• Darshini Krishna

How to Count your Calories for Weight Loss

Updated: Jul 1

Alright, let’s get this straight once and for all.


When it comes to changing your weight, this is the one equation you should commit to memory.


Calories consumed - calories expended= Weight gain/loss


That means, eat more than you expend (calorie surplus), and you will gain weight. Eat less than you expend (calorie deficit), and you will lose weight. It’s that simple.


Uhhhh not exactly. Obesity epidemic anybody?!


I want to lay it out that while the equation is as simple as ABC, when it comes to sustainable long-term weight management, there remains much more to be considered, like our habits, behaviors, individual needs and preferences, and mindset, among other factors.


But… for simplicity sake, let’s just say you have all those things squared away, and you just want to know once and for all “how many damn calories should I eat?!”


I got you. Let’s get into things.



Understanding Body Weight


First of all, I think it’s important to understand what constitutes our total body weight.


Total body weight = lean body mass (organs, skin, bones, water, muscle mass) + fat mass


So by right whenever you are in a calorie deficit, you will end up losing weight, and you will lose both lean body mass and fat mass.



If you are reading this, it’s highly likely your goal is not just weight loss, but fat loss with maximal retention of lean mass. Listen to this podcast where I go into detail on the strategies you can adopt to not lose muscle while in a fat loss phase.


Alright, now that we understand what our body is composed of, and that a calorie deficit will bring about changes to both lean mass and fat mass, we know that there are ways to control and manipulate it such that the majority of the weight is lost from fat mass… We need to figure out our Maintenance calories.



Understanding Maintenance


Somebody define Maintenance calories please.


Maintenance calories are the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight.


That means if you are 60kg right now and consuming 2000 calories on average across the week daily. If you continue to eat 2000 calories, your weight will maintain at 60kg.


So to set things straight, if you claim to be eating at a deficit below your maintenance calories, but aren’t losing weight, then by definition you were not in a calorie deficit at all.



Not to overcomplicate things, but “maintenance calories” is misleading because it seems like it’s just one number, static.


Meaning any slight deviation means your weight will yoyo.


Nada.


Not exactly.


Maintenance is more a range, and less a static singular number.


As odd as it sounds, it actually makes sense.


That’s because your activity level, daily movement, calories burned from exercise, food consumption etc, is not a copy-paste every single day.


So it’s bound to fluctuate, hence the range.


But that’s not something you should stress about, what is important is just to determine your starting maintenance calories and work from there.


Determining Maintenance Calories


There are two main ways you can do this.


Method 1: Using Fancy Equations


Step 1: Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate using the Revised Harris-Benedict Equation


For men, it’s 88.362 + (13.397 x body weight) + (4.799 x height in cm) - (5.677 x age) = BMR

For women, it’s 444.593 + (9.247 x body weight) + (3.098 x height in cm) - (4.330 x age) = BMR


Or for simplicity you can just type in your details here and refer to the number it throws out for BMR.


Step 2: Determine your Activity Factor


Next, the total calories you burn in a day is going to differ not just based on your BMR but also based on your activity level.


So now that you have found your estimated BMR, you need to determine your activity factor.


This is going to differ based on your average activity level.


If you don’t exercise at all, and you work a desk job, I recommend sticking to 1.1-1.2x.


If you hit the gym consistently 3-4 times a week but still work a desk job and are otherwise quite sedentary, I would stick with 1.3x.


And for individuals who are training very intensely, say 5-6 times a week, I would use a multiplier of 1.4x.


And if you train almost daily, maybe with double sessions, I would consider this athlete level and use a multiplier of 1.5x.


Step 3: Multiply BMR x Activity Factor


The last step is straightforward, now that you have these two numbers, multiply them together to give you your estimated maintenance calories.


Ta-da!


Method 2: Using Your Current Calorie Intake


Now, the next method that you can use to determine your maintenance calories is by measuring your daily weight and calorie intake over a period of 2 weeks.


Measuring your current intake and watching how the scale fluctuates is actually the far more accurate approach of the two to determine maintenance calories.


While it is more work upfront and takes a slightly longer timeframe, it is more true to life.


That said, it requires accurate data collection to be telling, the keyword being accurate.


And if you are new to tracking, it is highly likely your first two weeks of tracking are not going to be the MOST accurate, so that is also something to keep in mind.


When I bring on coaching clients, I like to have the estimates derived from equations, however, if someone has experience tracking and can give me numbers off the bat, I would much rather look at the numbers they provide to me. This can always be followed up with how their weight has been trending the month before.