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The minimum number of calories the body needs to maintain bodily functions while at rest is called

Contents

How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight?

Several factors affect the rate at which you lose weight. Many of them are out of your control.

Gender

Your fat-to-muscle ratio greatly affects your ability to lose weight.

Because women typically have a greater fat-to-muscle ratio than men, they have a 5–10% lower resting metabolic rate than that of men of the same height (2).

This means that women generally burn 5–10% fewer calories than men at rest. Thus, men tend to lose weight quicker than women following a diet equal in calories.

For example, an 8-week study including over 2,000 participants on an 800-calorie diet found that men lost 16% more weight than women (3).

Yet, while men tended to lose weight quicker than women, the study did not analyze gender-based differences in the ability to maintain weight loss.

Age

One of the many bodily changes that occur with aging is alterations in body composition — fat mass increases and muscle mass decreases.

This change, along with other factors like the declining calorie needs of your major organs, contributes to a lower RMR (4, 5).

In fact, adults over 70 years old can have RMRs that are 20–25% lower than those of younger adults (2, 6).

This decrease in RMR can make weight loss increasingly difficult with age.

Starting point

Your initial body weight also affects how quickly you can expect to lose weight.

The amount of weight you lose, especially within the first few weeks, tends to be proportional to your body weight.

People who are heavier will lose more pounds than people who are lighter. However, the rate of weight loss tends to be similar percentage wise (7).

For example, a person weighing 300 pounds (136 kg) may lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) after reducing their daily intake by 500 calories for 2 weeks.

Conversely, someone of the same age and gender weighing 150 pounds (68 kg), may lose only 5 pounds (2.3 kg) following the same method.

Although a heavier person may lose double the amount of weight, a less obese individual may lose an equal percentage of their body weight (10/300 = 9.7% versus 5/150 = 9.7%).

Calorie deficit

You must create a negative calorie balance to lose weight. The extent of this calorie deficit affects how quickly you lose weight.

For example, consuming 500 fewer calories per day for 8 weeks will likely result in greater weight loss than eating 200 fewer calories per day.

However, be sure not to make your calorie deficit too large. Doing so would not only be unsustainable but also put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. What’s more, it might make you more likely to lose weight in the form of muscle mass rather than fat mass.

Sleep

Sleep tends to be an overlooked yet crucial component of weight loss.

Chronic sleep loss can significantly hinder weight loss and the speed at which you shed pounds.

Just one night of sleep deprivation has been shown to increase your desire for high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, such as cookies, cakes, sugary beverages, and chips (8, 9).

One 2-week study randomized participants on a calorie-restricted diet to sleep either 5.5 or 8.5 hours each night.

Those who slept 5.5 hours lost 55% less body fat and 60% more lean body mass than those who slept 8.5 hours per night (10).

Consequently, chronic sleep deprivation is strongly linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers (11, 12, 13).

Other factors

Several other factors can affect your weight loss rate, including:

  • Medications. Many medications, such as antidepressants and other antipsychotics, can promote weight gain or hinder weight loss (14).
  • Medical conditions. Illnesses, including depression and hypothyroidism, a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too few metabolism-regulating hormones, can slow weight loss and encourage weight gain (7, 15).
  • Family history and genes. There is a well-established genetic component associated with people who are overweight or obese, and it may affect weight loss (16. 17).
  • Yo-yo dieting. This pattern of losing and regaining weight can make weight loss increasingly difficult with each attempt, due to a decrease in RMR (18).

Summary Age, gender, and sleep are just a few of the many factors that affect weight loss. Others include some medical conditions, your genetics, and the use of certain medications.

Everything you do — from sleeping to eating a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream — burns calories. Likewise, every bodily function, like digestion, blood circulation, and breathing, takes effort. The energy, or calories, your body burns just to keep you alive is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

For simplicity’s sake: Your BMR expresses many calories you would burn if you did nothing but lie on the floor all day (sans eating, that is!). But your specific calorie needs take into account other factors, such as activities of daily living (otherwise known as ADLs). See below to calculate your energy needs.

How to Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate

Women: (10 x weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x centimeters) – (5 x age in years) – 161

Men: (10 x weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x centimeters) – (5 x age in years) + 5

That said, take your “number” with a grain of salt. Your BMR will vary based on genetics, muscle mass, age, and gender, so one single number is rarely accurate. Instead, your energy needs will always vary, so staying within a 200 calorie range of your daily burn rate can help you maintain your current weight.

How to Calculate Calories to Lose Weight

While there’s a lot of debate on the topic, estimating about one pound of body weight as 3,500 calories can be helpful if you’re looking to lose weight. So, if you need 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, subtract 500 from that (about 1,500 calories) and you’ll have the number you should consume each day to still lose a pound in one week. (Try out our 1,500 calorie meal plan!)

How to Calculate Calories to Gain Weight

Likewise, to gain one pound per week, you’ll need to add 500 calories to your diet each day.

How to Improve Your Metabolism

While cardio exercises like running and swimming will raise your heart rate and torch calories, they won’t change the rate at which you burn them. Building lean muscle mass from strength training at least three times a week can give you a slight metabolism boost.

Plus, don’t forget to eat! Skipping meals, especially for prolonged periods, can make your metabolism sluggish, so be sure to eat a meal or snack every three to four hours.

The Bottom Line

Calorie-counting can often do more harm than good. In fact, I’d argue that calorie-counting is passé these days. Instead, focus on how you feel when you eat. Does a meal make you feel stuffed? Satisfied? Full, but not satisfied? The key is to eat meals with whole foods, filling fiber, and lean protein to keep you satiated and your appetite in check. Sounds more delicious than “dieting” doesn’t it?

Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Good Housekeeping Institute Director, Nutrition Lab A registered dietitian with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, Jaclyn “Jackie” London handles all of Good Housekeeping’s nutrition-related content, testing, and evaluation.

Burning calories without exercise

Published: May, 2018

Surely, you’ve seen the ads for diets, devices or supplements that help you lose weight without exercising. And, yes, they are too good to be true.

But you can burn calories without exercising – in fact, you’re probably doing it right now. Just breathing in, breathing out and doing something sedentary such as reading burns some calories.

Here are some ways your body burns calories even when you don’t consider it exercise.

This is your body on idle

It’s called the “basal metabolic rate” or BMR. It’s the amount of energy required to maintain basic bodily functions while at rest, such as regulating body temperature, keeping the heart beating, and breathing. It’s true: just sitting on the couch staring into space requires that you burn some calories. That’s the BMR and it accounts for about 2/3 of the total calories burned each day. As examples, you burn 40-55 calories/hour while sleeping and a bit more while sitting up watching TV or reading.

Some people have higher BMRs than others (although this variability is not usually the reason someone is obese or lean). And BMR can vary over time; it may speed up when you’re sick or if you’ve added muscle mass or it may slow down with age or when you’re losing weight. In fact, a slowing metabolic rate is one reason dieters have such a hard time continuing to lose weight or tend to regain lost weight. Certain medical conditions (such as thyroid disease) and medications can affect BMR.

Don’t just stand there; fidget!

Another source of energy expenditure that does not require exercise is ‘fidgeting.’ If you jiggle your leg, tap your foot, or twirl a pen, you’re burning a small number of calories that can add up over the course of a day or week. In fact, one study found that fidgeting or other non-exercise movement (which was more common among lean than obese individuals) could burn up to 350 calories a day.

But it’s not clear why some people fidget while others don’t; a “non-fidgeter” may have a hard time picking up the habit. And there may be other benefits to fidgeting; for some, it seems to help them learn.

Intentional non-exercise physical activity

If you’re serious about burning more calories without working out, change your daily routine to include more physical activity. Examples include:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot so you have farther to walk to your destination
  • Use the restroom at the far end of the office rather than the nearest one
  • Take regular breaks from your desk at work to stretch and walk around
  • During calls lift light weights or pace around
  • Walk more briskly than your usual pace
  • Instead of sit-down meeting with a co-worker or a friend, have your meeting while walking
  • Pick a printer for your documents that isn’t near your desk
  • Consider getting a standing desk

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most

Much has been written about how to maintain a healthy weight by focusing on calories consumed – the proof is in the innumerable websites devoted to various diets and the walls of diet books in most book stores. The same could be said about the calorie burning side of the equation: exercise programs, equipment and fitness club memberships are an increasingly common part of the landscape. And that makes sense: diet and exercise are the cornerstones of any plan to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

But you may be able to make a big impact in your balance of calories in vs. calories out by paying some attention to the little things.

