How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Fat?

This page continues from part two here: How to figure out how many calories you are eating.

You now know that to lose fat, you need to eat fewer calories than what your body requires to maintain your weight and level of activity. I have explained how you can track how many calories you are eating, so you can bring it under your control and eat within a calorie limit to lose fat.

You now need to know what limit that should be. To set that number, you need to know how many calories your body burns on an average day (Your TDEE – more on this below).

Dont rely on any numbers given to you by your fitness tracker!

Total Daily Energy Expenditure (Maintenance Calories)calorie movement fitness tracker

Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is the amount of energy you expend in a day. This is also called your maintenance calories because it’s the amount of energy that if consumed would see you maintain your current weight.

You might be thinking “but government guidelines said I should eat 2,500 calories a day!

I’ve got news for you. Any blanket figure thrown out there by government guidelines, or given to you by your doctor without doing a proper assessment should be immediately disregarded. Forget these guidelines. We’re all unique and we all need different amounts of energy to support our weight and our activity.

Some people would gain weight on the government’s suggested calories, and others would lose weight. It’s best to ignore it completely and find out your own maintenance. To lose weight, you’ll need to eat less than this amount.

There are several formulas and online calculators that can get your pretty close to your maintenance calories. You’ll probably need to eat these calories for a while, tracking accurately, and adjust up or down depending on what happens to your weight. If you’re losing it too fast, bring the calories up slightly. If you’re not losing weight, bring them down.

Find your TDEE using a calculator online – e.g. this one, or Google “tdee calculator”. Try a few different ones. Make sure you take your TDEE, not your BMR (basal metabolic rate).

Once again, don’t rely on any numbers given to you by our fitness tracker/wearable!

What is “Basal Metabolic Rate”

Some people worry that they’re going to have to do a LOAD of exercise to burn off more calories than what they’re eating in a day (because exercise doesn’t burn that many calories).

Fortunately, you get a load of calories for free every day. This amount is called your “basal metabolic rate” and it is the energy it takes simply to keep you alive. It covers stuff like your heart pumping blood, your brain ticking over, breathing etc.

It’s the amount of energy your body burns just running, and you’d still burn it if you were in a coma.

Even a relatively small person, like a 55kg woman, would have a basal metabolic rate of something like 1,300 calories per day.
This means that if this example woman laid in bed all day, she could still lose weight by eating less than 1,300 calories per day.

But most people don’t lay in bed all day

Your activity level influences your TDEE. Even activity like pacing around the office, picking up and putting down the phone, tapping your foot etc. all adds additional calories.

Sedentary people (think those who have a desk job, spend most of the day sitting, and don’t do any exercise) will have TDEEs closer to their basal metabolic rate.

Active people (those with jobs where they’re walking all day, or those who do a lot of exercise) will have TDEEs that are quite a bit higher than their basal metabolic rate.

You can increase your TDEE by increasing your level of activity. Go for more walks. Go running. Do rowing. Do strength training. This is one way to lose weight. It’s why some people lose weight when they take up swimming, cycling, or generally become more active. They increase their TDEE to the point where it is greater than the energy they consume in food and drink. The reason why some people become active and still don’t lose weight is because they are still consuming an amount of energy which is greater than their TDEE.

If you’re trying to lose fat, you should not eat extra calories to compensate for any exercise or activity you are doing. This is my only gripe with MyFitnessPal – it adds calories back to your budget that you’ve burned through activity. There’s just too much room for error here. It’s not worth doing. Everyone is going to drastically overestimate what they’ve burned. Walking 10,000 steps when you normally walk 5,000 does not entitle you to eat a pizza. Don’t do it.

The Speed of Weight Loss and Gain

The speed of weight loss or weight gain is determined by the size of the calorie deficit or calorie surplus that is present.

If you have a big gap between your calorie intake and your TDEE, you will gain or lose weight faster than someone with a smaller gap.

You can actually get a pretty good idea of how many calories below your maintenance you need to go and for how long to lose a given amount of weight.

This is because it requires a deficit of roughly 3,500 calories to be created to metabolise 1 pound of body fat However long it takes you to create this deficit is how long it will take you to lose 1 pound.

In kilograms that’s a deficit of around 3,500 calories to lose 0.45 kilograms, OR roughly a deficit of 7,700 calories to lose 1 kilogram.

If your maintenance calories are 2,000, and you want to lose 5 kilograms of fat, you will have to create a deficit of 38,500 calories (7,700 x 5).

If you consume 1,500 calories worth of food every day and you have a TDEE of 2,000 calories, you will be in a 500 calorie deficit. Therefore, it will take you around 77 days, or roughly 2 and a half months, to lose 5kg (77 x 500 = 38,500).

If you consume 1,800 calories worth of food every day, you will be in a 200 calorie deficit. Therefore, it will take you around 193 days, or roughly 6 and a half months, to lose 5kg.

Think a couple of small chocolate bars for 150 calories each don’t matter? Now you see how they can.

It’s all about averages over long periods

Gained weight? Eaten too many calories!

No way!

The above works for weight gain as well.

Maybe you weighed yourself for the first time in forever and were shocked by the number.

“What? How have I put on 5kg since last year?”

Let me explain how:

To put on 5kg, you have at some point created a calorie surplus which over time has added up to around 38,500 calories.

Over a year, that’s only averaging 105 calories over your maintenance each day.

That’s energy to the value of one banana a day more than your body needs.

Do this for a year and BAM, 5kg weight gain.

Consume energy to the value of two bananas more than you need per day and over a year you’ve gained 10kg.

Remember, you only have to average doing this. You could be below your maintenance by 105 calories on half of the days, and over it by 105 calories the rest of the time. It doesn’t make a difference. Average 105 calories over your maintenance per day for a year and you’ll have gained 5kg.

It’s quite easy to consume too many calories, especially when:

  • No-one understands about weight loss/gain and how it relates to TDEE.
  • Everyone things they need more food than they do.
  • So many people think calories don’t matter at all. Instead they focus on “good” and “bad” foods.
  • There’s so many delicious, convenient, non-filling foods around.
  • People drastically underestimate the energy in the food they eat.
  • People drastically overestimate the amount of energy they need.

You do not have to consume the exact same foods, every day.

To lose or gain 5kg, you just need to create a difference between your TDEE what you consume totaling roughly 38,500 calories. Whether you do that by eating exactly the same amount each day, or by being above on some days and below on others makes no difference as long as the average is the same.

If you’re trying to lose weight, the best results come when you have a plan and you know how fat loss works.

When those two things are true, you can be more flexible and stay on plan while still eating foods you like.

We’ll explore this in the next part: There are no good or bad foods for fat loss. Read it now!