How many calories should you eat to lose weight?
How many calories do you need?
With the New Year just around the corner, you may be starting to think about your New Year’s resolutions. Drink less alcohol, spend more time with the family, be more active. One repeat offender on the resolution list is ‘This is year I am going to join a gym and lose weight’.
Joining a gym is an important first step but unfortunately that alone is not going to help you lose weight. A well-structured exercise program, possibly written by a personal trainer if you’re unsure what you’re doing, will be a massive help. However, the heavy lifting when it comes to weight loss is done in the kitchen.
To make a lifestyle change stick it really helps to understand how the changes you’re making work. So rather than blindly following a diet plan and not sticking to it because it’s boring or too rigid or for any other reason, the following info will help you to understand what’s going on behind the scenes and how many calories you should consume which might help you stick to it more consistently.
What are calories?
Firstly, it helps to understand what calories are.
Calories are a unit of measurement…they are used to measure the energy value of foods. You may have heard people say that some calories are “good” and some are “bad”, but this is not strictly true. Calories themselves are not intrinsically good or bad, however the nutrients that make up those calories may well be.
For example, you can consume 100 calories in many ways. Broccoli, pizza, chicken, chocolate. 100 calories of any of these foods is still just 100 calories, but the nutrients your body will receive from eating each of the foods will vary hugely. You may also be surprised at how many calories of each of these foods makes up 100 calories, you’d get about 300 grams of broccoli, or just 20 grams of milk chocolate!
How many calories should you eat on average?
How many calories you should eat per day depends on numerous factors, including your age, sex, height, current weight, activity level, and metabolic health, among several others. The main factor I take into consideration when calculating a deficit for a client is what their goal is. If they have a wedding in 2 months’ time and they want to shed 2 stone, we’ll have to take a much more drastic approach than another client who wants to lose a few kilos over the next few months.
Generally, the recommended daily calorie intake is 2000kcals for women and 2500 for men, although it is important to take all or at least some of the above factors into consideration when calculating this on an individual level.
A common approach I take with clients is to reduce their daily calorie intake by around 500kcals per day. Consuming 3500kcals per week less than normal results in someone losing around 1pound of weight per week. This is a healthy amount of weight to lose and most people find this reduction in calories sustainable. This may not work with everyone, to some this may feel like you’re trying to starve them, and others may feel fine cutting out more than this, so I like to work with my clients to find how many calories works for them.
In the pursuit of drastic results, people often opt for quick fix fad diets, some of which may reduce how many calories you eat to around 1000kcals per day, even less in some cases. Reducing calories this drastically can cause more harm than good. It increases the risk of nutritional deficiencies and can result in metabolic adaptation which can make long-term weight management challenging.
How can you reduce your calorie intake?
When it comes to losing weight, it is as simple as calories in vs calories out. If you balance that equation correctly you will lose weight over time. However, reducing calories without considering which foods you eat is not a sustainable way to lose fat. If you were to eat a tin of baked beans and a chocolate bar each day, you will lose weight, but you will also feel terrible!
Here are 6 tips to help you reduce your calorie intake:
- Reduce intake of fatty foods
We are not just talking about the obvious fatty foods like biscuits or fast food, but also the so-called “good” fatty foods like avocados and peanut butter.
Although these foods are filled with nutrients, they are also very high in calories.
A gram of fat contains 9 calories, whereas a gram of protein or carbohydrates contains 4 calories. Although a lot of fats are good for you, they are calorie dense, so poor portion control can easily lead to unwanted weight gain.
When eating foods like this, be careful of how much you are putting on your plate.
- Drink more water
How many calories in water? None! Drinking more water can reduce hunger and help you to eat less calories. Drinking enough water is also associated with improved brain health and aiding digestion.
- Eat more protein
Having a protein-rich diet can help reduce calories and avoid overeating as it tends to be more satiating, meaning it makes you feel fuller for longer. Research shows that increasing your protein intake may have impressive effects on your appetite, metabolic rate, weight, and body composition.
- Limit sugary drinks
Studies suggest that drinking sugary drinks is associated with an increased risk of weight-gain and obesity. This is because our brain doesn’t register liquid calories the same way as it registers food. Also due to the lack of fibre and many other nutrients, they don’t make you feel full so they’re easy to over-consume and due to the level of sugar they’re also very calorific. For example, a 330ml can of Coke contains 139 calories.
- Try diet drinks instead
Diet drinks such as Coke Zero and zero calorie Red Bull can help to reduce the number of calories you consume and help with fat loss. The artificial sweeteners and other chemicals currently used in diet drinks are safe for most people, and there’s no credible evidence that these ingredients have harmful effects on your health.
- Reduce refined carb intake
Carbohydrates can be split into two groups; refined and un-refined. Un-refined or complex carbs are those in their raw form such as rice, wholewheat, vegetables & legumes. Refined or simple carbs have gone through some form of process such as fizzy drinks, breakfast cereals, pasta and bread.
Your body breaks down refined carbs much more easily than un-refined ones, so they provide a short burst of energy, whereas unrefined carbs tend to release energy more slowly throughout the day. The lack of energy may result in you moving less, which means less calories being burned throughout the day. Refined carbs also tend to lack fibre, which increases the feeling of fullness, which can help reduce your appetite.
In the UK, 36% of the adult population are overweight and 28% are obese. These statistics are frightening and with child obesity numbers rising this is only going to get worse. As fitness professionals we’re in the perfect position to reduce these obesity figures.
Our Level 3 Personal Trainer course includes an entire lesson on nutrition and goes into a lot of detail on the various topics you need to know as a PT and how to apply them to your clients.
How to work out your calorie intake
To work out how many calories you should consume, use the calorie calculator at the bottom of this article to give you a starting point.
Completing the calorie calculator will give you a great baseline but remember, it is only a baseline. You can never calculate the exact number of calories you need to lose fat each day because so many things vary. How much sleep you had, whether you have exercised, stress levels, and many more variables.
Once you have your results from the calorie calculator, we advise that you aim to hit this target every day for 7 days. If you have truly been hitting those calories you should see a decrease of 1lb on the scales.
To give yourself the best possible chance of seeing fat loss, here are some things you can do:
- Track your calories accurately using apps such as myfitnesspal
- Don’t forget to track liquid calories
- Be honest with your activity level when using the calorie calculator
- Sleep 6-8 hours per night
- Weigh yourself at the same time, every time. You can add around 4lb across the day with food and water intake