Are You Under-eating? Overeating? How Many Calories Do You Really Need?

Figuring out how many calories one needs to eat each day really isn’t as hard as it should be. Honestly, we’ve made it harder on ourselves by screwing up our diets and our training. Once you screw up your metabolism from dieting, or perhaps you slow it down from too much sitting, you may even boost it through strength training (but you forgot to feed it), things just get out of whack. Heck, eating carbs too early in the day can throw your hormones off and cause you to overeat sugar and give you screwy issues with food.

Eating doesn’t have to be hard. We’ve made it hard. And now we’re trying to undo all the damage.

The thing is, there are too many websites out there right now trying to teach you how to how to figure out your calories or count your macros. It’s really hard to figure out what you should be eating without talking to someone. Most computers don’t know that you’ve suffered metabolic damage. Or they don’t understand that you’re trying to overcome an eating disorder and you don’t want to log your food every single day. Many sites cater to athletes and may be intimidating to the average person who just wants to figure out what to best eat each day. Many people need to sit down with nutritionists, and some, therapists.

I don’t know your history, but I get that there are complications. I’ve been working on my own numbers for several months and I’ve enlisted in the help of a couple different coaches to help me evaluate both my history and my current goals. This stuff is hard. Way harder than it should be.

But I get asked these questions several times a day.

“Am I eating too much?”

“How many calories should I be eating?”

“I strength train five days a week and do HIIT for three and I eat 1450 calories a day. Is that enough?”

So I want to help people. I want to give back and make it easier for other people to try and figure themselves out. I’m not a licensed nutritionist but I know that from 12+ years of experience studying the subject, I can give you some solid information that I have learned and that you can do with as you please. And hopefully it will help.

In my experience, this is the best way to figure out how much you should eat each day.

In order to figure out how many calories you need each day, you need to take a solid look at your activity, or your exercise routine.

On the following scale of 11-16, figure out where you stand. Choose one number that fits you best. If you feel stuck between two, maybe between the 12 and 13, give yourself a 12.5. And P.S., “train” means you lift heavy weights or perform intense interval cardio conditioning workouts. If you only do steady state cardio workouts, or you don’t lift heavy, I would guess you probably should choose a number somewhere between an 11.5 and 12.5. (No offense, it’s just what works with this scale.)

11-You are very sedentary

12-You train less than 5 hours a week

13-You train pretty hard, 5-10 hours a week

14-You train really hard, 10-15 hours a week

15-You train super hard, 15-20 hours a week

16-You train 20+ hours a week. You’re basically a pro.

Now add .5 to your number IF you have an active job that requires you to be on your feet much of the day.

Now, multiply your weight (in pounds) by this activity number. Don’t cheat yourself either. Don’t subtract pounds from your weight, and don’t give yourself a lower activity level. I actually tried giving myself a 12.5 when I was really a 13. At her seminar, Krissy Mae Cagney herself said, “You are a 13. Give yourself a 13.” (You don’t argue with the founder of Doughnuts and Deadlifts, btw.)

Here’s a simple example: 145 lbs x 12.5 activity level = 1812.5 (and we’ll round up to 1813). This is your total calorie intake. 1813 calories.

Who’s feeling shocked by the number?

That’s ok, you (probably) did the math correctly. (It depends on if you followed the new or the old method of math instruction ;) #formerteacherjoke.) Because honestly, in my experience with helping people, most people have relied too heavily on fitness apps that say “If you are this height, you should weigh this much, and if you eat this little, in three months you’ll reach this goal.” Anyone ever reached that goal? Nope. Me neither. Not that way. Most people have been under-eating and then worsening their own calorie burning abilities. Don’t let your new number scare you if that’s the case.

Under-eating can and will SLOW your metabolism and it can also cause metabolic damage!
Under-eating can and will SLOW your metabolism and it can also cause metabolic damage!

This is why it pays to get help from a human and not a computer.

Even as easy as all of the above sounds, things can still get tricky. I’ve learned early in the nutrition game of life that no two people are the same–even if their numbers say that they are. Most women (and even some men) have eaten so “wrongly” throughout their lives that many need a lot of “fixing” before they can just jump right into macro-counting.

Let’s look at myself as an example. Recently I published an article about how many women are not losing fat nor making gains in the gym no matter how hard they’re trying or how healthy they are eating. I wrote this for two reasons.

  1. After studying flexible nutrition, I realized I had been under-eating on the weekdays–specifically withholding too many carbs post training, and then
  2. binging on my favorite carb foods on the weekends or holidays. And as I talked to many other people, I realized the same thing: the harder they try to lose fat, the worse they almost always end up.

