NOW. Everything written above are very basic guidelines for how to determine your daily calories. But you should know: This is all based on ESTIMATES. Your mileage may vary, depending on a lot of stuff.
Here are a few more things you should know about your metabolism, caloric intake, and how many calories you may want to be eating:
The BMR equation we mentioned above is just an estimate — so it’s not going to be totally accurate for a lot of people.
“In general, for most people, if you do one of these online calculators, you’re probably going to be within 10% of what it says,” Jensen says. “So if it says 1,600 calories a day, it could be 160 in either direction.”
And that’s for people who fall within a standard and predictable metabolic range. “About 10% of people will have a metabolic rate substantially higher than you would predict, and another 10% of people are going to be quite a bit lower than you predict,” Jensen says. “It might be about 20% less or 20% more.”
You can get a better, more personalized sense of how many calories you typically burn by tracking what you eat, how much you exercise, and how much you weigh.
“The most accurate measures of metabolism are special breathing apparatuses that measure oxygen consumption to determine BMR,” Kohn says. “Most people aren’t spending the time and energy to do one of these tests, so the best way for someone to get a better understanding of their metabolism and caloric needs is to keep track of things: what you’re eating, what you’re doing (physical activity), and your weight. Seeing what direction your weight is moving (or not) as a result of what you’re eating and what physical activity you’re doing will help determine what changes to make in order to see your desired results. That combined with [some of the calculations we’ve covered here] will give a good picture of what’s going on in your body and how to reach your goal.”
There are lots of services that can help you do this — MyFitnessPal and LoseIt, to name a few. You may also want to find a good heart rate monitor, which does a good job of looking at your heart rate, age, sex, and activity to estimate calories burned.Polar makes some great heart rate monitors.
It’s really hard to eat less than 1,200 calories a day and still be healthy.
“It’s hard to get in a balanced nutritional intake with less than 1,200 calories a day,” Jensen says. “You’re just getting in so little food that to get in a reasonable balance that we all need between vitamins, minerals, fibers and all that stuff, if you’re chronically under 1,200 calories a day, it’s pretty tough to meet your nutrient needs.”
The general idea of counting calories also doesn’t take into account the TYPE of food you’re eating. And it matters.
“The thing about your metabolism is that there’s a lot of factors going into how efficiently you’re taking in calories and burning them, and now we’re finding out that the kind of calories you’re taking in are also important,” James LaValle, clinical pharmacist, board certified clinical nutritionist and author of Cracking the Metabolic Code, tells BuzzFeed Life. “The more nutrient dense and less calorically dense with your diet, the better off you’ll be. If you’re choosing the wrong foods, and you’re not getting the nutrients you need, you lead your body to a process over time of chronic inflammatory signaling that alters your metabolism.”
What this means: Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Limit your carbohydrate intake, and choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbs. And, as he said, choose foods with a LOT of nutrients per calorie — so, typically whole foods, lots of produce, foods with protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help you feel full for longer and minimize cravings, and as little added sugar as you can manage. (You may want to check out this primer for 14 Ways To Eat Less Sugar, if it helps.)
Most people aren’t great at knowing how many calories they eat on a regular basis, especially if they try to do it by memory.
“It’s amazing how bad we are at remembering and estimating how much we eat in a day,” Jensen says.
One way to help yourself out in this arena is to keep a food diary for a few days, Kohn says. “The most important thing I have my clients do is keep food journals,” she says. “This gives me a great window into their lives and helps me to know where to start when making changes to their diets.” Even if you’re not going to a nutritionist for help, it can also give YOU a good idea of what kind of foods you’re eating, what food habits you might have (say, snacking in the mid-afternoon), and how you might be able to swap out low-nutrient-dense foods with healthier options.
Burning more calories is easier than you might expect, actually.
Here are some examples that Kohn offered:
Brisk walking burns about 100 calories in 30 minutes.
Yoga or Pilates can burn about 100 calories in 30 minutes.
Using the elliptical trainer or stationary bike can burn about 200 calories in 30 minutes.
Running or jogging at about a 10-minute mile pace can burn about 300 calories in 30 minutes.
(Again, these are rough and general estimates.)
Bottom line: When it comes to having control over your weight (whether that’s maintenance, gain, or loss), a LOT of stuff can have an impact.
This is a lot of information, which can feel overwhelming. But the most important thing is to think about how to incorporate these tips into your life in a way that’s sustainable and smart and won’t make you miserable. Be patient with yourself. And in the meantime, do what you can to eat healthy foods, move more, get good sleep, and lower your stress.