Somewhere in the last two decades or so, it became fashionable to turn your nose up at the idea of calorie counting.
Like neon colored sweat bands and calisthenics, calorie counting was lame and belonged in the 80s. It was what kind of calories you ate, the diet experts said, that made all the difference.
Here’s the boring and slightly irritating truth: calories do matter. In fact, they matter more than anything else. Of all diet ideas out there, caloric restriction is the single most well studied and documented.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Nothing in nature is allowed to violate the basic principles of physics, not even smug people on Facebook who’ve just discovered the Paleo diet.
Even if you eat the best quality food, too much of it will make you fat, end of story.
While of course the kind of calories you eat makes a huge difference, your first and biggest goal is to identify your correct caloric requirements and then structure your healthy nutrition plan within that. If you’re not entirely convinced, that’s OK.
You can try to eat 7000 calories a day of bananas or double that in full English breakfasts for a month and see what happens. I’ll wait. It can be a sad day for some to learn that you can still get fat on a caloric surplus made only of salad, but there comes a time in every dieter’s life where they must accept that the conservation of energy laws also, sadly, apply to them.
Working out your requirements In a way, calorie counting can be liberating – there’s no room for excuses, for stretching the truth. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or if you’ve been through a bad break up – 200 calories is 200 calories is 200 calories.
So how many do you need? The standard rule of thumb is that eating 10-20% below your caloric requirements will result in slow but steady weight loss – the kind you can keep. Stay at your caloric requirement and you’ll maintain your weight.
So, if you usually need around 1800 kcal, knock 10-20% off that to give you 1450- 1600 kcal.
Even if you’re on the small end, be very cautious about going below 1200 as this could disrupt your basal metabolic functions (all the things your body needs to do even when completely inactive).
Step one: calculate your BMR – basal metabolic rate This is most precise if you use the first formula that takes your body fat percentage into account.
Your lean body mass is your total body weight minus your total fat mass.
BMR = 370 + (21.6 X lean body mass in kilograms).
If you don’t know your body fat percentage ,you can estimate your BMR using the following formula:
BMR = 655 + (4.35 X weight in pounds) + (4.7 X height in inches) – (4.7 X age in years).
BMR = 66 + (6.23 X weight in pounds) + (4.7 X height in inches) – (6.8 X age in years).
Another alternative is to go online and search for a BMR calculator, although be warned that some of them are highly inaccurate.
Step two: calculate your maintenance level Find this by multiplying your BMR by the activity level that you (honestly!) have: Sedentary = 1.2 (sitting around at a desk and …yeah, no, that’s all)
Lightly active = 1.375 (light exercise a couple of times a week) Moderately active = 1.55 (moderate exercise a couple of times a week) Very active = 1.725 (more serious sports and activities more than 5 or 6 times a week) Extremely active = 1.9 (crazy person level: regular marathons, intense sports and all the rest every day) Step three: reduce Knock 10 or 20% off your maintenance level.
Be careful here – you may be tempted to be a dieting cowboy and eat less than that, but it’ll only end in tears. Promise.
This range is a sweet spot because it’s high enough to maintain for a longer period of time without feeling too hungry and deprived, but low enough to steadily lose weight if you stick it out.
Which you will – because it’s easy! Step four (optional): compare What you could do now if you’re curious (or a masochist, like me) is to take a look back at how many calories you have been eating, and try to identify times of day, certain meals or particular situations where you went significantly over the calories you really needed.
This gives you a good idea of where you need to be extra vigilant in the days ahead.