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How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

Woman's Day logo Woman's Day 12/20/2018 Amy Capetta

© Rostislav_Sedlacek/Getty Images If you're hoping to lose weight in the new year, odds are someone will tell you the answer is simple: eat less, lose more. Someone else will probably tell you that, since one pound of fat is equal to roughly 3,500 calories, all you have to do is simply delete that number of calories from your weekly diet and - voila - the scale will go down.

But anyone who's been frustrated by the number on a scale - even after following these so-called proven weight loss tips - can tell you that there's more to it than that. For starters: not all calories are created equal.

"Calories matter when it comes to weight loss and maintenance, and in order to lose weight, you must take in less energy than you expend," says Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies. "But how much energy you burn each day is dependent on your metabolic rate, as well as your physical activity."

Your metabolic rate - aka how much energy you use - is determined by the number of calories you burn during digestion, Palinski-Wade says. A calorie from a simple-to-digest source, like the simple sugars in soda, can be converted into energy easily so your body doesn't have to work as hard, she explains. But a calorie that comes from a lean protein or resistant starch, like the fiber in beans and lentils, is harder for the body to break down. "This means more energy will be burnt up during the digestion of these foods, increasing the total amount of calories you burn during the day," Palinski-Wade says.

Think about it this way: If you eat a 1,600-calorie diet that's rich in simple sugars, Pallinski-Wade says your body will need to burn about 100 calories during digestion. But if those same 1,600 calories come from fiber and protein-rich foods, then you'll burn closer to 300 calories while you digest. "That difference in calorie expenditure can have a big impact on body weight over time," she says.

The type of calories you consume also matter because they can either help quell - or fuel - hunger and satiety. Because those simple sugars are so easy to digest, your body is ready for more faster. So if you're downing processed foods left and right, then you'll likely be left feeling hungry and unsatisfied. "This will impact your ability to keep weight off long-term," Palinski-Wade says.

Generally speaking though, there are benefits to becoming more mindful about the number of calories you're consuming on a regular basis.

"Determining the right number of calories for your body is highly educational if you have never paid much mind to calories before," says Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD, author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy. "It's great to be aware of calorie needs because it forces you to measure portions, so if you can learn how many portions you need for a healthy weight, you can quit thinking about every calorie."

And while cutting back on calories will most likely lead to a smaller number on the scale-especially if you have a BMI (body mass index) that falls into the overweight or obese category-this strategy will only work for a period of time. "That's where physical activity and a regular re-calculation of calorie needs comes in," continues Ward.

So what's the bottom line when it comes to calories and weight loss?

"Be aware of your total calories needs and intake," encourages Palinski-Wade. "Focus on a meal plan rich in fiber, plant-based fats, and lean proteins to promote satiety, which will naturally help you to control your portions and lose weight while taking in nutrients that promote health."

"The most important thing to remember is that eating healthier, less processed foods will probably help you lose weight and improve your energy level-and consulting ChooseMyPlate.gov is a great place to start," says Ward. She suggests following the simple icon on the site, which advises filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter of the plate with protein, and the rest with grains.

"I would like the grains to be whole grains because they're filling and more nutritious," she concludes. "Round it out with a glass of milk or a cup of yogurt-and no calorie counting needed."

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