In Defense of Tara Lipinski's 1500 Calorie Diet

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Last week I read an article on Philly Voice bashing Tara Lipinski for 'endorsing' her low calorie diet plan. The author went on to provide some great points on how the majority of female athletes would need closer to 2,000 calories a day to be healthy. I agree with that statement 100%. However, I disagree that all female athletes need to be eating that many calories.

Tara is a petite 5'1" and (I'm guessing) weighs around 110 pounds. Her caloric needs are vastly different from a woman who is 5'6" and 150 pounds. Tara's sample day of eating looked like this:

  • Grande Skinny Vanilla Latte from Starbucks
  • Breakfast: 1 cup of cereal + 1 everything bagel with 2 T whipped butter
  • Snack 1: 1 cup of fresh fruit
  • Lunch: Half portion of a grilled salmon plate at a restaurant plus a brussel sprouts salad
  • Snack 2: Diet coke + 2 hershey kisses
  • Dinner: Scrambled eggs with vegetables
  • Total: Approximately 1,200 calories (this is a lower than average day for her.)

Now, after a fan on Instagram expressed their dismay about her promoting a 1,400 calorie a day diet Tara responded with:

1400-1500 is the daily recommended intake for my size at 5'1". I'm not endorsing my diet for anyone. We all come in different shapes and sizes and a persons diet should be tailored specifically to whatever keeps them happy and healthy!

At 5'2" and 116 pounds I also ate approximately 1500-1600 calories a day for a few years. This was my lowest weight and, before I started running. I never felt hungry. I ate about 400 calories at each meal and two snacks a day. For my height and size it was a healthy maintenance level.

I love this photo! Holding up a pair of pants I wore when I was 55 pounds heavier. 

116 poundsA year later I was running my first marathon and eating 2,000 calories a day. I was running 4-8 miles 4x during the week and a long run on Saturdays (where my caloric intake went up to 2500+.) I weighed about 122 after running the marathon as it's not unusual to put on a few pounds when marathon training. Even though you are running all the miles it's easy to eat more calories than you burn. I was pretty much shoveling food into my mouth 24/7 when training.

122 poundsAt both caloric levels I'd consider myself to be at a healthy weight. I cringe when I hear women say they want to eat 1200 calories a day because unless they are 5'1" and basically stay in bed all day that's definitely not enough. However, I see a lot of backlash against short women, like Tara, who eat 1500ish a day and they are immediately lumped into the same 'you are starving your body' camp as those women eating 1200 calories a day.

How many calories should you be eating? Bust out the calculators folks:

AMRWhen I put in my pre-marathon weight of 115, and factored in being very active, it said I should eat about 1700 calories a day. So, going over it as I did regularly is what made me gain the 5-6 pounds I did while training (that I was totally, completely cool with because; nachos.)

[Tweet "In defense of 1500 calorie diets, and how to calculate how much you should be eating"]

As Tara said each person is different and what may be healthy for me might be too much, or too little, for someone else who is the same height. It's not always easy figuring out what your maintenance level should be. If you have a normal BMI, you aren't letting yourself go hungry and you are eating a balanced diet then you've probably found your sweet spot!

I'm curious - for those with a BMI in the normal range, what is your height, activity level, and how many calories a day do you eat to maintain?