Calorie Counting

Bear with me while I lay out some numbers here…

Daily recommended intakes for various (macro)nutrients:

MALES – CARBS – 130 grams/day
MALES – FIBER – avg. 34 grams/day
MALES 9 to 18 years – FAT – 25 to 35 grams/day
MALES 19+ years – FAT – 20 to 35 grams/day
MALES – PROTEIN – avg. 51 grams/day
(This number varies hugely based on activity level and fitness goals.)
MALES 18 to 25 years, mod. active – CALORIES – 2800 per day
MALES 18 years, active – CALORIES – 3200 per day
MALES 19 to 25 years, active – CALORIES 3000 per day
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FEMALES – CARBS – 130 grams/day
FEMALES – FIBER – avg. 24 grams/day
FEMALES 9 to 18 years – FAT – 25 to 35 grams/day
FEMALES 18+ years – FAT – 20 to 35 grams/day
FEMALES – PROTEIN – avg. 44 grams/day
(This number varies hugely based on activity level and fitness goals.)
FEMALES 18 years, mod. active – CALORIES – 2000 per day
FEMALES 19 to 25 years, mod. active – CALORIES – 2200 per day
FEMALES 18 to 25, active – CALORIES – 2400 per day

Daily recommended intakes for various food groups:

MALES – FRUIT – avg. 2 cups per day
MALES – VEGETABLES – avg. 2 4/5 cups per day
MALES – GRAINS – avg. 7 ounces per day
MALES – PROTEIN – avg. 6 ounces per day
MALES – DAIRY – avg. 3 cups per day
MALES – OILS – avg. 5 1/3 teaspoons per day
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FEMALES – FRUIT – avg. 1 2/3 cups per day
FEMALES – VEGETABLES – avg. 2 1/3 cups per day
FEMALES – GRAINS – avg. 5 2/3 ounces per day
FEMALES – PROTEIN – avg. 5 ounces per day
FEMALES – DAIRY – avg. 3 cups per day
FEMALES – OILS – avg. 5 1/3 teaspoons per day

So what’s the point of all the numbers?

Well, they demonstrate the very simple fact that we, as humans, NEED a certain amount of various different things to maintain healthy function. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’ll just break down and die if we don’t match or exceed those numbers. It just means that in order to be a healthy individual, those are the amounts we should strive to consume. But somewhere along the line I think a lot of people lost sight of this sentiment. Rather than focusing on getting ENOUGH of each food group and macronutrient it became about LIMITING intakes for a lot of people. Fat, carbs, and calories became enemies rather than nutrients. Things like “calorie counting” became popular, people have started paying more attention to nutrition labels, many restaurants have started listing the calorie content of certain meals/drinks on their menus, the “100 calorie” packs of various snack foods hit the shelves, etc.

What’s the bottom line in all these practices? Don’t eat too many calories! Limit your intake of fat and carbs! And what’s the POINT of these practices and their bottom lines? LOOSE WEIGHT. FAST. WITH A PILL. DIET MAGICALLY WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY. NO EXERCISE. These are many of the false claims we have to watch out for on magazine covers. These are the kind of claims that promote ridiculously low calorie, low carb, or low fat diets. But let me let you in on a little secret, that’s really not so secret…

It is wildly unhealthy to hugely limit any one nutrient.

Eating a low/no carb, fat, or calorie diet is NOT healthy. While you may lose weight initially on diets like this, they are incredibly hard to maintain because of their strict nature. It’s not exactly a healthy practice to “count calories” either for the same reason.  And honestly, the way I see it, calories are the most negligible of the macronutrients. Why do I say that?

Quite a few months ago when I first started lifting I also started tracking my nutritional intakes. I didn’t have any particular goal, I just wanted to see how much I was consuming. I based my calorie needs on my age (21 at the time), gender (female), height (5’3”), weight (125 at the time), and activity level (very active). With those numbers, I was recommended a daily caloric intake of 2214 using the calculator on this page:

But do you know what I found? My average caloric intake over 12 days was only 1685. Now, I may eat a healthier diet than most, but I certainly don’t “eat clean” by any means. Especially not when I was keeping track of my consumption, because back then I was working off of $9.85/hour part time in college. I didn’t have the money to eat the kind of diet I would have liked. However, I still ate significantly fewer calories than I was allotted per day, and that certainly wasn’t going to help me bulk. I found tracking the other nutrients (protein, sugar, and fat mainly) to be MUCH more useful than tracking the calories. Increasing my protein consumption or limiting my sugar consumption were more beneficial to my diet than cutting down or increasing my calories, and when I made those changes, the changes in calories just followed. I, of course, aimed to get closer to my limit of 2214 cal/day, but I was more concerned with the other nutrients, and those other nutrients are what made my diet healthier for ME.

All that being said, the point I hope I’m making is that (1) your diet has to be right for YOU, (2) calories are NOT the most important nutrient to keep your eye on, and (3) eating fewer calories than your daily recommendation is surprisingly EASY to do.

Had I been “counting” my calories in the traditional sense, I would have been eating even LESS than 1684. Most calorie limiting diets allow 1500 or fewer per day. I was already in a 500 calorie deficit without even trying!

Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t support dieting for weight loss. Yes, in order to lose weight, you have to be conscious of how much you’re eating each day. Input has to be less than output, blah blah blah. But you should “count” your calories/carbs/fats in reference to a daily recommended amount. That amount can either be generated from a calculator like the one I linked above, or you can trust the federal recommendations. Either way, the amount of calories YOU need to lose weight will be unique to YOU. Don’t trust anything that tells you to eat 500 calories, 1000, or 1500 a day. I would suggest keeping track of your nutritional intakes for a few weeks just to get an idea of what you currently consume, and go from there in deciding what changes you want to make. And above everything, trust what your body tells you… Eat when you’re hungry. Eat what you WANT, and if it’s on the unhealthy side, eat it in moderation.

Diets have to be enjoyable otherwise they will be difficult to stick to, and as a result, the weight will be hard to keep off. Moderation is key. Calorie counting is not, no-fat diets are not, low carb diets are not. A healthy balance of everything is what will get you to where to want to be, and that healthy balance will be unique to you.

I wish you the best of luck in whatever your diet/exercise/fitness goals may be, and I hope you’ll heed this simple piece of advice; eat your calories, don’t count them.


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Sources used for this entry:
Recommended caloric intakes:
Recommended carbs, fiber, fat, and protein intakes:
Additional sources for carbs, fiber, fat, and protein:
DRI fruits:
DRI veggies:
DRI grains:
DRI protein:
DRI dairy:
DRI oils: