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If you need to lose weight, you can easily determine your calorie needs with a few, simple weight loss “calculator” steps — and without the fancy algorithm. In other words, it’s really easy + more accurate. Yep, you read that correctly!
If you haven’t read our proven weight loss tips post here, I would recommend reading it first before getting to Calorie calculation. It will help you to establish foundational knowledge of whole food, plant-based eating for weight loss.
No matter how “clean”, whole, or unprocessed the foods you eat, if you’re taking in more calories than you burn, your weight will increase.
It’s aggravating how some people just naturally eat the proper amount of calories, and they’re able to keep a consistent body weight for many years—even decades— without counting calories or even measuring portion sizes.
A more formal name of this group of people is called “intuitive eaters.” Don’t worry though. They represent a much smaller number compared to the rest of the population. Most of us need (a little or a lot of) help with our eating.
Keeping track of your calories can help you:
Calorie intake by itself will not give you the full picture of your needs, but it is one of the earliest steps you take in your plan if you’re trying to lose weight (or even add muscle).
At the end of this post you can download our Free 5 Day Plant-Based Weight Loss Plan. Every recipe includes the complete nutritionals so it is another awesome way to gauge how filling plant-based calories are.
For this post, I created a resource to guide you in determining how many calories you can aim to eat daily to achieve healthy, practical weight loss, so you can keep it off.
In order for our long term health to improve, the source of those calories definitely have influence. You can read our post HERE to better understand why whole food, plant-based calories are the way to go for the best quality life
At the end of the day, losing weight should always complement establishing lifelong, sustainable habits, so don’t obsessively count calories.
But, allow me to quickly clarify what groups of people should measure calories. I would suggest “counting” calories if:
#1 You follow an eating lifestyle of mostly whole plant-based foods, incorporate stress-reducing activities, and move your body regularly—BUT you’re still not losing weight.
#2 There is a specific body composition you want to achieve (specific fat %, gain muscle mass)
#3 You have a medical condition that requires you to strictly watch your nutrition (calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, etc).
If you fall into at least 1 of the 3 categories, it’s probably helpful to measure calories, even if it’s just for a short period of time.
Just so you know, calories aren’t only determined from what you eat and by how much you exercise. The calories that you burn over a 24-hour period are due to 4 variables.
Don’t let the some of the following words scare you away! As you’ll see, I wrote very basic definitions next to each of the 4 variable terms:
#1 BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
The Calories your body burns in order to function at rest —> Accounts for about 70% of total calories you burn.
#2 NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis)
The amount of Calories your body burns to do everyday movements —> Accounts for about 15% of total calories you burn.
#3 TEF (Thermic Effect of Food)
The calories burned in order to consume, digest, breakdown, and store food—> Accounts for about 10% of total calories you burn.
#4 Physical Activity
The number of Calories you burn during exercise.—> Accounts for about 5% of total calories you burn.
In the most simplistic way, #1-4 looks like this:
CALORIES BURNED (At Rest + Doing Everyday Movements + “Digesting” + Exercising) = TOTAL Calories Burned in 1 Day
Let’s get to determining your calorie needs!
In order to know your weight loss calorie requirements, first you’ll need to determine your Weight Maintenance Calories.
Weight Maintenance Calories means the number of calories you need to eat in order to keep your weight exactly as it is today.
Everyone’s weight maintenance calories are unique because of age, sleeping patterns, body fat %, hormone levels, metabolism, eating lifestyle, etc.
How can a simple online calculator take all of that into account?! Well, it can’t. Since there are so many weight maintenance factors, I don’t recommend using an online calculator.
You can figure out your weight maintenance energy needs just by looking at your daily calorie intake.
Here is the (MORE ACCURATE, SLOWER) way to calculate MAINTENANCE CALORIES:
Here is the (SLIGHTLY LESS ACCURATE, FASTER) formula to calculate MAINTENANCE CALORIES:
Step 1: Select your (1 number) “Metabolism #” – decide if your metabolism is “faster” or “slower”
The range of 14-16 Calories/Pound is based on scientific evidence from research of all of the different variables affecting individual metabolism.
Step 2: Multiply your weight (in Pounds) x Metabolism # = Amount of Calories to Maintain Your Weight
Now you have your estimated Maintenance Calories!
Again, this formula option is quicker and little less accurate, but it gives you a good STARTING ESTIMATE range.
Okay, you’ve figured out the calories you need to maintain your weight, and now you’re ready to get to the weight loss part!
When you lose weight, there is always a certain amount of both muscle and fat loss. If you appropriately and safely lose weight, you’ll minimize how much muscle you lose with every pound of fat loss.
This is why it’s imperative to not overestimate your weekly weight loss goal. Generally, a reasonable decrease in your weight maintenance calories might be 20% in order to efficiently lose weight. That % will be sightly higher or lower depending on your needs, goals.
Here’s how to calculate your Weight Loss Calories:
Step 1: Select your (1 number) “Weight Loss #” to Calculate your Calories For Weight Loss
The range of 10-13 Calories/Pound is based on scientific researchers studying weight loss in people groups.
Step 2: Multiply your weight (in Pounds) x Weight Loss # = Daily Calories to Achieve Weight Loss
For Example, you weigh 190 pounds, and decide that your Faster Weight Loss # is 13.
Next, let’s multiply your weight (in Pounds) x Weight Loss # to get your new Daily Weight Loss Calories
Now let’s multiply 190 x 13 = 2470 Calories/Day to Lose Weight at an Average Pace
Now you have calculated your Calories to Lose Weight!
In general, the smaller the daily calorie-cut, the slower you lose weight, but — this is important — the weight is less likely to be muscle and more likely to be fat loss.
Your ability to lose fat WITHOUT losing muscle is influenced by 2 things:
By the way, if you’re tired of hearing “exercise + lose weight” in the same sentence, keep in mind that moving the body is a FUNDAMENTAL PART of losing weight and maintaining your healthiest weight. According to Dr. Neal Barnard, “exercise is beneficial, strongly recommended it. A lack of exercise is not the primary reason for weight problems, but exercise can never take the place of a healthful diet.”
If you’re losing more than 2 pounds per week, you are almost certainly losing some muscle.
And let me be clear, Fat Loss is different from Weight Loss.
If you’re losing Fat, then at times your Weight may not change because:
Ideally, for every pound of weight loss, you want more of that to be Fat loss and less to be Muscle loss.
At the end of the day, scales are not a 100% accurate way to track progress, but they will give you and idea of if you’re moving in the right direction.
Be patient with your body!
I am not recommending that you experiment with the following, but I am sharing this to prove a point:
On average, in the beginning of your weight loss (when you’re at a higher body fat %) you may be able to achieve 1-1.5 lbs true fat loss per week on a moderate (average) daily calorie reduction – like a 20% calorie reduction
My suggestion is to observe 2 things:
I would suggest weighing yourself every day, same time of the day. Then take an average at the end of the week.
Please don’t be concerned about several pounds (average of 5-6 lbs) of weight fluctuation throughout the day – it’s completely normal.
Since you’re reading this post and most likely setting a goal to lose weight, having an idea of your daily calories can be extremely helpful in getting you going on a healthy whole food, plant-based eating plan.
Keep in mind that the path from starting weight to goal weight is NOT LINEAR. You’ll likely experience some ups, downs, slow downs – all likely from fluid retention, muscle gain, combined with fat loss!
Go back and review the 2 steps to estimate your weight loss calories and implement your own plan! Once you’ve done that, you can download our FREE 5-Day Plant-Based Weight Loss Plan.
Leave comments and questions below about your weight loss progress!
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