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 when trying to lose weight.
Yes, you read correctly, diet on as MANY calories as possible.
Allow me to explain.
First and foremost, calories are NOT the enemy. Calories fuel your body and fuel your workouts so it is very important to consume a sufficient amount. For optimal health, eat whole plant foods until you feel full (satiated). That’s it! Plants are low in calorie, high in fiber and very hard to over eat.
Unfortunately, many have come from a history of yo-yo dieting and emotional eating and need further guidance. In this instance, you always want to diet on as MANY calories as possible. The exact number of calories your body requires for fuel depends on your Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR) as well as your daily activity level, which includes the amount of physical activity you perform daily.
0:11 How Many Calories
0:43 Basil Metabolic Rate, Hormones and Daily Activity Level
1:10 Down Regulate Metabolism on Ultra Low Calorie Diet
1:22 Metabolic Adaptation – Diet Calories
2:12 Concerns from Ultra Low Calorie Diets (thyroid levels dropping, testosterone levels dropping, cortisol levels raising)
2:46 Diet on as many calories as possible and why
3:40 What happens after you are done “dieting”
3:58 Fixing the problem
4:45 How much weight should you lose per week for permanent fat loss
4:48 How long will it take to lose the weight
5:15 The more times you yo-yo diet, the more DIFFICULT it will be to keep your metabolism high and get that weight off
5:34 What if you’ve been eating ultra low calories for a LONG time?
5:42 What is Reverse Dieting
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Your body is very smart.
When 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?
Simply 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?
Once you have reached 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 weight loss.
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 your body loses 1 lb per week on 2500? Wouldn’t you rather begin a calorie cut at 2500 calories, and slowly cut down 40 calories per week 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.
Low 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 eating 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 healthy and move your body daily.
I’m ready to lose weight the healthy way. How many calories do I need to start?
This will take a bit of trial and error to see exactly how many calories you can consume and still lose weight. Keep in mind, our goal is permanent, long-term weight loss. 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 right!
No way, takes to long!
I 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 anyone?)
Plan ahead and leave yourself enough time to diet. Do it right the FIRST time. Stop the Yo-Yo Diet insanity!
Have 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
Food 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 WHOLE PLANT FOODS- fresh fruits and vegetables, lentils/legumes/beans, starches (potatoes, rice, oats) and plant fats (nuts, seeds, avocado). Single ingredient food. Foods that don’t come with an ingredients label because they ARE the ingredients. 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 fats; 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 so play around with your nutrient percentages.
Your 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.
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 calorie burning muscle, yet the scale will only reflect a loss of 4 lbs.
Replace your steady state cardio with High Intensity Interval (HIIT) training
Research 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).
What if I have been severely restricting my calories for years?
The 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.
The 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.