Image: © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

BMR Calculator – Basal Metabolic Rate

The BMR Calculator

You use energy no matter what you’re doing, even when sleeping. The BMR Calculator will calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR); the number of calories you’d burn if you stayed motionless for a day. Many people ask us “how many calories do I need each day”, and the BMR calculator is a great place to start. This will be the minimum number of calories you should eat on a daily basis.

If you’ve noticed that every year, it becomes harder to eat whatever you want and stay slim, it is because your BMR decreases as you age. Likewise, skipping meals in hopes of losing weight also lowers your BMR. However, a regular routine of cardiovascular exercise can increase your BMR, improving your health and fitness when your body’s ability to burn energy gradually slows down.

Your BMR

To really get how much time you should be exercising, you first have to look at your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is the amount of energy (calories) you burn at rest and which your body uses up just surviving. The basic rule of thumb is that you absolutely must net at or above your BMR in terms of caloric intake. This means that, when you subtract the amount of exercise calories you’ve burned from your total calories for the day, the difference is at least what your body needs to support fundamental physiological processes.

Why BMR MattersWhen you are trying to exercise and eat right to lose weight, netting at least your BMR is non-negotiable because your body eventually will think you are starving if caloric intake isn’t meeting energy requirements. As the body tries to figure out how to deal with the perceived starvation, it can use stored carbohydrates, fat or protein for energy sources. Protein is what makes up lean muscle mass. Normally the body uses metabolizes muscle as a last resort, but lean muscle tissue requires more calories than other tissue. The body will metabolize muscle as a way of reducing the number of calories you need per day. That’s hardly what someone looking to get ripped wants, and it can be especially dangerous considering that one of the most vital organs of the body—the heart—is a muscle. The heart actually can decrease in size, slow and eventually fail. As your metabolism slows and you lose lean muscle, it becomes harder and harder to eat “normal” amounts of calories without gaining weight, simply because you’ve trained your body to make do with less and to hang on to anything “extra.”

American College of Sports Medicine RecommendationsThe American College of Sports Medicine takes BMR requirements seriously because of the potential dangers of insufficient caloric intake. Subsequently, they endorse a minimum net daily caloric intake of 1,200 for women and 1,800 for men. Factors such as age and height affect the exact number of calories a person needs per day however, so these numbers truly are only a guide.

Considering that each person has a minimum BMR they have to accommodate, ACSM also recognizes that it is not always possible to create enormous caloric deficits while dieting. The ACSM recommendation is to aim for a combined dietary and exercise deficit between 500 and 1,000 calories per day, which translates to 1 to 2 pounds per week (3,500 calories makes one pound). More than this drives net calories below BMR requirements in most cases.

Are BMR and BMI the same thing?BMR (basal metabolic rate) is not the same as BMI (body mass index), you can compute your BMI with our BMI Calculator

Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

BMR Calculator

Age Sex Male Female Height Feet Meters Weight Pounds Kilograms Calculate *Basal Metabolic Rate is calculated by the Harris-Benedict equation (created in 1919, but still applicable today).

WHAT IS BASAL METABOLIC RATE (BMR)?

Everybody requires a minimum number of calories to live. This minimum number is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories your organs need to function while you perform no activity whatsoever. You can think of it as the amount of energy you’d burn if you stayed in bed all day.

Since your basal metabolic rate is based largely on involuntary functions like breathing and pumping blood, changes in your day-to-day activity don’t do much to raise or lower this number. However, increasing muscle mass does increase BMR, because muscle is metabolically “hungry” and it takes more energy to maintain more muscle. This means that when you have a lot of muscle mass, you’ll burn more calories at rest.

WHY DOES YOUR BMR MATTER?

Once you know your BMR, you can use it to calculate the calories you actually burn in a day. From there, you can determine how many calories you need to eat to gain muscle, lose fat, or maintain your weight.

The overall number of calories your body uses on a daily basis is referred to as your “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE). It’s determined based on your BMR as well as your activity level throughout the day. This varies significantly based on your activity level, age, and sex. Generally, men have a higher TDEE than women because they have more muscle mass, and both TDEE and BMR tend to fall regardless of gender as you age.

You can use a TDEE calculator to find this number, or calculate it manually to get a more specific result. Keep in mind, though, that it’s impossible to know your exact TDEE, as your activity levels will change day to day, and the only way to get 100 percent accurate BMR numbers is through laboratory testing.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BMR AND RMR?

The term BMR is sometimes used synonymously with RMR, which stands for “resting metabolic rate.” The difference is that while BMR only measures basic processes of breathing, blood circulation, and temperature regulation in a completely resting state, RMR also includes energy expended by digestion and non-exercise daily movements, like getting dressed and lifting your fork to your mouth.

Since the calories you burn digesting food and doing things like brushing your teeth tend to stay around the same range on most days, either number can be used when you’re just trying to get a rough estimate of how many calories you burn not including your workouts. Unless you’re being tested in a lab environment, both of these numbers will only be estimates, but they can still give you targets to shoot for when you structure your meal plan and workouts.

BMR and RMR numbers are typically close enough to be interchangeable, but if you’re calculating your needs in order to gain or lose weight, pay attention to which number an equation calls for. If it’s based on BMR, you can use the calculator above to get an estimate. If the equation uses RMR, use this RMR calculator, which will give you a higher number.

HOW TO USE YOUR BMR TO LOSE FAT OR GAIN MUSCLE

Once you use your BMR to determine your TDEE, you can make sure that the nutrition plan you follow is appropriate for your level of energy expenditure and that it isn’t giving you too many or too few calories. Being armed with this knowledge, rather than guesstimating or blindly following a plan without scaling it to your individual needs, can make or break your muscle gains or fat loss.

The cornerstone of any good fitness plan is getting your diet right, and to do that, the first thing you need to do is to determine what your daily calorie needs are.

There are a lot of different online calculators you can use to find your daily calorie need. Some of them are ok, but most of them oversimplify the calculation by only using your age, weight, and gender. If you are a fitness nerd like me, you will probably want to know the correct scientific way of calculating what your daily calorie needs are.

It’s a very easy 5-step process. I have used my own data in the example below to show you how I work out what my daily calorie needs are.

How to calculate your daily calorie needs

Step 1: Find your body weight in kilograms (if you live in the US, just divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms).

Step 2: Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.9 if you are a woman or 1.0 if you are a man.

Step 3: Multiply by 24

Step 4: Multiply by your “Lean Factor” from the table below (read on to learn how to find your body fat percentage if you don’t know it)

Example using my stats: 61 kg (134.5 lbs.) x 0.9 (female) x 24 x 0.95 (20% body fat) = 1252

This number is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). It’s how many calories you would burn in a day if you just lay on the couch all day and did nothing. To find out how many calories you actually burn in a day, you need to multiply with your “Activity Modifier” from the table below.

Step 5: Multiply by Activity Modifier

My daily calorie need would be: 1252 (my BMR) x 1.55 (Light Activity) = 1940 calories/day

As you can see, calculating your daily calorie needs is actually pretty simple, as long as you know your body fat percentage. Most gyms should be able to measure that for you, or a trainer can give you a very good estimate just by looking.

You can also use a tape measure and this online calculator to estimate your body fat percentage. It’s not as accurate, but you really only need an approximate number, so it should be good enough.

The main mistake people make when using this calculation is to overestimate their activity level. Even though I live a very active lifestyle and work out almost every day, I still only use the “Light Activity” multiplier. And that may even be on the high side because I also spend a lot (too much) time in front of a computer.

The higher multipliers are for people who use their bodies almost constantly throughout the day, like construction workers, pro athletes, etc.

If you are pretty fit and active, you should probably use the “Light” or “Very Light” multiplier. If you are just starting a fitness program, use the “Very Light” multiplier.

Now that you know how many calories you burn in a day, the next step is to decide if you want to lose or gain weight. If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend you eat around 400-500 calories less than you burn each day. That should lead to a weight loss of about 1 lbs. per week, which is a very healthy and sustainable rate.

If you want to gain muscle, start out at 500 calories/day more than you burn and see what happens. If you find that you are also putting on a little too much fat, decrease your calories slightly.

To make sure that you reach your daily calorie targets, it’s a good idea to follow a meal plan. You can either create your own or simply pick one from my meal plan library.

Good luck with your fitness program! If you need a little more help working out your daily calorie needs or anything else, you can always contact me for online training and meal plans.

