Fad diets seem like magic: Just eat lots of butter and bacon while skipping bread, or channel your inner cave-person, and you’ll lose weight—without cutting calories! Well, not really. When it comes to weight loss, there is no magic. There’s just math. And that math is calories: They’re a measure of how much energy your body takes in, and how much energy your body uses. So in order to lose weight, we need to ask ourselves: How many calories should I eat to lose weight?
When your body is using more energy than it takes in, you lose weight. So even if your coworker Diane swears she’s losing weight fast by eating avocado and coconut oil smoothies with gold flakes that have the same amount of calories as her old diet… she’s wrong. Unless she’s on medication that’s affecting her metabolism, her quick weight loss diet is working because she’s burning more energy than she’s taking in.
That’s how Nutrisystem works, too: The weight loss program is high in fiber and protein, nutrients that help you feel more full even when you’re eating fewer calories. But they still have fewer calories than you’re used to eating—meaning you burn more than you take in, and you lose weight. And the best part is you don’t have to measure those calories or your portions—because Nutrisystem foods are already perfectly portioned for weight loss, you just unwrap, prep, eat … and lose weight!
So how many calories does your body need to lose weight? Read on to find out what you’re burning now, how much less than that is healthy, and why counting may be even harder than it seems.
How many calories do I need?
That depends on your height, weight, gender and age. This information, inputted into an equation, will provide you with your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Don’t get this confused with BMI: Your BMR is a measure of how many calories your body would burn every day if you did basically nothing. If you’re a 35-year old female, for instance, who is five feet, six inches and weighs 195 pounds, your BMR is 1649 calories. That’s how many calories your body requires to maintain your weight even if you did nothing but lay in bed all day. You can calculate your own BMR using any number of online calculators.
But you don’t lay in bed all day—you go to work, pick up the kids and move. All that burns calories, and the Harris-Benedict Equation has been used (and updated) for almost a century to account for your activity, according to Original Research Communications. The equation multiplies your BMR by an activity factor to account for the extra calories your body burns from exercise and other activities.
To note: There are many caloric calculators that can be used. Another popular caloric and activity calculator that can be used is the Mifflin St. Jeor.
If you don’t exercise much or at all, for instance, your BMR is multiplied by 1.2 to get the “real” number of calories your body needs to maintain your current weight. In the case of our 35-year-old female, this would increase her daily caloric needs to 1978.8. If she eats less than this, she’ll lose weight.
If you are a “light” exerciser, your Harris-Benedict multiplier is 1.375. Moderate exercisers, who work out three to five times per week, multiply their BMR by 1.55. And “heavy” exercisers, who hit the gym just about every day, multiply by 1.725.
So I just eat less than that, right?
Dropping your calories by a drastic level won’t help in the long term: In a review of studies, published in Obesity, on “Very low-calorie diets” compared with “conventional low-calorie diets,” scientists found that in the long term, people eating way less than they needed didn’t wind up losing more weight than those using a modest calorie deficit. Maintaining a “very low-calorie diet” is much tougher—you’re starving!
So how much of a deficit should you have? Health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend eating a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day for a healthy weight loss rate of one to two pounds per week.
Throughout your time on the Nutrisystem program, your caloric intake will remain consistent— typically around 1200 calories for women and 1500 calories for men (once you get past the first week of FreshStart). We encourage you to contact your weight loss counselors for any specific questions on adjustments to your meal plan throughout the duration of the weight loss program, or if you drastically increase your activity level. You can easily contact our weight loss counselors by calling 1-800-585-5483, or you can live chat them here >
Counting isn’t as simple as it seems.
Keeping track of your calories seems easy, but people are notoriously bad at it: In a 1995 report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists found that in a number of studies, people reported eating far fewer calories than they actually did. One study of 16 patients found that patients under-reported their daily calorie intake by 1100 per day. Scientists also reported that in similar studies, some patients over-reported their physical activity levels. If you think you’re eating less than you really are and exercising more than you really are, it’s going to be frustrating when you can’t lose weight!
It’s not like these study participants were “lying” about how much they ate—we’re just really bad at estimating how much we’re eating. A study in Nature found that Americans overestimate the sizes of fruit and vegetable portions, and underestimate the size of snack and carb servings.
It can also be useful to learn what a proper portion size looks like—your hand is actually a great tool for measuring, and this “handy” guide can teach you how to use your palm, fingertip and fist to determine proper portions >
But while it’s important to learn about healthy portion sizes, you can diet to lose weight fast without measuring: That’s the beauty of Nutrisystem. All the meals, snacks and shakes have been pre-portioned and pre-measured for you. You’ll eat a caloric deficit without all the math, and lose weight. You will have opportunity to practice appropriate portion sizes through their snacks and Flex™ meals, so they are learning how to continue their healthy habits after they reach their weight loss goal.
And, if you’re worried about how many calories you’re eating with the grocery items and flex meals you get to add in, NuMi, our FREE tracking app is your perfect solution. With NuMi, you can track your food, water, weight and activity. Plus, when you download this useful tool, you’ll get access to hundreds of healthy recipes, weight loss tips from our dietitians and even exclusive discounts and offers. Learn more about the benefits of NuMi here >