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Learn More About Calories and Your Weight
You know the basics of counting calories. Step up your knowledge by reading about how your calorie needs can differ over time.

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Learn More About Calories and Your Weight

Are you counting calories as part of your weight-management program? This is a great way to measure the energy your body is getting and using every day. You get energy from foods and beverages. You use energy for bodily functions and physical activity.

We've talked about how important the calorie balance is. To maintain weight, you should consume just the amount of calories that you burn each day. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Sounds easy enough!

But the calorie equation can get complicated. For instance, you may not continue to lose weight if you stick to the same calorie and exercise plan over time.

Why? As you lose weight, you actually need fewer calories in a day. Muscular people burn more calories than people with more fat.

Also, if you are developing more lean muscle and shedding fat, your metabolism may be speeding up, meaning you're burning calories faster.

And as you get more fit, the same exercise you've been doing may get easier for you, causing fewer calories to be burned. It may be time to step up the intensity of your workout for a maximum calorie burn.

Looking at all those factors, you might need to re-evaluate your calorie intake goals from time to time.

You don't have to be hungry
You may be able to eat more food while you're losing weight. You do this by replacing high-calorie foods with foods that are high in water and fiber, which helps fill you up. Foods are not all created equal in volume and density of calories.

For instance, one-half cup of dry roasted peanuts has 427 calories. A whole cup of blueberries has 84 calories!

To count calories correctly, pay attention to what a "serving" is on nutrition labels. Here's where you'll see that all foods are not created equal. You can eat more protein and carbohydrates by volume than if you eat fat:

  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

How many calories do you need?
Here is a chart from MyPlate, the government program to combat obesity. These total daily calorie needs are based on an adult who gets less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days. If you're more active, you need more total calories.

Your individual needs may vary. MyPlate offers a "Daily Food Plan" tool that you can customize to get your approximate personal calorie needs.

Age and Gender Total Daily Calorie Needs
Females 19-30 years 2,000
Males 19-30 years 2,400
Females 31-50 years 1,800
Males 31-50 years 2,200
Females 51+ years 1,600
Males 51+ years 2,000


By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 02/25/2013
Updated on 02/25/2013
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Balancing calories.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate. Calories: How many can I have?
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Metabolism myths and facts.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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