Updated: Jan 26
There seem to be tons of different answers to the very simple question, “how many calories should I eat to lose weight?”
Depending on who you ask, some may say 1200 calories and others may say 2000. Some might even say calories don’t matter at all.
It is easy to get frustrated with all of the contradicting information.
But don’t you worry. In this article we will talk about everything that goes into counting calories. There will be plenty of information so you can gain some clarity on what your body needs to reach your goals. By the end of this you will have simple actionable steps to get you started on your journey of losing weight consistently until you reach your goal.
When it comes to losing fat, we want to give our bodies a reason to use the fat that we have stored. The way we do this is by creating a caloric deficit.
When we function throughout the day our body burns calories to use for energy. These calories are burned in a few different ways like:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): If you were to be knocked out cold and laying in bed, this is the amount of calories you would burn just from your body performing basic functions like keeping your heart pumping, breathing, etc.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): The calories you burn just by eating and digesting food.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): Random stuff you do throughout the day like tapping your feet, chewing gum, blinking, etc.
Active Energy Expenditure: Calories burned from being active during activities like lifting weights, running, walking to class, etc.
All of this adds up to an amount of calories that if we were to match with the food we eat, would result in us staying at roughly the same weight.
When we eat an amount of calories that is lower than that number, our body then pulls from energy stores like glycogen (what carbs turn into) and fatty acids (which can be stored as body fat).
This is what would be considered being in a calorie deficit. Doing this for an extended period of time should result in significant weight loss.
So how do I know how many calories will put me into a caloric deficit?
There are a few different ways to calculate how many calories you should consume.
One way to figure out how many is by calculating your TDEE. TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure.
It takes into account the different ways we burn calories which are listed above. It then will give you a number of calories to eat that should maintain your bodyweight.
There are a couple of different formulas that have been developed over the years. One of them that is very popular and regarded as the most accurate is the Mifflin-St Jeor Formula. Websites like https://tdeecalculator.net/ do all the calculations for you.
Once you get that number that will maintain body weight, you then need to subtract some calories so you go from maintenance into a deficit.
Fun Fact: One pound of fat equals roughly 3500 calories.
This means that, if your goal is to lose about 1 pound of fat a week, you will need to reduce your weekly intake by 3500 calories. Since there are 7 days in a week, that means you would have to take 500 calories out daily to get those results.
If you got 2000 calories from the TDEE calculator, this would mean you would have to eat 1500 calories a day to lose one pound a week.
That sounds like a lot to take in. However, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.
You could make it very simple. One way to calculate your calories is to take your goal weight and multiply it by 12. This number will get you pretty close to the TDEE calculation with the 500 calories subtracted to get you into a calorie deficit.
If you are 200 pounds and want to be 175, then you multiply 175 by 12 and you get 2100 calories.
Either method you choose won’t be 100% exact. And that is completely ok. This calculation is just a starting off point.
When starting a diet it is always better to lean on the side of eating more calories than less. I know that seems counter intuitive, but hear me out.
In the beginning of a diet, it is a possibility that you will lose a lot of weight right off the bat. In some cases, you might lose so much so fast that you hit an early plateau.
So what happens when you hit a plateau?
This means something will have to change. Most likely that means reducing calories even lower. So if you start low, you are only setting yourself up to make it harder than it has to be.
When you start with more calories, your body will be able to adapt in a much more comfortable way with less intense hunger and better performance in the gym. Then, if and when that plateau hits, you can reduce calories while still keeping them higher than you would in the previous option.
What if I just want to starve myself and get quick results?
That’s completely understandable. Honestly if that was the best option, you better believe I would be doing it.
Unfortunately, that weight loss in the beginning usually is not mostly fat. That initial weight loss is usually a lot of fluids and other things like glycogen not being as abundant in your body.
Even though the scale will say you are down 10 pounds in one week, it is a very real possibility that most of that isn’t from losing fat.
This is where the rebound weight happens. When you go back to eating normally, you will then gain that weight from the non fat right back. So then instead of being 10 pounds less, now maybe you are only 2 or 3 pounds lighter.
It sucks. But that is the game we are playing.
The real key is finding the easiest most sustainable way to do it so dieting won’t suck as bad. Once you get to where you want to be after a few months, you can enjoy your new body without as much rebound weight.
You won’t be like the millions of people who just lose weight and put it right back on.
You will now be part of the 1 percent that actually keep it off for life!
If you need any help with calculations or have any questions feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com