A lot of people suffer from metabolic damage and that needs to be fixed first and foremost before just diving head first into your new calorie goal.

How? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s look at more scenarios here. There’s the athlete to consider. Athletes need to eat more. They need to cut weight for competition, add weight to get stronger, maintain weight for optimal performance, refeed when needed and carb cycle when appropriate to do so. There’s the mom who is looking to bounce back after pregnancy and regain both her figure and her strength. There’s the guy who has been too small all his life and needs to figure out how to put on mass despite all his previous failed attempts. There’s the failed dieter who doesn’t really care about the gym that much, rather he/she just wants to look good naked. There are people who have battled eating disorders and can’t succumb to counting and tracking calories and macronutrients. And then there are the people who have screwed up and need to fix a lot of damage…sometimes many types of damage. And maybe you find that you’re a combination of several types of people.

Again, a computer can’t really tell you how to do what YOU need to do, so you’re going to have to do some work, some thinking, some trial and error, and figure yourself out.

Where do you go from here?

  • The first thing you have to do is figure out where you are, already, with calories. Some of you may know this. Some of you may have no clue.
    • If you have no clue, use an app like My Fitness Pal to simply log what you eat for about 3-7 days and get a general idea of what your intake is. Be honest about what you eat–no one will see this but you and this is all about helping yourself. (It’s amazing what people don’t log when they have to face the numbers.)
  • When you know (or if you already know) how many calories you eat, the next step is to work in tiny increments towards your new calorie number. Whether you have to work up to the number or down to the number, you need to move very very slowly.
    • Let’s say you need to eat 1813 calories but you’re currently sitting at 1450. Increase your calories by about 10% for a minimum of one week. So 10% of 1450 is 145. 1450+145=1595. For about a week (and maybe longer) work on eating 1595 calories. If it feels weird to have to increase, that’s ok, take more time to do so. It’s important to move slow rather than jumping right to 1813. A big jump this fast will likely result in bloated feelings and possible weight gain (before it evens out). Simply, you don’t want to stuff yourself and feel awful. Your body needs time to adjust to the numbers.
    • Once you’re comfortable here at 1595, add another 10% (~160). This brings your calories up to 1755. Again, this is like climbing Everest here. Take your climb one week (or more!) at a time and don’t move on until your body has acclimated to the new numbers.
    • Once you feel good at 1755, you’ve adjusted well, your body is responding to the food, and your energy is great, go for the 1813 number and sit steady here for a minimum of two weeks. THIS is your base. It’s your safe zone. It’s the number your body WANTS. If your weight holds steady for two weeks minimum (and you can stay here longer) then you know you’ve found your zone. It’s important you find your zone or you can’t move on to the next steps! Your body needs to be fed and happy, and have a solid working metabolism before we can start the fat-loss/muscle gain process. And honestly, some people automatically lose weight when they find this number. They may not have to do anything more! (We’re all different.)
    • What if your calculated number is 1813 but you had been eating 2452 calories? Apply the same 10% theory and start working your way DOWN to 1813. Again, it’s just as important to work slow. Dropping too fast ends up in an early plateau, and you want your body to WORK for you, not hinder your progress. Work by 10% increments weekly until you reach your goal.
  • Stay at your calculated numbers for a minimum of two weeks. If you have a damaged metabolism, I would even stay for about a month. This is the time your body starts to fix itself. If you’ve damaged your metabolism for too long, you may have to stay here longer. We are all different. Remember that this is a process.

CAVEAT: Can you eat anything you want as long as you reach your daily calorie goal? Sure! Will you look good naked if you do? Probably not! Seriously folks, you can have a treat every now and then if you want one, and preferably you should eat it somewhere around your workout time so that your body uses it instead of stores it. BUT the majority of ALL your food choices should be GOOD ones. Eat protein, good carbs, berries, healthy fats. If you want results, they aren’t going to come from a box of cookies or an entire pizza–even if your numbers say that “it fits.”

  • Keep track of your weight. You don’t have to weigh yourself every day, but you should try and weigh a couple times a week just to get an idea of where you’re sitting. When you reach your target number, your weight should settle out and stop fluctuating. That’s when you know your metabolism is good and your body is functioning properly. Some of you may lose weight reaching this numbers. There’s an offset chance that you might gain a pound as well. That’s ok too. We’re going to get you to your goals. You just need to be patient.
  • If you lose too much weight or you’re losing and you can’t get your weight to hold steady, re-evaluate your equations. What went wrong?
  • What if your weight doesn’t hold steady at all? You keep fluctuating? You can’t find a happy balance? You’re gaining?

