I’m not one for fad diets.
If you know or have been someone to try one of the countless fad diets out there, you understand that it’s a temporary fix – and that’s my big issue with them.
They’re a band-aid to the main problem because even though they might work if you don’t see yourself doing that diet long term – like the rest of your life long term – then you’ll inevitably gain all the weight back.
Even though they’re not a long term solution, they still work though – and it’s all for the same reason. They do it by helping you create a calorie deficit!
Keto helps you create a calorie deficit by cutting out all the carbs you would normally eat.
Intermittent Fasting helps you create a calorie deficit by cutting out the timing of meals you would normally eat.
Paleo helps you create a calorie deficit by eliminating processed foods from your diet.
[insert diet] helps you create a calorie deficit by [remove type of food here]
You create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you eat, this will ultimately define whether you lose weight or not.
Let me say it one more time to be clear – I’m going to use caps lock for emphasis here:
CALORIES IN VS CALORIES OUT WILL DETERMINE 75-90% OF THE RESULTS YOU GET!
This was best illustrated with the world-famous “Twinkie Diet” where, in an attempt to prove
that calories are the most important factor in losing weight, professor of human nutrition at
Kansas State University Mark Haub ate nothing but Twinkies for 10 weeks.
Literally nothing but Twinkies – no veggies, no meat, and no salads just Twinkies but he maintained a calorie deficit every day for 10 weeks.
After the 10 weeks were finished he lost a ridiculous 27 pounds!
Now he didn’t feel great at the end of those ten weeks (this is where macronutrients and micronutrients impact your health) but because he maintained a caloric
deficit he was able to see lots of weight loss over this time frame.
Now that you understand the importance of calories in your weight loss, let’s figure out how many calories you need to lose weight!
Finding Your Maintenance
The first and most important step in finding your ideal caloric intake starts with figuring out what your caloric maintenance is. That is the number of calories you need to intake to maintain your current weight and body composition.
Why is this important?
Well, picture this, you’re going to visit your friend who just moved into their new home. Since this is somewhere you’ve never been before you plug the address into your GPS app so that it could lead you down the exact path you need to follow to get where you want to. Before it can even tell you where to go though you have to plug in where you are right now so that it can tell you exactly how to get there!
Calories are kind of like your GPS for changing your body composition. It’s going to guide your body down the exact path needed to find the results you’re looking for, but it can’t do that unless you know where you are right now – that’s where your maintenance calories come in and why it plays such a pivotal role in starting this process.
There are 2 main ways to go about this; the first is simply using a calculator, I recommend this calculator by Precision Nutrition to get the best idea of where you probably should be.
The pros of using a calculator are found in its simplicity to calculate and the ability to be executed immediately.
The downside to this is it’s just a rough estimation of what your true caloric need is. While this calculator takes into account a few different variables, it fails to take into account a few important factors in your metabolism including your daily stress, your diet history, and your general lifestyle to name a few.
It’s a great place to start though and is helpful to use as a reference, but there’s another way that’s much more accurate and more individual to you.
Tracking and Finding an Average
In this method we will be tracking two different variables: your daily caloric intake and your daily fasted weight on the scale (fasted weight being your weight measured right when you wake up after you poop and before you eat or drink anything). This allows us to actually see how much you’re consuming on a daily basis and how your body weight reflects that.
Here’s an example of Tracking and Finding an Average:
After 10 days of tracking, we find that, on average, you’re consuming about 1,900 Caloriesdaily and that amount of food is maintaining your weight (there was technically a .1 pound decrease since day 1 but that is not significant enough to label it as weight loss).
This means that your TRUE maintenance level for your current lifestyle is roughly 1,900 Calories.
Obviously the downside to this system is the time it takes to come to a number. This particular example took a full ten days to figure out, but no other method will give you a more accurate personal maintenance calorie level.
I personally have any new onboarding clientele go through this process before I begin any type of prescriptions. Ten days is the ideal length of time to get an accurate measure of your personal caloric maintenance but a minimum of 5 days (1-2 of those days being a weekend day) should be done to receive a fair enough average.
Now that you were able to figure out your caloric maintenance, it’s time to figure out how much you need for weight loss!
Creating a Deficit
Now that we know what our maintenance calorie intake is, it’s time to figure out how much we should be consuming on a daily basis. After all, we’re not trying to maintain weight anymore, we’re either going to be trying to lose or gain weight.
DISCLAIMER: We’re about to do some math, so hang tight with me while we walk through it.
A pound of fat has been measured to be approximately 3,500 calories.
So if we wanted to lose a pound of fat a week we would need to be at a weekly calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. If we divided that by 7 days that would equate to reducing our daily intake by roughly 500 calories.
Still there? Alright, good.
If we continue with our example from above, that would only allow for a daily calorie allowance of 1,400 calories. This is a pretty low number though which could be an issue for hunger, cravings, flexibility, energy, performance, and muscle retention.
The good news is that there’s more than one way to create a deficit though!
Instead of reducing your calorie intake right away (lowering your calories in) you can keep calories the same and follow a smart training program or increase your NEAT activity (highering your calories out)!
Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you choose ONE thing, don’t cut calories and add activity!
The reason being is if we want to make your weight-loss sustainable in the long term, then we’ll need to make use of the minimal effective dose aka creating the smallest change that’ll create the biggest impact. If you change everything all at once and 6 weeks down the line you plateau and stop losing weight; you won’t have a lot of options left for what you can adjust.
Back to calories though, the deficit I created above was for losing 1 pound each week but should that be what everyone should aim for?
Rate of Weight Loss
If your goal is to lose weight, it’s important to set smaller benchmark goals to aim for on your overall journey to keep yourself on track.
What is a healthy weight range to aim for though? Lots of numbers get thrown around, most individuals will say that 1-3 pounds per week are a healthy weight range to aim for, which can be true at times, but it isn’t the answer for everybody.
The problem with that number is that it fails to take into account the individual relative to where they’re currently at.
For example, someone who might have 100 pounds to lose will find it pretty easy to maintain a healthy 1-3 pound per week rate of weight loss.
However, someone else who might only need to lose 5 pounds will find it nearly impossible to accomplish that without risking their hormonal health and lean muscle tissue.
When the goal is solely based around fat loss, we need something that works for a broad range of individuals so that these fixed arbitrary values don’t set false expectations.
This is why I find it best to utilize a percentage of total body weight as a reference for your target weekly weight loss. Generally speaking, my recommendation for pure fat loss would fall within the range of 0.5 – 1.0% of total bodyweight per week.
This is a simple and effective approach as far as setting your target fat loss goals because it becomes relative to the you, the individual, AND evolves to match where you may be at your fat loss journey while not putting your muscle tissue or hormonal health at risk (assuming you’re doing things properly and following a realistic timeline). Here’s a quick breakdown of what that looks like for different people:
As you can see from the table above, the smaller you get the smaller the rate of loss becomes. This is because you very likely do not have nearly as much fat to lose as someone at a higher weight. Or you have a muscle dominant body composition with less fat to lose – which can happen to someone who is 200 pounds as well – which, again, is something we want to avoid in order to preserve our hormonal health and lean muscle tissue.
The foundation of any great transformation starts with your calorie intake but that’s only the beginning. Mastering your macronutrients, micronutrients, meal timing, sleep, and stress will help create the ultimate weight loss plan for you that’ll last a lifetime!
If you need help understanding or setting up any of those things for yourself, click here to schedule a free strategy call with me so we can outline the best plan for you!