Do You Know How Much You Should Be Eating Each Day?

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Healthy-Eating-101If you’ve been following along in the Healthy Eating 101 series, you know that one of the hardest things for me to figure out was how many calories I should be eating on a daily basis. If you read, you’ll find as many different answers for this as you do web pages. The first step in this mystery is to figure out how much you are eating now and use that as your starting point. You should be at least halfway through tracking what you are currently eating if you started with the other post.

Once you have 3 – 5 days logged, you can figure out the average number of calories you eat each day. It’s simple math at this point. Take the total number of daily calories and add them up into one big number. Divide that number by the number of days that you tracked and that’s the average number of calories you eat on a daily basis. I told you it was easy. Now that you have your average daily calories, here’s what you can do with that information.

If you’ve been maintaining your current weight, this number is what you need to eat daily to maintain your current weight with your current activity level. If you’ve gradually (or even not so gradually) been putting on weight, then you know this number is higher than maintenance. Lastly if you’ve been losing weight, then you know this number is lower than maintenance. So what can you do with this knowledge? Think about your end goal.

To Maintain Your Weight
Now that you know the number of calories you need to eat, you can use this information to maintain your weight. You don’t have to hit this number every day, but it gives you an average to aim for. Somedays you may be 100, 200 or even more over and some days you may be under. It’s the average intake over time that you should focus on and not hitting an exact number every day. Life doesn’t have to be exact and your eating doesn’t either. As we go along, I’ll get into further detail about making healthier food choices to make up your calories.

To Lose Weight
To lose one pound of fat, you need to have a deficit of approximately 3,500 calories. Most people can safely lose 1 – 2 lbs a week. That’s a lot of calories to cut from your eating all at once in my experience. Your body doesn’t have time to adjust and it responds with rebellion in the form of hunger, grouchiness, and so on. Losing weight isn’t a race like The Biggest Loser. I’ve found that gradually reducing your calories tends to be much easier to do mentally and physically than a sudden reduction. Most of us can cut 250 calories without facing huge hunger and cravings.

Take your daily calories that you calculated and start by reducing them by 250 calories per day. Don’t worry for now about what you cut (protein, fat or carbs). Start with something easy. You can even cut 100 calories or so from each meal if you’d like. This will equate to approximately 1/2 lb a week to start with. As I mentioned above, you don’t have to be exact with your calories every day. It averages out over the week, so slightly above or slightly below is fine as long as your average over the week meets your new calorie goal.

Do this for a couple weeks and see what results you get. If you are happy with the results after 2 weeks, you don’t have to change things. If you want to lose at a faster rate, try cutting 100 – 250 more per day and again see what happens. The less weight you have to lose, the smaller your increments should be at this point. It’s important to reassess every couple weeks to make sure you’re on track. That way you can leave things as they are or slightly adjust downward. Don’t mess with it if it’s working!

Unless you are a very small person, you shouldn’t drop your calories below 1500 per day at the minimum. If you need to continually cut calories every couple weeks to keep losing and you reach 1500 calories, you need to look into increasing your exercise instead of reducing your eating. The bottom line is you need to eat to fuel your body.

To Gain Weight
Some people actually want to gain weight. The same thinking applies to gaining as to losing. Adding a huge amount of calories all at once is as hard on the body as is taking them out. Start by adding 100 – 250 calories a day and see how that goes for a couple weeks. Gradually add calories if you need to until you are gaining at the rate you’re aiming for but not more than 1 – 2 lbs a week.

For the next couple days, focus on the number of calories you are eating and not so much on how you are making up your calories. Yes, 2000 calories in cake is very different than 2000 calories in lean meats, fruits, and veggies. If you try to make too many changes all at once, many times you’ll end up feeling like this is a punishment. You don’t have to do this cold turkey and smaller steps are usually more maintainable in the long run.

Now that you’ve figured out how much you should be eating, we’ll work on what you should be eating for better health. Taking smaller steps towards your goal sets the foundation. It’s also easier to plan things out and make progress a little at a time instead of information overload. Healthy eating is something that you should do for life and not just something you do until you reach your goal and then resume life as before. If you have your goal in sight as the finish line, you just might find yourself repeating the same journey over and over. Ain’t no one got time for that. 😉

Stay tuned as Healthy Eating 101 continues…

Keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different and I’m sharing what worked for me through a lot of trial, error, and floundering. Never go against the advice of your doctors and healthcare providers, and be realistic and safe when cutting your calories.

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