Fat makes you fat. No, wait, carbs are the enemy. The truth is, when it comes to losing weight, it's all about calories: You have to burn off more than you take in to shed pounds. But over the years, that message has gotten lost, which may be partially to blame for our increased calorie consumption. Women now eat 22% more calories than they did in 1971, for an average of 1,877 per day. That may sound low, but only 19% of adults are highly active. This means that few women burn enough calories to warrant the amount they eat. (The lowdown: Every pound of body weight burns through 10 to 15 calories daily; only 10 if you're inactive, but up to 15 if you exercise 30 to 60 minutes most days.) When you're guessing how many calories you can eat, being off by just 100 calories a day can keep you 6 to 10 pounds overweight. Experts say this is precisely why women in their 40s are 25 pounds heavier now compared with 1960—and why getting calories right is the only way to reach your ideal weight. Our guide will show you how.
How my family helps me keep the pounds off
Step 1: Find Out How Many Calories You Eat
Women often underestimate how much they really eat, so follow these suggestions
Track, Don't Count
You don't need to become a human calculator, but you should get a baseline idea of what you're consuming every day. (A survey of more than 1,000 people found that only 13% knew how many calories they eat a day.) The best way is to record each morsel you take in, for a day or two (use our free journal at prevention.com/healthtrackers to jot down your diet). Getting a grasp on exactly what you're eating can help you find out where the bulk of your calories comes from. Then you can make simple substitutions that shave off calories without sacrificing taste or satisfaction. For example, trading a handful of pretzels for 3 cups of air-popped popcorn sprinkled with 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese saves about 115 calories and has loads more flavor while tripling your portion size.
Read Labels Right
The Nutrition Facts info on a package lists the calorie count in one serving. But don't forget to compare that with the amount you actually eat or drink; many packages contain two servings or more. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of organic lemonade contains 110 calories per serving, and 2 1/2 servings per bottle. Drink the whole thing and you racked up 275 calories; that's nearly 20% of a day's calorie needs for most women. (Learn how to gauge portion size with our 400 Calorie Fix program.)
Look for Total Calories, Not Type
Surveys show that women look at grams of fat and sugar before calories, a habit that can mislead you into eating more than you should—especially when it comes to reduced-fat or low-sugar foods. For example, three regular Chips Ahoy! cookies provide 160 calories. Four of the reduced-fat version have 200. And sugar free doesn't mean calorie free. Five tiny Hershey's sugar-free dark chocolate candies provide 190 calories and 1 cup of Edy's no-sugar-added Caramel Chocolate Swirl ice cream contains 220.
Step 2: Determine How Many Calories You Need
Knowing your ideal goal prevents weight gain—and helps you lose
Use this simple equation to find your daily calorie needs
Your weight goal:
Multiply by: x 10 if you don't exercise at all
x 13 if you rarely exercise or only play the occasional weekend golf or tennis game
x 15 if you regularly exercise (swim, walk, or jog) for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week
Total daily calories ________
Aim for this number every day to reach and maintain your weight goal.
To up your daily calorie allotment, move more. Going from being inactive to walking your dog every other day means you can multiply your weight goal by 13 rather than 10. For a 150-pound woman, that's an increase of 450 calories per day: So you could add one slice of whole wheat toast, 1 tablespoon of almond butter, 1 cup of grapes, and 1/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips to your daily diet without gaining.