Suggested next post: How To Lose Weight When You Live With Diabetes

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How to Determine Your Calorie Needs

By Jane Kirby, The American Dietetic Association

Determining your body’s total dietary energy needs takes a bit of math — so grab a calculator. This method of determining your calorie needs is easier and almost as accurate as checking into a research lab and submitting yourself to scientific scrutiny by a white-coated nerd with a clipboard and a stopwatch.

  1. Estimate your basic energy needs.

    Multiply your current weight (in pounds) by 10 if you’re a woman or 11 if you’re a man. Or use the formula in table below, which factors in your age in addition to your sex.

    For example: Sue is a 45-year-old female who weighs 155 pounds. She calculates her BMR like this:

    155 pounds ÷ 2.2 = 70.45 kilograms

    70.45 kilograms x 8.7 = 612.92 calories

    612.92 calories + 829 calories = 1,441.92 calories

    So Sue’s BMR — or the number of calories that her body needs at complete rest to function — is roughly 1,442 calories.

    If you figure Sue’s BMR by using the shortcut method, her needs are about 1,550 (155 pounds x 10 = 1,550) — a bit higher than the full calculation, but still in the same ballpark.

  1. Determine your activity factor value.

    How active are you? Find the description in the following table that best matches your lifestyle. If you have a desk job but fit in a dose of daily exercise (at least 30 minutes), consider yourself in the light or moderate category.

How Active Are You?

If, Throughout Most of Your Day, Your Activities Include Your Activity Level Is Your Activity Factor Is
Sitting or standing; driving; painting; doing laboratory work;
sewing, ironing, or cooking; playing cards or a musical instrument;
sleeping or lying down; reading; typing
Very light 0.2
Doing garage, electrical, carpentry, or restaurant work;
house-cleaning; caring for children; playing golf; sailing; light
exercise, such as walking, for no more than 2 miles
Light 0.3
Heavy gardening or housework, cycling, playing tennis, skiing,
or dancing; very little sitting
Moderate 0.4
Heavy manual labor such as construction work or digging;
playing sports such as basketball, football, or soccer;
climbing
Heavy 0.5
  1. Multiply your basic energy needs by the activity factor value that you determined in Step

    Using Sue as an example, she multiplies her BMR of 1,442 by 0.3 because her activity level is light — running around after her kids, taking care of the house, and fitting in a 2-mile morning walk with her neighbors every other day. Sue needs 432.6 calories for her activity level.

    1,442 x 0.3 = 432.6 calories

  2. Determine the number of calories that you need for digestion and absorption of nutrients.

    Eating food actually burns calories. Digesting food and absorbing nutrients uses about 10 percent of your daily energy needs. Add together your BMR and activity calories and then multiply the total by 10 percent.

    The calculation for Sue’s calorie needs for digestion and absorption looks like this:

    1,442 calories + 432.6 calories = 1874.6 x 10% = 187.5 calories

  3. Total your calorie needs.

    Add together your BMR, activity, and digestion/absorption calorie needs to get your total calorie needs — that is, the number of calories that you need to maintain your current weight.

    To maintain her current weight of 155 pounds, Sue calculates her total calorie needs like this:

    1,442 calories + 432.6 calories + 187.5 calories = 2,062 total calories

© iStock The equation that proves how many calories you should be eating

Everyone has been told that calorie-counting is the most effective way of lowering the scale and cutting the kilos.

An average woman is said to require about 2000 calories per day to maintain a certain weight, and 1500 calories to lose almost half a kilo of weight per week. The average male is similar, but slightly raised: he needs 2500 calories to maintain, and 2000 to lose that half-kiloof weight per week. The general rule of thumb deemed by society is to exercise more and eat less.

However, the math is not quite that simple. These rough estimations don’t consider numerous factors that would significantly sway the numbers: age, height, weight or activity levels. While you may think that frequent exercise is the best way to lose weight, it is not a transmutable technique for eating smart.

Fortunately, calorie counting doesn’t have to be a total guessing game. Instead of using exercise as a mere safety net for your eating habits, use this elementary equation to pinpoint exactly how many calories you need per day.

The calculation is called the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, a formula that has been shown to be the most accurate way of estimating calorie needs in numerous studies by the ADA (American Dietetic Association).

Getting an idea of your basal metabolic rate (BMR)

© iStock Getting an idea of your basal metabolic rate (BMR)

Begin by getting an idea of your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Your body must breathe, blink, grow cells and keep your heart beating on a daily basis.

Staying alive isn’t an easy task, and it needs calories to do so. This number reflects an estimate of how many calories you would burn if you were to be hypothetically resting in a sedentary state for 24 hours.

In other words, it represents the minimum amount of energy mandated to keep your body barely functioning, i.e. breathing and pumping blood.

Use this BMR number as the foundational reference point for safe weight loss. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, your calories should never dip below 1,200. Doing so could mean your muscle mass starts decreasing, which means you won’t have enough energy to fuel daily activities.

Now that we’ve figured out the bare minimum of calories your body demands, we can’t forget to account for the actual things you do throughout the day that burn these calories; walking to work, playing sports, doing yoga, or even watching TV all strip away those units of energy you consume.

An easy way to do so is via this interactive calculator from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that incorporates your activity level and BMR to give you an estimate of how much you should eat in order to maintain your current weight.

The BMR rule of thumb

© iStock The BMR rule of thumb

If you want to do it yourself, here is a general map to follow. The final number is the recommended calorie consumption per day – tailored just for you:

BMR x 1.2 for low intensity activities and leisure activities (primarily sedentary)

BMR x 1.375 for light exercise (leisurely walking for 30-50 minutes 3-4 days/week, golfing, house chores)

BMR x 1.55 for moderate exercise 3-5 days per week (60-70% MHR for 30-60 minutes/session)

BMR x 1.9 for the extremely active individuals (engaged in heavy/intense exercise like heavy manual labor, heavy lifting, endurance athletes, and competitive team sports athletes 6-7 days/week for 90 + minutes/session)

After all that, it’s important to note that this number isn’t necessarily something you should streamline your collective focus into. Although this does stand as the ideal formula to use as a guideline, weight loss boils down to more than just a number. Living your healthiest life doesn’t equate to shedding kilos, and obsessively counting calories can spiral one into an overly compulsive diet with dangerous downfalls.

The induced stress can actually raise your cortisol levels, making it even harder for you to lose weight.

In essence, be conscious of your healthy caloric intake, but it’s wiser to concentrate on what you’re eating than how much. Also, don’t forget the huge impact that WHEN you eat can have on your waistline.

Your body knows best what it wants, so if it’s asking for fuel, indulge it, don’t spoil it.

Oh, the rare and lovely days where we actually get to feel like we’ve done nothing at all. Even while we’re being completely lazy, our bodies are obviously still very busy (they’ve got a big show to run).
The number of calories burned at rest is called the basal metabolic rate, and it’s a measure of how much energy your body uses just to keep all of your complex bodily functions up and running and in check (i.e. your body temperature regulated, your heart beating, your brain humming, and so on).
The concept of burning off the body’s energy stores while doing absolutely nothing is kind of exciting, until you realize how little you would have to eat in order to avoid putting on extra weight.

Related: Search over 500 free workout videos that you can do in your own living room
How many Calories do I Burn doing Nothing?
Here’s the formula to find your resting metabolic rate:
For Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
For Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
Another lazier way to get a (very rough) estimate is to multiply your body weight in lbs by 11.
By now know that weight maintenance or loss is a matter of energy burned versus energy consumed, and it’s clear that exercise can significantly increase the food that we can eat each day without putting on extra weight.
Here is part of the reason why I think many of us are overweight; it’s very easy to do nothing (or close to it) without even realizing it, and we very rarely are conscious enough of our activity levels to adjust our diets to reflect the small number of calories we are burning.
For example, consider the recommendation of taking a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. Averaging this many miles a day (roughly 5) would do a good job of increasing the amount of food you can eat, and keeping extra weight off – so long as you were not overindulging at the dinner table on a regular basis. Unfortunately, very few people actually cover that distance; most people average around 3,500 steps a day. Hitting around only 30% of your daily recommended steps gives you very little extra room to eat above the number of calories that are burned at rest (that resting basal metabolic number).
If you have been struggling with weight or find that diets just aren’t working for you, it’s likely that you need to take an honest look at your activity levels. Think about how much better you feel on the days when you workout. If you’re having trouble getting started, consider committing to even just 20 minutes of activity and you can end up boosting your health, your mood, and help you maintain a healthy bodyweight. Once you’re comfortable with 20 minutes, maybe you will feel more confident in tackling a 30-40 minute workout, or 2 20 minute workouts in a day.