Keep in mind: This is step one. We’re JUST trying to get your calories in check. Step two, which is as equally important, is PROTEIN: knowing how much protein to eat and how to balance out your calories with the right amounts of macronutrients.

That’s our next post, coming out Friday. You do NOT want to miss it. Make sure you’re a subscriber! And to all our current subscribers, we’ve got a gift for you in honor of your loyalty!!!

Remember: Figure out your base calorie intake. Start logging your food to see where you currently stand. Work in 10% increments to reach your base number. Stay there for a couple of weeks. Always make healthy choices when figuring out what to eat. Treat yourself post training.

Protein will be next.

Are you ready?

Don’t forget! You can find ALL this information, including worksheets, how-to’s, sample meal plans, and even our special “no-count storage solution” in our newest eBook, The Total Health and Fitness Makeover which is on pre-sale right now! Our first 50 purchasers will receive a FREE macronutrient evaluation and all orders between now and July 27 will receive 25% off the original price plus our 50+ page workbook for FREE!
Total Health and Fitness MakeoverSubscribers: tonight you should receive an email with another free gift. We are so thankful for our community and we just want to give back!

The free gift email is expected to go out at Midnight Eastern-time. If you do not receive it this evening then hopefully it will be in your inbox tomorrow morning.

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  1. Jen says

    Sorry, I know this was supposed to make life easier but its confused me further. My number is 13 and in currently 193lbs (obviously, I need to lose weight still). My cals per your calculation are just under 2500 but EVERYTHING ELSE I’ve read says 2500 is my maintenance. My Polar Loop says I burn between 2300 and 2600 cals daily. Wouldn’t 2500 cals per your calculation put me strictly at maintenance and not a deficit? I currently eat about 1800-1900 cals a day. Also, I can’t really go by my scale, as I’ve been stuck between 195 and 193 for months now, because I am gaining muscle but also losing fat (bodyfat tested to be sure). Any advice for someone like me? Thanks so much for your articles, I love reading them.

    • Jen says

      ^^^ and to clarify, I moved up to 1800 FROM 1200 so I know I have metabolic damage from the past.

    • Stephanie Walker says

      If 2500 is your maintenance and my calcs put you right under 2500…that’s still maintenance. These numbers are current maintenance goals so that everyone can get on track with how many calories he/she needs to eat to get their metabolisms back in a functioning order. Also, your comment about your polar loop reminded me about this–these numbers INCLUDE your workouts. So if you’re supposed to hit 2500 calories a day but you add calories to this because your workout app tells you to eat more, then technically anyone who did that would be overeating. Never add calories to this (unless your goal is to gain) b/c all the workout calories are already factored in.
      Did you automatically cut to 1800-1900 without trying 2500 first? If you have bad metabolic damage like you said, you may have to work on eating at 2500 first for a while to FIX the damage before cutting. I had to do this as well. I had to hit maintenance for over a month and then I increased calories for another month or more to get my metabolism fired up and running well before I could cut. So I would recommend SLOWLY working your way back up to 2500ish and maintaining here until your weight doesn’t fluctuate. Then start a very slow cut after that. Hope this helps and don’t forget to check out the protein post tomorrow and carbs/fats post on Monday.

      • Jen says

        I get it now. No, I don’t add/subtract cals for exercise, those are my total burn for the day including exercise so 2500-1800 creates the deficit I thought I needed for weight loss. I will try slowly working up to 2500 per your article and see how it goes. Fwiw, I get around 175g protein per day and my macros are 40% protein, and 30%/30% fats/carbs. Thank you Stephanie!!!

        • Stephanie Walker says

          Your macros sound good!! Keep me posted on how everything goes…I totally get the scary feeling having been there myself. But you can totally do this.

  2. Danielle says

    First, thank you for the article! I recently found your site and I’ve enjoyed pouring over all of your articles.

    However, like Jen, I am also a little bit confused. At 5’4″ and 236lbs, I am considered very overweight–technically obese. I lift really heavy 3x a week (~1hour each session) and I do moderate accessory weight lifting 2x a week. I also do a little conditioning 5x a week after my sessions (usually kettlebell swings and/or walking at an incline). I am currently eating 1700 calories a day. According to this post, I would be a 12 (maybe a 12.5?), which would put me at 2832 calories a day–that’s a 1100 calorie increase!

    If I want to lose weight, am I supposed to subract 500 (or 20%) of 2832? Because honestly, I’m not even losing weight at 1700 calories (and at my size, you would think the weight/fat would be shedding off of me!). I am terrified to increase my daily intake to 2800 calories if I’m not even losing at 1700.

