Reading Your Calorie Compass
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The first step to understanding how you will need to change your diet and exercise routine is to find out how many calories you burn in one day. I know you hear a lot about people having different metabolism rates and we all know people who seem to be able to eat as much as they want of whatever they want and don’t seem to gain an ounce. Regardless, the fact remains the average number of calories a person will burn if they spend the entire day in a rested state is pretty constant and easily calculated.
It’s called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Check out this online BMR calculator. All you need are your age, height, weight, and to admit whether you are male or female. Choose ‘sedentary’ as your activity level for now because we want to know that maximum number of calories you will burn with little or no exercise in your weekly routine. The calculator tells your resting BMR and your BMR plus activity level. (It also tells you your Body Mass Index (BMI) score, but I’m not a big fan of the BMI scale because it takes a very limited view of body weight.)
Your BMR number is extremely important as it serves as your calorie compass.
Here’s how you need to understand this compass. If you are sedentary throughout the day, meaning you do not exercise and you work a desk job, this is the number of calories you would burn each day. If the amount of calories you consume on a daily basis is greater than this number, you will gain fat. If the amount of calories you consume is less than this number you will gradually lose fat. Since losing fat is your goal, you want to ensure that you are consuming fewer calories than your current BMR.
How do I know how many calories I eat in a day?
This can be a difficult question to answer but it is one that is important for you to tackle if you want to take control of your weight and lose fat. I am going to give you a few tools you can use to help you understand how many calories you consume in a day, but I need to make a few caveats first.
First, it is extremely difficult to be 100% accurate with counting calories. You need to understand that any tool you use to try to calculate your caloric intake will not be precise. It is only an estimate, but for our purposes, it is usually good enough.
Second, the hardest part about counting calories is remembering everything that you have consumed. You have to keep track of every beverage, every meal, every snack, and you have to be able to accurately state the serving size and/or quantity that you consumed. This is another reason why calorie counting is only an estimate.
On the other hand, please don’t let that discourage you! Counting calories is not something I want you to do for the rest of your life. Rather, I would recommend spending a few weeks tracking everything that you consume to the best of your ability using an online calorie counter. I’ve used both MyPlate and FitDay in the past. If you are having trouble finding what you’ve eaten on one of these sites then check out the CalorieKing for a comprehensive food database. You will get better at it with practice and eventually you will be able to get a pretty good idea of the amount of calories you are consuming with each meal, snack, and beverage that you consume.
You will be counting calories for a few weeks in order to better understand how many calories you are taking in and how many calories are contained in the types of food that you eat regularly. You will also get better and eying your serving sizes and getting familiar with what a 3 oz. chicken breast looks like or 4 oz. of wine. Once you have this information down you are armed with quite a few tools to help you decide how many calories you need to cut and you can stop meticulously counting calories, though you’ll always want to be paying attention. The only other time we recommend meticulously counting calories is if you drastically change your diet. For example, maybe you’ve heard a lot about eating Paleo and you want to try it out. I would start tracking my calories again just to make sure I understand the caloric intake of my new diet. Once I felt I had a grasp on what I was eating, I would stop trying to count calories meticulously.
How much of a caloric deficit should I create?
This is an excellent question and is one of the most important decisions you will make as you determine your route to fat loss. Let’s walk through some of the math together.
1 lb = 3,500 calories. 7 Days x 500 calories = 3,500 calories
If you are able to create a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day, then you should lose one pound each week. If you are able to sustain a caloric deficit of 1,000 calories per day, then you should lose two pounds per week.
Does this mean if my BMR is 2,000 calories per day that I have to limit myself to only 1,000 calories per day in order to achieve my weight loss goals? No way! This is where exercise comes in! Go back to the BMR calculator. Now select a ‘moderate’ activity factor. See how high your BMR went up considering the activity factor!!?? If you develop an exercise routine that allows you to workout 3-5 times per week then you don’t have to cut nearly as many calories from your diet in order to lose 2 lbs. per week.
I should also mention that not only does establishing a workout routine make creating a caloric deficit easier to achieve but scientific research also shows that weight loss will occur faster and is more sustainable when a diet is accompanied by exercise. Combined, they are each more effective when it comes to weight loss. We’ll come back to this in a later post.
For now, start getting a read on your calorie compass!
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