How Many Calories Should I Eat When Trying to Lose Weight

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

“Animal loving tree hugging hippie” purple tshirt by FTLA Apparel

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!

Overcoming Plateau’s

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 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.

Source: Pinterest

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.

Why Women Should Lift Weights

I get a lot of women telling me they don’t want to lift weights and bulk up, they just want to “Tone” a certain area.  Just tighten it up, tone it.  I’m here to tell you, You Can’t “Tone” What Doesn’t Exist.  The reason that area jiggles, is because there’s no muscle.

The Problem Is The Solution.

In order to tighten a problem area, you need to build lean muscle through resistance training (aka. Lifting weights).  And not the pink ones either.  You’ve got to lift weights that are heavier than your purse.

Don’t worry about looking un-feminine.  The amount of muscle you put on is completely controllable.  It is extremely hard for a women to build muscle in the first place because we do not have much testosterone.  It is also well know that the use of steriods is required for the huge, bulky look.

Muscle burns a ton of calories so the more lean muscle you build, the more fat you will burn.  Think of muscle as pac-man eating up the fat.

Lifting weights and building muscle also makes the body more insulin sensitive.  Most people find they can actually start eating more carbs the more muscle they build, as muscle is what burns glucose during exercise.  Carbs are the main fuel used by muscles during a weight training workout.  Glycogen (carbs stored in the muscle cells) provides energy for workouts and allow you to lift heavy weights. After a weight training workout, you body will be looking to replace the depleted glycogen stores in the muscle cells and will soak carbs up like a sponge.  If you consume carbs right after your workout, those carbs will be shuttled directly into your muscle cells rather than fat cells. And the more muscle you develop, the more carbs (glycogen) you will need to replace what you depleted during your workout.

Lifting weights also helps with bone density so it becomes increasingly important to lift as we age.  Falls put more elderly in the nursing home than illness so start the habit of lifting weights now.  It’s NEVER too late to start.

Just checkout these weightlifting rockstars.

Ernestine Shepard, personal trainer, 71 years old.

Kathy Smith, 60 year old fitness icon

Tawnia Justice, 55 year old personal trainer

Sandra Foli, 73 year old power lifting record setter

Betsy Finley 60+ crossfit athlete

Winifred Pristell 75 yr old reigning World Association of Benchers and Dead Lifters champion

And not to leave out the guys, 91-year-old Svend Steensgard

Remember, when you see someone with nice toned arms or a nice ass, they have more muscle and less body fat so start lifting and reshape your body!

HELP! My Healthy Eating Derailed

Most people fall of the healthy eating wagon because they go all or nothing.  If you really want to have better health long-term, and lose the weight for GOOD, start small and form a habit.  Instead of trying to change everything at once, which is almost a guarantee for failure, start building good habits one at a time.

Here are my top tips:

A.  Begin with just one meal each day to eat healthy.  Breakfast or snacks are usually the easiest to start with.  Make ahead a large batch of oatmeal, separate into pyrex storage containers and freeze if needed.  Pull out and into the fridge the night before and in the morning you will have a quick “grab and go” breakfast.  Top with raw nuts, fresh fruit, you can even stir in protein powder for a filling boost!  Or, replace a sugary breakfast bar or sugary toaster strudel with a protein smoothie!  They are extremely simple to whip up and you can store extras in mason jars to grab and drink as you head out the door.

Don’t worry about lunch or dinner until you’ve got breakfast down.

B.  Eat healthy just one day each week.  Pick one day each week you can stick to a healthy meal plan for the entire day.  Maybe the weekend is easier for you if you work during the week or your kids have school activities.  Make preparing your healthy meals for that day a family affair!  Get the kids involved.  Nothing gets kids interested in trying new foods better than the pride of having cooked it all by themselves!

After a few weeks, once you have that one day down, add an additional “clean eating” day.  Before you know it, you will have developed clean eating and cooking habits, like cooking in bulk for a few days of meals.

C.  Don’t give up your favorite foods, simply swap ingredients.  You don’t have to give up your favorite foods in order to eat healthy.  There are plenty of ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies into a meal, or swap unhealthy ingredients for healthy ingredients.  Utilize the power of Pinterest and Google to learn new ways of enjoying your favorite foods.  Do you love spaghetti?  Try quinoa noodles with fresh homemade tomato sauce, topped with fresh parsley!  Do you love cookies?  Swap the butter, sugar and refined white flour for quick oats, apple sauce or mashed bananas and raisins!

