I’m am constantly asked how I’ve lost 52lbs. Aside from getting 10,000 steps daily (half of which come from my workouts), it’s about calorie allotment. But I constantly hear:
“What did you do? I can’t seem to budge the 20lbs I want to lose.”
For many people it’s a constant struggle to get in daily exercise or maintain a healthy diet, let alone lose a few pounds. I have found that there are two things most people don’t understand about weight loss:
- Calories In vs Calories Out
- It’s not just calories in vs calories out
Calories In vs Calories Out
This is probably the most misunderstood thing about weight loss. Most people know you have to have a caloric deficit in order to lose weight, but they don’t understand exactly what that means.
There are a number of apps and calculators out there to help you determine what your caloric deficit should be based on weight, height, how much weight you want to lose per week and BMR (basal metabolic rate). In fact, My Fitness Pal is a great tool for this.
BUT, just because MFP says you need to eat 1500 calories a day doesn’t mean that’s what you are supposed to eat. Let me explain.
Basal Metabolic Rate
There are a few things we need to know before we delve into caloric deficits.
First is your BMR, or basal metabolic rate. This is how many calories your body burns just to stay alive. So if you do absolutely nothing all day, your BMR is how many calories your body will burn to keep your brain functioning and heart pumping. BMR is based on height, weight, sex and age. A good BMR calculator can be found here.
We’ll use me as an example. I’m a 36 year old female, 5’9 and 190lbs (only 30 more to go Woohoo!!).
So based on the above information, my BMR is 1636.3, don’t ask me what the formula is, I use a calculator. Math is not my forte!!
Another useful number to know is your HBE or Harris-Benedict Equation, which is also known as Basal Energy Expenditure. This nifty little number tells you how many calories you should be eating based on your BMR and activity level to maintain your weight. My HBE is 2250.32. (You can find a good HBE calculator here.)
Interestingly, my BMI (body mass index) is now 28.06, down from 31!! YA!!!
Daily Calorie Allotments
Ok, so what do all these numbers mean? Knowing your BMR and HBE can help you determine how many calories you need to eat to realistically lose weight without starving yourself.
There’s a bit of math involved, (it’s easy I swear, because I can do it) so we’ll make it easy and use 1500 calories as our daily calorie goal. All calorie goals are based on the standard 2000 calorie diet used for maintaining weight and determining caloric content of food on packaging.
So if your goal is 1500 calories, that means you need a 500 calorie deficit daily to lose weight. Simple enough right? Nope.
Lets say you work out and burn an extra 500 calories. Now, if you eat only 1500 calories, you have a 1000 calorie deficit. Wait what?
1500 calories + 500 burned calories = 2000 calorie allotment
If you were on a standard 2000 calorie diet, the math would look like this:
2000 calories + 500 burned calories = 2500 calorie allotment
So, if you only eat 1500 calories after a grueling workout, you have a 1000 calorie deficit because you should be eating 2500 (based on the typical 2000 calorie diet).
The moral of the story is:
If you exercise, you need to eat as man calories as you burn during the workout.
If you don’t, you’re body will store fat instead of burn it because it will go into starvation mode.
It will also be much harder to build lean muscle because your body will try to burn muscle instead of fat. Muscle is a lot easier for your body to burn than fat, and you need lean muscle because it increases your metabolism.
My Fitness Pal is a great app for this because all you have to do is add in the approximate number of calories you burned during your workout, and it adds them into your daily calorie allotment.
It takes the guess work out of it, and if you have a Fitbit or other activity tracker, you can link it with MFP and it will automatically adjust your calorie allotment for you. You don’t have to do a thing!
It’s Not All Calories In vs Calories Out
But unfortunately, it’s not all about calories in vs calories out. While that is a major part of the equation, the type of calories you consume also plays a major role.
I’ll delve into this more in a later post, but suffice it to say if you are eating a lot of processed foods, foods that contain high fructose corn syrup (or just corn syrup) or foods with added sugars such as maltodextrin, your sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
Excess sugar is turned into fat in the body and although exercise does speed up the process and prevent some of the excess sugar from becoming fat, it’s not a miracle cure.
I’ll delve into the biochemistry and alternative options in my post later this week, but for now, stay away from processed foods and any added sugar (and yes, that means the sugar in your coffee!).