The most common question I receive is, "How many calories should I eat when trying to lose weight?"
The answer, in short, Eat as MANY calories as possible whey trying to lose weight.
Yes, you read correctly, diet on as MANY calories as possible.
Allow me to explain.
Your body is very smart.
you restrict yourself to a low number of calories, your body begins to
get used, or adapts to, surviving on this low amount of calories and
slows down its metabolism so it can function on the very low calories
you are feeding it. This is known as Metabolic Adaptation.
What is Metabolic Adaptation?
put, when you diet, your metabolism adapts to, or lowers to, the
limited number of calories you are eating. Metabolic adaptation is the
idea that long periods of calorie restriction lead to an adaptation in
your metabolism. For example, spend an extended period of time eating
only 900 calories and your metabolism will adapt to that amount.
Ok, so why is this a problem?
you have reach your goal weight and begin eating a "normal" amount of
calories again, you will pack on the fat because your metabolism has now
become adapted to the low calorie intake you were previously dieting
on. Your metabolism has now adapted to your lower "diet" calorie
intake, and any amount of calories you consume above that number are now
stored as fat.
Other concerns from a very low calorie diet
include thyroid levels dropping, testosterone levels dropping, cortisol
levels raising - further hindering fat loss, as well as loss of bone
mass and menstrual cycle changes. Extreme calorie restriction has also
been linked to mood changes like depression.
Steady state cardio
(like running on the treadmill for hours) can also contribute to
metabolic adaptation. While it will initially assist with fat loss, in a
short time, your body will adapt to it, and you will have to increase
your cardio to overcome the adaptation to have a continued effect on
Do NOT let this become you! Lose weight on as many calories as possible.
Why? So when you hit sticking points in fat loss (and we all do), you have a caloric cushion
you can cut calories from. Why eat only 900 calories if you body loses
a safe amount of 1 lb per week on 1800? Wouldn’t you rather begin a
calorie cut at 1800 calories, and slowly cut down to 1500 if needed, as
opposed to beginning at 900 calories and have to resort to cutting to
600 calories when hitting those sticking points?
But I cut my calories down to 700 right away and lost TONS of weight.
calorie dieting may be effective in the short term, but it can prove
costly in the long run. Let’s say you do end up getting to your goal
weight eating 700 calories – you’re in a hurry to look good for your big
day after all. What happens then? Your body has now become adapted to
your 700 calorie intake. When you are finished "dieting" and try and
consume the same amount of food you were previously eating, the excess
calories will now be store as fat. Why? Because your metabolism
adapted to the 700 calorie intake. Any amount above 700 calories your
body now considers a caloric surplus and will store as fat.
How do I fix these 'adaptations'?
The problem typically is not losing the weight, it's that we cannot keep it off.
In the vast majority of cases, people who lose weight put it all back
on, and then some within the first year after finishing their diet.
Why? Because they did not change their lifestyle, adapting to healthy
food, a healthy calorie intake and weight training to keep their body in
a healthy state year round. The best ‘diet’ is the diet that you can
turn into a lifestyle that allows you to lose fat and KEEP IT OFF
because you learned how to eat in healthy moderation and move your body
I'm ready to lose weight the healthy way. How many calories do I need to start?
will take a bit of trial and error to see exactly how many calories you
can consume and still lose weight. The safest and most permanent way
to lose weight is to aim to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds per week. If you have a
special event coming up, use this as your calendar for the amount of
time you will need to diet (e.g. If you need to lose 14 pounds, you will
need at least 14 weeks to diet).
Yes, I know this will require a
bit more patience, but your choice is crash diet, then yo-yo back up to
your previous weight and then some, or take it slow and make a permanent
weight loss change in your metabolism. I say, do it once and do it
Your Caloric Starting Point.
typical caloric weight loss model is to multiply your weight x 14, then
subtract 500 calories in order to lose 1 lb per week. And this is a
great starting point, if you have quite a few pounds to lose. Let's say
you currently weight 200 lbs. Multiply your weight (200 lbs) by 14.
200 x 14 = 2,800.
Then subtract 500 calories in order to lose about 1 lb per week
2,800 - 500 = 2,300 calories.
order to lose 1 pound per week, you should be consuming approximately
2,300 calories per day. This number (2,300) will change as you begin to
lose weight and as your metabolism increases so recalculate weekly and
don't be surprised if you are able to eat MORE calories and still lose
weight as your metabolism begins to increase.
lose MORE than 1 lb per week on 2,300 calories? Yes. You can expect
some water weight to come off right away and if you are eating 2,300
calories in fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats
instead of 2,300 calories in fast food and processed boxed snacks, you
can expect faster weight loss results because your body is receiving the
nutrition it needs to function and provide you with energy to power
through your workouts to build fat burning lean muscle tissue.
Caloric Starting Point if you only have a few pounds to lose.
you are relatively near your goal weight, then subtracting 500 calories
can be to low a starting point. Let's say your current weight is 120
lb and you are looking to lose just 2-3 lbs for an upcoming event. In
this scenario a 500 calorie deficit is extreme.
120 lbs x 14 =
1680 - 500 calories = 1180 calories. That's just calories alone.
