Ask Calorie Ken: What's Your Number?

We all have a number. Do you know yours?

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What's your number? Mine is 2235.

Each of us has a number - a target calorie intake for maintaining our best weight. Today. Tomorrow. Next year. Whether we are 18 or 80, we have a number that won't change much from year to year once we find ourselves in our adult body. That's why diet is a dirty word when used to describe an effort to alter how much we eat for a defined period of time.

We all have a number, and you probably don't know what yours is. I didn't until I was in the CALERIE study.  Like you, I'd change what I was eating for a period of time, and I'd lose a few pounds, but, as I got older, I always gained it back and then some. I weighed 165 when I finished undergrad school in 1982, and when I started the CALERIE Study 26 years later, I weighed right at 200. I'm almost six feet tall, so 200 may not seem bad, but it's still 30 pounds too much, and I was shocked to learn that I was right on the cusp of being considered obese!

My number—my total calorie count or energy intake for the day—is 2235, and having a target, I can manage my weight. A perfect weight for me is 170. I could weigh as little as 160, or as much as 180 and still be swanky, but 170 is my best weight—my pivot weight, and I do my best to stay within two pounds on either side of it. I use it as my goal, and when I start inching up, I know I need to start paying more attention. Conversely, if I start inching down, I know that I might need to add a few calories.

Finding your number is easy and free. One of the best places to find any nutrition and health information is the USDA's Choose My Plate web site. My colleague Lynda Lippin recently wrote about the change from the food pyramid to the plate in "The Plate is the New Pyramid." Here you will find your tax dollars at work to bring you excellent information, including tools to help you find your number and use it to help you get to and maintain your swankiest weight.

You can find your calorie range based on your gender and age in the chart at MyPyramid Food Intake Pattern Calorie Levels (they’ve changed the navigation, but a lot of things are still branded “MyPyramid"). Looking at this chart, I see that my number, 2235, is on the low end of the calorie requirement for males between the ages of 41 and 60. I got my exact number based on some sophisticated tests, and it is unique for me, but it is in the general range of what any adult male's number should be. Certainly, height, genetics, body type, and general health impact one's number, but we are more alike than not, so these numbers are good for all of us.

Be conservative; start with the lower number in your range, and as you learn your body’s specific tolerances, you will know what number works best for you. Know your number, and target it every day, day in and day out, today, tomorrow, and forever. You will achieve your swankiest weight quicker than you think. I did, and so can you!


Swanky reader, Calorie Ken wants to hear from you!

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For two years, Ken Brooks (Calorie Ken) was a volunteer in the Tufts University CALERIE Study. He is now a nutrition evangelist. Send your nutrition, weight management, general health and exercise questions to

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