Cut your weight-maintenance calories to take off the pounds
DEAR DOCTOR K:
I'm trying to lose weight. How can I figure out how many calories I should be eating every day?
Since your weight is influenced both by the number of calories you eat and by the number of calories you burn during your daily activities, let's assume that your daily activities won't change.
To figure out how many calories you should consume each day to lose weight, you first need to know how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. The math is simple.
First, multiply your current weight by 15. This calculation tells you the number of calories per day you need to maintain your current weight (weight-maintenance calories).
Let's say you weigh 155 pounds. If you multiply 155 by 15, you get 2,325, which is your weight-maintenance calorie total. To lose weight, you'll need to reduce your daily calories below that.
To lose 1 to 2 pounds a week -- a rate that experts consider safe -- you should consume 500 to 1,000 fewer calories per day than your total weight-maintenance calories. That means you need to eat between 1,325 calories per day (2,325 less 1,000) to 1,825 calories per day (2,325 less 500).
However, don't consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman or fewer than 1,500 calories per day if you're a man, except under the supervision of your doctor. Eating too few calories can endanger your health by depriving you of needed nutrients.
You can find calorie information on the nutrition labels on all packaged foods and beverages and in a number of books and websites. When straight calorie counting is impractical:
-- Eat foods that are filling and low in calories.
-- When you eat meat, cut out fat and cut down portion size.
-- Avoid fried foods.
-- Use low-fat or non-fat dairy foods.
-- Avoid fast foods.
-- Avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks.
-- Avoid regular (non-diet) sodas, fruit juices and alcoholic beverages.
Also, try smaller portion sizes. When you're cooking at home, that's easy enough. When you go to restaurants, consider splitting one main course and one or two appetizers with your dinner companion. Also, eat slower. If you take 20 to 30 minutes to eat a smaller-than-normal portion, you're less likely to feel hungry than if you eat it in 10 to 20 minutes. That's because it takes about 20 minutes after starting a meal for your brain to get the "enough" signal from your stomach.
For more information on losing weight, read "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body!" by Harvard Medical School's Dr. Suzanne Koven. (You can learn more about this book at AskDoctorK.com.) It has great information and lots of stories from people who have faced the same problem as you.
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)
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