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How Many Calories Does a Woman Need?

Women need fewer calories than men

The calories needed for women are less than those needed for men. That means if both eat the same food portions then the woman may gain weight while the man keeps his trim waistline.

Calories Needed for Women Differ

In general, men have leaner muscle mass than women and as a result will burn more calories. A woman doesn't burn calories as efficiently as a man and needs fewer calories. The caloric requirement for women can also differ from one woman to another. Caloric needs depend on a number of factors that are unique to your physical makeup.

Caloric Need Factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Genes
  • Height
  • Amount of exercise (activity level)
  • Ratio of fat to muscle
  • Weight, ratio of fat to muscle

Along with this standard list, you'll also need to take into consideration other variables such as being pregnant, breast feeding, or fighting an illness. All of these factors may increase your caloric need.

How Your Body Burns Calories

You don't want the process of determining how many calories you should eat to become an unsolvable puzzle that makes you throw your hands up in surrender. The easiest way to evaluate your individual caloric needs is to focus on your basal metabolic rate and level of physical exercise.

Basal Metabolic Rate

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) controls the amount of calories your body burns in order to keep running. Even when your body is at rest, you're burning calories to keep all of your automatic body functions operating. Your lungs breathe, your eyes blink, your heart pumps, and your liver and kidneys continue to filter your blood. That just skims the surface of the automatic body systems that don't require your conscious thought in order to function. When it comes to the number of calories women need, more than half of the required calories are used to fuel automatic functions.

Physical Exercise

The second factor to take into consideration when determining caloric needs is your level of physical activity. Physical activity burns calories, and the more you exercise or move around the more calories you need.

Determine Your Caloric Needs

Learning your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and factoring in your physical activity will help you determine how many calories you need in order to maintain your current weight. If you plan to lose weight, then you'll need to burn more calories than you consume. This is the crux of any successful weight loss.

One formula commonly used to determine caloric needs for women is the Harris Benedict Formula. This mathematical formula determines calories needed based on height, weight, gender, and age. The calculation also takes into account your level of exercise and adjusts the caloric intake requirement accordingly.

Harris Benedict Formula
To figure out how many calories you need in a day multiply BMR by the most fitting activity factor:
  1. Sedentary - little to no exercise: BMR x 1.2
  2. Light activity - 3 days per week: BMR x 1.375
  3. Moderate activity - 3-5 days a week: BMR x 1.55
  4. Hard exercise - 6-7 days a week: BMR x 1.725
  5. Very hard exercise - those who exercise hard, have a physical job or are in training: BMR x 1.9

It's always beneficial to understand how to calculate the calories you need. If you want to bypass the math, you can try some of the handy online calculators that use the Harris Benedict equation. These online calculators make determining your caloric needs easy.

Eating Too Many Calories

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, women and men are eating too many calories. It's easy to overeat when you're served giant portions of food. Many advertisements and TV commercials encourage you with slogans that claim you need and deserve a break. All of these messages translate into eating more than you need. Knowing the calories needed for women is a tool you can use to help break this unhealthy trend.

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How Many Calories Does a Woman Need?