Before you can determine how many calories you need to consume in order to lose weight, you must know how many calories your body requires on a daily basis. While the USDA estimates the average caloric intake for women and men at 2,000 and 2,500, respectively, the calculations that determine your caloric intake involve more factors than just your gender. How much you weigh, your age and activity level determines how many calories your body needs.
Your body requires calories in order to do the most basic functions. Even sedentary people require a decent amount of calories. While calories might seem like the enemy for those trying to lose weight, in reality, calories are what make it possible for you to pursue your ideal weight. By consuming too few calories, you may not have the energy you need to get the body you want. Generally, it is recommended that you consume at least 1,200 calories per day. A better estimate is to figure your basal metabolic rate (BMR) to determine the minimum amount of calories you should eat to lose weight.
There are three factors that determine the total amount of calories your body needs each day: your BMR, activity level and the thermic effect of food. Your BMR is the minimum amount of calories your body needs at rest, to perform functions such as breathing and pumping blood. Determine your BMR using the following calculation: 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years). Men, however, use this calculation: 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years). You should not eat fewer calories than your BMR.
Types of Calories
Calories found in food come from fats, proteins and carbohydrates. One gram of protein or carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories, while 1g of fat is equal to 9 calories. The calories you consume should include a balance of each of the three types of calories. When dieting, it is particularly important to have a balanced meal, in order to provide your body with enough nutrients. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid suggests you consume about 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat, and 10 to 35 percent from proteins.
When to Eat
How often you eat is almost as important as what you eat. To maximize your metabolism, eat four to six small meals each day. Typically, breakfast and lunch should be your biggest meals of the day, when you still have a good portion left in the day to burn off the calories. As well, consume most of your fat earlier in the day, to avoid storing it on your body.
While dieting, be sure to pay close attention to everything you eat. Consider keeping a journal. Refer to online calculators that can help you determine how many calories are in the foods you eat, as well as the amount of calories you can burn doing certain activities. Look out for hidden calories, such as those found in drinks, oversized servings and extra snacks.