The science of losing, gaining, or maintaining weight is simple; it’s a math game. A great way to track this is by knowing your personal “calorie budget”. While calorie counting usually gets a bad rap, in order to be successful you must to do some math. Just like following a budget for your finances, a calorie budget is similar. In order to successfully do this, documenting what you eat each day is key.
You need to “know your number” of calories you need each day to keep your body running efficiently. If you want to lose weight, you must expend more calories than you take in. The opposite is true if you are looking to gain weight. To maintain your weight, you need to take in roughly the same amount as you are expending.
As an example, if you are looking to lose weight your calorie budget could be similar to this:
Daily intake of calories normally=1700
Daily intake of calories to lose weight=1350
Daily Calorie Budget Based on Weight Loss Goal
Mid-morning snack=100 calories
Afternoon snack=100 calories
Hint: To determine how many calories you are currently consuming write down your food intake for 3 days and count the calories. Take the average of the 3 days as your current intake.
If your goal is to lose weight, you want to lower your calorie budget and increase exercise. There are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. Dropping below 1200 calories per day can be unhealthy and needs to be supervised by a physician.
Generally, people tend to underestimate the number of calories we consume since we have the tendency to underestimate how much we eat. You may think you have only consumed 1600 calories, when in reality it was more like 2000. Not only do you underestimate calories, we underestimate portion sizes. This is huge! It sabotages many efforts to manage your weight because our portions are so big. Most people have portion distortion. When you first start, measure out your portions, whether it is pasta, fruit, vegetables, etc. After a while you will get the hang of it and can eyeball most of your portions.
Fortunately, more and more companies in the marketplace are making it easier to control calories with single serving packaging which allows you to control your portions. I recently attended the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Philadelphia and found many examples of this including Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars which are only 70 calories and contain 6 grams of protein. Single serving freeze dried fruit and giving away small tins to hold a calorie-controlled portion of nuts were other examples I saw on the Expo floor.
Writing down what you eat is not only good for keeping track of calories, but it also shows trends in your eating habits. This can allow you to identify any issues you have for example, consuming too many calories from “picking” throughout the day (which can add up), soda, not getting enough fiber, or a lack of vegetable and fruit servings.
Simple Ways to Help You Budget Your Calories:
- Write down what you eat in a food journal. Make it accurate because lying or underestimating how many calories you consumed will only hurt your efforts.
- Choose foods that are high in fiber. These will keep you satisfied for longer and won’t have you reaching for more food an hour later, costing you more calories.
- Read food labels and make nutritious choices
- Measure out individual portions of different fruits, vegetables, and other snacks to have on hand for easy access. This way you easily know how many calories you have consumed.
- You don’t have to be a “perfect” eater to manage your weight successfully. Managing your calorie budget will allow you to manager your weight and include occasional indulgences.
- Look for simple foods at the grocery store that are in portion controlled packaging.
- On Sunday, determine your menu for the week. If you have a plan written down, you will be less likely to overeat and break your calorie budget.