Well, the true answer to these questions is, it depends. Truly frustrating, huh? The United States Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion lists the recommended daily intake for a woman at somewhere between 1,600 and 2,400 calories, but qualifies these numbers with, "The total number of calories a person needs each day varies depending on a number of factors, including the person's age, gender, height, weight and level of physical activity. In addition, a desire to lose, maintain or gain weight affects how many calories should be consumed."
So how do you know where you fall on this 1,600 to 2,400 calorie spectrum? And believe you me, that's a mighty big range. In that 800 calorie gap, you could fit the calories of a KFC Double Down and a McDonald's hamburger!
Heather Calcote, RD of dietitianontherun.com says there is unfortunately no blanket equation for finding your perfect calorie count. So many factors contribute to this number, there isn't a pat formula for figuring it out. And the truth is that if your activity level varies from day to day or week to week, your calorie count might need to be a shifting target.
However, you're not completely on your own. There are some helpful online resources for getting a better sense of where your calorie count should be. Heather recommends MyPyramid.gov and Livestrong.com. Both sites let you plug in your stats and goals and then will generate a target calorie count based on your input. MyPyramid.gov breaks down your eating plan into the types of foods you should be consuming and has printable elements to help you keep track of your diet. Livestrong.com has similar online tools and you can log in to track your progress and daily calorie consumption. However, both sites caution that even with their personalized recommendations, you need to check in with yourself to see that you're getting the results you want. Also, consulting a medical professional before any huge diet, fitness and body change is always a good idea.
So while there are no easy answers when it comes to calorie goals, there are tools to honing in on this magic number a bit easier. Good luck, calorie counters!
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