The first chapter of my upcoming eBook.
Yup. I said it. I used to have a very long phrase for describing it in a scientifically accurate manner, but Neil Degrasse Tyson put it much more eloquently.
Consume calories at a slower rate than your body burns them.
Now is probably a good time to mention that this blog is concerned only with weight loss, not overall health. Somebody who eats 1200 calories a day of just donuts will lose weight, but it’s very unlikely anyone in the medical industry would consider them healthy. Optimal health does require some attention be paid to what you’re eating. This blog is written for people who aren’t ready to swear off every “taboo” food item just yet. With this blog, you should learn how to budget your calories to leave room for those calorie dense treats every now and then. Example? When in season, I myself budget for at least 3 thin-mints a day.
Back to the secret. You’ve probably heard it before, but here is the equation that forms the basis for all the information in this book.
Calories In < Calories Out = Weightloss
Often shortened to “CI < CO” or CICO (if you’re curious, I find it’s easiest to pronounce it Seekoh)
The above formula is an extremely simplified version of how the food we eat becomes energy our body needs and fat our body stores. If you’re interested, Ruben Meerman gives a fantastic TEDx talk, that at the time of writing can be found here. I so recommend you watch it, that I’ll go ahead and embed it in this post.
So to intentionally lose weight, we need to ensure that our calories consumed is less than our calories burned. Therefore, we must know, to the best of our ability, our calories in, and our calories out. Let’s begin with calories out.
Our bodies do things, and those things take energy, and we measure that energy in units called calories. What exactly do we do that burns calories? Everything. Honestly. Breathing? Burns calories. Heart beating? Burns calories. Maintaining Homeostasis? You guessed it: Burns calories. In fact, just being a living creature takes energy. Even if you were to lay in bed all day, your body would burn a lot of calories. So much so in fact, that these activities can account for over half of the calories burned for even highly active people. We refer to this as Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR. Then there are all the the other calories. Get out of bed and get dressed? Burn calories. Walk down to the store? Burn calories. Hop on an elliptical? You guessed it. Burns calories. When we take into account our day to day activities, with our BMR we arrive at another number. Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE. This is the number we will use for the Calories out part of our equation.
Okay, so I’ve explained where these numbers come from, but what exactly are they? Well, they change from person to person. They depend mostly on your height, weight, age, gender, and activity level. You can find TDEE calculators online to get this value, or if you’re using an app like MyFitnessPal, it will get this number for you when you set up your profile. Here’s an example using my stats, at the time of writing, and the calculator found here
Height: 6’1”, Weight: 173lbs, Age: 27 years, Gender: Male, Activity Level: Sedentary (Desk Job) BMR: 1760, TDEE: 2112
So now you’ve got a number, where do you go from here?
This is where the food log comes in. When you eat something log it. Simple? Yes. Easy? Maybe not. This has to become a habit. It’s actually so important that this become part of your daily routine, that many people, myself included, will recommend you start recording what you eat for a week or two before you try to meet a certain calorie goal, or even change what/how much you eat at all. In addition to making it a habit to log what you eat, an accurate food log can let you know about what your dietary habits really are. You can know to bring an apple to work everyday, if you realize every day around 2pm, you’re getting a bag of chips from the snack machines.
When you’re logging your food, measurement matters. Many food logs allow you to quickly scan a barcode and pull up it’s nutritional information. This is perfectly fine for single serving items like a cup of yogurt, or energy bar. If you’re scanning something else however, be wary of non-measurement serving sizes. If the package lists something like “1 flank” check for a weight following, usually in parentheses i.e. (106g)
This is where your food scale becomes your best friend. Weight is the quickest and most consistent measurement we have when it comes to our food. While liquids measure well with volume, nearly all solid food is best measured with weight. As you log more food, you’ll have to keep any eye out for the quickest and easiest way to measure it.
If what you’re eating doesn’t have a label, you’ll have to do some digging. If you’re using a digital log, like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt, You can usually search for the food in the App’s database, and somebody will usually have entered it before. If it’s not there, you have some options. For things like sandwiches and salads, you can log the stuff you put in it 1 by 1, or you can create a custom recipe, or you can choose a food from the list that’s similar.
It’s not super accurate, but I’ve been known to do the last option. For instance, instead of hassling my local tavern for the nutrition information about their patty melt, I simply ring up a steak n’ shake patty melt and call it a day. Better to log something that might not be exactly accurate, than to log nothing at all.
So now you actually have all the basics, you can go ahead and get started, but I’ll just cover one more thing…
How much less should I eat?
This is actually quite simple to answer. A pound of adipose tissue accounts for roughly 3,500 calories. Simple arithmetic will tell you then, to lose 1 lb/week you need a 500 calorie daily deficit. This is often considered the standard. If you are on the heavier side, you might be able to eat at a 1,000 calorie deficit, and lose 2 lb/week. It’s important to pick a goal you can meet, especially in the beginning. If you try for some really hard cut, 1200 calories a day, you will likely have a really tough time, get discouraged, and give up. In addition, you need to be careful about cutting too hard.
NO… I am NOT going to tell you it’s because of “starvation mode.” While it is a real thing, it’s not what most people think it is. Eating less WILL NEVER make you gain more weight. It WILL cause you to lose muscle and bone mass in addition to fat, which isn’t the best. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Take it easy at first, try just a 500 calorie daily deficit. If you feel you can cut more, don’t drop below 1200 calories for females, or 1500 for males. At that level, it’s tough to get all the nutrition you need. While you can go on a VLCD (Very Low Calorie Diet), you should talk to a doctor about it, not some used to be fat guy who has a blog.