Losing weight is a very simple process that has been made overly complicated, but it ultimately starts by finding out how many calories you burn vs how many calories you consume. Your body each day burns calories to keep you alive, your organs working and movement whether this be walking to the shops or taking a run. Let us begin with the facts and I will explain to you that anyone can lose weight if you follow these simple core principles.
What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a unit measure of energy in food. The caloric energy is used as fuel for our bodies, which has a constant demand for energy. The energy from food powers our every movement like brain function, organ function, walking and running.
Proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are the nutrient types found in food and are the main energy sources. It does not matter where the calories come from, the calories you consume are either used up as energy or are stored as a surplus to requirements as body fat.
The calories surplus will remain in your body, as fat unless you use them up.
How many calories do I burn?
I will start this next section with the words “DO NOT GUESS”. This I believe is the single biggest issue to weight loss right now. People (and myself in the past) are guessing how many calories they burn in the day. A mother at home with two children, running around their every whim is not going to burn the same calories, as someone who has commuted to work by car and sat in an office chair all day. You cannot take average caloric guidelines for a man or a woman and use this as your base. You maybe burning less calories than you think and therefore consuming too many calories putting you in a surplus or you maybe burning more calories, but eating too few calories, feeling tired and always 2 seconds away from smashing through 3 bowls of crunchie nut cereal.
Buy a fitness watch…or at the very least borrow one to track your burned calories for a week or so. You want to find out how many calories you are burning on a gym day, running day, walk day, a non-gym day and a weekend day. It is also a good idea to find out how many calories you burn in the gym doing weights and cardio. Different fitness watch brands will have differing accuracy, so I will always adjust by 5%. For example, if my burned calories on a sedentary day are shown as 2400, I would reduce by another 120 to 2280 calories.
How many calories do I consume?
I started the last section with these words and I’ll use them again here “DO NOT GUESS”. In case you have been living under a rock there is a great free online service called MyFitnessPal who also have a mobile app, where you can track every piece of food you eat. Their food inventory is so vast that you will be able to scan a chicken salad from Tesco to half a dozen olives from Sainsburys. If you have a barcode on your food, then it is going to be in MyFitnessPal. You also need to weigh your food and again “DO NOT GUESS”. Unless you are superman or supergirl with x-ray vision, do not guess the weight of your food, it is very important that you weigh each piece of fruit, rice, chicken, whey powder etc. Being a few grams off can put you very quickly into only a very small deficit and then you wonder why you’ve not lost enough weight over the weeks.
Depending where you are on your weight loss journey and if you have an immediate target like a holiday or another meaningful event will dictate how often you log the food, but I for one log everything and everyday, as I don’t want to leave any room for error or mistakes. The only time I do not log is when I am eating exactly the same foods with no adjustments, but that can become very boring. Weight loss is a slow and steady journey and takes more time than you think, so better steady daily steps in the right direction.
How many calories do I need to be in deficit by?
Bringing it back to the title of the article “How many calories to lose 1lb a week.” We need to calculate our caloric consumption for the type of day we are having. It is not enough to be 100 calories in deficit, this isn’t going to cut it. Fortunately for everyone losing weight is not some complex diet or something that only happens to certain people. Losing weight is a maths problem, but we need to know our question numbers before we can give an answer. If I said 30 subtract 20, you would know the answer to be 10, but if I said 30 subtract unknown and expected the answer, could you give it to me? Unless you were mystic Meg…probably not. My point here is we need to know our numbers. In order to lose 1lb of fat per week we would need to burn 3500 calories a week. 3500 divided by 7 days is 500 calories per day. Therefore, to lose 1 pound (0.45kg) of fat per week we need to ensure that we are in a calorie deficit by 500 calories per day. Does this mean if I am in deficit by 1000 calories per day I’d burn 2 pound of fat? Yes, but sustaining such a high deficit is not sustainable in my opinion and you also need to ensure you are still feeding your body with essential nutrients.
To summarise the maths, if you are in a deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your diet plan, you would lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week. However, it is best that you aim to be no more or no less than 500 calories deficit per day to keep you consistent.
So the next most important word I will use is “Sustainability”. You may not consider this word so important when you are full of enthusiasm starting your diet or a new diet plan, but there will be days where you feel like giving up or just smashing through an entire bucket of ice cream to yourself in a rabid frenzy. You need to have a diet that is going to leave you satisfied with the foods you like to eat and not leave you feeling empty.
Once you start to track your foods you can then see what low and high calorie foods you are consuming. Which foods you do not need and what foods you can eat more of. More importantly, you can start to remove those unsatisfying foods, which are so high calorie that don’t even fill you up and replace them with foods that are dense low calorie foods. You still want to be eating good food and not switch to bird seed and you still want to be able to treat yourself to a “HEALTHY” desert.
If you are the kind of person that needs more food, then include a bit of extra exercise to counteract this, but ensure you keep to your 500 deficit a day. Diet and exercise are both not needed to lose weight, but they certainly help correct the balance to the needed 500 deficit, which is exactly what we are trying to accomplish day to day. Also, exercise does not mean throwing weights around or a high intensity run, it may mean a walk to the shops instead of driving or a walk in the park.
A useful weight loss tip you can implement is finding your best treats and deserts and turning them into low calorie healthy alternatives. For example, you can still eat chips, but you would need to air fry the potatoes and not deep fry them in a bucket of oil. You can eat popcorn, but not dipped in butter. You can eat Ice Cream, but this is going to be made from yoghurt and real fruit and not sugar and cream.
Please see my article “8 Low Calorie Treats and Deserts for Night Time Snacking”
Are Cheat Meals Okay?
I personally don’t believe in cheat meals, as they don’t have me just taking that meal off, but have me craving the worst foods in the hours or days that follow. Some people can mentally handle the sugar cravings, but I know how they make my body feel, so I am personally best to avoid…you may be different. The best thing to do is find healthy low calorie alternatives to your favourite indulgent foods. If you must eat more food, then you can half a day where you eat your maintenance calories (match your consumed calories with the calories you burn), but more of the same food you are eating than processed sugary foods.
I know you can eat 1500 calories a day or even 1200 and feel like you’ve got this dieting lark nailed, but you cannot do this long term without falling off the routine a few times and going on a 5000+ calorie a day binge marathon eating all the foods you’ve been missing out on. It is better to eat 2000 calories a day and stay on diet long term. What you need to do is find the right balance of eating well, feeding your body, but still be in a caloric deficit. Slow and steady wins the race…
Carbs are not your enemy, too many calories are!
Carbohydrates are not some special macro that will immediately be stored as fat. Carbohydrates can often make you look fuller, hold more water and sometimes make you feel bloated, but they are not to be avoided. If you are lifting weights or exercising regularly, you will need carbohydrates to fuel your muscles. In fact diets that omit carbohydrates are only working, as if you looked at the maths, removing rice, pasta, bread and potatoes will significantly reduce the caloric consumption of the average diet and not put your body in some special fat burning state. It’s calories in vs calories out.
I hope you can appreciate that dieting isn’t difficult or something special, it’s simple maths, but you need to know your numbers and you need to follow a plan that you can stick to long term. Do not see dieting as a burden, but see this, as a lifestyle adjustment to change what you eat for the better, to feed your body the nutrients it deserves to run the best it can.