Here are some fun workouts to choose from that are under 20 minutes:

  • 20 Minute No Equipment Butt and Thigh Workout at Home
  • 15 Minute HIIT Workout – Intense No Equipment HIIT Cardio
  • Quick 10 Minute Upper Body Strength Workout
  • 17 Minute Fat Burning HIIT Workout with Warm Up (with Low Impact Modifications)
  • Jumpstart Cardio Workout – 5 Minute Energy Boosting Workout
  • 10 Minute Abs Workout – Pilates Abs Burner

Yes, the body burns calories while you are otherwise doing nothing at all, but that energy is easily consumed in the food that you eat if you don’t add some intentional movement into your day. Lazy days are fantastic; just make sure that you don’t go too many days in a row without having left the couch.
Check out Fitness Blender’s full length home workout videos for ideas on how to get in a good sweat (without moving too far away from the couch).

How Many Calories Do You Burn While You’re Asleep?

Have you ever wondered how many calories you burn while sleeping? While you may think the answer would be “not many,” you might be surprised to learn that your body is at work using energy even when you’re at rest.

How many calories you burn has to do with various factors, including your weight, your metabolism, and how much sleep you get each night.

Determining how many calories you burn

A person who weighs 125 pounds burns approximately 38 calories per hour sleeping. That doesn’t necessarily sound like a lot. But multiply that by the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep experts say you should get each night, and that’s a total potential of 266 to 342 calories for snoozing.

The amount of calories burned increases according to body weight. So, a person who weighs 150 pounds might burn 46 calories an hour or between 322 and 414 calories a night. And a person who weighs 185 pounds might burn around 56 calories or between 392 and 504 calories for a full night of sleep.

How are these numbers calculated exactly? It’s all about your individual metabolism. Metabolism is a process by which the body converts food into energy for use in daily activities. Even keeping your organs running, breathing, and circulating blood costs your body calories. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR), on the other hand, represents the number of calories you individually burn a day at rest, or while you’re sedentary. This includes sleeping and sitting.

To calculate your BMR, you use an equation that factors in your sex, weight, and age using inches for height and pounds for weight.

  • 66 + (6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age) = BMR for men
  • 655.1 + (4.35 x weight) + (4.7 x height) – (4.7 x age) = BMR for women

For example: A 35-year-old man who weighs 175 pounds and is 5 feet 11 inches tall would be:

  • 66 + (6.2 x 175) + (12.7 x 71) – (6.76 x 35) = 1,816 calories.

A 35-year-old woman who weighs 135 pounds and is 5 feet, 5 inches tall would be:

  • 655.1 + (4.35 x 135) + (4.7 x 65) – (4.7 x 35) = 1,383 calories.

The more mass your body has, the more calories you’ll burn while resting, sleeping, and doing other activities. Men tend to burn more calories at rest than women of the same weight because men typically have higher muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does.

Factors that affect how many calories you burn

Want to maximize your calorie torching in the overnight hours? A recent study uncovered that if you skip an entire night of sleep, you may actually burn an extra 135 calories over that period of time. Some participants burned as many as an extra 160 calories. But before you toss your pillow, understand that skipping sleep isn’t a great way to lose weight.

Sleep loss over time may contribute to weight gain and obesity. It elevates certain hormone levels in the body, like cortisol. This hormone makes you hold onto extra fat. Not only that, but it may also increase your appetite and lead to a slower metabolism.

What may help you burn more calories during sleep is taking measures to elevate your metabolism. Boosting your metabolism will help you burn more calories throughout your waking hours as well.

What you should know:

Eating late doesn’t slow your metabolism

Eating before bed may cause a temporary increase in your metabolism through what’s called thermogenesis. And don’t worry about eating after 8 pm. Foods consumed after this time don’t magically make your gain more weight — it’s the mindless snacking that does. That said, eating large meals right before bedtime may make it harder to sleep.

Exercise daily, incorporating strength training

Having more muscle mass in general helps you burn more calories, even while you’re sleeping. So get in some exercise daily, especially strength training. If you have trouble settling down at night, try getting in your exercise several hours before bed.

Losing weight may help

Losing weight may help boost your metabolism as well. Fat burns fewer calories than muscle when at rest. If you’re overweight, consider making an appointment with your doctor or dietitian to discuss a healthy goal and a plan for how to get there.

Caffeine may create a short-term boost

Caffeine may increase metabolism slightly. At the same time, it has not been shown to help with long-term weight loss. And drinking caffeinated beverages before bed may make it hard to get a good night’s rest.

Use supplements with caution

Supplements that claim to boost metabolism should be used with caution or not at all. Some may contain unsafe ingredients. Even worse, they may not work. Always discuss any supplements you plan to take with your doctor.

Certain health conditions may slow your metabolism

Certain medical conditions, like Cushing syndrome and hypothyroidism, may slow your metabolism. This means you’ll experience less calorie burn at all hours and may even hold onto or gain weight. You doctor can perform simple tests, like a blood test, to rule out certain conditions. Then they can work with you to manage your condition and weight.

The bottom line

Your body is at work at all hours of the day and night. While you do burn calories while sleeping, it’s not a solid weight loss strategy. Exercising regularly and eating well can help.

Experts recommend getting in 75 minutes of vigorous activity, like running, or 150 minutes of moderate activity, like walking, each week. And try shopping the perimeter of the grocery store to stick to whole foods that don’t contain empty calories, like added sugars.

Try your best to get in the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble winding down, give these tips a try:

  • Create a routine where you go to the bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each day. You may also want to do some relaxing activities, like taking a bath or doing some gentle yoga before tucking yourself in.
  • Use white noise, ear plugs, blackout curtains, and other tools to block distractions in your sleeping space. Keeping the temperature of your room cool may also help you nod off faster.
  • Avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine in the hours before bed. They may take a while to wear off and make it hard to relax. While alcohol may make you sleepy, it may also disrupt your sleep throughout the night.
  • Turn off cell phones, computers, televisions, and other electronics well before heading to bed. The light these devices emit may disrupt your body’s natural sleeping rhythm.
  • Limit naps to just 30 minutes. Getting more shut-eye in the daytime hours may make it harder to sleep at night.

How many calories you burn at rest depend on several factors. You can estimate your body’s calorie needs at rest (BMR) through plugging in your numbers from age, weight, height, sex and activity level into our BMR calculator below.

The body uses calories for many purposes: to move our muscles, regulate body processes, make new cells and transport nutrients. To increase the body’s calorie burn, we emphasize increasing exercise to increase muscle demand for energy.

However, the largest factor for calorie burn per day for most people, even if you exercise, is calorie burn at rest during the day.

The calorie amount needed at rest when your body is not moving is called basal metabolic rate (BMR).

If you want to estimate your body’s calorie requirements, knowing your BMR level is the starting point.

From this amount, you add on estimated calorie requirements for how much activity you get plus factoring in any desired weight loss or gain.

How many calories per day you burn a day at rest depend on many factors including: body size, age, sex, activity level and other genetic and health factors.

If you are going through weight loss, your calorie burn at rest can change as you lose (or gain) weight.

Calories Burned at Rest

Your BMR can generally be described as how many calories you burn at rest while awake and not moving.

This is basically the minimum amount of energy your body needs to maintain survival such as: maintaining heart beat, moving your diaphragm, energy for brain function and other organ function.

It does not include energy needed for moving muscles or digestion, as these are separate categories of ways your body uses energy.

How can you know your BMR? There are various equations you can use to estimate your BMR needs. Plug in your age, gender, height, weight and activity level in our BMR calculator below to find out how many calories you burn doing nothing.

For example, a 35 year old male weighing 200 pounds, 5 feet 10 inches tall with light activity level is estimated to have a BMR around 1960 calories without accounting for weight loss or gain efforts.

On the other hand, a 60 year old female weighing 120 pounds, 5 feet 2 inches tall with moderate activity level is estimated to have a BMR around 1180 calories.

BMR accuracy

While there are estimates in place to get basal calorie needs, keep in mind these are estimates and individual accuracy may vary.

For example, differences in ethnicity may influence accuracy of BMR calculations that is not accounted for.

A 2013 study (1) found BMR calculations for young Hispanic women varied from their actual measured BMR by 14 – 216 calories.

BMR equations are a tool meant to guide you to estimated calorie needs of your body. However, they are not a perfect, 100% accurate direct method for knowing your calorie needs.

Why does your body need energy at rest?

How can your body burn calories when you’re not doing anything? Unconscious body functions like your heart beating and breathing are basic needs for survival.

