation and the level you need to maintain, lose or gain weight. 

What are additional considerations for caloric needs?

There are a few other considerations one must take into account when it comes to determining caloric needs, such as “Non-Exercise Thermogenesis (NEAT)” and “Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).”

NEAT is the amount of calories one burns subconsciously though bodily movements like fidgeting and changing positions when one is sitting or through changes of posture and etc. 

TEF is the calories burned while one digests a meal and amounts to about 10 percent of caloric intake. Some foods require more calories to burn by simply eating them than others. Each macronutrient (meaning protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and alcohol calories have a different thermic effect: 

  • Fat: Contains 9 grams per gram and is simple to digest because the body keeps breaking down fat into smaller and smaller molecules. Fat consumed burns approximately 5 percent of the calories it contains.

  • Carbohydrates: Supplies 4 calories per gram and takes more effort to digest because of the complexity of glucose molecules it contains. Carbohydrates ingested burn approximately 10 percent of the calories they supply.

  • Protein: Contains 4 calories per gram and requires the most work of all micronutrients to digest because it’s made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles. Protein ingested burns approximately 25 percent of the calories it contains.

  • Alcohol: Consists of 7 calories per gram and burns approximately 20 percent of the calories ingested.

What is a macronutrient?

Macronutrient is protein, carbohydrates and fat. Each macronutrient provides a different amount of energy level ranging from 4 calories up to 9 calories per gram and is burned at different rates ranging from 5 percent up to as much as 25 percent (as noted above). 

How do I figure my daily caloric needs?

With the above information you are now ‘in the know’ about what goes into determining your daily caloric needs and have a basic understanding about it.

Now, the easy part, you can go to mayoclinic.com and go to the calorie calculator -- enter your information: age, sex, weight, height and activity level. This will show you what level you need to maintain your weight. If weight loss is desired, then you need to consume fewer calories in order to lose weight.

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post-author

Seattle Sutton, BSN, RN

She made healthy eating her mission in life long before anyone else did, in hopes of helping her own obese father. A registered nurse by training and entrepreneur at heart, she lives, eats and breathes everything about healthy eating and helping to improve people’s eating habits and overall health. She enjoys never having to bother with grocery shopping, cooking and counting calories. Her favorite SSHE meal, although it’s hard to pick just one, is the Potato Gnocchi with Basil Pesto Sauce.

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