It is not overly difficult to work out your calorie needs. Most people try to use an app to guesstimate it or use the data from Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc. These all have major limitations. This is because the number of calories your body needs has so many factors influencing it, many of which a watch cannot pick up. These include –
-How big a-bodied person you are in general, a tall, heavy person will burn more calories than a short, light person.
-How much movement you do in life; this can be measured in steps; some people have a much more sedentary lifestyle than others.
-How much exercise you do; aerobic forms of exercise will use up much more energy in a day than resistance or flexibility workouts.
-Your body weight; it takes more energy to move a heavier body around all day than when you are lighter. This means 10,000 steps burn less energy as you get lighter.
-The strength of your metabolism – This varies between people, with some individuals using much more energy per day than others, even when all other factors seem the same.
-Your recent calorie intake – Weeks of undereating will slow your metabolism, and prolonged overeating increases it.
-The temperature you are exposed to – A significant amount of energy can be spent keeping you warm; this would mean someone working outside during winter has a much higher energy expenditure than someone who is in a warm office all day.
Other Factors – Various other influences can affect energy needs, including how much you think; solving problems burns more calories than watching TV, time spent sleeping, the stage of your monthly cycle, and various other influences.
Due to these many factors, the calorie estimators on phone apps or watches are only able to give a very general estimate. They cannot know how these apply to you. However, it is not that important as you can easily work it out yourself.
The complexity of the body means there is no strict calorie number that is 100% exact every day. E.g., you cannot say my calorie needs are 1945 cals; therefore, I gain fat at 1946 calories and lose at 1944. Instead, it is more prudent to think about your rolling 7-day average of food intake; this gives fairly predictable data when your movement is constant. There are three main thresholds you would want to know for long-term success. These are your fat-gaining threshold, your optimal fat loss zone, and your undereating threshold where even though you are losing body fat, it is too difficult or intense to stick to.
The most accurate practical method to discover these is to measure your food intake and movement for a week and notice what changes happen, e.g., does body fat go down? How does hunger and energy change? Based on this, you can work out what your caloric needs are simply from seeing how your body does, or does not change.
A big issue in this method is the ability to notice changes. Your body fat shows itself in how your clothes feel, how you look in the mirror, etc. If you are looking to see changes, you must look across the whole body. Only looking at your stomach can miss significant fat loss elsewhere. The weighing scales are not very helpful in this process due to their variability from many factors. You should also note your hunger and energy levels to give a clue about what the current food intake is providing for you.
Based on your results, you can change your food intake amount for another week and compare the changes to your body once more, e.g., reduce your intake by 250 calories a day and see what happens. Through trial and error, you will determine your calorie thresholds fairly quickly, which usually stay pretty constant for life. It is therefore worth investing the time to find them out.
What Does This Mean For You?
In this current climate, everyone thinks that changing their body is impossible or close to it, as you would need to transform your hormone system, gut biome, or complete diet to achieve it. This is preventing so many people from getting results! The truth of results lies in some basic numbers, one for movement, one for food.
While it is a bit of a bother to find out these numbers, my experience has been that the numbers hold true for years. While there are some debates and refinements around the edges of this approach, the general mechanism behind it should be your guide.
You should know your calorie thresholds, not really in a, to-the-gram calorie way, but rather what it feels like across a week in your behaviors. I feel that knowing your calories is way too overestimated; it is more about knowing how a threshold feels and having the ability to actually stick to it under various different circumstances. This is what my training and coaching focus on. It is not about setting out a strict, weighed-out food plan but rather, it is about developing your abilities around food and movement so you naturally engage in enough of the right behaviors (e.g., because you want to, not through willpower).
Photo – The three calorie thresholds you should know so you can steer your behaviours appropriately.
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