Your healthcare professional should provide detailed guidance on the number and types of calories you should eat. As a rule of thumb, however, if you take in about 250 calories per day less than is needed to maintain your current weight, combined with an exercise regime that burns an additional 250 calories a day, you'll lose about a pound a week.
The number of calories your body needs to maintain its basic functions such as breathing and digestion is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Several factors go into the calculation of your BMR, including your age, height, weight and gender.
It's difficult to determine exactly how many calories you need to maintain your weight at your current level of physical activity. One way to estimate your BMR is to keep a detailed food diary over the course of a few days to a week during which you maintain your weight. Determine exactly how many calories you eat on an average day (several books and web sites provide calorie counts for thousands of foods) and use that figure as a starting place from which you then subtract 250 calories.
After you've determined how many calories a day you should eat, you need to plan daily menus. A dietitian or nutritionist can help you plan menus that include the types and amounts of food you should eat, which, in most cases, should be based on guidelines developed by the federal government in its Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines emphasize calorie reduction as well as balance, moderation and variety in food choices, with an emphasis on whole-grain products, vegetables and fruits.
To satisfy basic nutritional needs, eat a variety of foods including low-fat dairy, healthy protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs and soy products, vegetables and whole grains, and allow for an occasional treat. While you should try to cut back on excess fats and sugars, all foods and beverages can be consumed in moderation. As soon as you label a food as "off limits," chances are you will crave and perhaps even binge on it.
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