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How Many Calories Should I Really Eat?

Wondering how many calories you should be eating? Well, this isn't a straightforward answer, as it's entirely based on your goals and lifestyle. Read on to learn more.

Establish Your Goals

This is the very first step toward calorie counting. It helps you get a sense for what you’re currently doing, what you ideally want, and how to get there.

For example, if you want to lose weight, you should shave off 500 calories from your usual calorie intake. But if you want to gain muscle, you should be aiming somewhere between 250 and 500 calories over your maintenance figure.

So, before you get to analyzing anything related to food, consider what you want: a lean, toned body, a hulking muscular body, or even weight gain.

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Analyze Your Current Calorie Intake

The next step in figuring out how many calories to eat is to check yourself on how many calories you’re eating currently. To do this, spend a full week logging your food. Do not change anything in your diet at this point. Do not cut any calories because you feel guilty about the numbers you’re seeing.

Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t eat more than you usually do, because you’re feeling bad about the habits and numbers you’re logging. Leave everything unchanged, and simply record what you’re eating, when, and how much.

Check Yourself On Food Quality

Sure, you may be concerned about calorie intake. The numbers are what counts, right? They’re what determines your body type and all.

Well, yes and no. Turns out, where you get those calories counts too.

For example, you could spend 700 calories on one meal at a fast food restaurant. It’s one meal, which means you’ll likely be hungry again later. And you probably ate earlier in the day as well, so you’re either going to go overboard on calories for the day, or you’ll be reminding yourself not to eat anymore.

Either way, you wind up paying for those calories, because you didn’t spend them as wisely as you could have. With those 700, you likely could have had a hearty, healthy meal, and still had calories leftover for some healthy snacks later.

Now that you’ve logged your food for a week, give it a onceover. Are you spending your calories wisely, or are you splurging on junk food too often? Making smart choices leads to better nutrition, a balanced diet, and a happier journey towards your goals.

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Be Honest About Meal Times And Habits

Another thing to consider is when you’re eating. Look back at the notes you recorded when you logged in your food for a week: are you eating more during the day, or at night?

Pay extra close attention to any moments when you splurged a little, or decidedly went a little overboard on calories when it comes to snacks.

For example, maybe you’re not particularly hungry in the morning. You have some toast, and a coffee, and carry on with your day. Noon comes around, and you have an appropriate sized meal as well. But then when it comes to dinner, you eat plenty. And evening snacking is food galore.

This situation tells us you that you eat most of your calories at night. You get hungry in the evening, rather than the morning. Also, most people are busy during the day, running errands, working, doing household chores and the like. If you’re winding down in the evenings, especially in front of the television, you’re likely overeating because you’re finally free to relax.

Understand Self-Acceptance

Once you’re done looking over your notes, and getting a clear depiction of where you are right now, and where it is you want to be, it’s important to remember compassion. We are our own worst critics. It’s easier to say “This is hard, it’s impossible, it’s never going to change,” than it is to stay upbeat and optimistic.

So, understand this: your journey can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be. The trick is to work with what you have, rather than harshly judge yourself into submission.

For instance, maybe you feel guilty that you eat a lot at night, and barely at all in the morning. You associate nighttime eating with negativity, and essentially bully yourself into changing your habit, because that’s what you think you should do.

Wrong. In fact, the more you work with your natural inclinations, the easier it will be. If you eat more at night, embrace that. Just stick with a cutoff hour, so you’re not eating too much before bedtime.

Understand Balance

Here’s another lesson that will make your journey easier: there is no such thing as “bad” food. All food is, is food. It’s either more nutritious, or it’s not, but either way, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

Therefore, you don’t need to cut out any certain type of food. Eat what you want, just eat less of it. Portion control is key.

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Set A Realistic Goal

If you’re trying to lose weight, cut out 500 calories from what you’re currently eating. When you plateau, and your weight stops going down, cut out another 30 calories. Pair this with workouts that help you retain muscle as you lose weight, so you focus on fat burning. And of course, eat a balanced diet.

Just make sure not to overcut calories. Humans can’t eat less than 1,200 calories per day, but ideally, you should be aiming for 1,300 - 1,500 as a female, and 1,500 - 2,000 for men. Anything less is starvation mode, which means your body holds onto everything it can, because it doesn’t know when your next meal will be.

Which means if you’re looking to gain weight, aim for these numbers, minimum. And rather than opt for junk food to do it, add wholesome foods. Build healthy habits where you can, as much as possible.

And again, to build muscle mass, you need more than your maintenance calories. When you workout, your muscles break down, and eating helps them repair.

If you don’t know your maintenance calories, multiply your weight in pounds by 14 to get your lower calorie level. Then multiply it by 17 for the higher level. Your maintenance calories will be somewhere between these two numbers, depending on your lifestyle and metabolism.

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