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.
THE BIG REVEAL:
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.
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.
- After studying flexible nutrition, I realized I had been under-eating on the weekdays–specifically withholding too many carbs post training, and then
- 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?
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