Exercise alone won’t give you the body you want. You’ll feel better: have more energy, sleep better and move better. But you can’t out train a bad diet.
3500 calories equals 1 lb. In theory, you would need to eat 500 calories less per day to lose 1 lb. per week. This, however, assumes that people are only consuming the number of calories needed to maintain their weight. If you need 2000 calories to maintain your weight but average 3000 calories per day your 500 calorie reduction isn’t going to help you lose fat. You have to create a calorie deficit. In the example above, that person would need to reduce calorie consumption and increase activity to create a 1500 calorie deficit to see 1 lb. of weight loss per week.
Then there are the people who have bought into the diet industry’s starvation mantra and are actually eating too few calories to sustain a healthy metabolism. Without adequate fuel on a regular basis the body is going to act like a calorie sponge when a normal amount (or excessive amount) of calories are consumed.
The Fit Truth: People have no idea how much food they actually need nor do they have an accurate picture of how much they are really eating.
The 3rd Key to Real Fitness is food accountability with a food journal or meal plan.
After medical and lifestyle questionnaires the next assignment for all of my clients is a food journal. This lets me see which camp they fall into: too many calories or too few. (It also helps me understand the kinds of foods they are eating, but we will talk more about that next week.)
Would it surprise you to hear that most often they are eating too little instead of too much? When I tell people they need to eat more to lose fat they look at me somewhat blankly, like I grew another head or mysteriously started talking in a foreign language.
There are a lot of opinions on the actual importance of calories. But, based on my experience and observation, to lose fat you need to find that “sweet spot” for food intake. You need a caloric deficit to encourage your body to tap into its reserves. You also need enough coming in so that the body feels okay letting go, that it has enough to meet its needs so it can afford to use some of it’s stored resources.
So while I agree that all calories aren’t created equal they do still matter. To lose fat you need to create a plan to stay accountable to your calories.
To create food accountability, here are your action steps:
- Get an estimate of your maintenance level calories. Use the calculator on my Tools (female calorie calculator or male calorie calculator) page to help you determine how many calories you need to maintain your current body weight at your current activity level.
- Reduce that number by 20-25%. This is your target. Remember this is an estimate. You may, depending on results, need to adjust this amount. Also, rule of thumb, don’t let your calorie goal go below 1200 if you’re female or 1800 if you’re male.
- Pick a tool for your food log. It can be a notebook, spreadsheet, web site or app. It doesn’t matter as long as it works for you. This means you may need to experiment to find the right method.
- If you’re more of a planner, then choose a meal plan instead of log. A meal plan is more like a budget. If you have 1600 calories to spend, planning a budget for the day makes sure you get what you need by the end of the day-no more and no less. It also gives you a blueprint for the day so you don’t have to think, just do.
- Accept that no method is perfect. There is always going to be a margin of error and there may be gaps. Do your best and be consistent. It will pay off!
Remember how I said all calories aren’t created equal? Tune in next week for the 4th and final key-Quality Matters.
See all articles in the series The Fit Truth.