You can even alter an unhealthy meal by incorporating more of the “healthy” ingredients in the meal.  For example, if you enjoy alfredo, make a fresh, home made sauce from white beans, lemon juice, salt, pepper & garlic.  Then have a large portion of mixed vegetables, with a small serving of noodles and sauce on the side.

You don’t have to make the change all at once.  You are more likely to make permanent changes by incorporating small change until it becomes a habit.

Now, let’s turn words into action! 

How Under Fueling Can Pack on the Pounds and Ruin Your Metabolism

What do these scenarios have in common?

1.  I ate WAY to much yesterday, so today I skipped breakfast and ran 5 miles to burn off yesterday’s binge.

2.  I just got a super cute new workout outfit, but I don’t want to look fat in it so I didn’t eat anything before I go workout.

3.  I only count calories when I diet (nutritious food vs. junk food is not a consideration).

4.  I barely eat anything all day, then binge on sweets at night.

To lose weight, you need to exercise as much as possible and eat as little as possible, right?  Have you ever skipped meals, felt guilty about the food you ate, or felt that food is a necessary evil and the less you eat of it the better?

Did you know that eating too little can have short-term as well as long-term consequences for your body, your workouts and weight loss results?

During a period of low calorie, underfeeding, your cells start to prime themselves for when you do eat “normally” again, so that they can store fat more quickly and efficiently, particularly in the abdominal region, in preparation for another low-calorie period.  Your metabolism is essentially adjusting to the low calories & over-exercising and your metabolism steadily lowers in order to conserve energy.  The lower your metabolism is, the less efficiently you burn fat.

Chronic under fueling and extremely low calorie diets can cause long-term health issues such as fatigue, a weakened immune system, low-energy during training, porous & brittle bones or bone loss, reduced thyroid function, drop in estrogen levels,  menstrual periods become irregular or cease altogether, hair loss, bad skin, brain fog/memory loss, anxiety and poor sleep.

Fueling Without Getting Fat

Have you ever noticed that even though you have increased your exercise and decreased your calories, your body is “softening”?  Whether it’s intentional or not, poor eating habits and failure to increase food to match exercise intensity (aka. under fueling) can cause you to lose muscle and increase body fat.

A common worry among females is that they will gain weight if they start to eat more.  The truth is, the key to keeping up your metabolism and energy levels up while maintaining a healthy weight and toned physique takes specific training and eating strategies.

Carbohydrates as Fuel

Despite the current popularity the low-carb diets, high-intensity training requires fuel from carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates can raise your maximum training intensity 70 percent( or greater).   If you haven’t consumed enough carbs priori to your workout, your training output will be low (even if you feel like you’re training at a high intensity, you won’t be.)

Protein and Fats

Plant protein and plant-based fats will help keep you feeling full during periods when you are not training, as well as provide the repair and recovery tools your body needs to rebuild.  The more lean muscle your body has, the higher your resting metabolic rate is (that’s right, your metabolism speeds up the more muscle you build!).  Consuming protein at regular intervals throughout the day will be crucial to building lean muscle and preventing muscle breakdown as your body rebuilds and repairs.

4 Tips to Fuel Your Body for Fat Loss

Eating more of the right foods at the right time can help you achieve the training intensity and body results you desire.

1.  Don’t skip meals.  It becomes hard to fit in enough calories when you skip meals. If you work out in the morning, eat fast-digesting carbs (like a banana) before your session and a combination of carbohydrates and protein after your workout (like chicken and sweet potatoes).   Set an alarm on your watch every 3 hours if you forget to eat meals.  Meal prep is also important to keeping you on track.  Set aside an hour each week to cook in bulk.

2.  Eat more carbs.  If you’ve been eating a low-carbohydrate diet for an extended period, see how you feel when you add some carbs prior to your workout.  You should notice a spike in energy, which in turn will generate enhanced performance and by default, a higher burning metabolism.  Save the veggie carbs for times during the day when you are at rest (sitting on the couch or on the computer).

3.  Trust your appetite.  Too often, we ignore our hunger signals and maintain a “diet” mentality and “less is better” attitude.  If you are eating whole foods and training consistently and with intensity, your body’s own hunger signals (thirst, grumbling tummy, salivating mouth) will be your best tool for learning how to properly fuel.  TRUST YOUR HUNGER SIGNALS.  Remember, as you build more muscle, your resting metabolic rate increases, and your body will require more calories for fuel, so trust your hunger signals!

