How Much to Eat When You Are Walking to Lose Weight

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Walking is a perfect supplement to any weight loss plan. Even if you're new to exercise, walking for ten minutes at a time will let you build up stamina and strength. Balancing how much you eat with your physical activity level helps achieve sustainable weight loss. Individual calorie goals for weight loss vary from person to person, depending on height, age, and activity level.

As a general guideline, the American Council on Exercises advises burning 250 calories per day through exercise, while also reducing calorie intake by 250 calories. This adds up to a 500-calorie deficit per day and about one pound of weight loss per week, which is considered a healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss. The number of calories you burn during a single walk depends on how much you weigh and the speed and duration of your walk. The total number of calories you burn and its impact on weight loss will also depend on the frequency of your walking workouts.

Develop Mindful Eating Habits

Most people are unaware of how many calories they're eating per day. To get a better idea, try logging your food and beverages in a food diary. Food diaries can be written on paper or tracked with an app such as MyFitnessPal or Lose It. Recording increases self-awareness and helps pinpoint areas to improve.

Small day-to-day changes can help you reduce your calorie intake. Try these tips:

  • Analyze your recipes to see if there are ingredient swaps you can make to boost the nutrition and reduce calories. For example, you may swap low-fat plain Greek yogurt for full fat sour cream. This will cut the calories and increase the protein in your recipe which may aid in feelings of fullness.
  • Limit the amount of time you go our to eat. For example, if you are currently eating out 2-3 times per week, try to reduce it to once per week and consider taking half your portions home with you when you go out.
  • Enjoy the foods you love in smaller portion sizes: If you love pasta, instead of eating a bowl of it for dinner, opt to make it a side dish and fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. This will increase the volume, fiber, and nutrient profile of your dish, while also lowering the calories.
  • Increase your fruits and vegetable intake. Depending on various factors, such as age, federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern.  If you aren't coming close to those guidelines, don't get overwhelmed, instead slowly add servings to your meals one at a time. As you increase your fruit and vegetable intake increase your water intake, as the more fiber you consume the more water you'll need to prevent digestive side effects such as gas and bloating.
  • Make sustainable changes that you can see yourself living with the rest of your life. Consider self-care options that help you to feel good during (and after) your weight loss journey like getting more sleep, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Replace processed snack foods with vegetables and fruit. Snack time is a wonderful opportunity to add in foods that are energizing, filling, and delicious. Replace chips and cookies with fresh berries and yogurt, crunchy herbed popcorn, or a nuts and seeds mix.
  • Try new foods and new recipes.

When you're eating fewer calories, it's that much more important to make every food count. Fueling your body with nutrient-dense choices will provide the essential dietary components required to support an active lifestyle. Choosing foods that have fiber and protein will help to keep you full, satisfied, and energized.

Meal Plan Guidelines

These are the recommended daily food group portions for different calorie levels. Eating a variety of foods helps provide all the nutrients you need, including protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Divide these total allowances for each food group between meals and snacks throughout the day. It's OK not to stick to the plan 100%. Aim for progress, not perfection.

1200-Calorie Meal Plan

  • 3 ounces of lean meat/protein
  • 4 ounces of grains (with half of them whole grains)
  • 1 cup of fruit (especially whole fruit)
  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetables (or double that amount of leafy greens)
  • 2 1/2 cups of dairy (low-fat preferred)

1400-Calorie Meal Plan

  • 4 ounces of lean meat/protein
  • 5 ounces of grains (with half of them whole grains)
  • 1 1/2 cups of fruit (especially whole fruit)
  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetables (or double that amount of leafy greens)
  • 2 1/2 cups of dairy (low-fat preferred)

1600-Calorie Meal Plan

  • 5 ounces of lean meat/protein
  • 5 ounces of grains (with half of them whole grains)
  • 1 1/2 cups of fruit (especially whole fruit)
  • 2 cups of vegetables (or double that amount of leafy greens)
  • 3 cups of dairy (low-fat preferred)

1800-Calorie Meal Plan

  • 5 ounces of lean meat/protein
  • 6 ounces of grains (with half of them whole grains)
  • 1 1/2 cups of fruit (especially whole fruit)
  • 2 1/2 cups of vegetables (or double that amount of leafy greens)
  • 3 cups of dairy (low-fat preferred)

Serving Equivalents for Each Food Group

In some cases, ounces and cups don't easily translate to how much to eat. Here are some equivalents to guide you:

  • Protein: The ounce measurement works for lean meat, poultry, and seafood. The vegetarian equivalents of 1 ounce are one egg, 1 tablespoon nut butter, 1/4 cup of cooked beans or other legumes, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds.
  • Grains: 1 ounce works for ready-to-eat cereal but equals one slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.
  • Fruit: The cup measurement works for raw or cooked fruit and 100% fruit juice. But for dried fruit, the equivalent is 1/2 cup.
  • Vegetables: The cup measurement works for raw or cooked vegetables and 100% vegetable juice. But you get a bonus for leafy salad greens, as you can have 2 cups of those for every 1 cup of other vegetables.
  • Dairy: The cup measurement works for milk, soy milk, and yogurt. The equivalent for cheese is 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Meal Timing

Sometimes adjusting your eating schedule helps prevent hunger pangs, especially during the first week or two of cutting calories. Many people find that having three small meals and two small snacks provides a good balance throughout the day. However, others prefer not to snack and consume larger meals instead. Either option is fine.

It is wise to have a small snack before exercise so you have enough fuel to put in a good effort. It is also helpful to eat after a long exercise session to replenish your muscles and encourage recovery. (Just make sure to stick within your calorie plan.) If you have diabetes, discuss meal timing, exercise, and nutrient composition with your doctor or dietitian before making changes to your current plan.

A Word From Verywell

Walking makes it easier to achieve the calorie deficit that's required for weight loss. Make the extra effort to get quality nutrition, especially when you're cutting back on the amount of food you're taking in. Your body needs proper fuel to feel your best. As you build stamina and are able to take long walks (or even jogs or hikes) you'll be able to eat more and continue to lose weight at a reasonable pace.

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Article Sources
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  2. All About the Fruit Group. USDA Choose My Plate.

  3. All About the Fruit Group. USDA Choose My Plate

  4. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. Executive summary.

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  6. American Heart Association. Suggested servings from each food group. Updated January 11, 2017.