For the purpose of this argument, I'm referring to women and the USDA recommended calorie guidelines. We tend to forget that they are simply guidelines. Other factors that can affect your daily calorie needs are age, gender, and activity level. You can find dozens of websites that will help you zero in on your specific calorie needs but I've included a workable outline here for women using myself as an example.
I am a petite, mature woman, 5' 2” tall with small bones. My calorie requirements are lower than those of a younger, taller woman with, let's say a medium to large frame, yet we seem to focus on that nebulous number, 2,000 calories across the board for all women (2,500 for men).
Question: I know I've been eating around 2,000 calories a day so why is it that I've gained so much weight?
Answer: If you continue to eat 2,000 calories per day with your sedentary lifestyle, you will soon weigh 200 pounds, I can guarantee it. You are taking in more calories than you are burning each day.
Here is a formula to calculate what your calorie intake should be:
- If you are sedentary: you work a desk job and get little or no additional exercise—multiply your desired weight (the weight you want to be) times the number 10. This will give you the number of calories you need each day to maintain that goal weight once it is achieved. Since you currently weigh more than that, eating only the number of calories needed to maintain a lower weight will, steadfastly result in a loss of weight, until balance is achieved.
- If you are lightly active: you get some exercise only 1-3 days per week and it’s not strenuous—multiply your desired weight by 13.
- If you are moderately active: you get some exercise on weekends or about 10-15 (up to 30) minutes 3-5 days a week—multiply your desired weight times the number 15.
- If you get vigorous exercise regularly: you have a physically demanding job or you exercise 60 minutes 5-7 days a week—multiply your desired weight times 17.
- The highest level of fitness activity, that of an experienced athlete, uses a multiplication of your desired weight times 19.
The preceding information is a guideline only, and for general purposes, one of the first four levels will apply to almost anyone reading this book.
The formula works like this:
Desired weight, 150 pounds
Sedentary: 150 x 10 = 1,500 cal/day
Light activity: 150 x 13 = 1,950 cal/day
Moderately active: 150 x 15 = 2,250 cal/day
Vigorous exercise: 150 x 17 = 2,550 cal/day
Athlete: 150 x 19 = 2,850 cal/day
Desired weight, 125 pounds
Sedentary: 125 x 10 = 1,250 cal/day
Light Activity: 125 x 13 = 1,625 cal/day
Moderately active: 125 x 15 = 1,875 cal/day
Vigorous exercise: 125 x 17 = 2,125 cal/day
Athlete: 125 x 19 = 2,375 cal/day
As you can see, a woman of my size cannot eat at a 2,000 calorie per day level without inevitably gaining weight, unless I were to significantly and consistently increase my level of physical activity (something I have done in recent months).
About 1,200 calories is the minimum number per day for the average person to fulfill necessary nutritional needs. True, you can eat less than that for short periods of time and lose weight without harm, but it is also likely to lead to bingeing and other harmful habits. A better way is to find a natural balance you can live with. I have become accustomed to eating a 1,300 to 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, making sure I include foods that satisfy me nutritionally, physically and emotionally. I never feel like I am on a diet.
Excerpted from Chapter 3 of THINKING SKINNY by Nadia Giordana