    I’d love any insight you can give me! Thanks again for posting such amazing articles–you guys rock!

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Danielle, your calculations are correct. The reason you aren’t losing weight right now is because you’re not eating enough to support what your body needs as well as to support your training. Your body is holding on to EVERYTHING because it’s not getting enough. 1100 calories is a huge jump and it’s super scary. Try adding 100 calories for a week or two and take the increases SUPER slow. I actually think you’ll start to lose weight when you do. Don’t subtract any numbers yet…you need to work on getting your caloric intake to match what your body needs. When you’re burning calories efficiently, THEN you can start cutting back. Tomorrow’s post on protein will help you, Monday’s post will be about carbs and fats, and the book we’ve just finished outlines several methods to get you where you need to be over time. Don’t be scared of the numbers, think of this as eating to fuel your body and take care of your growing muscles. Not eating to lose weight.

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Another thing Danielle….I was thinking about this after my last reply…I know you are terrified of adding too much….one thing that you can try is to is subtract 50 lbs from your current weight and then recalculate your numbers based off this. So 186×12 would put you at 2232 and that’s not as scary as 2800+. Maybe do what I call a “reverse” up to this number and stay here for a while…see what happens. This wouldn’t give you so much of a huge jump. The book actually goes into more detail on some other scenarios that you can try if 50+ lbs overweight. This may something to think about?

      • Danielle says

        Thanks for the advice, Stephanie! You’re right–2200 does seem much more manageable (and not as scary). I will increase my calories 100 per week (starting today!) until I land at 2232. I’ll stay there for a month or two and see what happens.

        I’m excited for your posts on proteins and carbs and fats! I’m also excited for the book, which I’ve already pre-ordered. I’ll definitely give the “50+ lbs overweight” section a thorough read. Hopefully I can shake things up and start losing again! :)

        • Stephanie Walker says

          I’m really hopeful that you should get some good results here. Thank you for the purchase and keep me posted on everything! Remember it’s a process and it’s SUPER easy to get frustrated. But you can do this!

        • Erik WalkerErik Walker says

          Hey Danielle, first of all thanks for ordering the book. Second, I have to applaud you for taking on this new journey. It sounds like you have the mindset and patience to do this correctly. It is not a quick fix like so many people want, the body and metabolism in particular are quite adaptable but rapid changes tend to cause more harm than good. Good luck Danielle! I am super excited for you!!!

  3. says

    I actually ate an entire pizza last night and I’m pretty happy with how I look lol :) Anyways, now that I’m in maintenance (I’ve lost around 60lbs), I do 16:8IF along with spot checking my calories and macros, which I go by my TDEE. I’ve found that method to be pretty spot on for figuring out my calorie intake. Your formula actually doesn’t give me enough calories, by almost 400 calories? Maybe I’m figuring it out wrong-my activity level is 3x walking a week (2 miles a time) and 2x a week body-weight strength training (around 30 minutes a time) so I chose category 12 x my current weight of 122lbs = 1,464 calories. But averaged out over a weeks time (I eat fewer calories during the week and higher calories on the weekend), I’m eating around 1,850 calories-which is my TDEE. I’ve been successfully maintaining for over 2 years now, so I’ll stick with the higher calories :)

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Sara! Thanks for the comment…this really helps me a lot. No only does it help me prove a couple really important points:

      1) every person is different and there’s no single method that’s a “one size fit all”
      2) this is exactly why it always helps to talk to real people when trying to figure ourselves out;

      but it also helps me hypothesize about smaller ladies with a great functioning metabolism. Most men and women I’ve worked with are people similar to me–they have SUPER screwed up metabolisms from too many years dieting/yo-yoing/or under-eating. This formula has worked for myself (when nothing else has) to get my metabolism back on track, and it’s worked for the people I’ve worked with.

      I’ve talked to a few ladies recently, all between the sizes of 118-125 (also a good 5-10 younger than me as well) who eat well over the number provided by the formula here. I think that they (and you, I’m assuming) have a REALLY good metabolism — probably one that hasn’t necessarily been damaged or one that has been fixed through a proper allotment of food, and is functioning so well that these guidelines need not apply. This is when I say, “job well done–you keep doing you!”

      I know that for me, personally, after years and years of trials and experimentations, I’ve found this formula works best–but I also had to work with three-four different experts in the field to eval my history and really get down to good numbers. I actually tried IF for about a year–maybe longer–and really really enjoyed it a lot. But after a while, it stopped working for me. I don’t think I had my metabolism in proper working order before I tried it. And I’ve also tried some of the TDEE calculators and some of the numbers I’ve gotten match what I figure out my maintenance to be and some put me so high I would gain if I hit them (some put me around 2400 calories and I typically start gaining around 1900+). Nutrition is so strange and I think that’s why it’s so fascinating to me.

