Simple Calorie Counting Made Complicated

With all the complicated diet plans and confusing hoopla out there, you’d think that weight gain and weight loss were mysterious forces beyond human comprehension. It turns out that it’s actually kind of simple.

Miss Hannigan knew that bathtub gin was surprisingly low in calories

Miss Hannigan knew that bathtub gin was surprisingly low in calories

Food is full of calories. Some calories come from fat, some come from sugar, some come from protein, but in the end they’re all used for energy. When your body takes in energy it’s only got two basic choices. It can burn it up for fuel, or store it for later as fat. So the equation is pretty simple – if you take in more energy than you burn up, you’ll pack on fat. If you burn up more energy than you take in, you’ll lose fat.

When you start down the rat hole of weight loss advice, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple truth behind all of it: If you want to lose fat you need to burn more calories than you eat.

So with that in mind, I went online to find out how many calories I actually need to eat in a day. If you google around for daily caloric needs, you’ll find a lot of different options. The sites all seem to use slightly different formulas to arrive at your daily calorie needs, but they all tend to arrive in the same general ballpark. Most of the calculators use your gender, age, height, and current weight to come up with a basal metabolic rate. This is the basic rate that an average person like you would burn up calories if you were at rest all day. Most of the calculators will also ask for your activity level. Active people need to take in more calories than sedentary people.

After getting about 10 results the average for me – assuming a sedentary lifestyle -  is:

2256.43 Calories Per Day

That’s the number of calories I would need to take in to maintain my current weight, provided I’m not burning many calories from exercise.

A bit more investigation turned up this interesting tidbit:

3,500 Calories = 1 lb. of Fat

That means in order to lose a pound of fat in a week, you would need to burn or cut out 500 calories per day either through diet or exercise. On the flip side, eating an extra 500 calories per day would pack on a pound of fat in a week’s time. I find this really helpful to know, since 500 is a pretty easy number to keep in your head when making food choices.

So what does this mean for the Miniimize Me project? Well, my high weight at the start was 177.5 lbs. My goal weight is 149.58. And I’ve got about 83 days left. Let’s see what that works out to…

High Weight of: 177.7 pounds (minus)
Goal Weight of: 149.58 pounds (equals)
28.12 pounds left to lose – which is the same as (times 3,500)
98,420 Calories of fat to be lost over (divided by)
83 days remaining (equals)
1,185.78 Calories Per Day or (times 7)
8,300.48 Calories Per Week which is (divided by 3,500)

I need to lose about 2.37 Pounds Per Week

From what I’ve read so far, 2.37 pounds per week is a little high. Most sites recommend losing one to two pounds per week. If you take the calorie deficit that I’d need to run per day (1,177.35) and subtract it from the number of calories that I need to maintain my basic metabolic rate (2256.43) you end up with the low low figure of 1,079.08 calories per day. That seems low enough that it could trigger a starvation response and actually make weight loss more difficult.

Instead of shooting for 1,079 total calories per day, I’m going to shoot for around 1500 calories combined with exercise and see how things are trending. After a couple of weeks if it looks like I’m not going to be able to reach my goal at that pace I may have to consider cutting back on calories while still getting enough nutrition to support exercising.

Obviously there’s more to the story of weight loss and weight gain, nutrition, and health, than a simple equation between calories in and calories out. But I think that sometimes when you’re neck-deep in contradictory and conflicting information about weight loss, nutrition, and health it’s useful to step back to the basics and see that you are what you eat.

(If you’d like to see some of the concepts in this post illustrated with stick figures – and explained a bit more clearly – check out this site)