I am frequently asked “how many calories per day should I consume to lose weight?”

This is a loaded question for so many different reasons.
The first problem is that so many people think that it is primarily the balance of calories in versus calories out that determine weight loss or gain.

So if this were the case, then the number of calories consumed per day to lose weight will vary depending on the person. Answers to these questions must be answered first:

• What “size” are you now? How much do you weigh? How tall are you?
• How active are you during the day? How many calories do you burn?
• What is your base metabolism? What is your ratio of fat to lean muscle?
• How much weight/fat do you want to lose?

But the problem is that in fact these questions are actually very misleading. Although calories alone do certainly play a factor in weight loss, the calories in, calories out equation may actually only play a minor role.

You see, everybody thinks that calories are the villain, but that is not true.

What is a calorie anyway?

A calorie is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as: a) the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius that is equal to 1000 gram calories or 3.968 Btu and b) a unit equivalent to the large calorie expressing heat-producing or energy-producing value in food when oxidized in the body.

So basically a calorie is a unit of energy possessed by food. This energy is released and transferred when food is digested and absorbed. I don’t think any of us would argue that we need energy.

But the thing is that we never eat just pure calories, there is always something associated with this energy and those calories all come in different forms. With those calories we may be consuming vitamins, minerals, fiber or toxins. The calories may also present as protein, fat or carbohydrates.
So what if we reworded the question from “how many calories per day should I consume to lose weight?” To “how many calories of sugar, or protein, or fat, or brussel sprouts, or bananas, etc. per day should I consume to lose weight?”
Do you see how the answer to the number of calories would probably change based on the type or form of calorie you are consuming?

Although the balance of calories in and calories out does play a role in weight loss or gain, here are the other issues that need to be considered:
• How toxic are you? Did your body produce your fat to store energy or to protect you from toxins?
• What form of calories are you consuming? Simple carbohydrates are low in nutrition and are digested very easily. The only value they have is for immediate energy. In contrast protein is digested much more slowly and takes more energy for digestion. Plus it plays a role in lean muscle development that further enhances your metabolism and ongoing calorie burn.
• What type of calories do you consume and when? Much of your body’s fat content is controlled by your hormones, particularly Human Growth Hormone and Cortisol. The type and timing of your food consumption determines what hormones are produced.

Despite all the science out there today that has proven that diets don’t work, so many people are still locked into the belief that if they just decrease their calories and increase their level of activity then they’ll lose weight.
There is a weight loss calculator on line (http://caloriecount.about.com/tools/calories-goal) that tells you how many calories you should consume to reach your weight loss goal. Just for fun, I entered in my numbers and learned that to lose 10 pounds in 2 months I should consume 2330 calories per day.

There are so many flaws with a calculation like this it is hard to know where to begin. Wouldn’t (shouldn’t) there be a difference if I was starting at 30% body fat as opposed to 6% body fat? This calculator doesn’t consider that.

This calculator only recommends the number of calories as well. Is it saying that if I consume 2330 calories per day in donuts and chocolate bars that I’ll lose the same weight as if I eat 2330 calories in properly balanced protein, fat and high fiber carbohydrates?

Is it also saying that it doesn’t matter if I fast all day long and then just eat my 2 boxes of donuts (2330 calories) right before I go to bed?

I don’t think you need to be a certified nutritionist to say “probably not”.

So yes, weight loss is much more complicated than simply counting your calories. And there is definitely no answer to the question of “how many calories per day should I consume to lose weight?”

Now I recognize that I have used extreme examples here, but that was simply to help with clarification and understanding. The truth is that much subtler examples can have nearly the same huge impact.

My goal here is to clarify and simplify things as much as I can. Please follow my articles on my how-to-eat-healthy.com website (http://www.how-to-eat-healthy.com/nutrition/) to learn what you need to know to improve and maintain your health and reach your desired weight loss goals.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Caldwell is a retired firefighter and advanced care flight paramedic with a Bachelor's Degree in Biology and a Master's Degree in Management. Mike is the author of V.E.A.R. Toward Success, a motivational/inspirational book that using real life examples explains how to apply your Vision, Energy, Attitude and Resolve to achieve any of your goals. In 2012, Mike decided to get serious about his Ironman triathlon racing, but given his resistance to long hours of physical training, Mike turned to nutrition to facilitate his race improvement. Within 2 months both Mike and his wife Monique lost over 30 pounds of fat each. Mike has gone on to improve all his race time personal bests by an average of 20%! http://www.how-to-eat-healthy.com/