Welcome to Part Two of the guide!
(Click Here if you still need to read Part One)
In Part Two, we are going to cover one of the most common questions I get asked about losing weight and calories:
"How many calories should I eat?"
or as a keyboard warrior would put it:
"HOWZ MANY KCALZ I NEEDZ!?!?!1?"
If determining your calories has been confusing you, then you're in luck! - This article is going to cover everything you need to know about:
- The consequences of eating too many or too few calories
- How many calories you need to maintain and lose weight, and...
- How to adjust your calories if your progress stalls
Sounds like cool beans aye? Alright, let's get to it!
Oh, before we get started, check out this awesome song by the band The 1975.
Probably one of my favorite tunes right now...
It'll make for good background music while you read this article too ;).
The Problem With Eating Too Many or Too Few Calories
A common reason people struggle to lose stubborn weight is typically from eating too many calories.
I've had clients ask me to figure out the calories from their food diary, and I often get shocked looks when they realize just how many calories they are eating!
This isn't uncommon, though, studies have shown that we are pretty terrible at estimating the number of calories we consume a day. (study)
We are even worse at estimating how many calories we burn through exercise.
Lyle Mcdonald (blogger at bodyrecomposition.com) wrote an awesome article reviewing a study showing just how much people overestimate their calories burned.
It also showed how they overcompensate by eating way more calories than they actually burned.
(The article is long and "sciencey", but I highly recommend you read through it. The findings are surprising, to say the least...)
The fact is this: We don't burn as many calories as we think through exercise, and we often eat more calories than we think we do.
It's clear why eating too many calories impedes weight loss. However, we can also eat TOO FEW calories as well!
"Carter, how the HECK is that even possible??"
Well, let me explain...
When most people start dieting, they slash their calories in half and add a large amount of exercise to their daily routine.
That'll work, but only for so long. An extreme approach like that is ultimately unsustainable.
What's worse is that a host of adverse metabolic effects can begin to sprout up in response to eating extremely low calories.
- Slower thyroid production – Your thyroid is mainly responsible for the metabolism of the food you eat. Consuming extremely low calories results in a downregulation of thyroid hormones. (study)
- Decreased muscle mass – Muscle requires a lot of calories to maintain and In a prolonged extreme calorie deficit, it is one of the first things that your body gets rid of. Resistance training can help, but it won't completely eliminate muscle loss.
- Decreased leptin levels – Leptin is known as the “hunger” hormone. It basically tells you whether to eat or not. High leptin levels signal the body to stop eating, while low leptin levels are a signal to eat more. In a calorie restricted diet, leptin levels decrease. (study)
- Lowered energy levels – When in a deficit, neurotransmitter production is limited, which can lead to a lack of motivation. Since you're not getting sufficient calories, your body starts telling you to “slow down” and "conserve your energy."
When I work with my clients, my goal is to get them eating as many calories as possible while still making weight loss progress.
It's more efficient and effective to start high and then slowly bring your calorie intake down than to start low and have nowhere to go (in terms of restricting more calories).
That is usually what leads to the dreaded weight loss stall which can zap your motivation and energy further.
"Alright, I Get It...So How Many Calories Should I Eat?"
This answer will vary from person to person, and the only true way to find out your individual caloric needs is through trial and error.
Luckily, the Internetz has given us tools and formulas to help get a ballpark estimate for determining how many calories we need.
There are hundreds of different ways to go about doing this, but my preferred method is to use the Katch-Mcardle formula.
This formula uses your weight, body fat %, and activity level to determine your total daily energy expenditure (aka maintenance calories).
You could calculate this equation by hand, but luckily we live in the 21st century and technology has allowed us to become lazy sloths (plus, who wants to do math anyways?)
I created this little nifty calculator to help:
Note about the calculator: Be honest with yourself. Most of us aren't as active as we may think. Unless you're a professional athlete or marathon runner, you'll probably fall in the 1.2-1.4 or multiplier range.
How Do I Know If My Calories are Right?
A good rate of weight loss is around .5-1% of total bodyweight per week.
So for a 200-pound guy, a weekly loss of 1-2 pounds is perfect.
Use the calorie number you get from the calculator and accurately track your intake for TWO WEEKS. (be patient!)
If you lose more than .5-1% of your bodyweight, add 100-200 calories and if you don't lose weight or gain weight, drop your calories by 100-200.
Another Super Special Note: You may lose more than .5-1% of your total bodyweight a week and want to continue at this pace, but don't fall for this trap!
Diets typically fail because they are too low in calories and are too extreme to follow in the long run.
And remember - losing weight too fast can result in things like a slower metabolism, muscle loss, and unnecessary stress.
Stick to a reasonably moderate calorie deficit and be consistent - time and patience will do the rest :).
What's To Come
Now that you know WHAT calories are, WHY you should be tracking them and HOW to determine your calorie intake for losing weight, we just have one more aspect of nutrition to talk about...
In Part Three, we are going to discuss what macronutrients are (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that make up your calories) and how to accurately track calories and macronutrients with ease!
Click Here to read Part Three