Thursday, January 24, 2013

Caloric Confusion

Today I managed to get an early start on the day. Getting up, prepping my food for the day and spending most of the early morning talking with a friend of mine, The Capillary. We were talking about weight loss and calories which got me thinking and wondering. So I spent a "few minutes" this morning doing a some research.

I count my calories and I just trusted in my app to help me decide the best caloric intake. Basically, it would calculate my BMR and times it by my activity level and then I would just drop another 200 cal off of that for my caloric intake for weight loss. Even though I did that, I didn't really stop and think about how the app got the number that it did or why I was choosing the caloric intake that I had decided on. I just went with it.

Now that I've done some research, I think I may have a better understanding of exactly what is going on when it comes to figuring out how much I should be eating - calorie-wise at least.

No matter how much you exercise or don't exercise, the most basic thing for weight loss is that you need to consume less calories than you're using in an average day[site]. From what I've read, 3500 cal is equivalent to one pound of fat loss [cite] . So if I want to lose a pound a week I need to cut 3500 cal out of my diet. That's 500 cal a day. 1000 calories a day for a two pound loss. It kind of seems like a lot to cut out especially since most experts agree that you shouldn't be dropping below 1000-1200 calories a day [cite]. Of course more research is needed about how little is too little calories, but in truth it does vary from person to person. However, too little calories for too long has been shown to decrease BMR[cite].

Speaking of BMR (basal metabolic rate) - what the hell is that? If you don't already know, it's the minimum amount of calories your body requires at rest [cite]. Mine is about 1690 calories per day. That is me at rest, not doing anything, but laying on my ass and watching TV. Of course, everything I do that isn't that means I burn a few more calories. Standing, walking, working at my desk - they add a calorie here or a calorie there, but maybe not as much as we like to think.

I work at a desk. It's definitely considered sedentary unless I add in exercise to my day. So, an average day without exercise I'm burning about 2000 calories in a day and if I'm exercising I'm probably burning closer to 2300 calories. You can figure out what you're expending in energy by taking your BMR and multiplying it by 1.2 for sedentary, 1.375 for light activity, 1.55 for moderate, 1.725 for very active and 1.9 for extreme [cite].

So, with no extra exercise, if I ate about 1500 calories a day I should lose about a pound a week. To lose 1.5 pounds, I'd be eating 1250 calories a day. If I wanted to make it two pounds, then I'm dropping into dangerous territory with only 1000 calories a day. Of course, the more weight I lose, the lower my BMR is and the harder it'll be to cut calories without exercise or starving myself.

Of course, just like most general use tools like this, there is margin for error, but it's always nice to have a good guideline. Those with a higher percentage of lean muscle are going to have a higher BMR than the calculated amount and those who have more fat than lean muscle are going to use less calories[cite]. So, in all honesty, there ought to be a calculation in there based on your body fat percentage as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a healthy amount of weight loss is considered to be approximately 1 - 2 lbs a week for long term sustained weight loss.[cite]. So you do want to keep your approach balanced and to make sure you're not dropping too far below a healthy weight loss amount. And since we're talking calories, it does need to be mentioned that not all calories are created equal[cite].

So where does all of this leave me? Well, I need to eat fewer than 1500 calories a day to lose weight when I'm not exercising. If I am exercising, that's still a good amount, but I need to be careful not to overestimate the amount of calories I'm burning. As I lose weight, I'll need to keep going back and recalculating what I need to. Of course, if I want to have some "free days" to indulge, the days where my caloric intake is reduced will need to slightly lower still to keep a steady weight loss.

It seems complicated and simple at the same time. Eat less, but not too little and don't count on exercise to make up for a bad diet. Mostly though, we all need to figure out what works best for it and fits our lifestyle and personality. There is a lot of great advice out there to be found, but remember that each of us is different and we're gonna just have to keep trying till we find what works for us - and then be willing to adjust as our bodies change and adapt.

Oh,and The Capillary - you were right. It just seemed so little to me, 1200 calories, but I can totally see it now. Had to do the research just to wrap my head around the numbers! lol

A few good tips on dieting, weight loss and food choices.


  1. The best health quote I ever heard was "You can't out-train a bad diet", and from personal experience, it's true.

    I always make it a rule of thumb never to go below 1200 cal/day. As much as I'd like to lose weight quickly, it doesn't feel good to be in starvation mode... No amount of coffee would cheer me up then. :d

    1. Random thought on reading that - for some reason drinking coffee leaves me feeling fuller (or maybe just more satisfied) than drinking water.

      But yeah, there is a lot of research that shows intermittent fasting can have some great long term health effects, but in the end - it's not good to go around hungry and in starvation mode.