4. Listen to your body.  If, after workouts, you are feeling chronic fatigue, soreness, anxiety, lack of sleep, hair loss, bad skin, GI distress or memory loss, consider changing the types and amounts of food you’re getting — you probably need more, not less and eat a wide variety of foods, not the same day-in-day-out..  Make sure you are getting adequate rest and that all your micronutrient needs are covered (vitamin/mineral).

The TRUTH About Competitors and Fitness Models

One of the most FRUSTRATING things as a coach is Instagram.  I have a love/hate relationship with social media.  Whether it’s Fitspiration, Bikini Competitors posting pictures, or Fitness Models posting half naked pictures of themselves, I find that these images encourage more disordered eating, than they do “inspire” a healthy lifestyle, positive self image, or positive impact on the planet.

I’m sure they attain this type of figure because they just do more sit ups than you…right?

Here are a few tidbits you may not be aware of that run rampant in the Bodybuilding/Bikini Competitor/Fitness Community.

1.  Competing can be bad for your mental health – The incessant nit-picking of body parts, placing your self worth on your competition “placing” and the comparison of your body to other girls bodies half naked on stage- remind me what exactly is the point??  Not to mention the actual cost of competing itself.

2.  Getting your body to ultra-low body fat levels can damage your thyroid and adrenal hormones, creating metabolic damage.

3.  The Starve-Binge cycle – Even the best bodies in the world, don’t look like that year-round.  Competitors spend months putting their bodies through harsh dieting (ultra-low calories, hours of cardio, ultra-low carbs, heavy stimulant fat burners) then, once the competition’s over, they often binge, some times for days, some times for weeks, because they are so exhausted and their body is so starved.  This binge leads to a HUGE weight gain, which they often find they can not lose due to damage done to their hormones.

One competitor was quoted as being on a “very low calorie diet (900-1100 per day) for over 8 months straight with zero carbs nearly the whole time and an hour of cardio a day, 7 days per week”.

Dianna Dahlgren has been very public about her experience,  “she had a full blown eating disorder. She was binging. In her previous prep, she had been restricted to 600 calories a day and 3 hours of cardio per day.”

But I don’t want to compete, I just want Abs like “such and such” on Pinterest.

Please be aware that many fitness models are competitors and use the same preparatory methods for their photo shoot as they do for competition.  They also frequently schedule photo shoots around competitions since their body is already ultra lean.

Some fitness competitors, like Autumn Calabrese, even market their own “Weight Loss Programs” (21 Day Fix).  Let’s open our eyes people.  Do you really think the program she is selling is the one she uses to get her body into this type of condition?  (Maybe?  Have you seen the portion control cups?  I had to go get a snack; got hungry just looking at them)

Besides, a safe amount of weight to lose in 3 weeks is 3lbs.  Do you really need to spend $160 to lose 3 lbs?

Now, this certainly does not mean ALL fitness athletes suffer from disordered eating, damaged metabolisms, and stimulant abuse, but it certainly runs rampant– and all for the “perfect body”.

So the questions remain- How does this develop and relay a positive self image?  How does this help bring about good health?  How does this help the planet?

The answer, it does not.

One blogger put it perfectly,

“…So many of us compare ourselves and our bodies to other people’s on a daily basis and become too hard on ourselves.  By comparing ourselves to others, we become anxious and become unappreciative of what we have been given.” 

I do not give a flying f*uck about walking around with a 6-pack 365 days a year.  I am also not concerned with making others “wow” or “in awe” of my physique.

Destroying your health by going on any crash diet eating 600 calories a day, doing 2 hours of cardio and taking heavy stimulant fat burners won’t change anyone’s health for the better, it will not bring about change to our destroyed environment,  and it certainly won’t ease the suffering of millions of people and animals.

Focus on caring for one another, care for the environment, care for the plant and care for the animals.  Lead by positive example and be a voice for the voiceless.

Read about other’s experience with Competing.  It is WORTH the read, even if you have never considered competing yourself, these effects can be true from any crash diet.

Competition Dangers

Why I’ll Never Compete Again

Why I Hung Up My Competition Heels

Former Competitor Interview

Metabolic Damage and Why I’m Pissed Off

Can Bikini Contests Ruin Your Body