You are here

Do You Really Know How Many Calories You Need?

A new survey from the International Food Information Council has taken an extensive look at what Americans are eating and why and how consumers feel about their health. This week I’ll reveal some of the findings and offer some simple tips for overcoming the most common barriers to healthy eating and weight control.


First up: calories.


The report found that just 12 percent of those surveyed were able to accurately estimate the number of daily calories they need per day for their age, height, weight, and physical activity. Of those who said they’re trying to lose or maintain weight, only 19 percent keep track of their calories, and nearly half said they did not know how many calories they burn in a day. And when it comes to calories eaten versus calories burned, over 50% don’t make an effort to balance the two.


Fortunately there are online calculators to help, including some tools right here at Here’s the calorie burn tool:


As for calorie needs, here is one I like from the Mayo Clinic – if you’re trying to lose weight I recommend entering your weight goal rather than your current weight. That means the number generated is the amount needed to get you to and keep you at your goal:


Another quick and easy rule of thumb is this: if your activity level is fairly low you can aim for about 10 calories per pound based on your ideal weight or goal. So if you weigh 175 for example and you want to weigh 150 pounds, you can aim for about 1,500 calories per day. That would be five 300 calorie meals or snacks.


I don’t think counting calories all day long is practical, but knowing the ballpark is important when you read labels on foods or go online to check the calorie information at restaurants where you eat at often. For example, a 16 oz bottle of orange juice and a muffin pack over 600 calories. If you didn’t have a framework for putting that number in perspective, you probably wouldn’t know that it’s too much for one meal.


Do you think you over (or under) estimate your calorie needs? Do you think of your daily calorie intake and output as a seesaw with a goal of striking a balance? Do you pay attention to the calorie info on food labels or menus and put in perspective with your personal “budget”? Please share your questions and thoughts!


Add a comment