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How many calories should I eat?

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Updated May 15, 2014

Question: How many calories should I eat?
"How many calories should I eat?" is the first question many people have when they make the decision to lose weight. They are often surprised to know that there isn't an easy answer to that question. That's because everyone's calorie needs are different.

Answer: To estimate how many calories you should eat, you can use several different methods. I recommend you visit About.com's Calorie Count or consult the USDA caloric intake recommendations at MyPyramid.gov. For an example in this article, I will enter a random weight and goal weight into the Calories Goal Tool at Calorie Count.

To use this tool, you will need to provide information about your gender, body, and activity level. This is an important step because this data influences your calorie needs calculation directly. For example, the caloric needs for two women who weigh the same now and have the same ultimate goal will be different if they have different activity levels. And a man and woman who want to lose the same amount of weight will not have identical calorie needs.

For an average-height, sedentary 30-year-old woman who weighs 200 pounds, but wants to weigh 140 pounds, Calorie Count recommends a daily goal of 1,204 calories to yield a weight loss of 1.5 pounds a week. The tool estimates that her goal weight will be met in a little under a year.

For a 200-pound man of the same height, who is also inactive, the same goal weight can be reached in a similar (but not identical) time frame, at a calorie goal of 1,500 calories a day. (So, a man of the same weight and height can consume nearly 300 more calories daily and achieve comparable weight-loss results.)

But remember, both of these examples involve sedentary individuals; if you are more active, you will need to consume more calories and that information should be part of any caloric needs calculation formula or tool.

No recommendations from a weight-loss calculator or tool that calculates caloric intake should be followed if it suggests women consume less than 1,200 calories or men fewer than 1,500 calories. Doing so can lead to serious health issues and does not promote safe weight-loss rates.

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