However, they are not regulated by conscious thought; your body simply does them to stay alive.

These needs for survival take energy. For example, your heart and diaphragm are muscles. They require energy to keep moving.

The brain uses energy even when you are not moving. Your other organs such as the liver and kidney are working even when you’re not moving. All of these energy demands are taken into account when estimating energy your body uses at rest.

How to increase BMR

Your activity level can influence your BMR level. Maintaining and expanding your lean muscle mass can increase your BMR level. Therefore, exercising, over time, may lead to increasing your calorie burn at rest.

How much your BMR level can increase through exercise is individualized and not 100% known. Exercise not only increases your calorie burn while you are exercising, but it can also lead to an upshift in calorie burn throughout the day when you’re not moving.

For example, a 2015 study (2) found high intensity interval training (HIIT) but not aerobic exercise or high intensity resistance training increased resting energy expenditure after exercise.

Another reason exercise can lead to an increase in BMR is muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue.

Therefore, the more muscle you have compared to fat mass, the more energy the body uses to maintain those cells.

The opposite is also true: losing muscle mass can lower your BMR level. This is one reason why BMR levels can go down after a fad diet or severe calorie restriction.

The loss of lean tissue, which can happen in weight loss, can lead to a lowered BMR.

Doing nothing and not eating enough

If someone is restricting calorie intake and not exercising, lean mass is lost. This could be on purpose if someone is trying to lose weight or if someone is immobilized from being sick or recovering from an injury and has a reduced appetite.

A 2007 study (3) concluded calorie restriction increased the loss of lean muscle mass when it was paired with inactivity like lying in a hospital bed for days without moving.

If someone is trying to maintain strength, limiting this effect of loss muscle mass is important.

Conclusion: how many calories do you burn at rest?

How many calories you burn at rest depend on several factors. You can estimate your body’s calorie needs at rest (BMR) through plugging in your numbers from age, weight, height, sex and activity level into a BMR equation.

This is approximately how many calories your body burns at rest. Increasing activity levels can lead to an increase or maintaining of BMR. Loss of muscle mass and increasing age can lead to a lowered BMR level.

Calorie Calculator

The Calorie Calculator can be used to estimate the number of calories a person needs to consume each day. This calculator can also provide some simple guidelines for gaining or losing weight.

Height
feet inches
Weight pounds
Height cm
Weight kg
Activity
Results unit: Calories Kilojoules BMR estimation formula: Mifflin St Jeor Revised Harris-Benedict Katch-McArdle Body Fat:
  • Exercise: 15-30 minutes of elevated heart rate activity.
  • Intense exercise: 45-120 minutes of elevated heart rate activity.
  • Very intense exercise: 2+ hours of elevated heart rate activity.

Food Energy Converter

The following converter can be used to convert between Calories and other common food energy units.

Related: BMI Calculator | Body Fat Calculator | Ideal Weight Calculator

This Calorie Calculator is based on several equations, and the results of the calculator are based on an estimated average. The Harris-Benedict Equation was one of the earliest equations used to calculate basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of energy expended per day at rest. It was revised in 1984 to be more accurate and was used up until 1990, when the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation was introduced. The Mifflin-St Jeor Equation also calculates BMR, and has been shown to be more accurate than the revised Harris-Benedict Equation. The Katch-McArdle Formula is slightly different in that it calculates resting daily energy expenditure (RDEE), which takes lean body mass into account, something that neither the Mifflin-St Jeor nor the Harris-Benedict Equation do. Of these equations, the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation is considered the most accurate equation for calculating BMR with the exception that the Katch-McArdle Formula can be more accurate for people who are leaner and know their body fat percentage. The three equations used by the calculator are listed below:

Mifflin-St Jeor Equation: For men: BMR = 10W + 6.25H – 5A + 5 For women: BMR = 10W + 6.25H – 5A – 161 Revised Harris-Benedict Equation: For men: BMR = 13.397W + 4.799H – 5.677A + 88.362 For women: BMR = 9.247W + 3.098H – 4.330A + 447.593 Katch-McArdle Formula: BMR = 370 + 21.6(1 – F)W

where:

W is body weight in kg
H is body height in cm
A is age
F is body fat in percentage

The value obtained from these equations is the estimated number of calories a person can consume in a day to maintain their body-weight, assuming they remain at rest. This value is multiplied by an activity factor (generally 1.2-1.95), dependent on a person’s typical levels of exercise, in order to obtain a more realistic value for maintaining body-weight (since people are less likely to be at rest throughout the course of an entire day). 1 pound, or approximately 0.45 kg, equates to about 3,500 calories. As such, in order to lose 1 pound per week, it is recommended that 500 calories be shaved off the estimate of calories necessary for weight maintenance per day. For example, if a person has an estimated allotment of 2,500 calories per day to maintain body-weight, consuming 2,000 calories per day for one week would theoretically result in 3,500 calories (or 1 pound) lost during the period.

It is important to remember that proper diet and exercise is largely accepted as the best way to lose weight. It is inadvisable to lower calorie intake by more than 1,000 calories per day, as losing more than 2 pounds per week can be unhealthy, and can result in the opposite effect in the near future by reducing metabolism. Losing more than 2 pounds a week will likely involve muscle loss, which in turn lowers BMR, since more muscle mass results in higher BMR. Excessive weight loss can also be due to dehydration, which is unhealthy. Furthermore, particularly when exercising in conjunction with dieting, maintaining a good diet is important, since the body needs to be able to support its metabolic processes and replenish itself. Depriving the body of the nutrients it requires as part of heavily unhealthy diets can have serious detrimental effects, and weight lost in this manner has been shown in some studies to be unsustainable, since the weight is often regained in the form of fat (putting the participant in a worse state than when beginning the diet). As such, in addition to monitoring calorie intake, it is important to maintain levels of fiber intake as well as other nutritional necessities to balance the needs of the body.

Calorie Counting as a Means for Weight Loss

Calorie counting with the intent of losing weight, on its simplest levels, can be broken down into a few general steps:

  1. Determine your BMR using one of the provided equations. If you know your body fat percentage, the Katch-McArdle Formula might be a more accurate representation of your BMR. Remember that the values attained from these equations are approximations and subtracting exactly 500 calories from your BMR will not necessarily result in exactly 1 pound lost per week – it could be less, or it could be more!
  2. Determine your weight loss goals. Recall that 1 pound (~0.45 kg) equates to approximately 3500 calories, and reducing daily caloric intake relative to estimated BMR by 500 calories per day will theoretically result in a loss of 1 pound a week. It is generally not advisable to lose more than 2 pounds per week as it can have negative health effects, i.e. try to target a maximum daily calorie reduction of approximately 1000 calories per day. Consulting your doctor and/or a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN) is recommended in cases where you plan to lose more than 2 pounds per week.
  3. Choose a method to track your calories and progress towards your goals. If you have a smart phone, there are many easy-to-use applications that facilitate tracking calories, exercise, and progress, among other things. Many, if not all of these, have estimates for the calories in many brand name foods or dishes at restaurants, and if not, can estimate calories based on the amount of the individual components of the foods. It can be difficult to get a good grasp on food proportions and the calories they contain – which is why counting calories (as well as any other approach) is not for everyone – but if you meticulously measure and track the number of calories in some of your typical meals, it quickly becomes easier to accurately estimate calorie content without having to actually measure or weigh your food each time. There are also websites that can help to do the same, but if you prefer, manually maintaining an excel spreadsheet or even a pen and paper journal are certainly viable alternatives.
  4. Track your progress over time and make changes to better achieve your goals if necessary. Remember that weight loss alone is not the sole determinant of health and fitness, and you should take other factors such as fat vs. muscle loss/gain into account as well. Also, it is recommended that measurements be taken over longer periods of time such as a week (rather than daily) as significant variations in weight can occur simply based on water intake or time of day. It is also ideal to take measurements under consistent conditions, such as weighing yourself as soon as you wake up and before breakfast, rather than at different times throughout the day.
  5. Keep at it!

The above steps are an attempt at the most basic form of calorie counting. Calorie counting is not an exact science, and can be as complex as you want to make it. The above does not consider proportions of macronutrients consumed. While there is no exactly known, ideal proportion of macronutrients (fats, proteins, carbohydrates) some balance is certainly advisable, and different foods have been found to have different effects on health, feelings of hunger, and number of calories burned. Generally, minimally processed plant and animal foods tend to be more conducive to healthy weight loss and maintenance.

