Your calorie intake is probably the most important piece of information you need to determine when undergoing a weight loss program. Unfortunately, the number most people come up with is wrong from the start. To keep you from making a huge mistake before you even get going, you’ll need to understand how to calculate your calorie intake the right way.
How Many Calories Do I Need?
There are a couple of different ways you can use to calculate your calorie intake, and each one has its pros and cons. The more accurate you want the number to be, the more time and effort you will have to put into determining your calorie intake.
Regardless of which method you choose to use, these numbers are only starting points. That means adjustments will have to be made based on your body’s feedback and whether you immediately start losing weight or not.
A very easy way to determine your intake is to take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 10-12. This number works more times than not, but can overestimate intakes for people who are very overweight. If you are very overweight or are more sedentary, you will be better suited to use the lower number.
Go ahead and do it now. Take your body weight and add a zero to the end of it. Congratulations, you just multiplied your body weight times 10 and found the lower calorie limits of what you should start eating at to lose weight. Very rarely should you start your weight loss journey at a lower number than this.
Weight Loss Calorie Calculator
This is probably the most often used method. You input your stats and your activity levels into a calculator, and through the use of highly-researched formulas and population averages, the calculator comes up with a fairly accurate intake for you.
The good news is I’ve created a calorie calculator you can use. It’s based on the Harris-Benedict equation, but I’ve simplified it and adjusted the calorie needs based on my own personal experience coaching over 1,000 clients. In most cases, these are the exact numbers I start my clients at.
Create a Small Calorie Deficit to Lose Weight
You don’t need a large calorie deficit to start losing weight. A 15% deficit from maintenance levels is a good start, and that’s what the calorie calculator above uses to determine your intake.
Bigger deficits might result in faster weight loss to start, but it also comes with greater side effects. And that faster weight loss only happens if you’re able to stick to your plan. The more likely scenario is you start with too big a deficit and experience some or all of the following negative side effects and end up giving up:
- decreased metabolism (including lower thyroid and testosterone levels)
- trouble concentrating and memory dysfunction
- low blood sugar
- fatigue and soreness
- bone and muscle loss
- reproductive dysfunction (loss of menstrual periods, infertility)
- depression and anxiety
- sleep disruptions
Remember, a small deficit that lasts months is better than a big deficit that lasts weeks. So start high, get consistent with your eating, and come down in small 50-100 calorie increments only when your weight loss pace slows or stops completely.
The bigger the calorie deficit the bigger the risk to your adherence. Without adherence to your plan there is no favorable outcome.
We’re all in a rush to lose weight and do it quickly, but creating a larger calorie deficit is not the answer. In fact, an overly aggressive calorie deficit is in direct conflict with your weight loss goals.
How Many Calories Should You Cut When You Plateau?
When your weight loss slows to below your minimum target pace you only need to make a modest cut to get things going. With my clients that minimum pace is .5% of your body weight every 1-2 weeks.
As a general rule I focus on trend over pace. If things are moving in the right direction we leave things alone. However, if the downtrend has disappeared, we reduce calories by about 50-100 per day and assess the results.
More times than not that small cut will take you down another 5-10lbs (or more in some cases). And then when that cut plays itself out you cut another 50-100 calories.
A very common pitfall is being impatient and getting too aggressive with your calorie cuts. You don’t want to get carried away slashing calories when you’re not losing weight – especially if it’s only been a few days to a week of no progress.
Getting too aggressive with your cuts tends to backfire on you – leading to hunger, cravings, less movement, and negatively impacting your mental well-being. It doesn’t take a big calorie cut to keep your weight loss moving forward.
Let’s taking a look at a coaching client of mine…
As you can see we made a very modest 74 calorie cut to his meal plan and that resulted in a resumption of weight loss. That weight loss continued for at least another 6 weeks.
Because we effectively implemented a small calorie cut, his calories will stay high and we’ll have plenty of room to further cut calories when progress stalls again – which it will. And his adherence stays high because he isn’t constantly starving and fighting cravings.
To better help you figure out how to get started and adjust your calories, I created a free bonus for you. It’s a 4 week calorie worksheet that shows you exactly how much to eat each day for the first for weeks.
That way you ensure you eat enough calories and you make the right size calorie cuts to most effectively lose weight. Just click here to download your bonus.
Eat as Many Calories as Possible
Your goal should always be to eat as many calories as possible that still enables you to lose weight. Doing so will provide you with more energy, nutrients, and satisfaction. And that results in more consistency and adherence – which leads to more sustainable weight loss.
Calorie calculators and estimations are just starting points. It’s what you do with that number and how you make adjustments that makes or breaks your results.
So start eating at the recommended intakes given in this article and get consistent at those levels for a couple of weeks. Stay consistent with your exercise during that time too.
Then assess your body’s feedback and progress and make smart adjustments. Repeat this process over and over again until you reach the goal you set out to achieve.
Trouble figuring this all out? Ask for help in the comments below…