Knowing the number of calories needed to lose weight is absolutely vital to your success. Without this important weight loss information, trying to lose weight is like taking a trip without a map to show you how to get there. Most people know that to lose weight you should eat less and exercise more. But ask them specifically how much they should be eating and exactly what types of exercise they should be doing and they are lost.
The goal of this exercise is to help you determine how much food you need each and every day to achieve your desired body weight.
What Is It You Are Trying To Lose?
Before we go to much further, let’s clarify something. When we use the term “lose weight”, we are actually talking about fat weight. Too many people are only concerned with how much their scale reads. Please do not be one of those people. In the calculations we will use to determine the number of calories needed to lose weight, your scale weight is only a piece of the puzzle. Using the scale weight as your only indicator of success or failure will most definitely lead to frustration.
I’ll give you a great example of what I mean…
I once worked with a client who was an avid runner. She ran 5-7 days a week for at least 30 minutes, but often ran for much longer periods of time. When I began working with her, we cut her running time down and incorporated weight lifting into her routine. She did 3 strength training sessions of 1 hour each week.
One night, I arrived at my client’s home and found she was quite upset. It had been one month since she started her new program and she informed me that she had not lost one single ounce. Luckily, when I work with clients one-on-one, I take tape measurements of their waste and other areas on the body. So, I suggested that it was a good time to re-measure my client to see what the tape measure said.
To her surprise (and my relief), the tape measure showed that she had reduced her waist size by 1 (one) inch in one month. A very respectable accomplishment. What did this tell me and my client? It told me that she was able to add muscle weight at the same rate she was losing body fat weight. One pound of muscle gained plus one pound of fat lost equals zero on the scale.
Had she continued to use only the scale as her measuring stick, she would have, without a doubt, gone back to doing what she had been doing previously. So are we in agreement? What we’re after is fat loss, not weight loss.
Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy (calories) your body requires just to survive on a daily basis. It does not take into account your daily activities or lifestyle. The BMR serves as your baseline. Under no circumstances should you eat less than the number of calories required to sustain your BMR. Doing so would cause damage to your metabolic processes as well as cause your body to begin breaking down muscle for survival.
Calculate Your Daily Calorie Requirements. This calculation will show you how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, taking into consideration your daily activity level.
Calculate Calories Needed For Weight Loss – Here you have a decision to make. How do you want to lose your weight. There are 3 options:
Option 1: Diet Only (no exercise) – This method has proved over time to be the least permanent of all methods. Typically, people who only reduce the number of calories they eat and do not compliment that with increased exercise or activity, will gain back all of the weight they lose plus a little for interest.
In his best-selling e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle, Tom Venuto states “When calories are restricted, your metabolism decreases by at least 20-30%. With severe calorie restriction, some studies have shown that resting metabolism can become depressed by as much as 45%! That’s the equivalent of having your daily energy expenditure drop from 3000 calories per day to only 1650 calories per day! This is why, after prolonged low calorie dieting, you can eat very little food and still not lose weight.” If you still insist that this is the way that you want to lose your weight, here’s how to make the calculations…
Take your result from Step 2 and subtract the number of calories necessary to give you the desired weekly weight loss. If, for example, you require 2000 calories per day as per step 2, then to lose one pound of fat per week, you reduce your daily calories by 500 for a new total of 1500. To lose 2 pounds per week, you reduce that number by another 500 calories for a new daily total of 1000 (It’s not much food is it?).
Note: NEVER go below your BMR. A tip I picked up from Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle, is if you find your total calories needed to lose weight going below your BMR, try reducing your “Step 2” total by 15-20% to start. The weight will come off more slowly, but remember, our primary goal is to lose fat, not muscle weight.
Now, if eating just over 1000 calories doesn’t appeal to you, check out…
Option 2: Exercise Only (no change in diet) – This is the most difficult method of weight loss if you are eating large amounts of food every day. I have a saying that goes, “You can’t outrun your mouth.” No matter how much you exercise, if you are eating thousands of calories more than you need, you will not lose weight.
At the very least, you must reduce your caloric intake to your Step 2 total. Failing to do so will only halt the existing weight gain (or slow it down considerably). If your goal is to simply exercise the weight off, you need to know how many calories each activity burns for a given time.
First, look at your result from Step 2. Then choose an exercise or exercises you enjoy doing.
Next, determine how long you need to exercise to burn the number of calories to help you lose the desired weight. For example. According to Step 2, you need 2000 calories per day for your current activity level. And you want to take up weight lifting and jogging to lose weight. According to the exercise and activity calculator, you would burn approximately 200 calories for 1/2 an hour of vigorous weight training (assuming a body weight of 150 pounds).
Jogging at a 12 minute mile pace for 30 minutes burns approximately 250 calories.
Doing these two activities every day for 30 minutes each would result in one pound of fat lost each week without changing your current level of calories (assuming that you are not eating more calories than stated in Step 2).
Unless you can devote a solid hour of your time to exercise for at least six days of the week, option 2 may not be the very best way to lose unwanted body fat. To see which method most experts agree is the best way, read on…
Option 3: Increase Activity/Reduce Calories Eaten – This is by far the best option for both short-term and long-term results. It is recommended that you do not try to lose more than two pounds of weight per week. Any more than that puts you at risk for muscle loss.
To lose one pound of fat requires you to create a 3500 calorie deficit from your daily calorie requirements (step 2). That works out to a 500 calorie deficit per day. The reason why this option is the most successful for both short and long-term success is that the changes are smaller.
Instead of having to create the calorie deficit from one area, nutrition or exercise, you share the load between the two. For example. To create a 500 calorie deficit from Step 2, you simple reduce your calorie intake every day by 250 calories and perform some type of activity, like jogging at a 12 minute mile pace for a 1/2 hour (assuming a body weight of 150 pounds).
Do you see, how much easier this method is than the other two? Nearly anyone can find 250 calories a day. That’s less than one can of regular cola. And finding half and hour to exercise is much easier than having to find a “spare” hour.
There you have it! A step-by-step guide to determining the number of calories needed to lose weight. Don’t you feel like losing weight just got a lot easier?
So many people feel that losing weight is difficult. Once you know the numbers, you have a very clear picture of exactly what is required to achieve your best body. Now, by this point you may be saying, “Great. I know the calories needed to lose weight, but how do I figure out how many calories are in the food I eat?”
Good question. Your best and easiest choice is to use a nutrition journal like My Food Diary. It takes calorie counting to the next level. I have found it to be much easier than using a book. There are many advantages to this type of food journal over a book. The biggest one is it can save frequently used entries, so you don’t have to keep looking them up.
Second, they keep a running total of your calories for the day. You don’t have to write everything down and then add up the calories in all the foods. It is really an incredible weight loss tool.