Subtract exercise, say another 300-400 calories burned and your daily
caloric intake turns out to be 780 calories. Much too low for the body
to efficiently operate on.
Why cut your calories so extreme when you may be able to lose those last few pounds by a 40-60 calorie deficit.
120 lbs x 14 = 1680 - 60 calories = 1620 calories
eat only 1180 calories if you can get the same results eating 1620.
Plus, if you hit a weight loss plateau, you have a bit more wiggle room
to lower your calories a bit, and not cause metabolic adaptation at a
very low calorie amount.
Are you taking in to consideration the calories you burned exercising?
say you only ate 1200 calories but you have exercised off 500 calories
by running 5 miles. Your total intake for the day is actually only 700
calories. It is important to factor in the amount of calories burned
off during exercise when calculating your total daily intake.
No way, takes to long!
understand this is not as exciting as the promise of a 20 or 30 pound
instant weight loss, but if extreme weight loss diets were 100%
effective, people would not put the weight back on (yo-yo dieting
Plan ahead and leave yourself enough time to diet. Do it right the FIRST time. Stop the Yo-Yo Diet insanity!
you ever “cut calories” to lose weight and suddenly hit a plateau?
Suddenly you are no longer losing weight? Individuals will typically
plateau every 3-6 weeks. When you immediately start dieting at a very
low calorie intake, say 800 calories, it leaves no wiggle room to reduce
calories when you hit a plateau. Your metabolism has adapted to the
low-calorie intake leaving you with having to cut to extremely low
amounts of calories (say, 600 calories per day) just to lose a bit of
fat. Same goes for steady state cardio (like running on the
treadmill). Let's say you start off doing 1 hr of cardio per day. What
happens when you hit a weight loss plateau? Now you run 1 hour in the
morning and 1 hour at night. And when you hit another plateau? 3 hours
of cardio? Then 4 hours?
Quality of Food and Macro Nutrients
is fuel. The quality of food you eat plays a huge role in your overall
health. You can technically lose weight eating nothing but macaroni,
but you aren't going to be very healthy. Your immune system will suffer
from lack of nutrition, and your body may suffer an inflammatory
response from the high intake of wheat. Your food/fuel sources should
come from fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, complex
carbohydrates and healthy fats. Single ingredient food. The easiest
way to purchase is if your food comes with an ingredients label, it is
NOT a single ingredient food. Fill up in the produce section of the
grocery store, find a local farmer at www.localharvest.org or shop the
bulk food isle at your local health food store for the biggest savings
on high quality foods.
Macro nutrients are protein, carbohydrates
and healthy fat; the foods your body needs in large amounts. This is
different from micro nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which
your body needs in smaller amounts. The percentage of macro nutrients
you eat with each meal and through out the day will have a big impact on
your body composition; i.e. how you look physically. Everyone is
different, but a standard approach is to eat 40/40/20. 40% of your diet
coming from lean protein sources, such as chicken, eggs, and fish, 40%
of your diet coming from carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown
rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, and 20% of your diet coming from
healthy fat sources, such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and coconut.
emphasis should be placed on lifting & lifting heavy – whether
you’re male or female. Resistance training should always be the core
component of exercise. Why? Because weight training will build the
lean muscle that gives your body it's shape. You can't "tone" what
doesn't exist, so it is important that the majority of your workouts are
weight training, NOT cardio.
Did you know that muscle actually
burns fat? Lot’s of fat, in fact. It takes about 10 calories a day
just to keep one pound of muscle alive! Plus, one pound of muscle not
only takes up far less space than 1 pound of fat, muscle is essential
for weight loss to burn fat and increase your metabolism. And a faster
metabolism means you get to eat MORE without gaining weight! This is
why weight lifting is so essential in the weight loss process.
also feel it is more important to take progress photo's and measurements
than it is to weight yourself. Why? Because muscle and fat weight the
same, however, muscle is less dense; takes up less space. Think of 1
lb of fat as the size of a grape fruit and 1 lb of muscle as the size of
Keep in mind, the scale does not account for muscle
gain vs fat loss. An individual may lose 6 lbs of fat, yet gain 2 lbs
of calories burning muscle, yet the scale will only reflect a loss of 4
Replace your steady state cardio with High Intensity Interval (HIIT) training
shows high intensity interval training is far superior for long term
fat loss. This means your cardio sessions will be quick but intense
(think sprint not marathon). Click on the link below for an example of
one of my High Intensity Interval Workouts.
What if I have been severely restricting my calories for years?
solution to reversing your adapted metabolism and getting your
metabolic rate back up is reverse dieting. Reverse dieting is
essentially SLOWLY adding calories back in to your diet in order to
raise your metabolism back up without fat gain. We are talking roughly
adding 40-60 extra calories per week. Reverse dieting allows your
metabolism to rise back up slowly over time. The slower the better.
slower you can do this, the more time your body will have to raise it's
metabolism back up and acclimate to the calorie changes. Track your
body’s response to any changes that occur – if you gain weight, slow
down your reverse diet. If your weight stays the same or even drops
(ideal scenario) then add a few extra calories in.
Eat Clean, Train Mean, Live Green
Guest Author, Holly Brown is a health and fitness blogger and owner of HollyBrownFit.com