Personal trainers have nightmares sometimes – many of which are recurring fears. There are 2 most popular ones:
- Clients that lie in their food journals
- Clients that are scared to eat anything at all
The first category are the ones who are secret bingers or maybe just accomplished liars. They don’t want to let the trainer down and sometimes they’re scared of what the trainer will say. The second category are often those which confuse feeling full with feeling fat.
When you eat a large meal – particularly one heavy in carbohydrates – you naturally retain water and your stomach expands because it’s FULL. Literally full. This doesn’t mean you’re instantly fatter than you were before. Granted, your weight may actually go up as much as 5-10 lbs after a heavy meal and reasonable amounts of fluid, but once your body has had time to process and digest the food, you’ll often find you’re not any heavier than you were.
Of course, if you keep eating more food than is required for your daily activity levels, this will result in weight gain.
So it begs the question: Just how many calories do you need to eat in order to lose weight? Is it as low as 800 in some extreme cases, or can it be done as high as 2500 calories per day?
To answer these questions let’s take a look at the factors at play when determining how many calories one needs to eat in order to achieve their goals.
Factor One – Your BMR
BMR stands for Basal-Metabolic-Rate. In layman’s terms this is the amount of energy you require, or your body requires, to support daily essential functions. This is the amount of calories needed to support the organs and keep all body processes working. Now you may or may not know, but your BMR is assuming you aren’t doing anything other than laying still (vegetating).
Even if you’re the best example of a couch potato I can find, I’m willing to bet you do more in a day than spend 24 hours laying in one position.
(Image credit: tfsupplements.com)
Factor Two – Your Activity Level
Someone who works as a removal man and plays American football 4 nights per week after work, is going to need a vast amount of calories over their BMR than someone who is jobless and spends all day watching television. But you knew that already.
Where the problems arise are the miscalculations of just how many calories an active person truly needs. In my most recent post reviewing Emmet Louis’ Modern methods of mobility seminar, I included that he said this was a classic problem; eating low calorie diets while exercising all the time.
Factor Three – The Quality Of The Food You Eat
The composition of the food you eat determines the amount of energy required to process the food itself. Two types of food require the most energy to break down. They are A) Protein and B) Vegetables. In fact many vegetables require more energy to break down than what they actually contain, coupled with their rich micronutrient profile and satiation properties, makes them an amazing choice for fat loss.
While you certainly can find your weight loss range in terms of daily calories and fill them calories with foods considered ‘junk’ such as takeaways, pop tarts, ice cream and chips….such a diet will leave you far less satiated and much more undernourished than a whole foods diet rich in vegetables, protein, fruits and natural carbohydrates.
(Image credit myhealthtips.in) – these do more for your body than processed foods ever will
Factor Four – Your Personal Details; Age, Weight, Sex & Activity Level
No 2 people are the same. Individual variances govern how much energy we require on a daily basis, even just to exist – not factoring in variances in people’s amount of movement. We get those lucky people who have Lamborghini-esque metabolisms (bastards) that can eat copious amounts of food and not gain any bodyfat…..and we get those who find putting on weight rather easy.
NOTE: Just because I acknowledge some people have slower metabolisms, I certainly don’t buy into some people finding it ‘impossible’ to lose weight; those who have “tried everything”. Try harder or hire a good personal trainer.
Despite individual differences in metabolic efficiency there are other pivotal elements involved in how many calories one may need. The amount of muscle you have is one. Muscle is very metabolically expensive; it costs calories to keep muscle tissue. This is why men generally have faster metabolisms than women. Sorry girls!
Finding The BMR & Figuring Out How To Set Calories For Weight Loss
Instead of bore you with the exact equations for calculating BMR, I will leave a link to a Google search result with all the possible calculators out there:
I will use my stats as an example. I am male, 25 years old, around 80 kg/175 lbs, 5’11” tall. My BMR is 1,888 calories per day! As we’ve already established, I will need considerably more than this number. I’m not a couch potato, believe it or not!
For the sake of simplicity, I will use a well known formula to roughly figure out my calorie needs.
|Harris Benedict Formula|
|To determine your total daily calorie needs, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor, as follows:
It can be surprisingly difficult to categorise yourself with any of the above accurately. And as you can probably imagine, I’ve fell victim to a massive case of over-thinking with this stuff before……..
“What exactly is considered ‘hard exercise’?
“I wonder if anyone has released any way of knowing, definitively, what category you fall into……..”
The above are a waste of time and mental energy. Just be honest and select the category that you genuinely feel applies most. For me it’s probably the moderately active one or between that and very active. If you really can’t decide between 2, simply use an equation halfway.
I’m somewhere between moderately active and very active. Therefore I’m going to use a value between 1.55 and 1.725.
That value is 1.63. 1.63 x 1,888 = 3,077 calories. We will round that up to 3,100 for simplicity’s sake. And this is just what I’d need for maintenance, to account for daily energy expenditure.
Now we have numbers to work with! In order for fat loss to occur, an energy deficit is a must. Just how big the deficit is really depends on who you talk to, but for me I like anywhere from 250-500 calories. If the deficit is greater than 500 calories I find it’s too aggressive unless it’s been gradually built upto.
A deficit of less than 250 calories per day would still get you leaner but it would take longer than necessary, in my humble opinion.
Doing the mathematics we get a general calorie range in order to initiate fat loss based on my stats:
3,077 – 250 = 2,827 (rounded up for simplicity = 2,850)
3,077 – 500 = 2,577 (rounded up for simplicity = 2,600)
Depending on how fast I wanted to lose fat, I’d select one of these 2 figures and aim to stick to them day in, day out. If anything, I’d endorse using the higher end of the 2 as this gives more room to adapt to the new energy intake. Once your body adapts to the 250 daily deficit, increase the deficit to 500 and you’ll continue to make progress.
It isn’t as complex as they’d like you to believe
Hopefully this has explained why these low calorie diets and even fads/cons like diet pills, fat burners, secret fat loss diets and even good old starvation do not work long term; your body simply needs calories to function, let alone function optimally while becoming fitter and stronger.
Use the equations yourself and share them with anyone you know that may benefit from them. Regardless of your background, gender or age, you’ll find the numbers are probably higher than your favourite guru or local magazine suggested. And for those worrying, I’ve seen this to be the case with so many clients in the real world; as soon as they eat a bit more, the results start coming.
Cutting calories too hard doesn’t work. It sets up classic rebound habits…….and who wants that? Nobody that reads my content.
Further reading and resources:
For any more info or questions, leave a comment or for personal training/coaching enquiries email me at: email@example.com
Thanks for reading.
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.