There are many approaches to weight loss and there is no set ideal method that works for all people, which is why so many different diets and exercise regimens exist. While some methods are more effective for each individual person, not all weight loss methods are equivalent, and studies suggest that some approaches are healthier than others. That being said, one of the most commonly effective weight loss methods is counting calories. In its most basic form, calories consumed minus calories expended will result in weight gain if the result is positive, or weight loss if the result is negative. However, this is far from a comprehensive picture, and many other factors play a role in affecting healthy, sustainable weight loss. For example, there exist conflicting studies addressing whether or not the type of calories or foods consumed, or how they are consumed, affects weight loss. Studies have shown that foods that require a person to chew more and are more difficult to digest result in the body burning more calories, sometimes referred to as the thermic effect of food. While the increase in burned calories may be marginal, foods that are more difficult to digest such as vegetables generally tend to be healthier and provide more nutrients for fewer calories than many processed foods.

Consistent with the view that in regards to weight loss, only net calories are important and not their source, there exist cases such as the Twinkie diet, where a person that solely counted calories while eating a variety of cake snacks managed to lose 27 pounds over two months. As effective as this can be, it is certainly not suggested. While the participant did not seem to suffer any noticeable health detriments in this particular case, there are other less measurable factors that should be considered such as long-term effects of such a diet on potential for developing cancers, heart disease, and diabetes. However, ignoring efficiency and health, sustained, significant reduction of caloric intake or increase of physical activity should result in weight loss, and counting calories can be an effective way to achieve this sole result.

Aside from being one viable method for facilitating weight loss, calorie counting has other somewhat less quantifiable advantages including helping to increase nutritional awareness. Many people are completely unaware of, or grossly underestimate their daily caloric intake. Counting calories can help raise an awareness of different types of foods, the number of calories they contain, and how these calories have a different effect on a person’s feelings of satiety. Once a person has a better understanding of how many calories are actually in that bag of chips that they can so easily inhale within minutes, how much of their daily caloric intake it consumes, and how little the chips do to satiate their hunger, portion control and avoidance of foods with empty calories tends to become easier.

Having actual caloric measurements can also assist in weight loss, since tangible calorie goals can be set, rather than simply trying to eat less. Also, although this is not necessarily directly related to calorie counting, studies have shown that portion control by simply eating from a smaller plate can help reduce calorie intake, since people tend to fill their plates and eat everything on their plates. Many people do not realize that they are overeating, since they have become accustomed to restaurant-sized portions being the norm, when said portions can be up to three or more times larger than necessary for a typical meal.

Tracking calories also puts exercise in a quantifiable perspective, increasing a person’s awareness regarding how much exercise is really required to counteract a 220-calorie bag of M&M’s. Once a link is made between the amount of exercise that some snack equates to, many people find abstaining from that bag of chips to be the preferred option rather than performing an equivalent amount of exercise – which can lead to healthier eating habits.

In the end however, what’s important is picking a strategy that works for you. Calorie counting is only one method used to achieve weight loss amongst many, and even within this method, there are many possible approaches a person can take. Finding an approach that fits within your lifestyle that you think you would be able to adhere to is likely going to provide the most sustainable option and desirable result.

Zigzag Calorie Cycling

Zigzag calorie cycling is a weight loss approach that aims to counteract the human body’s natural adaptive tendencies. Counting and restricting calories, as described above, is a viable method to lose weight, but over a period of time, it is possible for the body to adapt to the lower number of calories consumed. In cases where this happens, a plateau in weight loss that can be difficult to surmount can result. This is where zigzag calorie cycling can help, by not allowing the body to adapt to the lower calorie environment.

Zigzag calorie cycling involves alternating the number of calories consumed on a given day. A person on a zigzag diet should have a combination of high-calorie and low-calorie days to meet the same overall weekly calorie target. For example, if your target calorie intake is 14,000 calories per week, you could consume 2,300 calories three days a week, and 1,775 the other four days of the week, or you could consume 2,000 calories each day. In both cases, 14,000 calories would be consumed over the week, but the body wouldn’t adapt and compensate for a 2,000-calorie diet. This also allows a person more flexibility in their diet, allowing them to plan around occasions, such as work or family gatherings, where a person may consume more calories. Consuming a lower number of calories on other days can allow a person to enjoy these gatherings or even have a “cheat day” where they eat whatever they want without feeling guilty, since they can make up for the excess calories on their low-calorie days.

There is no concrete rule or study that dictates the most effective way to alternate or spread out calorie consumption. How to vary calorie intake is largely up to personal discretion. Depending on a person’s activity, it is generally recommended that the high-calorie and low-calorie days vary by approximately 200-300 calories, where the high-calorie day is often the number of calories a person needs to consume to maintain their current weight. For a person with a higher activity level, the calorie difference should be larger. The calculator presents two zigzag diet schedules. The first schedule has two higher calorie days, and 5 lower calorie days. The second schedule increase and reduces calories gradually. In either case, the total weekly calorie consumption is the same.

In the end, regardless what method you choose to use when approaching weight loss, what’s important is picking a strategy that works for you. Calorie counting and zigzag calorie cycling are only two methods (that are fairly interrelated) used to achieve weight loss among many, and even within these methods, there are many possible approaches a person can take. Finding an approach that fits within your lifestyle that you think you would be able to adhere to is likely going to provide the most sustainable and desirable result.

How Many Calories Do You Need?

Many people seek to lose weight, and often the easiest way to do this is to consume fewer calories each day. But how many calories does the body actually need in order to be healthy? This largely depends on the amount of physical activity a person performs each day, and regardless of this, is different for all people – there are many different factors involved, not all of which are well-understood or known.

Some factors that influence the number of calories a person needs to remain healthy include age, weight, height, sex, levels of physical activity, and overall general health. For example, a physically active 25-year-old male that is 6 feet in height requires considerably higher calorie intake than a 5-foot-tall, sedentary 70-year-old woman. Though it differs depending on age and activity level, adult males generally require 2,000-3000 calories per day to maintain weight while adult females need around 1,600-2,400 according to the U.S Department of Health.

The body does not require many calories to simply survive. However, consuming too few calories results in the body functioning poorly, since it will only use calories for functions essential to survival, and ignore those necessary for general health and well-being. Harvard Health Publications suggests women get at least 1,200 calories and men get at least 1,500 calories a day unless supervised by doctors. As such, it is highly recommended that a person attempting to lose weight monitors their body’s caloric necessities and adjusts it as necessary to maintain its nutritional needs.

Calories: Different Kinds and Their Effects

The main sources of calories in a typical person’s diet are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat, with alcohol also being a significant portion of calorie intake for many people (though ideally this should be limited since alcohol contains many empty calories). Some studies have shown that the calories displayed on nutrition labels and the calories actually consumed and retained can vary significantly. This hints at the complex nature of calories and nutrition and is why many conflicting points of view on the “best” methodology for losing weight exist. For example, how a person chews their food has been shown to affect weight loss to some degree; generally speaking, chewing food more increases the number of calories that the body burns during digestion. People that chew more also tend to eat less, since the longer period of time necessary to chew their food allows more time to reach a state of satiety, which results in eating less. However, the effects of how food is chewed and digestion of different foods are not completely understood and it is possible that other factors exist, and thus this information should be taken with a grain of salt (in moderation if weight loss is the goal).

Generally, foods that take more effort to chew – fruit, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, etc. – require the body to burn more calories since more calories are required to digest them. It also results in the feeling of satiety for longer periods of time. Furthermore, certain foods like coffee, tea, chilies, cinnamon, and ginger have been found to increase the rate of calories burned, due to the ingredients they contain.

The “quality” of calories consumed is also important. There are different classifications of foods in terms of calories. This includes high-calorie foods, low-calorie foods, and empty calories. Consistent with their naming, high-calorie foods are foods that are calorically dense, meaning that there are a high number of calories relative to serving size, while low-calorie foods have fewer calories relative to serving size. Foods such as fat, oils, fried foods, and sugary foods are examples of high-calorie foods. Being a high-calorie food does not inherently mean that the food is unhealthy however – avocados, quinoa, nuts, and whole grains are all high-calorie foods that are considered healthful in moderation. Low calorie foods include vegetables and certain fruits, among other things, while empty calories, such as those in added sugars and solid fats, are calories that contain few to no nutrients. Studies have shown that there is a measurable difference between consuming 500 calories of carrots compared to 500 calories of popcorn. As previously mentioned, this in part can be attributed to differences in how the foods are consumed and processed. Carrots require far more chewing and can result in more calories burned during digestion. Again, the mechanism for these differences is not fully defined, but simply note that for weight loss purposes, the general formula of calories in minus calories out determining weight gain or loss does hold, but that the number of calories on a nutrition label is not necessarily indicative of how many calories the body actually retains. While there is no clear-cut or ideal amount of macronutrient proportions a person should consume to maintain a healthy diet or lose weight, eating a “healthy” diet replete with a variety of unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, and lean meats is correlated with being healthier, and is more likely to result in sustainable weight loss. Also, remember that calories from drinks comprise an estimated 21% of a typical person’s diet. Many of these calories fall under the category of empty calories. While sodas are an obvious culprit, drinks such as juices and even milk have large amounts of sugar and should be consumed in moderation to avoid negating their nutritional benefits. Ideally a person should drink water, tea, and coffee without adding sugar in order to reduce calories gained from drinks.

