How To Figure Out How Many Calories To Eat

Last week I published a big article about how to melt fat without counting calories, which is something that clearly quite a few people enjoyed since the article got shared around a couple of hundred times and plenty of you sent me messages about it.

But not one to leave all of my tracking brethren out in the dark, I wanted to get something together for those of you who like to get all granular and play macro tetris. And that’s exactly what we’re doing today. Except this is all about helping you learn exactly how many calories you should be eating.

Nearly anyone who has dieted at some point or another is familiar with the process of counting calories. Now, of course, in our modern day world in which we carry supercomputers in our pocket, this is much easier than it used to be.

With apps like MyFitnessPal we can just whip out our phones and scan a barcode, and bam. We know how many calories, or flavor points as I like to call them, are in the food we’re about to eat. This bit can be pretty empowering because it starts to give you a sense of control over how much you’re eating that most of us haven’t ever had.

And while before the advent of the information superhighway we could keep track of calories thanks to pen and paper, the entire process is far easier now. And thanks to that ease of use, there are more people than ever counting calories than ever before.

But that doesn’t change the fact that counting calories still feels like you’re flying blind. Most of the time you’re relying on some app to tell you how many you should be eating, but that doesn’t feel too personal, does it?

After all, it’s just some random algorithm spitting out a calorie goal. It doesn’t even take the time to get to know you on a first date.

So if you’re like me or most of the clients I work with, you then decide to try and dig a little deeper. So you start to scour the Internet to see if someone out there has done all of the hard work for you.

But before long you start realizing there’s a ton of different formulas, and pretty soon figuring out how many calories per day you should be eating can often feel like you’ve jumped into a DeLorean and wound up back in calculus class.

At the same time, learning how many calories you need to be eating is rewarding. If you’ve got a fitness goal that you’re serious about then dialing in your diet by tracking calories can be an extremely effective way to make sure you get there.

Because you want to hit your goals and feel like you’ve accomplished something noteworthy in this otherwise drab existence that we know as life, then counting calories becomes a great way to help make that happen.

How to figure out how many calories you need to be eating.

Turns out this process is a lot more complicated than most people understand. There are a number of factors that go into determining how much you should be eating. And just in case you were feeling like you weren’t a special snowflake, don’t worry, this is highly individual.

Step one: Determine your BMR, or basal metabolic rate.

The basal metabolic rate can be pretty complicated to figure out and is highly individual. There are a number of factors that play into it, but we’re starting with BMR because it has the greatest influence over how much you eat.

You see, whether you realize it or not, keeping you alive and breathing actually requires a lot of energy. So while you may feel busy on those days that you lay in bed and watch Netflix for 15 hours, you’re actually burning upwards of 1,000 calories just by breathing and being alive.

And that BMR number can differ from person to person, depending on things like age, height, weight, and gender. You can figure out your BMR by clicking on this link.

Step two: Determine your TEE, or total energy expenditure.

Obviously, if you’re incredibly active that means you’re burning more calories than someone who hangs out on the couch all day long, but there’s a pretty huge gray area here, and it leaves a lot of things open to interpretation.

A simple guide would look like this, though:

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1–3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3–5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise/sports 6–7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
  • Extra active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

But because I completely understand if you don’t want to do math, the calculator that I linked to the BMR piece has an option for you to also calculate your TEE, just toggle the activity level to most accurately reflect how active you are.

Remember, there’s a massive gray area here, and you’re going to need to be brutally honest with yourself about just how active you really are. You may have high hopes of going to the gym 6 times a week for 2 hours at a time, but if you’re only going 2 times a week right now, don’t lie to the calculator.

The number that the calculator gives you after this step is a general estimate of how many calories you need to be eating every single day to maintain your current weight. Or in other words, stay the exact same.

Step three: What is your goal?

Kind of an important question, no? Obviously, some skinny high school kid who is trying to bulk up is going to have a far different goal than his overweight mom who just wants to stop wearing her fat pants.

But unfortunately, a lot of apps and calculators have a tough time taking this part into account. And that’s where I come in.

Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. An admirable goal, no doubt. Your best course of action would be to take the number that you got in step two and subtract 500 from it. This means you’re eating 500 fewer calories per day than your body needs to maintain it’s current weight.

Ideally, this sets you up for sustainable weight loss. You won’t lose 10lbs in a week, but you should consistently drop 1-2lbs every week. And that’s what we’re really looking for. Losing at a slow and steady pace like that is something that is far more maintainable, healthier, and allows you to adapt to your new lifestyle.

The important thing here is to remember that even the greatest calorie formula in the world can be a bit off. Bodies are super fucking weird and it’s damn near impossible to find a calorie formula that perfectly depicts exactly how much you need to be eating.

However, what is important is that no matter what it is that you do, you commit to like you’re ready to put a ring on it. That’s not to say you can’t call off the engagement at some point, but at least give it a fair shot. Spend some time where you’re devoted to whatever route you’ve chosen. And if things aren’t moving the way you want them to, then be ready to make some minor adjustments. But that doesn’t mean ending the engagement altogether and going off to bang Thai hookers.