Everybody is talking about it.
Unless you follow Dr. Oz, the #ketowarriors, or the descendants of Vegan Gains -- you’ve heard that a “calorie deficit” is the key to losing fat.
We’ll get into details later, but to refresh: a “calorie deficit” simply means your body is burning more calories than you're consuming (i.e., calories out > calories in = weight loss (few exceptions)).
A “calorie surplus” means you’re burning fewer calories than you’re consuming (i.e., calories out < calories in = weight gain).
And if you are eating at your “maintenance calories,” you are burning around the same number of calories as you’re consuming (i.e., calories out = calories in = maintain stable weight).
Now, I could get deep into the minutia of calories in calories out and how your body “burns” calories, but you probably don’t give a shit about the science.
What you do give a shit about: me knowing the science and giving you the actionable steps to put into practice.
And that’s exactly what I’m gonna do, so take a quick glance at this pretty picture and let’s keep it movin’.
So now your question becomes, "Well, how the shit do I know if I'm in calorie deficit?"
GREAT question. I'm glad you asked, because I’m about to share a top secret #KnowledgeNugg with you (the OG’s know about those).
STEP 1: Buy scales.
Buy a bodyweight scale and a food scale. These are reasonably cheap and some of the best investments you can make for managing your body. Plus, there are two things human suck at: estimating and remembering data. In fact, one study on daily food reporting showed even dietitians to be off by up to 800 calories. Some non-dietitians were off by over 1,000 calories! So, yeah. Buy the scales so you don’t do this.
STEP 2: Download a food tracking app.
My go-to's are My Fitness Pal or Mike's Macros. The macro calculator for MFP sucks donkey balls, but the one for MM is solid. MFP might just be more accessible in terms of how to use the app for some people. However, another downside of MFP is their calories can be off with some of their foods. Just make sure your total daily macros match up to your total daily calories and you’ll be good to go. Any tracking app or using a pad and pen (if you’re a neanderthal) will work just fine.
STEP 3: Eat normal and track everything.
Without drastically changing how you currently eat, track every single thing (very important this is accurate!) you put in your mouth for at least 4 days (preferably 3 weekdays and 1 weekend day). I say to eat normal because you want to find your current baseline. If you go changing everything you eat, you’ll skew your results. And when I say track everything, I mean EVERYTHING — alcohol, condiments, oils, drinks, supplements, butter, sauces, dessert, etc.
STEP 4: Average out your baseline.
After tracking at least four days, find the average number of calories you ate during that time period.
For example (for you math wiz’s out there):
Day 1: 2,300 kcals
Day 2: 2,100 kcals
Day 3: 2,300 kcals
Day 4: 2,100 kcals
Your average would be 2,200 kcals. (2300+2100+2300+2100=8800 ; 8800/4 days = 2200 kcals)
STEP 5: Remain consistent with tracking weight and food for 14 days.
Try to hit within +/- 50 of that average calorie amount (2,150 - 2,250) every single day for the next 2 weeks (including weekends!) AND weigh yourself every day in the morning - before you eat and after you take your morning dump. It’s important you try to mimic each day so you can get a realistic idea of what your “typical” intake and weight would look like, i.e., don’t do this during vacation.
STEP 6: Analyze weight trends.
Given that you followed step 5 correctly, we should now see a trend in what your weight does based off how much food you're eating. If you're eating ~2,200 calories per day and your weight is trending downward (not down every single day because weight fluctuates) over the course of two weeks — you're likely in a calorie deficit. If your weight is staying about the same (within a pound or so), subtract 250 calories from your daily calorie goal and keep consistent. This means you are eating around your maintenance calories. If your weight is trending upward, take away 350-500 calories per day (you’re in a calorie surplus).
To be fair, there are definitely more indicators of fat loss than just using your scale weight. However, it is a pretty damn good tool when determining a calorie deficit. I also have some of my clients take measurements, compare old clothes, and take pictures every 4 weeks to compare. If those tools suit your fancy more than the scale, go right ahead. Just be objective as possible.
And that’s it!
Now you just have to use trial-and-error to see what is going to work for you in the long run. But this should at least help you determine a baseline. In my opinion, this works much better than a random macro calculator because it’s completely individual to you and your current eating habits.
I know this stuff can be confusing, so feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a DM on Instagram. And if you want me to take the reigns and do all of this shit for you, plus much more — consider working with me one-on-one.
Would love to hear from you and I hope you can finally not look like a deer in a headlights when someone mentions the words “calorie deficit.”
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