How much should I eat to lose weight?
In this article I’ll be answering that common question “How much should I eat to lose weight?” as well as provide you with 3 handy steps to help you work out exactly how much you personally should be eating, plus a breakdown of your macro-nutrients when trying to lose fat.
If I were to ask you “What is the best way to lose weight?” I’m pretty sure you’d reply, “to eat less food”. Now, this is certainly true if your weight is and has been gradually going up, but what if your weight is stuck at the same point on the scale and hasn’t budged in a while? What do you do?
The chances are, that in this situation you would start to eat less and exercise more. But what happens if the weight on the scale still doesn’t budge again after a few weeks? Do you eat even less?
As a society we are constantly told that we need to eat less to lose weight, but for many people, it’s the opposite, some people need to actively increase the amount of calories they consume in order to start losing weight. Confused?! Let me explain...
The effects of under-eating
Not eating enough calories over a long period of time can cause major issues with our body. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again with people who come to me because they just can’t lose weight, people who chronically under eat because that’s what society tells us is the best thing to do.
Under eating for long periods of time will cause our body to go into starvation mode, where survival, rather than anything aesthetic (looking lean for the beach for instance) is it’s primary goal. Your body is a clever machine, and if it senses that energy consumption (eating food) is going down, it thinks “hang on a minute, I best conserve some energy (body fat) for later on, just in case”.
As well as slowing down thyroid production, decreasing muscle mass, lowering testosterone levels and decreasing your energy levels, not eating enough food will stop fat loss in it’s tracks!
It is 100% true that we need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. The problem is that most people when they diet are in such a huge deficit that their body reverts to it’s protective starvation mode that I just spoke about. In order to lose weight consistently, we need to be in a small deficit, for most people this means eating more food.
“OK, we get it, we need to eat more to lose weight, but how much should we eat?” I hear you ask, well, I’ve prepared this handy 3 step guide to working out exactly how much you should eat, as well as breaking down the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates you should be eating for fat loss.
Step 1 - Work out your BMR
BMR stands for Base Metabolic Rate and can be defined as the amount of calories our body needs to carry out it’s most basic tasks on a daily basis (breathing, sleeping, lying down etc).
You can work yours out here: http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/
Example: A 5’ 5” female who weighs 60kg (132lbs) and is 34 years old would have a BMR of 1374.9 calories per day.
Step 2 - Adjust the calories to your own level
The next step needs an honest assessment of your lifestyle and how active you are. Are you someone who thinks that exercise is running a bath? Or do you lead a very active lifestyle, walking everywhere, training multiple times per day? Or, like most people reading this, are you somewhere in the middle?
You need to multiply your BMR (from step 1) by 1.1-1.9; this is dependant upon the factors previously spoken about. Someone who is completely sedentary would use 1.1. Somebody who is extremely active and exercises 10 plus times per week or competes/trains for endurance events would use a higher number such as 1.9.
Example: Someone who walks 8-10k steps per day and exercises 3 times per week, would use 1.4. Using our 5’5” female in the above example… 1374.9 x 1.4 = 1924.86 calories per day.
You now have the total calories you need to eat each day.
Step 3 - Work out your macros
This is the most difficult part, as the percentage of each macronutrient required (Fat, Protein and Carbohydrate) is very individual and constantly changing, based on body type, exercise level, goal etc. Some people do better with higher carb levels and some with lower carb levels. Some do better with higher fat and some lower fat; it’s about finding what works for you. You should also understand that what works for you now, may not be what works for you in the future, as your body changes, so to may the macronutrient ratios your body requires.
As a starting point, work out how much protein you should eat per day. As a rule of thumb, I use 2gs of protein per kg of bodyweight.
Example: For a 60kg person this would equate to 120g of protein. This would use up 480 calories of our total.
Protein is normally the most under eaten of all the macronutrients, yet arguably could be seen as the most vital for fat loss. Adequate protein consumption will allow you to maintain muscle mass and grow and repair from your workouts. In my view, it is the first macronutrient to ensure that you eat enough of each day.
Next we work out how many carbohydrates to use. This can be anywhere from 25-50% of our daily total, we’ll use the smaller number in our example.
Example: 25% of 1925 calories = 481.25 calories. There are 4 calories per 1g of carbohydrates, which equates to 120g of carbs (approximately).
The amount of carbohydrates you consume will be largely based upon how insulin sensitive or resistant you are, and how active you are. Do not get fooled into thinking the carbs are the devil; they perform an important function within the body and (amongst other things) allow us to exercise with intensity, vital for dropping the pounds. If you go too low carb for too long your workouts will not be effective.
Finally we are left with fats. We are using the rest of our calories (50%) here.
Example: 50% of 1925 calories = 962.5 calories from fat. There are 9 calories in every gram of fat = 107 grams of fat (approximately).
From aiding growth and development of cells, to aiding proper function of the brain and nerves, to maintaining healthy skin and hair and nails, to transporting fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, E and K, fat is extremely important for our body.
Great sources of fat that you could include in your diet are oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, avocados, nuts, butter and oils.
Here is an over view of how the calorie and macros breakdown looks for our 60kg 5’5” female…
You can alter the macro ratio to suit your body type; there are many ways of approaching this plan. As I’ve said though, ultimately the main focus is consuming enough food to lose weight, so knowing how many calories you are currently eating is crucial.
How do I track how much I’m eating?
I use www.myfitnesspal.com with my clients. It has a huge range of foods and now has the added function of being able to scan bar codes to upload your foods to your own unique database.
Track your food for a few days and see how far off your macro and calorie target you are. If you are way off then take time to gradually add calories each week to meet your target. Ramping up your calories too soon could result in some unwanted fat gain , the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!
Knowing how much food to eat each day is vital for long term fat loss and sustained maintenance phases. Using this plan will not only allow you to lose body fat, it will also allow you to keep the fat off for good, no crash dieting ever again! All with the added bonus that you’ll be able to eat more food!
If you would like additional help with your diet or training, don't hestitate to contact me.