      Again, thanks for the comment–this is great feedback. And I am so jealous you can eat a whole pizza!!! Hahaha! This “easy gainer” right here could not pull that off. You are one of the lucky ones! :D

      • says

        I have to add a note about the pizza-it’s from a specialty shop and it’s the norm for people to actually order their own, whole pizzas-they’re medium sized, but have very thin crusts and limited toppings. They don’t give nutritional info, but my sister and I did some figuring and we both think one pizza works out to around 1,500 calories. With my higher calorie weekends I can fit one in as long as I don’t go too crazy the rest of the day :)

        And good point about metabolism-for me when I lost the 60lbs 3 years ago it was the first time I had ever dieted/tried losing weight. I do think that has made things easier for me, than other people who have dieted over and over again. I do also wonder how much IF (intermittent fasting) has played a part in all of this for me as well. I did an IF plan for the weight loss phase and I now do 16:8IF as part of my maintenance plan. It’s being studied a lot right now in terms of longevity of life issues/how it promotes good health in later years, but I wonder if doing it during the ‘younger’ years has benefits as well?

        • Stephanie Walker says

          That’s a really good question Sara! I’m not sure–would love to see more research on the subject. Have you read much from John Berardi? He has done some pretty extensive work with IF and I may have to go back to his material and see if he wrote anything on this. My step-mom does IF without even realizing she does it. (Well, she sort of does it.) She doesn’t eat much through the day but she generally has one big meal around dinner time and that’s about it. And she’s a very small (and feisty!) woman!! Ha! So it makes sense that a program like IF would help with longevity…many times as we get older we tend to move less, unfortunately, and I wonder if that has anything to do with it as well? I can’t imagine doing IF as a “still-growing teen,” but I wonder if it’s something I had known about in college when my diet “went to hell,” if it would have helped me from all my college weight gain?!! Definitely a good question and something to look into. I think you’re on to something here. :)

          PS–now I really want pizza. ;)

  4. says

    I’m between 107-109lbs. And a 12 at the moment.
    Which calculates my calories to 1308 calories to maintain my weight.. is that correct?
    I’m trying to lose about 5 more lbs.. So will I need to lose less then 1300 calories?

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Tanya,
      There’s so much dependant on this number. You’ve calculated correctly but do you know how many calories you’ve been eating before calculating? If you’ve been eating 1600 calories, you’ll need to decrease slowly to 1308 and you’ll probably lose your 5 lbs quickly. But if you’ve been eating 1200 calories, you may find you’ll lose your 5 lbs by increasing your calories so that your body has enough fuel to burn. I would aim for hitting 1300 calories for at least two weeks before deciding if you want to increase or decrease the numbers and make sure you’re hitting at least 100 grams of protein.

  5. Jenny says

    I recently came across your site and an OBSESSED!!! I finally feel like someone has the answers to the questions I’m looking for!

    I’m 5’10.5″ and weigh about 200lbs. When I switched over to the Paleo diet last year, I lost about 25lbs and have felt so much better. Some life events happened though, and even though we are still eating well, my body has stopped losing weight.

    I’ve been weight training since the 3rd week in July, 4-5x/wk heavy lifting. I’m obviously gaining strength, as I have been slowing upping my weight, but no fat loss has occurred.

    I’ve been tracking in MyFitnessPal which tells me that to lose 1-2lbs a week, I should be eating about 1770 calories a day. To be entirely honest though, I am still hungry! I don’t feel like I have a lot of energy either. This last week I haven’t been entirely honest with my tracking, mainly because I feel like I need more food but hate seeing that “you went over your goal” reminder. I prioritize high quality protein throughout the day, especially post workout, so I think my macros are pretty decent.

    So 2 questions:

    1) According to the calculation, 13x200lbs = 2600 calories. If I’m not really eating 1770 a day, and it’s more like 1900-2000 a day, should I keep moving up? Am I really allowed to eat all day?

    2) You said the calculation included workouts. If it’s a rest day or lighter workout day, am I still supposed to eat up to the 2600? Or less on non-workout days?

    Thank you in advance for everything you do! Fingers crossed that I can have hope for myself soon!!!

