You’ve heard it from your second-grade health teacher that calories are the key driver for fat loss. After reading this article you’ll know how many calories do you need to lose weight. You’ll have an easier and more enjoyable time achieving your health & fitness goals too.
Did some tan buff guy with shaved loins in your gym said to eat 1200 calories? Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
When it comes to finding how many calories do you need to lose weight, there’s no such thing as “one fits for all”. Having been knee-deep in the fitness industry for more than 10 years now, I can tell you this for sure:
There’s no magic equation, no perfect weight loss calorie calculator.
In this article, you’ll find an easy way to find your calorie target to burn fat. In the end, you’ll learn how to adjust it so it works specifically for YOU.
Before getting to the actual numbers, we need to get an introductory grip on what calories are and why should you start counting these suckers.
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The KING Of Weight Loss – Calories
The fundamental fact is that the body will NOT tap into stored body fat unless you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming (source).
Of course, this means that either calorie expenditure has to go up (physical activity), caloric intake has to go down (via food), or both have to occur.
This alone should be enough to convince you that you should start tracking calories.
But before jumping into “WHY track them”, you should have an inkling about what calories are.
As Lyle McDonald puts it, a calorie isn’t a physical object. Rather it’s a defined measurement. Specifically, it is a measurement of heat. Even more specifically:
One calorie is the amount of energy required to heat one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
For us, land-dwellers, who aren’t as educated as Lyle is, a calorie is simply a unit of measurement used to calculate the energy in the food you eat.
Since nobody likes smartasses, I’m not going to bore you with all that fancy “sciency” stuff. For now, just know that how many calories you consume, decide whether you lose, maintain or gain weight.
Continuing in this vein, you need to get familiar with “macros” too (macronutrients). They are Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats. They make up the calories in the food you eat.
- Protein contains 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram
- Fats contain 9 calories per gram
Now here’s what I want you to remember from this part:
Calories are THE KING for losing weight and Macros are THE QUEEN.
These two go hand in hand.
But you still want to get the right amounts of macros because that’s what might decide what type of weight you’ll lose – fat or muscle (more or less).
Now that you have a grip on calories, let’s dive into…
Why Should You Track Calories And Macros?
Because, as I said in does calorie counting work article, calorie counting is the quickest way to lose weight CONSISTENTLY.
Sure, you could lose weight on any other diet without counting calories but you would hit a plateau eventually (I’ll talk about it in a second).
Calorie counting is like using a GPS…
Say you got a new job located in a place you’ve never been to.
Could you get there without using a GPS? Probably – but it’s going to take a lot longer, and you’ll likely end up making multiple wrong turns along the way.
But if you use a GPS, you’ll be able to get there on your first try because you can trust the GPS will get you there. Over time, you’ll be more familiar with the route, and you won’t need to rely as much on using the GPS.
The same is true for tracking your food and calorie intake.
How about that fancy-pants analogy?
Absolutely every “magic” diet that makes you lose weight, works in the same way – it puts you in a calorie deficit.
Sure, people will try to convince you that Paleo, Keto, IF, Atkins diet, etc. work because of the magic fat:carb ratio but in reality, it’s all about the rules these diets impose on you.
All of the rules, the food combining, the elimination of carbs, the elimination of fat, don’t eat XXX at all (where XXX is something that contributes a lot of calories to the diet), don’t eat YYY after 6pm (where YYY is something people tend to overeat in the evenings), etc…
are all just ways of tricking people into eating less without having to think about it.
– Lyle Mcdonald
I have no problem with this. Any diet that makes you eat less is usually a good thing since it reduces some of the psychological stress that happens with dieting.
And, at least to some degree FOR SOME TIME, it can work effectively.
But all these diets fail at about 4th to 6th week.
Let’s take a low-carb diet for example since I believe it’s the worst of all.
You cut carbs to 50 grams per day. You lose 5-7 pounds over 2 weeks. Most of it being water since 1 gram of carbs (in a form of glycogen) binds to roughly 4 grams of water (source).
Fewer carbs = less water weight.
Eventually, weight loss slows down at week 4. You grit your teeth, fight your urges to quit, and just keep following a low-carb “magic” train.
Two weeks later you’re losing your sh*t. The scale shows nothing to be happy about. You call it a day. No more dieting because it doesn’t work…
You start eating carbs again and since all these calories are coming back, you start gaining the weight back. That’s yo-yo dieting, in a nutshell, my hypothetical reader friend…
Now if you started with tracking calories right off the bat, you would have known what to do when you hit a plateau – just reduce calorie intake.
You can’t do that following a FAD diet since you don’t know how many calories you consume in the first place. You can’t cut carbs either since you’re at 50 g of carbs per day already. There are no more carbs to cut…
That’s where food tracking comes in.
Tracking your food intake allows for losing fat CONSISTENTLY without running into a wall without knowing what to do next.
