Restricting your caloric intake to a level that produces a calorie deficit -- while supporting your nutritional needs -- leads to healthy weight loss. Planning meals and snacks that align with your calorie target and that include a healthy mix of nutrients can help you meet your weight goals and improve your health. If you follow a balanced diet that includes a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats, counting carbs may be unnecessary unless your doctor gives you specific recommendations based on your health needs; however, setting a target for carbohydrate intake may help you achieve balance in your eating plan if you tend to consume more carbs than you need.
Calculating Weight-Loss Calorie Target
Consult the estimated calorie needs chart published on page 14 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The suggested calorie range based on your age, gender and activity level gives you an estimate of the number of calories you need to maintain your weight.
Set your calorie target below weight maintenance level. A loss of up to 2 lb. per week constitutes a healthy rate of weight loss; however, to accomplish 2 lb. of weight loss weekly solely by limiting your caloric intake, you would need to subtract 1,000 calories from your daily weight-maintenance calorie needs. This is not feasible or healthy for everyone -- particularly if it reduces your caloric intake below 1,200 daily for women or 1,500 daily for men. Aim for 250 to 500 calories less than maintenance level to support healthy weight loss at a rate of .5 to 1 lb. per week.
Adjust your calorie target for weight loss if you constantly feel hungry. Adding up to 200 calories to your goal may be enough to help you achieve satiety without sabotaging your weight goals. As long as you establish a calorie deficit by staying below your maintenance calorie level, you should lose weight at a healthy, gradual pace.
Calculating Carbohydrates for Weight Loss
Determine the percentage of calories from carbohydrates you want to include in your eating plan. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates; however, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that eating plans with as few as 35 percent of calories from carbohydrates support healthy weight loss without sacrificing a heart-healthy diet or nutritional needs.
Convert your carbohydrate percentage goal into calories. If you plan to get 45 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, multiply your calorie target for weight loss by 45 percent. For example, if your daily energy intake is 1,800 calories, 810 of those calories should come from carbohydrates, based on the 45 percent goal.
Convert carbohydrate grams from the foods in your meal plan into calories. One gram of carbohydrate provides four calories. Multiply the number of grams of carbohydrates in a given food by four to determine the number of calories from carbohydrates it provides. The nutrient database provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the carbohydrate content of a variety of foods and beverages.
Opt for complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains more often than simple carbohydrates such as those found in sweet baked goods, candy and soft drinks.