Don’t Fly Blind
Let’s face it, counting calories blows. It’s a pain in the ass. It’s annoying to do and annoying to see someone do. Nothing annoys me more socially than picky eaters, so I get it. But unfortunately it is a necessary evil when you are trying to hack fitness. You’re going be slightly annoying to everyone from now on but don’t worry, your friends will get over it. Especially when you show them your results.
Hardly anyone counts calories. I think I’m the only person in my entire social circle that actually does it regularly. I’m also the only person in my social circle with single digit body fat. So you do the math.
Here’s the thing, my laziness to count my calories is what single-handedly prevented me from getting truly lean for most of the last decade. Without knowing how many calories you are eating and how many calories you are burning, you have virtually zero chance of success. Period. It is literally like trying to fly blind.
Please listen to me when I say you have to count your calories. Please don’t be like me and waste years trying to “wing it”. It is simple math. Just do it.
Time to Crunch some Numbers
The single most important principle of dieting and nutrition that you need to learn is calories in vs. calories out. A very simple way to look at this is if you eat more than your daily maintenance (also known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE for short) calories you will gain weight, and if you eat less you will lose weight. So naturally, the first thing you need to do is figure out what your daily maintenance calories are. I am going to make this as simple as humanly possible. So get your pencil and paper ready and let’s do some basic math. Here are the steps:
1. Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
This is the amount of energy you expend just living and breathing each day. (Based on the Harris Benedict Equation.*)
Men’s BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)
Women’s BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)
2. Calculate your Daily Maintenance Calories (TDEE)
Take the BMR number that you just calculate and factor in the amount you expend walking around, exercising, and doing your daily functions. (Called an activity factor)
Use this to determine your activity level:
1.2 = sedentary (little or no exercise)
1.375 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1 to 3 days per week)
1.55 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3 to 5 days per week)
1.725 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week)
1.9 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports 6 to 7 days per week and physical job)
Daily Maintenance Calories (TDEE) = BMR x Activity Factor.
There. That wasn’t so bad right? So now what? Now that you know what your Daily Maintenance Calorie level is you apply this simple rule: Don’t ever go over maintenance calories each day.
Fitting in the Fat
Now here is where you apply the “calories in vs. calories out” principle. If you want to burn fat then you have to be in a “caloric deficit” meaning you eat less calories than your TDEE. But how much less should you eat??
As a rough guideline, 1 lb. of FAT = 3500 calories. So to lose 1 pound of fat each week you need to be at a weekly deficit of 3500 calories. (Or 500 cals per day) So take your daily number that you just calculated above and subtract 500. Now you have your new daily calorie limit if you want to lose 1 lb. of fat per week. And that’s about as simple as it gets.
Q:Hang on. If 1 lb. of fat = 3500 calories, I can just go on an extreme “cut” and slash 10,500 calories a week. At that rate I’ll be losing 3 lbs. of fat per week and I’ll be lean in no time. Right?
A: Wrong. If only it were so easy. Fat loss is not linear and the human body is incredibly sophisticated when it comes to sensing a restriction and preserving fat. If you slash your calories too aggressively you will essentially be starving yourself and won’t be able to sustain it. You also won’t be feeding your muscles enough energy to actually grow. And finally the likelihood of a rebound binge is much higher on such a deep deficit. Don’t try to be a hero. It takes time. Slow and consistent fat loss while cementing strong habits is the only way that you will be able to KEEP the fat off after the program.
Now you aren’t flying blind anymore. You know exactly how many calories your body uses and now you just need to make sure you don’t eat more than that.
*There are 2 widely used methods to calculate BMR, the Harris Benedict Equation and the Katch McArdle Formula. Both are basically the same thing that give you the same end result. Don’t worry about which one to use, just pick one. If you want the Katch McArdle calculation you can Google it yourself.