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Jenny! I am so excited you found us! Here are my thoughts. If you’re eating 1900-2000 and you’re still hungry, definitely bump up your numbers. I would try bumping them up by 100 calories per week and see how you feel. If you start feeling full and satisfied around 2400 calories, go with that. You’re looking to really stabilize your weight, control your hunger, and give back to your body the nourishment it needs for all that goes through each day! You want a healthy functioning metabolism and this will help. Don’t be afraid to eat more–just do it slowly.

      Some tips–definitely move slowly. I wouldn’t bump it right up to 2600 tomorrow — you’ll end up feeling bloated and miserable. One thing that might help is to eat a lot of the carbs around your workout. I’ve noticed that this really helps body transformation. So if you’re fearful about eating too much, just eat smart. Eat lots of fiber throughout the day and save the bulk of your carbs (50-60%) for around your workout.

      When you’re eating enough for your body a few things could happen. You may lose fat, you may gain muscle, you will more than likely feel better on the inside, have more energy, be in better moods, etc. After a month or so of getting everything in order, if and when you’re ready to change things up, maybe drop a couple pounds if that’s still your goal, all you have to do is either very very slowly start subtracting a few calories OR you can keep the calories and bump up the workouts.

      Your next question–Eating more/less on workout/non workout days. Let’s say that you end up eating 2400 calories and this feels great for you–it’s your number. Over the course of 7 days, that’s 16,800 calories. Maybe you lift super heavy on three days and you take in 2600 calories on those days. Then you do conditioning work for two days so you’re still working hard but not lifting as heavy, you could eat 2300 calories. And then on your off days you could eat 2200 calories. Or you could do 2700/2400/1950. Whatever works–whatever you feel hungry for on those workout days. Does that make sense? And the way I would make up those differences would be with carbs. Eat more carbs on the lift days, a little less on the conditioning days, and even fewer on the off days. You can even bump up the fat on the off days. I hope all this makes sense and I hope it helps! Thanks for contacting us–keep us posted!! And don’t forget to subscribe–that helps us out!!! :D Thanks Jenny!

      • Jenny says

        Thank you for such a quick response! I feel like today is a new day, and I’m ready to try this out! Hopefully I will start seeing some changes soon. I’ve subscribed and am following on Instagram too :)

        Thank you!!!

          • Jenny says

            Hello again!

            I must not have posted my last comment — so I upped my calories to 2100 and finally felt like a human being again, however, for the week I did that, I gained 5lbs! Not that the scale on the number matters — I am just discouraged because I haven’t managed to lose any fat throughout this process since July (but I have clearly built some muscle).

            This last week I have been out of town on vacation and kind of threw everything out the window — a mixture of frustration with my current process, but also desire to eat and connect with family
            and enjoy the fun “out of town” foods I can’t get at home. So at the end of the day, calorie consumption this last week has been a LOT.

            As vacation comes to an end, I want a clear direction for a plan to stick with. Do you think I should just start eating 2400 calories since I’ve been so high the last week? Should I stay at 2100? I keep reading online that you can’t really “cut” and “bulk” at the same time, so it confuses me, because I really want to lose the fat and build the muscle.

            Any advice I can take from this? :/

          • Stephanie Walker says

            Hmm. Since you went on vacation last week and probably ended up eating more than normal, I think you would feel mentally and emotionally better if you stayed at the 2100 mark. I think your body needs to adjust to this mark more and you can also let go of what I like to call vacation bloat. Stay at 2100 for another week or two and let your body tell YOU where it needs to go next and when. When your weight settles at 2100, you don’t feel like your fluctuating, and you feel strong, then you can decide if you’re ready to step it up to 2200 or 2300 even 2400 calories. Work slowly and don’t be afraid to listen to your body. I love vacation weeks because they tend to make us want to work harder when they’re over. So let’s go back to 2100 and take it from there. Listen to your body as you adjust. If you need more energy you may need more calories. If you’re feeling full and bloated, you may need less. Every day is different and each body is different…do your best to know your guidelines and then make small adjustments as necessary.

  6. Tara says

    Hi! I just came across your website and have to say well done! This is what I was looking for. :)

    I just started doing HIIT this week with weights. I only do 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. In addition to that, I take a walk with my husband, 1-3 miles) several times per week. I’m eating 1800 calories. I am 5’7, weight 196, and am wondering if this is a good combination for trying to lose weight? I haven’t done a lot of yo-yo dieting but have had trouble losing weight in the past. The calculation about put me at like 2300 calories. I haven’t been weighing myself because I don’t want to feel discouraged if I temporarily gain weight as a result of the HIIT with weights.

    My diet is really great. I’m a vegetarian but get plenty of protein and healthy fats. I only eat complex carbs and in moderation unless I’m having a cheat meal. I eat plenty of fruit and veggies and plant based foods.

    Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hi Tara,
      This is a really tough question to answer since you’ve only been doing the hiit with weights for one week. Your calorie calculations are correct though….looks like you could afford a boost in numbers. What I would do is just continue all that you are doing. Focus on strength training at least 3-4 times a week, hiit 2-4 times a week, and eating your foods (sounds like you’re fine with nutrition tips) and take a few weeks (even months) to experiment. Game changers for you will be the strength training and the patience it will take to start leveling out. You may get hungrier with strength training and that will be a good sign–you can afford to eat more than what you’re doing. And this is really the goal–get your training down, your food right, and your body will start to adjust and lean out over time. Unfortunately it’s just hard to say when. If you undereat and train too hard, your body will store fat. If you overeat and don’t train hard enough, your body will store fat. You’re looking to find that perfect balance. So stick with your weight training, and train heavy. Build the muscles that will burn the fat. Stick with the fat burning HIIT workouts as well. And then don’t be afraid to fuel your body for what it needs to really excel at these workouts. Just give it some more time, be patient, and very consistent. Good things will come. Thanks for commenting, and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to our site so you can get our 3 free strength training programs!! Good luck and keep us posted!

      • Tara says

        Thanks! I will definitely subscribe and get those weight training sessions. I have noticed that I’m hungrier today than usual. Thanks again and I’ll keep you posted!

        • Tara says

          I take that back. Apparently my workout routine is considered plyometrics instead of HIIT. I’m not sure if that is the same as weight training but my muscles are always screaming when I get done….I’m definitely a beginner at all of this…

  7. Susie McKee says

    OMG! Fantastic website! I joined a gym and started weight training 12 months ago. Started at 175 lbs and now at 169, holding steady. At 5’3″, and after a year, I was hoping to lose more weight (i.e fat) but that hasn’t happened. At 53, I feel strong and healthy, except for the that thick layer of subcutaneous fat that is hiding all the muscle I have built!

    I know I’ve been under eating and my metabolism is definitely messed up because of all the on-off dieting over the past year ( and longer) trying to get it right! My current activity level is 13′ so my calorie intake is 2366. Just started to track today per your suggestion to see where I need to adjust.

    Great site, I’m hooked! Thank you, maybe now I can get it right!

  8. Lizzie says

    Hey there I’ve just found your website and it’s great thanks so much.

    I’ve recently got into a bit of a weights routine although I wouldn’t call it lifting heavy. In the past I’ve been more focused on running but am beginning to realise I’ve probably screwed a bit with my metabolism because I’ve also been eating too little (about 1200 a day although more on some days maybe 1400).

    I’ve just worked out my calories according to your formula (I do 3 weights routines per week about 40 mins each, 2 HIIT sessions about 30 mins and still go for a run once a week. I also walk about 90 mins each day doing childcare drop offs and local errands). So I feel quite active but on your scale I’m probably about 12 as a lot of my activity is steady state. I weigh 110. 1320 feels pretty low to me. My Fitbit with a hr monitor reckons I’m burning nearer to 2200 calories a day. I currently eat around 1400 but am gaining weight at the moment.

    Do you think I should cut to 1320? Counting calories can get a bit obsessive for me having tried it in the past but I don’t seem to be able to get to a comfortable place where I train hard but not for too long and I can just eat normal stuff. It takes up so much brain space! Appreciate the advice :-)

    • Stephanie Walker says

      As active as you are–working out plus your 90 minutes daily of walking and errands, 1320 is low. Honestly if you’re incorporating weights and adding HIIT a couple times a week, you can get away with more calories–these activities are strenuous on the body. You’ll need to fuel yourself! On these days where you lift and do your HIIT training, I would bump up your calories into the 1500-1550 range. On days you aren’t as active, depending on your hunger level, I’d go no lower than 1350. Try increasing your calories for a while. It sounds scary but I think you’re more active than you think. Slowly start increasing your intake and see if this helps. The last thing you want to do is cut too low and risk damaging your hormones/metabolism. Be patient and give yourself time to getting used to more food. We can always go back and do a cut later. But you’re right–I think 1320 is too low for your activity level. Let’s boost things up and see where that takes you.

