As much as training and eating tons of protein appear to be the most important things when it comes to having a shredded body, losing body fat is also right at the top of the list.
Simply put, even if you’re the Incredible Hulk, a flabby layer of fat can make you look like a sumo wrestler instead of a beast.
That’s why I’m sharing a few key points on mastering the skill of losing body fat so you don’t throw away your hard-earned muscle in the process.
It may come as a surprise but how many calories to lose 1 pound of body fat isn’t the same for everyone.
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What I’m Talking About
- Why the 3500 Calories Rule is Flawed and Doesn’t Always Lead to Weight Loss
- The Most Important Calorie Measurement for Losing Body Weight (and How to Calculate It)
- How Many Calories You Should Cut From Your Diet to Drop Body Weight (and Stay Happy)
- How to Make Sure You Lose Body Fat and Not Muscle
There’s a Common Answer Most Fitness Sites Offer (And It’s Not Completely Right)
One thing that most fitness websites immediately tell you when it comes to the number of calories it takes for YOU to lose weight is this…
“1 pound of body fat = 3500 calories, so just drop that amount over the entire week and you’ll lose a pound”
Logically, that sounds like a home run. If you were to drop 500 calories per day, you should be on the fast track to shredsville, right?
Well, not exactly.
This 3500 calorie statement IS correct about a couple things:
- You need to create a caloric deficit in order to lose weight (consume fewer calories than your body needs to function)
- Caloric deficits are relative to your body only (no one else’s)
What’s Wrong with that Statement? How Many Calories Can I Eat to Lose Weight?
This is a hard question to answer because it depends on a few factors:
1. What Are Your Maintenance Calories?
Your maintenance calories are the amount of calories that you could eat every single day and your body weight would stay (relatively) the same.
Yea, there might be some fluctuations due to water and stuff like that, but for the most part, it would remain consistent.
How do you calculate your maintenance calories?
Well, unfortunately, you really can’t “calculate” your maintenance calories because every equation will only get you a very close estimate.
Seriously, I don’t care if it’s a super computer doing the calculation. It’s still only an estimate.
That means you have to actually apply the calorie estimate to your life for a couple weeks and see how they affect your body weight.
The easiest way to calculate your maintenance calories is to get someone else to do it (let me explain).
What I’m saying is download a calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal or Calorie Counter, put in your stats like age, height, and weight and set the goal of “maintain weight” and the app will do the rest.
There are also a bunch of independent sites that will make the calculations for you too (if you don’t own a smartphone).
Another very quick guesstimation of how many calories you need for maintenance is your bodyweight in lbs multiplied by 10.
Example: 180 lbs x 10 = 1800 calories per day
Again, you’ll have to test these calories out for a couple weeks and see how they affect your body, but the equation is simple enough that you don’t need to waste time worrying about how to calculate calorie intake amounts. Just get an estimate and move on.
2. How Much You’re Eating Right Now
Just because someone tells you how many calories to lose 1 pound is 3500 doesn’t mean that you can just blatantly cut out 500 calories and start losing exactly a pound a week.
Someone could actually eat 500 calories less per day and and actually see no difference in weight after two weeks.
How is that possible?
The Caloric Deficit You Create is Based on Your Maintenance Calories
The reason you should calculate your maintenance calories first is because your caloric deficit depends on it.
How many calories does it take to lose a pound is not a black and white answer.
For example, if you cut 500 calories out of your diet, BUT you’re currently eating a 500 calorie SURPLUS, then your bodyweight is going to stay the same.
On the other hand, if you’re already eating 500 calories BELOW maintenance, cutting an additional 500 from your diet would be too drastic to keep up with in the long term.
The point is, after you calculate your maintenance level, then you can decide how many calories to start cutting.
How Many Calories Should I be Eating to Lose Weight?
That being said, is 500 calories per day the right amount to cut from your diet when everything else is figured out?
The reason everyone recommends 500 calories is because it will ALMOST DEFINITELY cause your body to lose weight without question.
However, would you rather lose weight by eating 500 calories less or only 200 calories less?
If you’re like me, you would rather choose the second option and here’s why you should:
1. A Smaller Deficit is Easier to Get Used To
If you’ve never counted calories before and I just snuck up on you and said, “Start counting… and by the way… drop it all by 500 calories.” You might be a little pissed and little rattled.
(And maybe you punched me too because I snuck up behind you and you thought I was an attacker or something)
Theoretically, cutting calories seems very mechanical and straight-forward, but when you experience it, it’s a mental challenge.
That’s why starting with smaller deficits makes for a more reasonable transition.
2. Smaller Deficits Allow Room for Adjustments Later
So, if you cut your calories by 500 and then start dieting, you’re gonna keep losing weight until you’re as lean as you want, right?
No, and the reason is because your body will eventually adapt to the calories it receives and you’ll reach a NEW maintenance level.
That means, eventually you’ll have to drop your calories again to see more progress.
When it comes time for you to slash your calories, you’ll be happy that you only slashed them by 100 or 200 the first time because then it won’t seem so drastic each time after.
Going from a caloric deficit of 200 to 300 is no big deal. Going from 500 to 600 makes you reevaluate how important your own life is.
3. You May Not Even Need a 500 Calorie Deficit to Start Losing Weight
Creating a 500 calorie caloric deficit almost guarantees that you’re going to lose weight, but it could be overkill.
You might be right on the edge of your maintenance calories right now (that’s why they’re important to know) and lowering your calories by just 100-200 might be all you need to go over the edge.
Also, the more drastic the deficit, the more likely you are to lose muscle in addition to body fat.
That’s why you want to keep your caloric deficit very conservative, but make sure it’s enough to actually lose some weight.
Just Because You Lower Your Calories Doesn’t Mean You’ll Lose Body Fat
This is an important point to make, but weight loss doesn’t automatically mean fat loss.
If you’ve never gone on a diet before, the first weight that you’ll lose is most likely going to be water.
However, that’s not your biggest problem. The real problem is if you lose muscle. You definitely don’t want that to happen.
So, how do you avoid muscle loss?
After all those pieces are in place, you can expect the majority of your weight loss to be fat and water… which is good.
Set Up a Calorie Plan For Yourself
The most important thing about cutting your calories is to not go crazy.
It’s a common mistake to think that by cutting more calories out of your diet that you’re going to see more fat loss.
Yea, it’ll be great at first, but your life will be pretty miserable when you need to keep cutting more calories later.
Take baby steps in the beginning. You now know the answer to how many calories to lose 1 pound is not the same for everyone and you might overshoot it at first.
Start by calculating your maintenance calories and then cut 100-200 calories from there.
It might take a week or two for weight loss to start, but who cares? What’s your rush? You’re already not losing weight.
Let me know your weight loss goals in a comment below. It could really help others out.
To your gains noob,