Like it or not, losing weight is a numbers game in every way. Numbers define your current weight, how much you should weigh, how much to eat, how you should exercise, and even how long it will take to see results.
Don’t worry, though – this isn’t going to be Algebra class all over again. There’s no reason to make things more difficult than they need to be. In this chapter, I’ll show you how to quickly determine all of these numbers, and we’ll end the lesson with your exact goals set and your weight loss plan outlined.
Your Current Figures
Before we can measure results, we’ll need to know exactly where you started. That means taking note of both your starting body weight and your measurements (in inches / cm). Pick your biggest problem area to measure – for many people, that will be your midsection.
Having both of these figures on hand is useful, because some people can lose body fat and inches without seeing any real difference in weight. This is especially important if you plan to begin exercising. Even cardio can, at first, build several pounds of lean muscle that throws off your scale.
Accuracy is important. Household scales are far from accurate, and weight can fluctuate from one scale to the next – but they are pretty accurate at determining a weight difference (ie, how much you lost / gained). Just make sure to use the same scale every time.
A tape measure doesn’t lie, but you have to be consistent in how you measure yourself. I’ve noticed huge variations in my midsection measurements depending on my posture and breath. Just try to remember your position when you first measured yourself, then repeat that position each time you measure. For example, you might plan to take measurements while standing as straight as possible, with your breath fully exhaled.
Tip: A notebook (or even just a sheet of paper) is a great way to record your weight and measurements. Start by writing down these two figures with today’s date. Try to update your log weekly, but not more often. Your weight can easily change by several pounds in one day, due to factors like stomach contents and hydration. Some people even prefer to measure their results every two weeks, just to be more precise.
Your Body Mass Index
Your BMI is a great place to start in determining how you compare to typical healthy weights for your height. It’s a great figure if you are of fairly average build – it may be less accurate if you are either unusually tall or short, or have a very muscular build. For most people though, it’s pretty accurate.
Take a quick moment to check yours:
You can jot this down with your measurements, if you like. It’s helpful to be able to compare how your BMI number has improved as you lose weight and reach a healthier reading.
Your Goal Weight
Another number to consider in your weight loss endeavor is the target weight you’d like to achieve.
Everyone’s ideal weight varies a little, depending on their frame, and body weight alone isn’t the best measurement of your actual body fat. This makes it a bit difficult to precisely predict your perfect goal weight.
If you’ve gained weight in adulthood, you might already have an idea of your ideal weight from past experience. Many of us start off dreaming of getting back to that “perfect weight” of your former years. To help get a vague idea, you can play around with the BMI calculator above to test different weights for your height. Try to find something in the middle of “normal”, equally distant from where it tips to “overweight” and “underweight”.
Tip: The best way to assess your progress is the mirror, not the scale. It can be difficult to be objective at times, but you should be able to use visuals alone to get a good idea of how much more you need to lose, and help avoid losing too much weight. Even if you haven’t hit your target weight, you might reassess your goals if you end up looking “just right” before getting there. Being underweight is just as unhealthy as being overweight.
The 3,500 Calorie Rule
In the next section, we’re going to play around with some numbers to see what it will take for you to reach that perfect goal weight we just discussed. But first, it’s important to understand how weight is lost – and that is best summed up by these two words: Calorie Deficit.
Despite what supporters of the latest fad diet might say, medical experts and piles of clinical studies all point to one, proven cause of weight loss – eating fewer calories than you burn.
It’s widely accepted that one pound of fat is equal to roughly 3,500 calories. Every time you eat 3,500 calories less than you burn, you lose a pound of fat. If you eat 3,500 calories more, then you gain a pound of fat.
To work with these numbers, you’ll need to estimate how many calories you burn. There are two factors to take into consideration. The first is your Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the amount of calories you burn each day simply by being alive. This is where most of our energy expenditure comes from – the calories burned by basic functions like breathing, pumping blood, digestion, and maintaining your body temperature.
The second source is the additional activities you do each day, like walking around, cleaning, or exercise. These two numbers added together form your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (or TDEE), and that is the true number of calories you burn in a given day.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure
There’s no need to calculate those two figures separately. To make things easy on you, I have a TDEE calculator that accurately estimates your total daily calories burned.
Try it out:
Remember to recalculate your TDEE if you begin an exercise plan, as that will alter your number.
Speaking of which, we will be discussing options for your exercise plan in the chapter dedicated to exercise. Relax, you don’t have to exercise to see results – but most people will find it beneficial if they decide it’s right for them. Just recalculate your TDEE figure if you do change your exercise routine.
Your Weight Loss Goal: Keeping a Safe Limit
Armed with all of this data, let’s crunch some numbers!
Jumping back a couple sections, you’ll remember that a pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So, for each single pound you’d like to lose per week, you’ll need a 500 calorie deficit each day (500 per day x 7 days = 3,500 calories in a week). Likewise, to lose two pounds per week, you’d need twice that (a 1,000 calorie per day deficit), three pounds would be 1,500, and so-on.
Using these figures: Take your TDEE and subtract your desired daily calorie deficit to determine how many calories to eat each day. In this manner, you can play around with the numbers, using your desired rate of weight loss to determine your diet, and vice versa – to determine how fast you can realistically and safely lose weight.
This can be a bit confusing at first, so… Example time! Remember, your TDEE is going to be different, so just use this example to help understand the concept and then work it out for yourself.
