Calculate your needs

In order to eat fewer calories than you need, you have to determine how many calories you actually need.

Adults can calculate their approximate energy needs using the following formula:

Note: This assumes that you are almost totally inactive. In order to determine the caloric requirements added by excercise, go to step 3A Basal Metabolic Rate Body weight multiplied by 12 (for men) or 11 (for women) e.g., 160 lbs. x 12 = 1920 B Activity One third body weight multiplied by the number of hours you don't sleep, typically 16 hours 160 lbs. x 1/3 = 53 x 16 = 848 D Required Calories A + B 1920 + 848 = 2768

Thus, we determine that a 160-pound man requires approximately 2768 calories per day. The "Basal Metabolic Rate" is the number of calories a man of that weight would burn just to keep the heart beating, the lungs pumping, etc. You would just burn your basal metabolic rate worth of calories if you slept 24 hours per day. "Activity" is approximately the amount of calories a person would expend by spending his or her whole day sitting around. This attempts to hit an average between the hours you spend sitting around and actually doing things (e.g., pretending to work, driving, talking on the phone) and the amount of time you spend just sitting there and watching TV. If you spend more time watching TV than walking around, you may want to decrease your activity level a couple of hours to get a more accurate "Activity" number. Conversely, if you are an exercising machine, you may want to add a couple more hours to your "Activity" level.

Any deviation from sitting around can be considered exercise and added to the amount expended when you get to step 3.

Adult females can calculate their approximate energy needs using the same formula, except that A (the "Basal Metabolic Rate") is determined by multiplying body weight times 11 (e.g., 130 lbs. x 11 = 1430).

Children and teenagers require more calories by body weight, but we're not going to tell you how much. There's no way we're going to recommend that you take some course of action with your children so that you can screw it up and then come and sue the hell out of us. You should talk to your pediatrician or family physician for advice on the caloric needs of your young.

Cut back

Once you've determined how much you need to eat, stop eating that much. In order to reduce your calorie intake to an amount less than you require, you'll have to keep track of how much you eat. The best way to do this is to track your calories online with a tool like The Daily Plate. You can also buy a book that includes an extensive list of foods and the number of calories each item contains. A good, thorough listing takes many, many pages; don't buy something that just contains a one-page list of "sample caloric values," because you eat lots of different things. We recommend some good ones in our related books section. If you don't want to buy a book, you can just eat nothing but packaged foods that indicate the number of calories they contain. This works if you only eat at home, but if you eat out at all you need the listings to help you estimate the caloric intake from your restaurant meals. Some chain restaurants really have their acts together and they can tell you the caloric content of their menu items; ask a non-drooling staff member who seems potentially literate.

Now that you have the means to keep track of your caloric intake, you need to set a daily allowance and stick to it. As we noted earlier, you could lose two pounds per week by reducing your intake by 500 calories worth of food and increasing your expenditure by 500 calories worth of exercise. If you want to lose two pounds, simply take the daily caloric requirement you've already calculated and subtract 500 from it (e.g., a 160-pound man would subtract 500 from 2768 and come up with 2268). If you want to lose one pound per week, subtract 250 from your requirement. It is very difficult to function on a diet that is more than 500 calories under your requirement, and we don't recommend trying to follow such a diet. Under no circumstances should you reduce your caloric intake to fewer than 1200 calories per day.

Now that you've calculated your daily allowance, you just need to keep track of what you eat and stick to your diet. Let's say that your daily requirement is 2500 calories and you've lowered that by 500 calories to a 2000-calorie per day diet. That means you can have three meals of 600 calories each and one snack of 200 calories or a couple of 100 calorie drinks throughout the day. Don't forget to include drinks, by the way. You must include everything, from mints to "nibbles" to "healthy things that don't count." Don't play yourself that way. A calorie is a calorie, whether it came from a doughnut or a glass of organic prune juice. One exception: you can eat as much celery as you want. Celery is composed almost entirely of water and fiber, and the few calories it contains are burned up in the process of chewing it. Celery is great to chew when you're feeling hungry, which will happen. When you knock down your intake by 500 calories, your body notices and it lets you know by making you feel hungry. Ignore this. Eat lots of celery, eat low-fat, high-fiber meals, and drink lots of water.

Be strong.