Part I: Understanding Basic Caloric Deficit
In today’s climate of fad diets and quick fixes, basic nutrition principals can easily be swept under the rug. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed in this fear-based consumerism culture. A lot of these fads seem appealing at first, promising far-fetched (false) claims and using buzzwords to make you believe that they hold all of the answers. In this blog series, it is my intention to break down the basics of weight loss by bringing you evidence-based knowledge in everyday terminology.
Basic nutrition is simple. Calories in vs. calories out. That’s it.
If your body uses more calories than you consume, then by definition you are in a caloric deficit and will lose weight. It’s not fancy; it takes time and consistency. This probably isn’t news to anyone. So, let’s dive in to how you can create a maintainable caloric deficit that won’t leave you incredibly “hangry”.
The best diet is the one you enjoy. Because healthy diets are lifestyle adjustments- not dramatic deprivations that wreck your metabolism. They are subtle changes that are sustainable. Think “life enhancing” rather than depriving. You can enjoy your favorite treats in moderation and balance!
Your metabolism (your bodies way of converting food to energy) isn’t robotic. There are a ton of variables that affect your metabolism. For example, if you have been yo-yo dieting or eating an extremely low number of calories for a long time, it may be best to take a break from a caloric deficit and remain at your maintenance level calories (we will talk about what that means soon!). The numbers and equations below are simply a great suggested starting point. The best way to figure out what works is trial and error: be consistent and document your daily morning weight.
Let’s talk math!
To be in a caloric deficit, you must first know your TDEE: Total Daily Energy Expenditure. AKA approximately how many calories you burn in a day. There are plenty of websites that offer this insight. But if you’re like me, you have to figure it out for yourself.
Your TDEE consists of your BMR (basal metabolic rate), amount of exercise, NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), and the thermogenic effect of food (how much your body burns when digesting food).
BMR + NEAT + Exercise + TEF = TDEE
BMR: Basal Metabolic Rate- the amount of energy your body requires to run the basic processes.
NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis- all of the ways your body burns calories other than specific exercise. For example, fidgeting, shopping, baking cookies, etc.
TEF: Thermogenic Effect of Food- the energy your body uses in digestion
Exercise Activity: calories expended during a workout.
Calculating Your BMR:
You’ll need to know your height in centimeters and your weight in kilograms.
There are a few different equations you can use to figure out your Basal Metabolic Rate. For the purpose of today’s brief survey, I’ll list a basic one: the Mifflin-St.Jeor Calculation.
10 x (weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age) + 5 = BMR
(10 x weight in kg) +(6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) – 161 = BMR
The activity factor is a sliding scale from 1.2 – 1.9 and is based on your estimated daily activity level. For example, 1.2 would imply a sedentary lifestyle while 1.9 indicates that you are an individual who works a very physically taxing job in addition to an extreme workout regime. Most people fall in the 1.375-1.55 range. Here’s more of a break down:
1.375- Light Activity
1.55- Moderate Activity
1.725- Very Active
1.9- Extremely Active
It’s always best to be conservative with this number; often times individuals are not actually burning as much as we may perceive to be.
Multiply you BMR by your Activity Factor to find an estimate of your TDEE, otherwise known as “maintenance calories”. Maintenance calories is the amount you can theoretically eat per day to stay at your current weight.
Now that you have a clearer idea of your typical daily expenditure, you can further delve in to creating a caloric deficit- thus beginning a weight loss routine. Because remember- it’s simply calories in vs. calories out. Burn more than you eat. Boom. Mic drop.
A simple equation to start with is: (weekly weight loss in kilograms) x 847= Calorie Deficit
Subtract this answer from your maintenance calories to find out (approximately) your optimal daily calorie intake.
Once again- the best method is trial and error! You aren’t a machine. We all have unique bodies, food habits, past experiences with diets, etc. The best thing you can do is use this information as an outline, as a starting point that is backed by current research. You won’t know what works until you consistently stick to a plan and keep accurate data.
I would be remiss not to mention a wonderful nutrition resource. I got a lot of inspiration for this blog from Layne Norton’s book: The Complete Contest Prep Guide: Your Roadmap from Start to Stage.
Personal Tips and Tricks:
- Use an app to track your calories. I use MyFitnessPal, although Renaissance Periodization has recently developed a great app that I may switch to!
- Plan your meals! There’s nothing worse than being hungry with no idea what to eat.
- Invest in a food scale. For real. Measuring your food is not only empowering, but it is pivotal in achieving your daily calorie goals.
- Snacks on deck! I never leave my house without a few, pre-measured snacks in my bag. I usually stick to a healthy fat like almonds, and an easy to eat carb like a tortilla or pita bread.
- Don’t forget to track your condiments! They can easily add up. Putting mayo or ketchup on your burger can easily add 200-300 calories. I like to use mustard or hot sauce, since they are generally low-calorie options. A high calorie Starbucks drink can be as many calories as an entire meal!
- Choose whole foods often. Whole foods are nutrient dense- which will make you fuller, longer. There’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat…but make sure “occasional” is the keyword (and track it).
- Hydrate! When you are in a caloric deficit, you may experience fatigue. Hydration is a great source of immediate energy and not to mention absolutely necessary for your bodies voluntary and involuntary functions!
- Track your weight and document your mood. I weigh myself every morning and take the weekly average.
Wow! That was a LOT of information.
But, if you know me, you know that’s how I roll. I am so passionate about health and fitness and I want to help you feel AMAZING!
It’s not that complicated.
Eat well and know what you are putting in your body. Exercise regularly. Enjoy and make room for life.