But somewhere in my head, the 2,000 calorie number just roamed around. And that should be no surprise because it’s on every nutritional label.
Last year I noticed some overall chunkiness (you know, that super sexy roll over the waistband). And combined with my trip to the ER from my fainting incident, I definitely reevaluated my health habits. (Which quite frankly, were more like unhealthy habits, to say the least.)
Why Am I Not Losing Weight?
I stopped eating out. I began working with a trainer. I ate breakfast and vegetables and drank more water (which were all significant improvements for me). And although I was not a beacon of health, you would think that going from a fast-food-eating-couch-potato to a protein-and-vegetable-eating-exerciser would result in a pound here or there.
Because in my mind, 2,000 calories is like 4 generous sandwiches or a bunch of bowls cereals or.. or… or… Right?
Sure it is. But I learned that 2,000 calories is an AVERAGE guideline. That number is a total scam in my book and I think many of us have been suckered by having it out there on everything.
The 2,000 Calorie Scam
I started doing some research. And what I found scared me a LOT. Calorie needs vary based on age, gender, weight, height, & activity. And after some research, I learned that the 2,000 calorie number was not just a little off, but it was VERY far from what I needed to lose a few pounds. And the amount of activity that I was now getting was another significant scam even though I went from ZERO to MANY minutes per week. Don’t get me wrong, those minutes count, but based on what I learned, it was probably not enough to be above the “baseline” for these calorie intake guidelines.
And after a few colorful tweet exchanges with my very first on-line fitness friend Lisa Johnson (@lisajohnson), we decided a rant was in order. You’re not going to believe what she learned about the 2,000 calorie number! (View Lisa’s Post.)
How Many Calories Do I Really Need?
Calorie Counting Made Easy – Harvard Medical School
- Source: Harvard Medical School (Of course I had to start with Harvard because of Lisa ;-))
- To Maintain Your Weight: Multiply your current weight by 15
- For me, now: 120 lbs x 15 = 1,800 calories per day
- This assumes 30 minutes of exercise per day (brisk walking – getting mildly sweaty)
- So if I want to LOSE, even 1 lb per week, I would have to create a 500 calorie DAILY deficit
- Reduce intake by 250 calories per day (1,550 total) AND
- Increase activity by 250 calories (that’s in ADDITION to 30 minutes of brisk walking per day)
- Reduce intake by 500 calories per day (1,300 total)
- Increase activity by 500 calories per day (that’s HARD exercise ABOVE the 30 minute per day baseline)
You see where I’m going with this….
How Many Calories Do You Really Need? Web MD
This has a handy table that also incorporates age – but the age “brackets” are very broad (and we need less calories as we get older). Also, this defines “sedentary” as someone walking 1.5 – 3 miles per day at a 3-4 mph pace (that’s pretty fast in my book). I am still qualifying myself as sedentary (maybe a smidge above), because although I do go to the gym & work out harder than a brisk walk, I only do that a few times per week. Overall, it’s probably the equivalent of doing something less every day.
- Age 43 & “Sedentary” >> 1,800 calories per day to MAINTAIN
- Again, see the comments above about LOSING weight.
Determining Your BMR & Adjusting for Activity
Source: The Office Diet
Although this is not a medical site, they use a widely referenced Harris-Benedict formula and have the handy conversions for lbs and inches. This calculates one’s Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or the amount of calories you’d need to stay in bed all day. (You can use the Discovery Health Calculator too.) The BMR is then adjusted for activity.
- BMR For Adult Women: 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
- For Me: 655 + (4.3 x 120) + (4.7 x 62) – (4.7 x 43) = 1,260 BMR
- Determine Activity Factor
- Sedentary – Desk: 1.2
- Light – On Feet: 1.3
- Moderate – Exercise 30 min x 3x/wk: 1.4
- Active – More: 1.5
- Based on these guidelines, I used the “Moderate” activity factor (1.4)
- Calories to Maintain Weight: BMR (1,260) x Activity (1.4) = 1,764
- The calories for me to maintain weight range from 1,700 – 1,800 calories assuming about 30 minutes of lightly sweaty activity each day.
- Even making generous assumptions, the 2,000 calorie number is WAY OFF – both in terms of “maintaining weight”, but especially in terms of creating a calorie deficit.
- Based on these guidelines, even with going to the gym a few days a week (because they EACH reference DAILY activity to equal about 3.5 hrs of brisk walking per week), I’m still in the “light” activity range & am probably not creating much of a calorie deficit to lose weight above the baseline.
- For me to drop a few pounds, it will take quite a bit more effort to create the calorie deficit (both in terms of calorie intake & activity).
I still don’t “really” count calories, but I certainly am being more mindful about labels and portions. And I’m also not “overestimating” my time in the gym – because quite frankly, in a normal week, it’s probably not much more than these I-walk-every-day baselines. And since I’ve shifted my mindset towards about 1,500 calories, I started SLOWLY dropping a few pounds.
What do you think? Are we scamming ourselves a bit in terms of calories?
Additional Sources & Related Posts:
- Who Benefits More from the USRDA 2,000 Calorie Per Day?
- Baylor College of Medicine – BMR & Calorie Calculator
- Discovery Health BMR Calculator
- 10 Clues I’ve Adopted Healthier Habits
- Syncope – My Little Wake Up Call
- 400 Minutes of Activity Without Really Trying