Remember: All foods, including “healthful foods,” should be consumed in moderation, and distinctions can often be misleading since even natural foods like fruits can have large amounts of sugar, and foods labeled as “health foods” such as low-calorie foods, reduced-fat foods, etc. can potentially replace one unhealthy component with another. Many reduced-fat foods have large amounts of added sugar to compensate for taste lost through fat reduction. It is important to pay attention to, and consider the different components in a food product in order to determine whether said food should have a place within your diet.

Calories in Common Foods

Food Serving Size Calories kJ
Fruit
Apple 1 (4 oz.) 59 247
Banana 1 (6 oz.) 151 632
Grapes 1 cup 100 419
Orange 1 (4 oz.) 53 222
Pear 1 (5 oz.) 82 343
Peach 1 (6 oz.) 67 281
Pineapple 1 cup 82 343
Strawberry 1 cup 53 222
Watermelon 1 cup 50 209
Vegetables
Asparagus 1 cup 27 113
Broccoli 1 cup 45 188
Carrots 1 cup 50 209
Cucumber 4 oz. 17 71
Eggplant 1 cup 35 147
Lettuce 1 cup 5 21
Tomato 1 cup 22 92
Proteins
Beef, regular, cooked 2 oz. 142 595
Chicken, cooked 2 oz. 136 569
Tofu 4 oz. 86 360
Egg 1 large 78 327
Fish, Catfish, cooked 2 oz. 136 569
Pork, cooked 2 oz. 137 574
Shrimp, cooked 2 oz. 56 234
Common Meals/Snacks
Bread, white 1 slice (1 oz.) 75 314
Butter 1 tablespoon 102 427
Caesar salad 3 cups 481 2014
Cheeseburger 1 sandwich 285 1193
Hamburger 1 sandwich 250 1047
Dark Chocolate 1 oz. 155 649
Corn 1 cup 132 553
Pizza 1 slice (14″) 285 1193
Potato 6 oz. 130 544
Rice 1 cup cooked 206 862
Sandwich 1 (6″ Subway Turkey Sandwich) 200 837
Beverages/Dairy
Beer 1 can 154 645
Coca-Cola Classic 1 can 150 628
Diet Coke 1 can 0 0
Milk (1%) 1 cup 102 427
Milk (2%) 1 cup 122 511
Milk (Whole) 1 cup 146 611
Orange Juice 1 cup 111 465
Apple cider 1 cup 117 490
Yogurt (low-fat) 1 cup 154 645
Yogurt (non-fat) 1 cup 110 461

* 1 cup = ~250 milliliters, 1 table spoon = 14.2 gram

2000, 1500, and 1200 Calorie Sample Meal Plans

Calories Burned from Common Exercises:

Activity (1 hour) 125 lb person 155 lb person 185 lb person
Golf (using cart) 198 246 294
Walking (3.5 mph) 215 267 319
Kayaking 283 352 420
Softball/Baseball 289 359 428
Swimming (free-style, moderate) 397 492 587
Tennis (general) 397 492 587
Running (9 minute mile) 624 773 923
Bicycling (12-14 mph, moderate) 454 562 671
Football (general) 399 494 588
Basketball (general) 340 422 503
Soccer (general) 397 492 587

Energy from Common Food Components

Food Components kJ per gram Calorie (kcal) per gram kJ per ounce Calorie (kcal) per ounce
Fat 37 8.8 1,049 249
Proteins 17 4.1 482 116
Carbohydrates 17 4.1 482 116
Fiber 8 1.9 227 54
Ethanol (drinking alcohol) 29 6.9 822 196
Organic acids 13 3.1 369 88
Polyols (sugar alcohols, sweeteners) 10 2.4 283 68

10 Things You Don’t Know about Calories

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Calories get a bad rap. We blame them for everything — from making us feel guilty about enjoying a hot fudge sundae with extra nuts to the way our jeans fit (or don’t fit, as the case may be).

Yet, demonizing calories is like bad-mouthing oxygen: It’s impossible to survive very long without either one. “Calories fuel the body. We need them, just as we should enjoy the foods that provide them,” says John Foreyt, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and an expert on weight management. “There’s nothing bad or magical about calories, it’s just that body weight comes down to a simple equation of calories in (from food) versus calories out (as physical activity).”

Here’s the real skinny — answers from the experts to 10 of the most frequently asked questions about calories, and what you really need to know to lose weight.

1. What is a calorie?

“Just like a quart is a measurement of volume and an inch is a measurement of length, a calorie is a measurement or unit of energy,” explains dieting-researcher Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and author of The LEARN Program for Weight Management (American Health Publishing Co., 2004). “The number of calories in the foods you eat is a measure of the number of energy units that food supplies.” Those energy units are used by the body to fuel physical activity as well as all metabolic processes, from maintaining your heartbeat and growing hair to healing a scraped knee and building muscle.

Only four components of food supply calories: protein and carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), alcohol (7 calories per gram) and fat (9 calories per gram). Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber and water do not supply calories.

2. How do I calculate how many calories I should cut to lose weight?

First, you need to know how many calories you’re currently consuming. You can figure that out by keeping a food journal: tracking calories for everything you eat during a period including at least two weekdays and one weekend day (since people tend to eat differently on weekends). Figure out the calorie count for each food item (see question 3), then tally the total calories and divide by the number of days you tracked your intake to find your daily average.

Or you can roughly estimate your caloric intake by using this formula: If you are age 30 or under, multiply your weight by 6.7 and add 487; women who are 31-60 should multiply their weight by 4 and add 829. Then, multiply the total by 1.3 if you’re sedentary (don’t work out at all), 1.5 if you’re slightly active (work out three to four times a week for one hour), 1.6 if you’re moderately active (work out four to five times a week for one hour) or 1.9 if you’re very active (work out almost every day for one hour).

Once you know about how many calories you consume per day, try Foreyt’s 100/100 plan: “To lose a couple of pounds a month, cut 100 calories from your daily diet and add 100 calories in exercise. This is as easy as eliminating the pat of butter on a slice of toast and walking 20 minutes every day,” he notes.

3. How do I figure out the calories in fruits, vegetables and other foods without a nutrition label?

There are dozens of calorie-counting books on the market. Check out Corinne Netzer’s The Complete Book of Food Counts, 6th Edition (Dell Publishing, 2003). You also can get similar information for free on the Web. One of our favorite sites is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s online nutrient database at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/.

Use these tools diligently to keep track, and in just a few weeks you’ll be able to gauge how many calories are in the portions you typically eat. It’s then simply a matter of cutting down on those portions to lose weight.

4. What is the lowest, yet still safe, calorie level I can drop to when I’m trying to lose weight?

“Women should not consume less than 1,200 calories a day,” Brownell cautions. In fact, a diet below 1,000 calories a day (called a very low-calorie diet or VLCD) increases your risk for gallstones and heart problems and should be followed only by obese people under a doctor’s supervision. While you can drop to 1,200 calories per day and survive, doing so is not a smart idea. Going for a bare-minimum caloric intake may yield quick results, but it also can leave you listless and unable to exercise (key to keeping the pounds off), and may lead to muscle loss and a slowing of your metabolism. Even if you’re careful about what you eat, a daily intake of 1,200 calories can shortchange you on important nutrients such as calcium and folate.

Your best bet for success: a moderate calorie cut such as the one Foreyt recommends. That way you’ll stay healthy and still have energy for an active lifestyle.

