Losing weight without taking calorie consumption into consideration is like driving a car without pressing on the gas pedal — you aren’t going to get anywhere. So while we do recommend watching your sodium intake, choosing healthy fats, and spending some time in the gym, shedding those pesky pounds always comes back to calories.
To lower the number on the scale, you’ve got to take in less than usual. But just because this seems like a simple formula doesn’t mean it’s an easy one to follow. Weight loss results can be thwarted by cutting too much in the calorie department, cutting too little, or simply not cutting in the right places. That’s why we talked to Jim White, R.D., ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness Nutrition Studios to clear things up. But if you’re having a hard time sticking to his calorie recommendations, look into some of the 30 Reasons Why You’re Always Hungry for help.
The Magic Number
Daily caloric needs are different for every person so don’t expect your sweet spot to match your workout partner’s or your best friend’s. It’s particular to you and you alone, and that’s because we all have our own Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). According to White, this number can be found with a simple equation: (10 x your weight in kilograms) + (6.25 x your height in centimeters) – (5 x your age in years) – 161. For even more accuracy, you should multiply your BMR by another number that’s based on your activity level. So multiply by 1.2 if you are sedentary (little to no exercise), 1.375 if you’re lightly active (exercise 1-3 days a week), 1.55 if you are moderately active (exercise 3-5 days a week), and 1.725 if you are very active (exercise 6-7 days a week).
Depending on where you fall in there, he says you could lose one pound of body fat a week if you subtract 500 calories from this number. For example, if you’re a woman whose BMR is 2,000 and you’re moderately active, that’s 21,700 for the entire week. To drop a digit on the scale, you’ll need to drop 500 calories a day, as White suggests, and eat a weekly dose of 21,200 instead.
But that doesn’t mean you should be chugging sodas and eating brownies on the reg as long as you fall under this calorie ceiling. All calories are not made equal, and a study in JAMA found that people who ate a low-fat diet lost more weight than those who ate the same calories on a high-fat diet. So read up on the 20 Healthy Fats To Make You Thin and make sure the calories you consume aren’t just adding up to your weekly goal, but doing your body favors in other ways.
Be careful never to let your number drop below 8,400 a week, though. This is the equivalent of only 1,200 calories a day and, according to White, can have the opposite effect on your weight. “When you’re not eating enough calories, your metabolism can slow down, you don’t have enough energy for workouts, and you’re more likely to binge eat,” he says, something he refers to as starvation mode. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine only drills this in further since people following severe low-calorie diets didn’t lose long-term weight because their body produced excess cortisol, a hormone that signals your body to store fat, especially in the abdomen. Don’t let your diet backfire like that; be mindful. Watch out for excessive carb-cutting, too, with our guidelines on How Many Carbs Should You Eat A Day For Weight Loss?