Say that with moderate exercise, my TDEE comes out to 2,800. I might decide, based on this, that a realistic goal would be to lose two pounds per week. That means I need a daily calorie deficit of 1,000 calories (3,500 calories per pound, times 2 pounds, divided by 7 days in a week = 1,000). My goal is now to eat 1,800 calories per day, and I can expect to lose around 2 pounds each week.
Mind you, don’t get carried away just yet. There are bare-minimum calorie intake levels you should keep in mind. Those generally-accepted rules are no less than 1200 calories per day for women, or 1800 calories per day for men.
Can you go lower than that? It’s certainly been done, and could be an option for some people – but you should only consider doing so with medical supervision. Get the thumbs up from your doctor first, and proceed only with his approval, following his advice carefully.
What happens when you eat less than 1200 / 1800 calories a day? Some people will lose weight faster, but this limit marks the area where you may begin to experience diminishing returns. Your metabolic rate will begin to slow – meaning the less you eat, the more your TDEE goes down (which is never a good thing). True, the reduced calorie intake can compensate for this, but it can be bad for your health and leave you feeling miserable.
We all want results fast – but you need to understand from the start that proper weight loss isn’t necessarily going to be a speedy journey. The more patience you have, the more likely you are to succeed. Most of us have been on a crash diet before, and given up a week or so into it simply because it’s way too stressful.
After all, what’s going to leave you with a better body six months from now – a way-too-intense diet that you will almost definitely give up on after getting tired of feeling sick all the time, or a set of modest lifestyle changes that you can actually live with and stick to?
This is also where the benefits of exercise begin to show. If you can burn an additional 500 calories per day through exercise, then your TDEE goes up, without changing your minimum calorie limit. In this example, you can eat the same amount of food and safely burn an extra pound each week just by incorporating exercise.
Additional Factors That Can Affect Your Results
You’re going to lose a lot of weight in your first week, then it will come off slower. This is a pretty universal truth, and knowing this will help you avoid disappointment. Your first week will likely show a large drop on the scale – although it will help you look slimmer, don’t get too excited, because it’s mostly not body fat.
As you eat less food, your body has less material being digested at any given time. Your intestines will literally be emptier than before, and this might show up on the scale after a couple of days. Sometimes the body also releases some water weight at this point, further contributing to the effect.
Don’t be deceived – if you were to resume your previous diet, those pounds would come right back after a couple of days.
Likewise, you will lose weight slower and slower as your body weight decreases. The more you weigh, the higher your TDEE. In other words, heavier people lose weight faster, and as your weight decreases, so will your results (assuming your diet stays the same).
If you’d like to experiment, you can take your current TDEE calculation and subtract 10 pounds from your weight to see what your TDEE might be after you’ve lost 10 pounds. You’ll notice the TDEE figure has gone down, and that difference comes out of your deficit (ie, your weight loss).
This is part of the reason a lot of people reach a plateau and eventually stop losing weight. You can compensate for this change by coming back each time you’ve lost a bit of weight (say, 10 or even 5 lbs), recalculating your TDEE, and adjusting your diet to compensate. Just remember not to go too low.
Alternatively, you could keep your diet the same and instead compensate by gradually increasing your exercise. The advantage here is that as you have been exercising longer, you’ll get in better shape and develop more stamina – meaning you can exercise longer without really feeling the intensity.
Your Maintenance Goal (After You’ve Lost It!)
This is the part most diets get wrong – after you’ve done all of that work and lost your weight, the last thing you want is to gain any of it back!
You can’t just go back to your old ways, or it will come right back. You also can’t stay on your diet, or you’ll continue to lose weight indefinitely.
That’s why you need to make sure you come back and re-estimate your TDEE after you’ve lost weight. You can lighten up (or eliminate) the exercise if you’d like, but it’s a good idea to at least continue with light exercise. Just remember to account for these changes in your TDEE calculation.
Now, your long term goal is just to eat your TDEE each day (no more deficit!). This is going to feel very easy, because it’s a lot of food after being on your old diet for so long. But don’t use that as an excuse to stop watching what you eat. Trust me, if you slack off, the pounds will come back to haunt you before you know it.
This is now a lifetime commitment, in order to keep the weight off. Don’t worry, it gets easy. After a while, it’s not even something you have to think about. It’s just part of your life now.
Tip: When you’ve lost the weight, throw out (or donate!) ALL of your old clothes. Every shirt, every pair of sweat pants – all of it. Commit to restarting your diet as soon as any of your new, smaller clothes begin feeling tight. This one trick can stop you from ever gaining your weight back.
Everything is an estimate until proven otherwise. The calculator above is the most accurate tool on the web, and it’s a great place to start – but tiny genetic differences can sometimes cause one person to have a substantially different metabolic rate compared to someone else with the exact same height / weight / activity level.
There’s certainly no reason to distrust these figures, unless something doesn’t add up. If you’ve lost your weight, are eating right at your TDEE for maintenance, and notice you are either losing or gaining weight, then make the adjustments needed (this can take some trial and error) until you find the magic number.
Likewise, if you’ve been 100% true to your diet plan (absolutely no cheating!), have allowed several weeks to go by (a must, to be sure), and notice you’re losing too few / too many pounds… Then make adjustments and retry. I guarantee you’ll figure it out with a bit of effort!
Don’t let this section scare you away. In reality, this method is the best place to start, and it works great for the vast majority of people. It’s just nice to know what to do if the results don’t match up.
Let’s go to the next section: Nutrition 101 – The Important Stuff!