  9. Leah says

    Just found you guys and am sucking it up like a sponge. The short version of me is past history of eating disorder, mega steady state cardio junkie…then was diagnosed with MS. Cured that by eating whole and organic. Now after 3 kids I have been working out like mad and have been stuck at about 130 lbs. I am 5’4.5″. I could care less if I weighed 200 lbs. My issue is my waist will not go back down. I have been mixing it up for 2 yrs between HIIT with strength and just HIIT and just strength. I use FitnessBlender a lot. Right now I am doing the 10000 kettlebell swing challenge. Anywho I have messed with calories and macros a TON. tried separating fats from carbs…yada yada yada. NOTHING is changing my belly. No I do not have a diastasis either. I eat around 1800 naturally. I have tried going to 1400 and almost ate a kid…I tried eating my calories back around 2600 calories and I feel like a pig. I am still breastfeeding a almost 2 yr old… HELP PLEASE! I say I am a 13 which puts me around 1700 calories. Should I be adding back for the breastfeeding…say…eating 1800-1900? I am eating 40carb/30fat/30 protein after having tried low carb with moderate success. I lift as heavy as I can with clean form. My butt and legs look awesome and the upper body is taking shape. I just hate that my pants feel like they are getting tighter and tighter after 2 yrs of hard work.

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Leah,
      You have presented a tough challenge here! Just reading this info, there are a few things I’d like to throw out there to see if we can’t narrow this down and pinpoint an issue somewhere.
      I think there may be several possible reasons.

      1) Did you have a c section? Scarring and damage to the abdominal muscles could be an issue??
      2) How many years are between each of your children’s births? I have heard that affects pelvic musculature.
      3) Belly fat is sometimes related to stress…would you say you live a high-stress life?
      4) Belly fat may have to do with too much estrogen vs. testosterone levels.
      5. It could be possible through all your workouts, hiit work, etc., that you have significant core strength and its just the muscle built up beneath the skin.

      Thoughts on any of this?

  10. Jennifer says

    I currently weigh about 125 lbs (I’m 5’7.5) and am really just looking to modify my body composition a bit. I want to gain muscle and lose fat to get leaner, but not necessarily lose any weight. I am female. I run about 60 mpw and do 4 resistance sessions per week. But 125 x 14 is only 1750. I am currently maintaining my weight eating 2000 calories per day. I just don’t know how to gain muscle and lose fat. I don’t know if I should try to lose a few pounds first and then gain some muscle or gain some muscle and then lose fat. I have been much smaller in the past (115-118 lbs) but didn’t have much muscle. I know how to lose weight and be skinny but don’t know how to get lean/muscular. Should I modify my calories or just keep doing my (new) strength routine and hope it changes my body comp?

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Hey Jennifer! Sorry I haven’t responded sooner–I’ve been trying to sort out “real comments and questions” from the thousands of spam ones we get weekly.
      So here’s what I think: if you’re already maintaining at 2000 cals per day–that’s GREAT! You’re at the perfect starting point and we can now assess what we need to do. IMO, I would start increasing your calories by 100-150 per week (or even every other week if that seems to fast). If you weigh about 125, I would suggest eating a minimum of 125-150g of protein per day (500-600 calories) and then eating the rest of your calories in healthy carbs and fats. I think you could easily get away with 600 calories of protein, 600 calories of fat, and then 900 calories in good carbs (which would put you around 225g carbs). With all the training you do, if you focus the bulk of your carbs on pre and post training, they will be used for energy and then muscle replenishment. This is where you’ll see growth. And what I would do is continue to increase your calories weekly or biweekly until you reach a place you can maintain again…say 2500 calories? And work on building muscle on this increase. If you get to a point where you feel you’ve gained more than 5 or so pounds (of fat, not muscle) then I would suggest a super slow cut–as slow as you did the gain. That make sense! Good luck! You’re smart, you know what you’re doing, just go ahead and start the increase and plan your carb increase around your training. You can totally do this!

  11. Dany says

    Huh. Well. I’m 27 years old, 92lbs (very short), weight train 3x a week, steady state cardio 2-3 times a week. Gave myself a 12 based on this.. 1104 calories. That’s less than the minimum recommended amount for women :/ So… wow? Whats up with that.

    • Stephanie Walker says

      Unfortunately, the formula is a one-size-fits-most, not all. I’d probably give yourself a 13 based on what I’m guessing is at least 5-6 hours of exercise and a fast-acting metabolism. 92 lbs sounds like you have a great metabolism–even if you are short. That puts you closer to the minimum of 1200 calorie diet. Depending on your goals and what you’re already eating, you can tweak this to fit your needs. If you’re looking to gain muscle and you already eat, let’s just say 1400 calories, add another 150 calories. So you’d bump up your calories to 1550m making sure you’d eat at the very minimum 92 grams of protein per day, and the rest of your calories would be split between carbs and fat–roughtly 60% carbs and 40% fat. There’s all sorts of ways to tweak the formula to meet specific body type goals, so feel free to shoot me an email if you’re looking for further clarity.