Learning how to count calories can be a useful tool when you’re trying to lose weight. First, let’s understand what a calorie is:
A calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of a liter of water 1 degree.
Ok, that’s pretty technical, I get it. And it doesn’t do you much good … unless you’re a contestant on Jeopardy, perhaps.
So here’s what you really need to know about calories:
1. How many calories you need
2. How to count calories
3. How you burn calories
1. How many calories do you need?
The Mayo Clinic has a great online calorie calculator that will help you determine how many calories you need each day. It calculates your daily calorie needs based on your age, weight, height, sex, and activity level.
If you’re a math guru who likes to do things manually, use the Harris-Benedict equation. This formula first factors in your height, weight, age, and sex to determine basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the number of calories your body needs “at rest". Once you have this number, you then multiply it by a number based on your activity level (called an activity multiplier).
Here are the formulas to determine the first part, BMR, for both men and women:
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.3 x body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
Then, find out how many calories you need by multiplying your BMR by your activity multiplier from the chart below:
Sedentary = BMR X 1.2 (little or no exercise, desk job)
Lightly active = BMR X 1.375 (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/wk)
Moderately active = BMR X 1.55 (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/wk)
Very active = BMR X 1.725 (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/wk)
Extremely active = BMR X 1.9 (hard daily exercise/sports & physical job or 2X day training, i.e marathon, contest etc.)
2. How to count calories?
There are many useful calorie trackers and food diaries on the web. Some are free and others aren’t. Food diaries are an excellent way to keep track of what you’re eating, control your portions, and help you lose weight.
In fact, a 2008 Kaiser Permanente study found that keeping a food diary/calorie counter doubled weight loss among participants when combined with 30 minutes of exercise each day. Some of the better food diaries include:
My personal favorite is The Daily Plate. It’s free, and I think it’s the easiest and most intuitive to use. But that’s just my opinion, so I encourage you to check out others and find one that works best for you.
3. How to burn calories
Obviously the way you burn calories is by moving, right?
You do burn some calories while you sit, sleep, etc. But the real key to burning calories is exercise.
Check out the following calorie burning chart to determine how many calories you burn doing different types of exercises.
Want More Weight Loss Advice?
This article is the 15th in my “Lose Weight and Keep It Off" series.
Next up is article #16. You’ll see why the portion sizes of the foods you eat is one of the most important things to understand when trying to lose weight.
Or go back and read article #14 where you’ll learn about some of the cheapest healthy foods to help you drop serious pounds.