How do I calculate my calorie needs? A Q&A with a dietician

You’ve heard it before: to lose weight, you just have to eat less and exercise more. In theory, that makes sense. Understanding how many calories you should be consuming each day — and how your body uses those calories — can be a good start. But counting calories isn’t for everyone, and there are several other factors to consider, such as your age, gender, and activity level.

We asked registered dietitian, Kara Kassom, MS, RD, LMNT, to answer some of the frequently asked questions about calorie counting and the best strategies to lose or maintain weight.

What Are Calories?

Calories are the measurement of energy in your food. Your body needs calories to fuel your body and perform daily functions such as walking and running.

Is there a difference between good and bad calories?

I wouldn’t categorize calories as good or bad. Calories come from carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and you need the right balance of all of these macronutrients to achieve optimal health.

How many calories should I consume each day?

The average adult needs about 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. Still, individual calorie recommendations depend on many factors, including age, height, gender, exercise level, weight goals and overall health.

The average person needs about 300 to 500 fewer calories per day to lose weight. Still, it’s important to avoid an extreme calorie deficit. Extreme restrictions can often make it more difficult to maintain your weight and ensure you get all the nutrients you need.

How Many Calories Do I Need When I’m Pregnant?

The number of calories you need during pregnancy varies by trimester. For most pregnant women at a healthy weight, your calories should generally increase by about 200 to 500 per day. It’s important to work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to determine what’s right for you.

How Many Calories Do I Need If I’m Breastfeeding?

Postpartum nutritional needs vary greatly. A healthy postpartum diet should include lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and water. Breastfeeding mothers need more calories to meet their nutritional needs. If you want to lose weight while breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian to make sure you’re getting enough calories to keep your milk supply up.

What Are the Benefits of Counting Calories?

Counting calories can be a great way to understand the caloric content of different foods compared to your nutritional needs. It can also help with your overall food decisions and ensure you’re getting enough calories each day.

What are the disadvantages of counting calories?

Sometimes counting calories can make people feel more guilt, stress, or shame around eating. It can also be time-consuming to enter calories, so it may not be ideal for those with busy lives.

What’s the best way to track calories?

Everyone is different and what works for one person may not be ideal for the next. Some people like the convenience of calorie counting apps like LoseIt! and MyFitnessPal, while others prefer to write down what they eat each day. Both options are fine. It’s more important to find a method that suits you and your lifestyle.

The best nutrition plan is something you can stick to. If counting calories isn’t for you, that’s okay — other strategies may be more helpful. Working with a registered dietitian can help you identify a plan that’s right for you and your health goals.

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How do I calculate my calorie needs? A Q&A with a dietician

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