If you're looking to lose fat, the very first thing that you must do to get started on the right track is determine your calorie needs. Since fat loss essentially comes down to you consuming fewer calories than you burn off over the course of the day through your basal metabolic rate and all the physical activity you do, getting this equation correct is the fastest way to guarantee your success
Sadly though, many people have no idea how to properly determine their calorie requirements and this is the single thing that holds them back from realizing their goals.
With this quick and simple guide, we'll give you everything you need to know to understand how many calories you should be eating each and every day to see the weight loss results you're after.
Here's what you need to know.
Determining Your Basal Metabolic Rate
The very first step in figuring out your calorie requirements for your diet is to determine something called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This represents how many calories you would burn if you did nothing but lay in bed all day long and not move a muscle.
Basically, how many calories does your body burn to maintain your muscle, keep your brain working, keep your heart breathing, and keep your lungs pumping oxygen throughout your blood.
Since most of us do much more than lie in bed all day long, calories will get added to this number, but this gives you an excellent starting point to work off of.
There are a number of fancy mathematical equations that can be used to approximate this number, but if you're looking for a simple and straightforward method to get an estimation, then you would simply take your weight in pounds and multiple by ten if you're a female and eleven if you're a male.
For those who do want to get their calculators out and play with some numbers, the equation that you can use is the Harris Benedict formula and is:
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 X weight in pounds) + (4.7 X height in inches) – (4.7 X age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 X weight in pounds) + (12.7 X height in inches) – (6.8 X age in years)
Both of these methods will come out to roughly the same, so either one will be fine to use.
Factors Influencing Basal Metabolic Rate
Before moving on, it's important to note that there are a few things that can impact your BMR value. First, those individuals who have a much lower body fat and who have much more lean muscle mass tend to have higher BMR values due to the fact that muscle is a very metabolically active tissue.
Just sitting there existing it's going to be burning off many more calories than an equivalent amount of fat would burn, so this will boost your calorie requirements.
Second, long-term exercise, especially resistance training, also tends to boost the BMR values, so those who spend at least three days a week in the gym and have done so for at least a few months will find they tend to burn calories faster than what the average person does.
Third, those who have been using low calorie diets for more than a few week's time will notice a decline in their BMR value, and this is due to the fact that as the body experiences such low energy intakes, it helps to protect itself against starvation by slowing the metabolism. This is often a big reason why many dieters fail to see ongoing weight loss despite eating so few calories, so something to really look out for.
Finally, your environment can also impact your BMR values. Those who are living in very cold environments may show slightly elevated BMR values because the body is burning off more calories to maintain the body temperature.
Generally this does tend to be rather minimal though, so keep that in mind before you go and spend some time in the deep freeze to try and prompt faster fat loss!
Assessing The 'Activity' Factor
Moving on, the second and much more variable component of your calorie requirement equation is the activity factor. This refers to how many calories you burn off over the course of the day from all the different activities that you do.
Not only will this vary from individual to individual – someone who sits all day long at a computer would burn far less than someone who's running around actively with their career, but it also tends to vary from day to day within the same individual.
Some days you may be more active and other days you may be less. One important point to note here is that many people severely underestimate how much small bursts of activity add up. Get up to get coffee at 10 am, go for a walk around the block on your afternoon break, and hit the grocery store for 45 minutes on the way home before dinner and you could have burned off more calories than you burned in the gym.
Trying to move around more throughout the day, outside of structured physical activity is one of the best ways to promote faster weight loss, so get out of the thinking pattern that you will only burn calories in the gym. That's not the case at all.
Now, in order to estimate your calorie requirements, you'll use an activity multiplier. Remember, this will vary from day to day so it's really just an approximation.
What you'll do is take the number that you arrived at above and multiply by the following based on how you'd describe your daily activity (workouts included):
- If you are sedentary (no exercise) X by 1.2
- If you are lightly active (sedentary job + 1-3 times per week workouts) X by 1. 375
- If you are moderately active (active job + 1-3 workouts per week or sedentary job plus 3-5 workouts per week) X by 1.55
- If you are very active (hard exercise 6-7 times per week + sedentary job) X by 1.725
- If you are extra active (hard exercise 6-7 times per week + active job) X by 1.9 or more
This then gives you the number of calories you should eat (approximately) each day to maintain your body weight.
Getting Your Calorie Intake Set For Weight Loss
But, what if you want to lose weight? In order to lose weight now, you must create that calorie deficit that will cause your body to go searching for another fuel source to use for energy – namely, your body fat stores.
What you must remember here is that there are 3500 calories in one pound of body fat, therefore, to create a one pound fat loss, you need to burn off this many more calories than you consume.
So to lose one pound a week, you need to subtract 500 calories from your daily number. To lose half a pound per week, subtract 250. Or, if you really want to see fast weight loss at a rate of 2 pounds per week, subtract 1000 calories.
Note though that this last option is only best for very heavy individuals as for someone who has a maintenance calorie requirement of 1800 calories for instance, a diet of a measly 800 would not be smart or healthy.
Half to one pound of fat loss should be what most people shoot for here.
So there you have all the steps to take to figure out how many calories you should strive to eat on a daily basis. Remember that these are all just approximations though and you should adjust it based on your real world experience.
After eating at a set calorie level for two week's time, if you find you aren't seeing the results you want, adjust your calories either up or down to move towards the direction you want to go. If you continuously monitor this and adjust your weight loss, results will be guaranteed.