How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight?

By Jill Coleman, MS, CPT, Prevention

Reader question: How many calories can I eat and still lose weight?

Jill's answer: We see tons of weight loss programs on the market that have you counting something—whether it's calories or grams of carbohydrates or points or weighing and measuring food—all designed to help you eat more moderately and lose weight.

While I do believe a certain level of mindfulness is important in some capacity (which is why food journals prove beneficial for some people), stressing over every single morsel of food that passes your lips can potentially do more harm than good. Besides, stress is a huge part of the weight loss equation, and counting calories religiously can be stressful.

Not to mention the fact that calories are not all there is to weight loss. It's not as simple as cutting your calories from food and increasing your exercise. Your body is not a furnace, nor is it a math equation. There's more going on than just calories in versus calories out.

We know this intuitively, don't we? We try to cut calories and we end up binging on more (and worse) stuff later. Cutting calories as a hard and fast weight-loss tactic is shortsighted; besides, there's only so low you can go, and this strategy says nothing about how you actually feel. Remember, if you can't do something easily and sustainably, any weight you lose will come right back on. Cutting calories is a Band-Aid.

Plus, each person is completely different. We are as unique on the inside chemically as we are out on the outside physically, so sticking to a random number of daily calories and assuming you'll get linear and predictable results is a shortcut to crash dieting and yo-yo weight regain.

So what do you so instead if counting calories isn't the answer?

First, the know that calories do matter—but so do hormones. Hormones are simply signaling molecules in the body that direct our sensations. They make us feel hungry or full. They make us feel satisfied or ravenous with cravings. They direct our energy up or down. They impact mood, sleep, motivation, and so on. In short, hormones tell our brains what's happening on the inside.

If you're feeling hungry or craving sweets, those are the outward signals of your hormonal environment in that moment. So it's important that you first listen to your body. Because even if you could lose weight eating 1,200 calories a day, you could never actually do it long-term because your hunger and cravings may be through the roof and your energy is tanking.

So start to monitor your hunger, energy, and cravings throughout the day. That's key because it's only when they are balanced that you can begin manipulating your eating to lose weight.

Lean protein, lots of veggies, and less-sweet fruits make up the majority of a hormone-balancing diet. Nothing new there. If you are eating a diet high in these foods, you’ll naturally be less hungry, experience fewer cravings, and have more stable energy. And when you feel that way, you'll automatically eat less in general. You'll create a lower calorie diet naturally so you don't have to white-knuckle your way through counting calories; you'll eat less effortlessly though eating more of the right food more often.

So how many calories can you eat and still lose weight? The good news is that you don't have to count calories at all if you are eating a diet that will balance hunger, energy, and cravings. Calories will take care of themselves. The not-so-good news is that I don't have a hard and fast number for you. You'll have to figure that out yourself (you're completely different than anyone else, remember?) through trial and error.

Begin with a diet full of vegetables and high-quality protein and see how you do. Don't count—just eat liberally and see how you feel. Monitor your sensations and adjust as needed. "Count" your hormones, not calories.

See more at: Prevention


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