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[This is another in our series on the How and Why of Eating Healthy.]
"Just what the heck is a calorie and what do I do with it?!" I hear this a lot from my patients and knowing the answer is the basis for success in eating well and losing weight.
The calorie is a unit of measure of energy, sort of like the watts on a light bulb. It takes more energy (watts) to burn a brighter bulb just as it takes more energy (calories) to climb the stairs than using the elevator.
But not everyone needs the same amount of calories. A 5 foot 4 inch woman needs far less fuel (calories) than a 6 foot 2 male. Think of this as the difference between a compact car and a big pick up truck. (The truck just gets fewer miles per gallon - and that's where that metaphor breaks down.)
So how many calories should you be eating to lose weight? It’s pretty simple really.
Take a look at this BMI table to see your Ideal Body Weight (that's the one listed under the heading of 22). Multiply your Ideal Body Weight by 11. Let’s say that your Ideal Body Weight is 145 pounds. You need about 1,600 calories each day for your body to function (145 x 11 = 1595). That's your baseline.
For most people it doesn’t take many extra calories each day to add on pounds (or lose them). Of everything that I’ll discuss with regard to weight loss, the most important thing for you to focus on is calories: more than fats, more than protein and more than carbs.
To lose about a half pound each week you need to eat 250 calories less than your baseline each day. So if you should weigh 145 lbs. you’ll need to eat about 1,350 calories per day to lose weight. You can burn those calories exercising - and should - but we’ll talk about that later.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
June 15, 2009
Last updated: 06/15/09