Calculate your body’s energy needs

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Have you ever compared the amount of food you eat to a budget? Just as living outside of your means can wreak havoc on your finances, so can spending more calories than you can afford really affect your quality of life. Although eating more calories than you can spend does not affect your credit rating, it can seriously change your life in many unwanted ways.

So, how can you determine your calorie budget? As a dietitian, I use a calculation known as the Mifflin-St. Jeor formula. This equation helps calculate basal metabolic rate (BMR), which represents the minimum amount of calories our body needs to perform basic functioning. The human body is like a running engine, even when it’s not going anywhere, it still needs energy. The brain, liver, kidneys and skeletal muscle never turn off and they account for 85% of total calorie needs. Eating less calories that your BMR is inviting your body to conserve energy and slow your metabolism, which is why there are activity factors to help me adjust calories to reflect a person’s physical state to come up with the best number.

Another way I calculate calorie needs is to simply multiply calories per kilogram of body weight. To get this measurement a conversion factor of 2.2 is used to convert pounds to kilograms. If you’re trying to lose weight, multiply that number by 25 to get your total needs for safe weight loss. For maintenance or weight gain, multiply by 30 or 35, respectively. The number you get will be a good place to get started.

Once you have gotten your daily calorie needs, or budget, you can then use that information to plan how you’d like to spend it. And calories, just like money, are better spent when one can take the time and plan ahead. Our body works better if you earn extra calories in advance. Think of exercise as putting extra money, or calories, in the bank! Just like saving up for a big ticket item, you’ll enjoy the food you’ve saved up for much more because you’ve been working towards it.

In the world of calories, there should never be any credit cards; that is, don’t spend it until you’ve earned it. How many times have you told yourself you can have one more helping because you’ll work it off in the next day or so? It’s too easy to talk yourself out of exercise after the fact. Remember, the interest your body charges for overspending is much too high a price to pay for your health tomorrow.

So, what are you waiting for? Get a notebook, computer or your smart phone and start journaling what you eat. Get a pedometer or fitness bracelet to help you increase your activity. Just like budgeting your money, you can keep track of your eating and exercise and get control of not only your habits, but your health as well.

Mary Koch is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Questions may be sent to


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