Everyone is in search of this mythical number that will unlock all of their secrets and be the answer to their fat loss goals. I want to start off by saying that if you are not tracking your calories regularly, accurately and consistently, then the number of calories you should be eating is irrelevant. You could make up a number between 1 and 10,000, as it would have no bearing on your food intake as you would have no way of measuring progress.
Do you need to track calories?
Tracking calories is a tool that can be used to help control your food intake and ensure you are not unnecessarily stuffing your face. It is not the ONLY tool that can be used to help limit food intake. I have helped many people get in decent shape without tracking any food, we have controlled portion sizes using the hand method (another post) and measured progress regularly to ensure they were in a calorie deficit.
I do believe that everyone should spend a period of time tracking their food intake, by using apps such as MyFitnessPal. This will give you an understanding of the foods you eat and how calorific they are. This gets you out of that ‘healthy’/’unhealthy’ food mindset and helps you focus on a calorie target. Even after a two week stint of tracking, it may open your eyes to your current diet and make you realise that the hipster avocado isn’t so light on calories after all.
I’m not going to bore you with the choices of formulas for calculating the calories, just use an online calculator. Fill in your details below and see what pops out. Be honest with your activity level.
Congratulations, you have calculated your calorie intake requirements…..now what? I would recommend taking this number as a starting guide and as a rough one at that. Set your calorie goal on MyFitnessPal to the number popped out of the calculator and try and aim to hit this target regularly and consistently. Measure progress often (progress photos, measurements and weight) to see how this is working for you. If you find that progress is going in the wrong direction, the calorie target is too high or low, dependant on your goal. Reduce/increase the number by 5-10% and try again, dependant on your goal. This will take time and effort to find the number that works for you. The calculator is only a statistical basis formulated to fit ‘most people’. That doesn’t mean it will be 100% accurate for everyone. Use it as a started point and tweak to fit your lifestyle.
The number will change
Your calorie target will not remain the same over time, if your body changes over time. For example if you begin to lose weight, you BMR (basal metabolic rate) will reduce as you have less fat/muscle tissue to maintain. Your NEAT (Non Exercise Activity) will likely reduce as a result of lowering calories and your body will attempt to remain the same. You will become more efficient at exercising and therefore burn less calories for the same amount of work. How depressing. Instead of getting down about the lowering of calories, just be aware of it. When you are measuring progress, be aware that you may have to reduce calories in or add in some steps (NEAT) or exercise.
I believe everyone should track at some point in their lives for a small period of time. It can be a helpful tool to help ensure you are in a calorie deficit but is not the only tool. The goal to fat loss is being a calorie deficit. How you get there is up to you, as long as it is sustainable and achievable.