In the first part of this article we looked at what calories, BMR and TDEE are and what role they play in weight management. Now let’s put this knowledge to use and lose some weight.
Do You Have To Count Calories?
To have this out of the way for those to whom counting calories sounds as enjoyable as cutting their toe nails: the key to weight loss is staying below the TDEE and it doesn’t matter how you achieve that.
While this article is about counting calories to accomplish it, it isn’t the only method that works. Counting calories allows you to eat what you always did, but in controlled quantities.
The other option is switching to foods that carry less energy than what you used to eat. This lets you eat just about as much as you want, but your choices are restricted. The examples in the table give you an idea about the changes you’d have to make:
|Breakfast||Big bowl of frosted cornflakes||Whole wheat bread with cottage cheese|
|Lunch||Two Big Macs, large fries, regular soda||Salad with chicken breast, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes etc., low calorie dressing, water or diet soft drink|
|Afternoon Snack||Two to three candy bars or other sweets||An apple, pear or other fruits|
|Dinner||Large pizza with double cheese, regular softdrink||Small steak with sour cream and vegetables, water or diet soft drink|
|Dessert||Bowl of icecream||Salted popcorn or fruits|
For some people this amounts to “you can eat as much as you want, but only stuff you don’t like,” but it’s about the only way that allows eating uncontrolled amounts and still lose weight. If you find this too tedious to do on your own, a diet with ready-made meal plans is more appropriate for you.
Getting Your Numbers
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty if you do want to count calories. The first step is to calculate your BMR, which is the minimum you should eat per day. Going below this amount makes it more likely that you get too little of certain nutrients and endanger your health.
We also need your TDEE, which we can find out with the below calorie calculator. You’ll notice it asks you for an activity level. Choose the one appropriate for your lifestyle.
To find out both, enter your numbers into this calculator. The results at the top show your TDEE, at the bottom you find your BMR:
Above BMR, Below TDEE
Once more: our goal is to stay above the BMR and below the TDEE.
Let’s say you are male, 25 years old, 5’11” tall and weigh 200 lbs. Your BMR would be 2,040 kcal and your TDEE 3,162 kcal. You’d therefore need to stay above 2,040 kcal and below 3,162.
After every 15 lbs (7 kg) you lose you should recalculate both BMR and TDEE to reflect your new body weight, as the numbers change when the body’s weight changes. It takes more energy to maintain a large body and let it do stuff than a smaller one.
Rate Of Weight Loss
To lose one pound ( or 1/2 kg), you need a caloric deficit of around 3,500 kcal.
In our example above this means that if per day you stay 500 kcal below the 3,162 (= 2,662), you create the weekly deficit needed to lose that pound (7 x 500 = 3,500).
The highest daily deficit you can safely go for is around 1,000 kcal and losing 2 lbs (1 kg) per week. More than that and you most likely go below your BMR. Only very obese people should go beyond this limit and only until they left that region.
If you lose more than 2 lbs / 1 kg per week, up your daily calorie allowance a bit. If you lose less than 1 lb / 0.5 kg per week, restrict the daily calories a little more.
Take a look at the picture to the right, which shows a typical nutrition facts table found on foods.
Close to the top we see that one serving of this food contains 160 kcal and that the whole bag comes with 8 servings. If we have 1/8th of the bag we can go with those 160 kcal, if we eat more we have to adjust. If you ate around half the bag, you had four servings and therefore 640 kcal.
If you use these tables as hints don’t get misled by the serving sizes. Calculate the amount you really had!
It gets a bit more complicated when you prepare food from ingredients.
In that case you have to weigh or at least accurately estimate the weight of everything that goes into the dish and check the caloric values. Then you divide the total calories value by how much of the food you have. For the weighing part a cheap kitchen scale is enough.
An example: you prepare chili with 1 lb (450 g) black beans, 1 lb (450 g) 80% lean ground beef and two cups (500 ml) of tomato sauce. You have no nutritional information for any of these, save the tomato sauce, whose can says the two cups have 180 kcal.
For the meat and the beans we consult a website like NutritionData, which tells us that the meat has 254 kcal per 100 g. Therefore our 1 lb has 1,143 kcal, while the 1 lb of beans comes with 1,535 kcal.
The total calories for everything in the chili are 180 + 1,143 + 1,535 = 2,858. If you eat 1/4th of it, the calories you consumed are 2,858 / 4 = 715 kcal.
At first you’ll find this whole process tedious, but after a short while experience teaches you how to eye quantities. You’ll also know the calories for the most common foods by heart.
Last but not least, don’t get obsessed about it; one day you might estimate a bit too high, others a bit too low and over the long run this will even out. Only if your weight loss goes too slow or fast, you may consider checking a bit more closely.
Writing Things Down
For both, counting daily calories and controlling body weight, it helps when you write things down. This makes it easier to keep track of everything. Free tools like this printable food diary and the weight tracker at the Hacker’s Diet can make these tasks much more manageable.
Do not forget that when it comes to weighing yourself, timing can make a huge difference. You should always weigh yourself under similar conditions. If you stepped on the scale last Saturday before breakfast and this Saturday after a hearty dinner, that dinner can put 1-3 lbs more on what the scale will tell you.
It is ok to have a “cheat day” every four to six weeks, where you forget about counting calories and eat whatever and as much of it as you like. This might set you back a couple of days, but in the long run helps many people see the finish line.
When The Diet Is Over
Once the diet is over, we want to make sure that the weight won’t sneak back upon us. Many people who go on a diet only keep track of their eating habits and body weight until they reach their goal. Then they go back to eating as before, forget about having an eye on their weight and end up where they were.
If you want to keep your new weight, continue stepping on the scale and allow for a “safety zone” of about +/- 5 lbs (2 kg) around your ideal. If, for example, your ideal weight is 120 lbs (55 kg), you up your calories if your weight drops to 115 (53 kg) and lower your calories if it goes over 125 lbs (57 kg).
The below video highlights this:
Let’s summarize this into the needed steps:
- Calculate your BMR and TDEE
- Write down your daily calories
- Have the total above the BMR and below the TDEE
- Regularly check your weight
- Aim for a loss of 1 – 2 lbs (0.5 – 1 kg) per week
- Allow for a cheat day every 4 – 6 weeks
- When the diet is over, keep track of your weight
Easy As 1, 2, 3?
And this is it. A couple of steps on paper, but, I know, it takes some willpower to carry it out in practice. When I did my diet, the hardest were the first couple days, but after a certain routine set in, it at least became bearable.
If you have further questions, fire away!