How many calories do you burn in a day

Despite all the diet strategies out there, weight management still comes down to the calories you take in versus those you burn off.

Fad diets may promise you that avoiding carbs or eating a mountain of grapefruit is the secret to weight loss, but it really comes down to eating fewer calories than your body is using if you want to shed pounds.

Calories: Fuel for your body

Calories are the energy in food. Your body has a constant demand for energy and uses the calories from food to keep functioning. Energy from calories fuels your every action, from fidgeting to marathon running.

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the types of nutrients that contain calories and are the main energy sources for your body. Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat.

These stored calories will remain in your body as fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories.

Tipping the scale

Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. And if you eat fewer calories and burn more calories through physical activity, you lose weight.

In general, if you cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, you'll lose about 1 pound (0.5 kilogram) a week.

It sounds simple. However, it's more complex because when you lose weight, you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water. Also, because of changes that occur in the body as a result of weight loss, you may need to decrease calories further to continue weight loss.

Cutting calories

Cutting calories requires change but doesn't have to be difficult. These changes can have a big impact on the number of calories you consume:

  • Skipping high-calorie, low-nutrition items
  • Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options
  • Reducing portion sizes

Saving calories by cutting high-calorie, low-nutrition items

Skipping one or two high-calorie items is a good place to start when cutting calories. For example, you could skip your morning latte, soda at lunch or that bowl of ice cream you always have after dinner.

Think about what you eat and drink each day and identify items you could cut out. If you think that skipping your indulgence will leave you with a craving, try a low-calorie substitution.

Healthier optionsInstead of ...Calories*Choose ...Calories**Actual calories may vary by brand.Flavored latte, 8 oz. (250 g)134Black coffee, 8 oz. (250 g)0Chocolate ice cream, 1 cup (135 g)292Strawberries, 1 cup (150 g)48Lemon-lime soda, 16 oz. (491 g)201Sparkling water, 16 oz. (491 g)0

Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options

Simple substitutions can make a big difference when it comes to cutting calories. For example, you can save about 60 calories a glass by drinking fat-free milk instead of whole milk. Instead of having a second slice of pizza, reach for some fresh fruit. Snack on air-popped popcorn instead of chips.

Lower calorie optionsInstead of ...Calories*Choose ...Calories**Actual calories may vary by brand.Whole milk, 1 glass (244 g)146Skim milk, 1 glass (244 g)83Fast food pepperoni pizza, 2 slices626Fast food pepperoni pizza, 1 slice, plus grapes, 1 cup (150 g)417Ranch-flavored tortilla chips, snack bag (85 g)400Air-popped popcorn, 3 cups (24 g)92

Reducing your portion sizes

The sizes of your portions affect how many calories you're getting. Twice the amount of food means twice the number of calories.

It's common to underestimate how much you're eating, especially if you're dining out. Controlling your portions is a good way to control calories.

Don't confuse a serving with a portion. A portion is the amount of food you put on your plate.

Portion sizesTypical portionCalories*Standard servingCalories**Actual calories may vary by brand.Orange juice, 8 oz. (248 g)120Orange juice, 4 oz. (124 g)60Buttermilk pancake, 6-inch diameter (77 g)175Buttermilk pancake, 4-inch diameter (38 g)86Whole-grain pasta, cooked, 2 cups (280 g)414Whole-grain pasta, cooked, 1/2 cup (70 g)103

Try these tips to control portion sizes and cut calories:

  • Start small. At the beginning of a meal, take slightly less than what you think you'll eat. If you're still hungry, eat more vegetables or fruit.
  • Eat from plates, not packages. Eating directly from a container gives you no sense of how much you're eating. Seeing food on a plate or in a bowl keeps you aware of how much you're eating. Consider using a smaller plate or bowl.
  • Check food labels. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts panel for the serving size and number of calories per serving. You may find that the small bag of chips you eat with lunch every day, for example, is two servings, not one, which means twice the calories you thought.
  • Use a calorie counter. Check out reputable resources that offer tools to count calories, such as websites or smartphone applications.

Putting it all together

Replacing high-calorie foods with lower calorie alternatives and reducing your portion sizes can help you cut calories and improve weight control. For a successful and sustainable weight management plan, you also need to increase your physical activity. Combining regular activity and healthy eating will best help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

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Dec. 08, 2020
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