Beginner’s Guide: Calorie Counting

I bang on all the time about how you don’t need to be low carb, or low fat, or IF, or any magic type of diet to help you to lose weight – you just need a calorie deficit from foods you can tolerate & some time.

But I realised this week some of you might not know how to calculate your calorie deficit. So this post is going to show you how. This is exactly the method I use when I calculate your deficit. You don’t have to pay some website to calculate your macros. You don’t have to pay a diet club to weigh you in each week. This is going to be enough to get you started.

To lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit. That means you need to eat fewer calories than your body needs at your current weight & activity level. Go to a website to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and tell it your age, height, weight, etc. The one I use for myself and my clients is this one: https://tdeecalculator.net/

No matter how active you are, tell it that you’re sedentary because once you start estimating your activity level the equations start to get a little bit off kilter. Ignore the bit about body fat. The next page it takes you to will give you your maintenance calories for the day and the week. This is mega useful – write this number down.

If your goal is to lose weight, roughly 1lb of body fat will ‘cost you’ 3500 calories. You can achieve this over 7 days by a 500 calorie deficit each day. This will yield a weekly loss of around 1lb, or 0.5kg. So take that daily maintenance number, minus 500 calories off it – and that’s your jumping off point for your diet.

“Is there any reason I shouldn’t diet more aggressively?”

No. Fast weight loss isn’t a problem. No research supports the idea that you’ll gain this weight back more quickly than a less aggressive deficit. Provided you can adhere to your calories, you’re golden. Keep in mind, the more aggressive your deficit, the harder it will be to comply with your diet. The idea is that you can actually stick to the deficit you set.

That number isn’t exact. The equations we use to calculate weight loss aren’t perfect, and the human body isn’t perfect at converting energy from foods, and the labelling of calories on the foods you eat aren’t perfect either – so the calories are a starting point that we tinker from. 

“Can I be in less than a 500 calorie deficit and lose weight?”

Yes, it will just be slower. For some people a 500 calorie deficit will be too much. A deficit is a deficit. Find a level that you can manage, and adjust your expectations accordingly. If you can be in a 250 calorie deficit every day, you’ll lose around 0.5lbs a week. 

“I have been in a deficit and I haven’t lost weight.”

There are all sorts of reasons why the scale might not reflect your weight loss:

  • You’ve eaten later than usual the night before weighing.
  • You’ve weighed earlier in the day.
  • You need to use the toilet.
  • It’s the time of the month.
  • You’ve eaten more salt, or processed foods, or carbs than usual.
  • You lifted heavy weights.
  • You’ve not slept well.
  • You need to be more patient.

All kinds of reasons. But if you actually are in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. You can track your calories in an app. I use a free app called MyFitnessPal & this is great for dieters of all levels because until you can look at a meal and know from experience how many calories are in it, this can help you to keep track of those calories.

A final tip for you and it’s a game changer – you can see your calories as a weekly total, rather than a daily total. This allows you to save calories up for events, or pay calories back over several days if you’ve gone over one day. This perspective can give you some freedom over your planning, and it can give you some peace of mind – you don’t need to be perfect every single day. Just keep an eye on your weekly totals.

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