When I first started becoming weight-conscious, I spent entirely too much of my life entering my body weight into calorie calculators on the web, trying to figure out how many calories I needed per day. I wanted to be sure not to eat too much, and rather than choosing to stop eating when I was full, I wanted a number.
But these calculators were almost as frustrating as the thought of not knowing how many calories I was supposed to eat. At my high school weight and height, I was informed I should eat anywhere from about 1200 to 2500 calories a day.
With the rise of both Google and informational health websites on the Internet, it is easier to find more accurate ones now. Since Google puts the most popular links on the front page, it seems the most credible ones have found there way there. Still though, I tried out the first few pages of results for "calorie needs calculator," and the answers ranged from 1,586 to 2,622 calories. The results did seem to cluster around a middle range of 1900 to 2300 calories.
But because the results had such a wide range, and rarely take into account factors besides weight, height, age and activity level (such as genetics), I highly advise against using them. They're so abundant, it can become addictive to try to find the "right" one.
My problem was that I would be continuously curious, and click on each to find out if what it said was different from the others, but I never found an answer that made me stop. It was never as if one number popped out at me, and I knew "Aha! This is the real answer!" I just kept looking.
I didn't know which result to choose, because they were just numbers. I am never going to be able to look at a number, and know that it's right for me. The only way I can tell if I ate an appropriate amount of food is by how my body feels. I try to eat three meals a day, with small, healthy snacks, and stop eating a few hours before bed. As a result, my calorie intake tends to be around 1900 calories in the summer, and 2200 when I increase activity during the school year. The calorie calculators don't account for that change.
The best way to determine your calorie needs is to determine how many calories you are eating on average over the long-term, and if your weight is stable. If you're maintaining your weight, you're eating the right amount. If not, adjust accordingly. If you're really at a loss, a calorie calculator can be a helpful starting point.( I linked two that gave me very different answers, but answers that represent an appropriate range of calories.) But spending too much comparing them is too much time spent thinking about a way to restrict yourself... and making rules for yourself will encourage you to break them.
What do you think? Have you been addicted to using all those calculators too?