5. Are calories from fat more fattening than calories from carbohydrates and protein?

Yes. “Dietary fat is more readily stored as body fat, because the body must work harder to convert carbohydrates and protein to fat, while dietary fat can be stored as is. That increased work equates to a slight loss of calories,” says Robert H. Eckel, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and chairman of the American Heart Association’s Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism. When a 100-calorie pat of butter enters your system, your body burns 3 percent of its calories in order to turn it into body fat. But your system uses 23 percent of the calories in carbs and protein to convert them into fat for storage. That said, there is no evidence that dietary fat is stored in any greater amount as body fat than carbs or protein if you are balancing calories in with calories out. Overeating is still the problem — it’s just that it’s much easier to overeat fatty foods since they are such concentrated sources of calories.

But be sure not to cut out all fat. A little bit is necessary for body functions, such as vitamin absorption. And monounsaturated fats — olive oil, nuts, avocados — have been found to be beneficial for heart health.

6. Do I cut calories or fat to lose weight?

Cut both for best results. “It is a lot easier to restrict calories when you cut fat, while cutting fat aids in weight loss only if it is accompanied by a drop in calories,” Brownell explains. The National Weight Control Registry — an ongoing project at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado — found that dieters who maintained a 30-pound or more weight loss for more than one year were successful in part by limiting their calories to about 1,300 a day and keeping fat to about 24 percent of calories.

7. Do calories from saturated fat take longer to burn than calories from unsaturated fats?

Probably not. A handful of studies, mostly on animals, found that the monounsaturated fats in nuts and olives might burn a little faster than saturated fats. “All fats are metabolized differently, but the differences are so slight that switching from one fat to another has no practical use for weight loss,” Foreyt says. Of course, the fats from most plants and fish are heart-healthy, so that benefit alone is good reason to switch from filet mignon and butter to fillet of sole and olive oil.

8. Are “empty” and “hidden” calories the same thing?

No. Empty calories describes foods that offer little or no nutritional value. For example, for 112 calories, an 8-ounce glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice offers potassium and supplies 100 percent of your daily need for vitamin C, while the same amount of orange soda has 120 calories and is completely devoid of nutrients. The soda delivers empty calories; the OJ does not. In general, the more a food is processed, the lower its number of vitamins, minerals, fiber and cancer-fighting agents known as phytochemicals, and the higher its content of fat, sugar and empty calories.

In contrast, hidden calories can be found in all types of foods. These are the calories that sneak into your diet quietly, such as from the butter added to vegetables in a restaurant kitchen. “If you eat away from home, you’re in for trouble, because you don’t know how many hidden calories from fat have been added to your meal,” Foreyt warns.

The easiest way to avoid hidden calories is to ask about ingredients whenever someone else has prepared your meal and to request that food you’re served at restaurants be steamed, baked or broiled dry. When purchasing packaged foods, always check the nutrition label. That seemingly harmless bran muffin could harbor several grams of fat, upping the calorie content significantly.

9. Do no-calorie foods aid in weight loss?

Theoretically, yes. Switch your daily cola to diet cola and you’ll save about 160 calories per 12-ounce can, which should lead to about a 17-pound weight loss over the course of a year. However, scientists have learned that when people consume lowfat, sugar-reduced, low-calorie or calorie-free foods, they typically compensate by eating more of something else later. A Pennsylvania State University study of women found that those who were told they were snacking on reduced-fat yogurt ate more food at their midday meal than did women told the yogurt was full-fat, regardless of the actual fat content of the snack.

To make no- and low-calorie foods work to your advantage, use them in combination with tried-and-true habits for permanent weight loss, such as reducing portion sizes, getting at least 25 grams of fiber a day, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and exercising five times a week.

10. Do calories eaten at night act differently from those eaten during the day?

Not really. “Eat a huge dinner or snack uncontrollably in the evening and there might be a slight fat-storing effect compared with eating a big breakfast followed by a physically active day,” Foreyt says. “But the effect is so insignificant that it won’t have any noticeable influence on your weight.” However, for most of us, dinner typically is the biggest meal of the day, supplying almost half of a person’s daily caloric intake, and that’s not even counting a late-night snack of ice cream or chips. Bigger portions and excess calories at any time of the day will pack on the pounds. Significant research shows that eating a nutritious, low-calorie breakfast — for example, a bowl of whole-grain cereal topped with fruit and nonfat milk — makes it easier to manage your weight. That’s not because of any difference in how the calories are burned, but because you’re less likely to overeat later in the day if you start off with a healthful meal.

Can You Live on a 220-Calorie-a-Day Diet?

I experimented with probably my most unpleasant, yet effective diet ever this week: The 4-Day Diet.

Inspired by a recently published randomized trial, I decided to test out the diet’s rather extreme prescription of all-day walking and near starvation.

Like the participants who lost an average of 11 pounds in a mere 4 days, I also rapidly lost fat: I dropped 1.3 percent body fat, which is about twice as fast as my previous diet (0.7 percent in a week). Even more extraordinary, like those in the research study, I keep shedding my waistline—two days after returning to my normal diet, I’ve lost another 0.5 percent in 2 days.

But, in addition to constant hunger, the 4-Day Diet had other unexpected side effects, like peeing blood, and blisters—in NC-17 rated places. Here’s how I managed through it, without taking a minute off work.

What’s the study this is based on?

A research team in Spain tracked 15 obese participants over a year, after they subjected themselves to a diet of about 360 calories a day while walking for eight hours. Imagine going from three big American-sized meals a day to a small salad. “We thought they would overeat and regain the weight lost,” Dr. Calbet told The New York Times, but after a month, many had lost even more weight.

Starvation diets are highly controversial, both because people need food to live and because sometimes the body can power-down its metabolism in response. Indeed, my body’s Borg-like adaptation to dieting is why I employ a strategy of systematic binging to ramp up my metabolism after my fat-loss plateaus (so-called “Ketogenic cycling”).

How did you modify it?

I’ve subjected myself to some weird diets in the name of journalism, but I have a rule that I always try to eat real food and get plenty of high-intensity exercise. Though the participants were allowed a protein shake and a low-calorie Gatorade-type substance, I avoid experiments with anything that doesn’t involve at least some type of nutrition. Also, I have to work and can’t spend four days prancing around the Scandinavian countryside.

I ate a total of 220 calories (or 3.2 kcal/pound): 100 grams of local-caught wild Alaskan Salmon, 10 blueberries, a teaspoon of honey comb from the California Delta, and a half-pound of leafy greens (rotating spinach, kale, and mesclun mix on different days)

I walked: ~15 miles per day, half on a walking treadmill desk and the other half between meetings around San Francisco. Thank goodness for global warming. It was much easier to convince my meeting partners to trek San Francisco’s brutal hills under the crystal-clear skies. I also did one exercise a day.

I’m interested, what are the tricks you used?

A few things helped:

1. Green tea. The lightly caffeinated beverage tapered my appetite while ensuring I had some nutrition.

2. Lube. Chaffing is a novel thing to experience at the office. Repurposing lubricants offers a pleasant reprieve, and oddly necessary, reprieve from burning in places I will not describe without an age-verification question. At the end of the day, I rubbed blisters down with raw aloe leaf and then sealed with some good ol’ Vaseline.

3. Rumble roller. Even with my normal running shoes (Reebok, Crossfit, Nano), my knees still got achy after about four hours. Twice a day, I rolled out my legs on my spikey foam friend, the rumble roller. If you’re new to myofascial release, my go-to mobility guru is Kelly Starrett, who has a ton of videos. Warning: this hurts…a lot, but it did release my knee pain.

For productivity’s sake, I rolled out while on phone calls…and hoped that my colleagues chalked up the squeals of pain to a scratchy phone signal.

4. Upper-body workouts. The study had participants do a light “arm crank” exercise. However, I wanted to keep my normal muscle building routine without crushing my already exhausted legs. So, for 30 minutes a day, I’d do P90x3’s at-home boxing workout or ab routine. To give myself a little mental break, I watched the workout videos side-by-side with Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix.

How unpleasant is it, really?

It’s not that bad, really. Most of the men “were surprised that it was easier than they thought it would be,” José Calbet told The New York Times. While I was hungry, it wasn’t any worse than I feel on a normal diet. I never experienced severe or even moderate hunger pangs.

Would you do this again?

Yes, I would. But, I’m not sure how often. After discovering blood in my urine on Day 2 and the pain from my increasingly weak knees, I don’t know how long this diet is sustainable for. While it’s not unusual for long-distance runners to experience urine Hematuria it did freak me out a bit.

Calbet cautions: “People should not try to do this on their own. I strongly advise anyone trying to do this type of intervention to do it under medical control.”

Perhaps, for the future, I’ll try two days on, two days off, or some modification. I love the efficacy, but there has to be a less extreme way.

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