While the NHS does give us a rough outline (quick re-cap: for those of us with two pairs of X chromosomes, that's around 2,000kcal) of course, factors like how active you are will come into play. If you're a diehard F45-er with a penchant for walking to work, natch you're going to require more kcals than someone who doesn't sweat on the regs.
So, how to work out a more detailed map of your daily calorie intake? Scroll on to find out.
Daily Calorie Intake for Women: how to know what's right for you
How much a person needs to remain healthy and on the go without feeling bouts of fatigue and sluggish varies depending on their gender, their age group and their different levels of physical activity. But this grid estimates numbers for each level of physical activity and calories required to the nearest 200, and was created using an equation from the Institute of Medicine.
How can I workout where I fall on this equation?
To understand if you are either sedentary, moderately active or active, let's break down what each term means according to Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference.
Am I 'sedentary', 'moderate' or 'active'?
- 'Sedentary' means a lifestyle that includes only light physical activity you would do day-to-day, such as walking to the bus stop
- 'Moderate' means physical activity equating to walking 1.5 to three miles per day, at a pace of three to four miles an hour
- If you have an 'active' lifestyle, that means you walk more than three miles per day at three to four miles per hour in addition to daily activities you go about
Want to try and take this number to a more exact place? Then you'll need to follow the formulas below.
Food calorie calculator: how to find out your daily calorie need
How to work out your basal metabolic rate
This is the number of calories that your body burns just to keep you alive – the volume you go through without layering exercise or other calorie-nixing activities on top. To flag: this number is a rough estimate. You would only be able to have this exact if you were measured in a lab – so treat it as a guide, rather than gospel. You'll need a calculator, scales and a tape measure for this.
According to Livestrong, the equation for women is: your height in centimetres x 6.25 + your weight in kilograms x 9.99 - your age x 4.92 - 161.
For example, if your height is 178 cm, your weight is 78.6 kg and your age is 33, you would use: (178 x 6.25) + (78.6 x 9.99) - (33 x 4.92) – 161 = 1,574 calories per day.
How to work out your calorie need, based on your BMR
From here, you can calculate your daily calorie needs, based on how active you are.
- If you are sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.1
- If you are lightly active, taking part in light exercise one to three times per week: BMR x 1.275
- If you are moderately active (moderate exercise three to fives times per week) BMR x 1.35
- If you are very active (hard exercise six times a week): BMR x 1.525
It's not just about the calories, when it comes to a balanced diet
Of course, calories are only part of the picture. Hitting your calorie guide amount with chips means something very different to making it out of lean protein, veg and healthy fats.
Here's Dr Hazel Wallace, AKA The Food Medic's, guide to creating a healthy diet.
Keep a diary of your 5-a-day
We all know we need to be eating five fruit and veg per day but maybe keep a diary of what the fruit and vegetables you're consuming in a day? It may surprise you see that those numbers may be frequently lesser than you thought.
Remember your morning porridge (or potato skins)
Increase your fibre intake. This means you include some high fibre starchy carbs i.e. wholewheat pasta, high fibre breakfast cereals i.e. porridge and low sugar granola to potatoes with their skins left on.
You also need to include calcium: whether you get yours from cow's milk, natural yogurt or a lot of kale.
Iron out your diet
And for women, especially those who have just given birth, making sure your iron levels remain high is crucial. As well as balanced portions of red meat, iron is also found in spinach, beans, pulses and wholemeal bread and dried fruit.
The latest healthy calorie strategy
In March 2018, the government announced its latest calorie guidelines to try and curb obesity: the 400-600-600 plan.
This sets a recommended number of calories for each meal a day – 400 at breakfast and 600 for both lunch and dinner.
'It’s clear that excess calories are driving weight gain for many,' Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, said of the initiative.
'Busy lives and too much food mean we’re often eating more food than we realise – especially when we’re grabbing food out and about. This can have a significant impact on our waistlines and our health.
What this means for you
First off, you could notice new labels on packaging to signal that your meal meets the 400-600-600 guidelines. And your favoured foods could get smaller or perhaps, change in flavour as recipes are re-worked to lower total calories. So far so good – or is it?
'I commend the PHE for encouraging people to eat healthier by being more informed, however, I feel there is the risk of using calories as an indicator of how healthy a food is,' says Dr Hazel Wallace and founder of The Food Medic.
'An analogy by Nichola Ludlam-Raine explains this well. A wholemeal sandwich made with chicken, avocado and salad is likely to be higher in calories than one made with white bread and filled with a slice of ham.
'Both sandwiches can have a place in the diet, but it is likely the wholemeal one, which would be higher in fibre, nutrients, protein, and healthy fats, will leave you feeling more satisfied.'
Furthermore, Wallace adds that generalised calorie guidelines need to be taken with a pinch of salt: 'It is recommended [in this campaign] that women consume 2000kcal a day, but the amount is truly individual and depends on activity level. You’ll require more calories when training for a marathon than say, in a sedentary job.'
A very valid point. In Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss author and registered dietitian Georgie Fear explains that your body burns calories even when you’re doing nothing – this is called your basal metabolic rate.
However, the number of calories it eats through is dependent on a number of factors (think: sex, age, and height) but the main determinant of BMR is lean body mass.
Therefore, you shouldn’t expect to go through the same calories as your Crossfit-regular friend who’s one foot taller and 10kg heavier – thus, making the 400-600-600 calorie rule redundant unless you fit the profile of the woman these guidelines were based on, which, by the way, hasn’t been shared.
So how can I manage a healthy, balanced calorie diet when I'm always on the go?
For starters, focus on portion sizes. Wallace suggests measuring out your food and getting to grips with recipes that you can package up and take with you. In doing so, you become more aware of the ingredient makeup of your meals.
Next, take a moment to scan food packaging. 'There is a danger that this awareness campaign could simply be used as a marketing tool by food retailers and the ‘out of home’ sector to sell more products,' warns Graham MacGregor, Professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar.
Today’s nutritional takeaway?
Make mindful choices when it comes to choosing your pre-packaged food and do look at the nutritional information. The caloric value of your food is only part of the story, look at the ingredients list for the next chapter.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health UK.