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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Calorie Question

(I know you're tired of hearing this, but remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

After learning how to figure out our "ideal" weight, we now have some idea of how big our Venus or Adonis body will be. Now we have to figure out how much food it needs to "attain and maintain" that body. Again, I'm using some formulas from Dr. Pam Smith's book Eat Well, Live Well (1992); even after so many years, they still seem to be pretty useful.

And again, there are separate formulas for males and females. These simply tell you roughly how many calories you need a day to maintain your weight.
  • Men: For your basic needs, multiply your weight in lbs by 12. If you are moderately active, multiply by 15. And if you are very active, multiply by 20.
  • Ladies: For your basic needs, multiply your weight in lbs by 11. If you are moderately active, multiply by 13. And if you are very active, multiply by 15.
As an example, my weight is right around 185. My basic number would be 2220 calories; my moderately active number, 2775 calories; and my very active number, 3700 calories. It's simple straightforward math. Remember, these are just ballpark figures; your actual needs will depend on your metabolism (how your body burns calories) and just what kind of activity you're doing.

Yes, yes, I hear you. You want to know what "moderately active" and "very active" mean. Smith does define very active as "burning at least 500 calories a day through exercise or physical work" (p. 46). I assume moderately active would be about half that, or 250 calories a day. Rest assured that if you sit all day and don't do anything else, you are not moderately active!

That's all there is to figuring your caloric needs for the day. There's more to using this knowledge, of course, but this will give you the basic number you need; I'll go into more detail about using it over the next couple of days. Just a couple of quick notes for today, though:

First, it's pretty easy to find charts that tell you how many calories you burn at various activities. For example, I Googled the phrase "calories burned" and pulled up this calculator. You just enter your weight, then scan a list of activities and input how many minutes you spend doing the relevant ones. You can even find out how many calories you burn reading this post (look for "reading") or writing a post on your own blog (big surprise here - look for "writing").

Second, all calories are not the same. More on that tomorrow, but for now just remember that there are no good foods and no bad foods per se... but there are good and bad ways of trying to reach your weight goals using them.

Since many of you are not at the weight you want, I'll spend the next couple of days talking about losing weight and gaining weight. Neither is too difficult once you understand the basics. Really, it's not. You'll see.

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