You can be on Keto, Paleo, or some weird hemp oil diet… tracking food intake will get you to your weight loss goals faster than any other approach – 99.9999% guaranteed.
3 Steps To Find Your Calorie Intake For Fat Loss
I may sound like a preachy broken record here but you can’t find a perfect calorie intake for weight loss.
At least not from the get-go.
That said, you simply want to find an estimated calorie intake that’s closest to the “perfect”. Then, adjust.
Step 1: Find Your Starting Calorie Target
There are gazillion and one calorie calculators out there but I find it to be highly incorrect.
Here‘s a better way that I use with my online clients:
Multiply your GOAL body weight (in pounds) by:
- 11 – Mostly Sedentary (you sloth around most of the day)
- 12 – Somewhat Active (you spend a good chunk of your day standing or walking but it isn‘t physically demanding)
- 13 – Very Active (you‘re up on your feet most of the day and your job is physically demanding (construction worker))
Say you weigh 250 pounds and want to get to 200 lbs. You’re somewhat active. You would take 200*12 and get 2400 calories for a starting point (I’ll come back to this in step 3).
IMPORTANT: If you have more than 50 pounds to lose, set your GOAL body weight in 50-pound increments otherwise you‘ll have too few calories to fight cravings and hunger. For instance, if you weigh 275 pounds and want to lose 100 pounds, start with a goal weight of 225 pounds.
Step 2: Find Macros Targets
If you aren’t prepping for a fitness show, there’s no need to track all three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat).
You should only track protein and calories.
Low-carb zealots will get dumbstruck by this but it’s true. The carb:fat ratio makes no difference when calories and protein are matched (source).
“Why the heck are we tracking only protein, Egis?”.
Well, when it comes to weight loss, higher protein intake helps to maintain muscle mass, increases satiety levels, and keeps your metabolism high(er) (source).
After all, if you reach your daily protein intake, you’ll reach an adequate carbohydrate and fat intake more often than not too.
And it will save you tons of time!
All right! Enough of the jibber-jabber! Here’s how to find your protein intake for weight loss:
For the same 250-pound folk who wants to get to 200 pounds, it would translate to 160g-200g of protein per day.
Anything in that range is fine. You don’t have to track it to the tee.
Step 3: Adjust Depending On The Outcome
You already have your calorie and macros targets which MIGHT make you lose weight. I said “might” because nine times out of ten it needs adjustments.
The rate at which you should lose weight is 0.5%-1.5% of your body weight per week. The more weight you carry the closer to 1.5% you can wallow around.
So you started tracking calories and protein. You did that for two weeks.
Now, depending on how your weight is moving (or not), you might need to make adjustments.
- If after two weeks you dropped less than 0.5% of your weight, you need to reduce your calorie intake by an additional 50-150 calories.
- If after two weeks you dropped more than 1.5% of your weight, you need to scale it back. Add additional 100-150 calories to your daily intake.
- Ditched weight in the range of .5%-1.5%? FREAKN’ Awesome! You have hit the sweet spot. Roll with it till your weight loss slows down. Then, reduce calorie intake by 100-150 again.
Should You Track Calories To The Perfection
The short answer is no.
The long answer is yes if you like it.
I’ve had some clients that LOVED tracking everything as accurately as possible. For the good chunk of us though, being overly accurate isn’t necessary.
I recommend being around +/-150 calories of your daily target intake. It’s less stressful to have a calorie range instead of a specific number.
How To Track Food Intake
For those of you expecting a lot of magic and theoretical fundamentals of food tracking, prepare for a disappointment.
I have already talked about it in does calorie counting work for weight loss article.
After reading this article, get yourself a cheap food scale and you’re all set.
OOoo, Ooo! Before you lose your mind about all this food tracking being too stressful and time-consuming, check this fancy-pants infographic.
Just like everything, learning to weigh and log food into an app take time. But after 2-3 weeks, you’ll feel like Neo in Matrix.
With the traditional “eliminate this, avoid this, cut this” dieting approach the beginning is easier because it lets to avoid some of the psychological stress that occurs with dieting. However, there’s not much room for flexibility.
And because of that, the effort required to follow a diet stays static over time.
Contrary to that, tracking and logging food intake is harder at first.
Later, weighing and logging your food intake becomes your second nature and it takes 5 minutes of your precious time each day…
5-10 actually, but still NOT much!
That said, by counting calories, you end up stressing less, and losing fat by eating the foods you enjoy.
It sounds like a much better way to lose weight than demonizing carbs and avoiding foods you enjoy eating…
Goodness, I did quite a big job writing this article. Didn’t I?
Even though I did cover quite a bunch of information here, you might be still a bit lost in all that calorie and macros tracking thang.
And if you want to learn more & get a nicer-looking body both faster and with less wrong turns made in the process, I dunno, hire me to coach you, maybe?