6/2/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 1 - Calories In, Calories Out

Weight loss is a very simple system. It's not an easy system, but it's simple, as in basic. When one consumes fewer calories than the body requires, weight is lost. The opposite is true as well. Consuming more calories than the body requires to function results in weight gain. There are no additional tricks to this equation.

Where some people can get confused is how much the body actually requires. Here is a pdf document from USDA.gov with estimations of average daily caloric requirements based on age, gender and activity level. This is just an estimation, but can be used as a starting point. For a more detailed calculation, the Mayo Clinic has a Calorie Calculator on their website. Other websites provide similar calculators. When using these calculators, it is paramount to understand that each person is going to be different. A majority of people will be able to get a very good estimate of their TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) from online calculators.

Once you have an estimated starting point for your TDEE, in order to lose weight, consume fewer calories than that number. It has been widely accepted in the medical community that one pound of weight equals 3500 calories. In other words, an overage of 3500 calories in one week would result in one pound of weight gain. Eat 3500 calories fewer than your TDEE over the course of a week and lose one pound. This simplifies down to an average of 500 calories per day over the course of a week for one pound. In order to lose two pounds per week, consume 1000 calories less per day. For the simplicity of this informational post, we are assuming weight loss of only reducing caloric intake. Obviously exercise can help in meeting the caloric deficit required. We will address this in a future post.

Now that you know your estimated starting TDEE, how does this really help? Now start tracking food, and make sure calories are consumed at a rate equivalent to a goals. There are several phone apps and websites that help with this. If you aren't using one already, I suggest Lose It! or MyFitnessPal (MFP). I have personally had great success with Lose It! but heard many success stories from MFP.

As an example, I'll use myself. I am 34, stand at 5'11" and currently weigh roughly 155 pounds. According to the Mayo Clinic calculator to maintain my current weight while performing no physical activity I should consume on average 2050 calories daily, this is my TDEE. Now that I know my TDEE of 2050, if I want to lose 1 pound a week, I would need to consume on average 1550 calories per day. So that's where I would start. 1550 calories per day, every day, for a week. At the end of the week, I will step on the scale and see where I stand. If I have lost exactly one pound, I know I'm exactly where I want to be and will continue to do the same process. But if the scale says no weight loss, or a weight loss of less than my goal, I will lower my original estimated TDEE to 1950 and consume 1450 per day. All this means is that the original calculator I used was not calibrated exactly for me.

Now at 1450 calories per day, I'll weigh again in a week. If still no weight loss, rather than reducing my calories, I might want to take a closer look at my calorie tracking. It's very easy to not count the small bite of chicken I ate while prepping dinner. It's easy to pretend like the coke I had at lunch doesn't really count. That small bite of brownie I snuck while walking through the break room doesn't "really" count. Each of those will add up, and if I'm not being honest, could easily be the reason why my weight is not moving like I want.

In summary, from a scientific/physics standpoint, the basic formula regarding weight loss is to consume fewer than your body burns in a day. Use an online calculator to get an estimate of average daily requirements and then track calories down to the after dinner mint. Adjust the daily calorie goal as time goes on, and with discipline, weight WILL be lost. (Unless of course you are able to defy the laws of thermodynamics)

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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