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How to Calculate Your Caloric Intake and Use it to Lose Weight


Updated May 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Create a Calorie Deficit

In order to lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit. It is easier and healthier to cut back your calorie intake a little bit at a time. Every 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound.

So, if you cut back 500 calories a day, you should lose about one pound per week. That said, If you exercise to burn off 500 calories a day you should lose approximately one pound per week. Do both, and ... you get the picture. Ideally, you should do a combination of both, (such as cut back 250 calories; burn an extra 250 calories).

Your weight loss will vary from week to week and at times you may even gain a little weight -- if you're working out and if you include strength training in your program, you could be developing muscle, which weighs more than fat.

The long-term results are what matters.

Lose at a Healthy Rate

A healthy weight loss goal is to lose .5 to 2 pounds per week. Losing more than 2 pounds per week will mean the weight is less likely to stay off permanently. Never cut back to fewer than 1,200 daily calories without medical supervision.

To find out how you are spending your current calorie intake, keep a detailed food diary for at least one week. (You can check the calorie content of most foods at About.com's Calorie Count.)

Make the Cut(s)

With careful review, you will find ways to cut back those 250 calories a day: the milk in your cereal ... the can of soda you drink daily ... the butter on your toast.

Making little changes like these will really add up in the long run.

Check the calorie content of the foods you recorded in your food diary on paper or keep your actual food diary online with About.com's Calorie Count. Pay attention to serving sizes, make sure you eat the right amount of food and if your portion consisted of two servings, be sure to double the calories. Use a measuring cup or scale to measure your portions until you learn to "eyeball" them.

Next, find foods you can do without altogether, reduce portions of, or switch for lower-calorie alternatives.

And guess what? It's easier than you think. Take it one meal at a time. Or even one food at a time. And then, one day at a time.

Tomorrow, trade whole milk for reduced-fat milk The next day, try diet soda instead of regular. Three days in, switch to light wheat bread instead of white. All the calorie-reductions you make (and stick to) will add up in the long run.

Burn it Off!

Becoming more active will knock the remaining 250 calories out. For example, a 180-pound person who walks at a brisk 3 mph will burn just over 250 calories in 45 minutes.

Experts agree that it's easier to exercise than to cut the same number of calories that exercise shaves off. In other words, it's just plain easier for us to be a little more active than to do without more food to achieve the same calorie reduction.

Please check with your doctor before significantly changing your diet or starting a new exercise regime.


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