Weight Loss Numbers: Calculating the Calories You Need to Lose Weight

Susan Szulc, MD

To follow-up on a recent blog I posted about weight loss, I wanted address how to develop a healthy diet for weight loss.  The word, ‘diet’ has a negative connotation in our society.  It is associated with fads (does anyone remember the cabbage soup diet?!), liquid diets and cleanses. And, let’s be honest, these “diets” leave you hungry and cranky more often than they leave you skinny.

How to Diet Safely

When you start a diet, your goal should really be focused on learning new eating habits that will replace old unhealthy ones.  This is not a quick fix… Weight loss isn’t a race. On average, you should aim to lose about 1-2 pounds/week. Losing weight faster than that isn’t safe and you will likely just regain the weight.

But, in the end, weight loss is a numbers game. What you burn has to be more than what you eat.

How to Count Calories for Weight Loss Success

So, how many calories do you need to eat (or not eat) to lose weight?  First, you must calculate the calories you burn on a day-to-day basis by just living, or your basal metabolic rate.  There are plenty of online calculators that can figure this out for you.  Or an easy way to estimate it is to take your current weight and multiply it by 10.  That is the number of calories you need to keep your weight the same.

For example, if you weigh 170 pounds, you would need to eat less than 1700 calories (170 x 10) in order to lose weight.  In order to lose 1 pound, you need a 500 calorie deficit/day (or about 3500 calories/week).  So, for a 170 pound person to lose one pound in a week, they would need to eat about 1200 calories per day (1700 calories – 500 calorie deficit).

Eating for Weight Loss

After you’ve calculated your daily caloric goal, it’s time to start looking at calories and labels. You will be surprised how many calories are in many of the items we eat! Here are my top three tricks for those trying to diet for their health:

  1. Pay attention to serving size! That’s a tricky way manufacturers like to make products look healthier.  If the serving size is 8oz, but you are drinking a 20oz bottle, you need to multiply the calories on the label by 2.5. There are a number of smartphone apps available that can help you estimate calories (from home-cooked meals as well as from dining out).  I personally like CalorieKing.
  2. Keep track of these calories by writing them down in a journal or through a trusty app. Logging what you eat not only keeps you on target with your diet by keeping you honest, it also helps point out where you may be going wrong by identifying patterns.
  3. Start cutting calories to get to your goal. One easy way is to look at what you drink. Soda, sweet tea, and juices all have calories that don’t help you feel full. If you reach for the 20-oz coke bottle, you are reaching for 240 calories. A sports drink averages 300 calories per bottle. Switch that out for water, and you are halfway to your goal of a 500 calorie deficit. Small changes can make a big difference!

Next week I’ll address why breakfast is so important for a healthy diet.

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About Dr. Susan Szulc
Susan V. Szulc, MD, is a board-certified internist with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach. She received her bachelor of science in microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Dr. Szulc earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va., where she also completed a residency in internal medicine. Dr. Szulc is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She is a member of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and American Medical Women’s Association. Dr. Szulc’s special interests include palliative care and hypertension.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Szulc please call (757) 305-1797!

One thought on “Weight Loss Numbers: Calculating the Calories You Need to Lose Weight

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