Budgeting Your Calories

We know how much we make or are allowed, we keep track of how much we spend and on what, and we know what our balance is. But what about our calories?

Budgeting Your Calories

Dr. Mark R. Greenwood – Family Medicine
Richfield Clinic

We’re all familiar with the principle of a budget when it comes to managing our money.  We know how much we make or are allowed, we keep track of how much we spend and on what, and we know what our balance is.  

But what about our calories?  Do we know how many we are allowed each day?  Do we keep track of how many we spend or consume each day?  Do we really know the caloric content of the things we eat every day?  For most of us the answer is a resounding NO!

The reason I’m such a fan of the Weight Watchers program is because it teaches principles of caloric budgeting, which let you know how many calories you are allowed each day while also helping you track your caloric spending.

Additionally, it allows you to spend those calories on whatever you want, as long as you stay within your budget.  As I have stated before, a calorie of donut is the same as a calorie of fish.  Gimmick diets are the equivalent of giving someone a fish, where Weight Watchers is the equivalent of giving them a fishing pole.  One strategy makes you dependent on a specific program or product, whereas the other teaches you lifestyle change and independence. It teaches you correct principles, which then allow you to govern yourself.

So how many calories a day should a person eat?  Or in other words, what is your caloric budget?  Traditionally we have been told to eat 2000 calories a day.  For most people, this is too many, as is evidenced by our increasingly overweight population.  When I started the Weight Watchers program, my daily budget was 40 points (about 1200 calories).   If you are trying to lose weight, a general guideline would be to consume 1000-1200 calories per day.  A general guideline for weight maintenance would be 1200-1500 calories per day. A Snickers and a Coke is over 400 calories and a Big Mac is 550, so this is not a lot of calories.  

As you engage in this process, you quickly learn the caloric content of food and begin to make better choices.  You look at food in a different light as you say to yourself, “Since that Big Mac is almost half of my daily allowed calories, I’m not willing to spend that many calories on it.”

Instead, you get the salad with grilled chicken and a low calorie dressing for 325 calories. You learn what to spend your calories on to get the best “bang for your buck" and literally over time learn the ability to look at a high calorie food without putting it in your mouth--because you can’t afford it!  You start choosing thin over food.

Once you begin budgeting your calories, then you can start to tweak your budget a little bit by mixing exercise into the equation. Exercising can earn you extra calories.  Just like with money, if you want to spend a little extra, earn a little extra.  As a general rule, 30 minutes of solid exercise will earn you 250-300 calories.

Beyond earning extra calories, exercise is good for you and also makes you feel better.  Now you are not only living a thin lifestyle, but a healthy one as well.

As a wise man has taught us, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of performance accelerates” (Thomas S. Monson).

By applying the same principles of budgeting to our diet and exercise as we do to our money, our performance will improve and we become thinner and healthier.