For many people the hardest part of achieving their fitness goal is understanding diet and nutrition. Given the magnitude of options, information, and suggestions that we are exposed to on a daily basis this shouldn’t be surprising. Typically the best thing to do is break the basic information down into “bite size” pieces. Before you start trying to figure out what to eat it might help to have a good understanding of where you’re at in the first place.
There are some simple and relatively accurate formulas to figure out what your daily calories should be based on your weight and activity level. The first thing you want to figure out is your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). This is the number of calories that your body is burning before any physical activity. Basically this is what your body burns to keep itself running and functioning, and the equation is body weight times 10. So if you weigh 180 pounds then your RMR is 1800. From here you now want to factor in the activity level of your lifestyle in order to determine how many calories you would need to consume in order to keep your present weight.
If you lead a sedentary life and spend most of your time sitting at a desk then you would multiply your RMR by 1.2. If you exercise occasionally, maybe once or twice a week, multiply your RMR by 1.3. If you exercise regularly every week, say 2 to 4 times, then multiply your RMR by 1.4, and if you exercise regularly every week up to 5 times then multiply by 1.5. So let’s say your RMR is 1800 and you’re sitting at a desk all day with no exercise. The calories you would need to consume in order to maintain your weight would be 2160. Typically a person’s goal is weight loss so the effort from here would be to put yourself in a calorie deficit in relation to this number. As we discuss caloric deficit and how that breaks down it is important to note that the minimum calorie recommendation per day for men is 1800 calories and the minimum for women is 1500. It is thought that much below this is unsafe and should be monitored by a doctor.
Obviously these numbers are only relevant if you begin tracking what you eat, so pick your favorite food tracking app and give it a try. My suggestion would be to simply track what you normally eat for a few days so you can take that number and compare it to what is the number you got from your equations. Are you in the basic range of what you would eat to keep your present body weight? Or are you significantly over that number, meaning that your body weight is steadily increasing? This is important information to have in order to get an understanding of what type of changes are going to be required of you in order to have control of your diet and nutrition. If your goal is weight loss then you are going to want to be under the total calories that you got from multiplying your RMR by your activity level. An interesting equation for addressing this is the assumption that 3500 calories equals one pound.
If you know the number of calories you should eat per day to maintain your current body weight, and you are then able to safely reduce that number by 500 calories each day, the result after 7 days should equal one pound of weight lost. 500 times 7 is 3500. It is usually best to use these numbers and equations as reference points rather than strict guidelines. Body chemistry and weight loss is not an exact science and it might take time to figure out what works for you. The goal is to create a healthy relationship with food and to understand your body better and what fuels it to perform and feel its best. But as long as you can keep yourself in a calorie deficit under the calorie amount you got from multiplying your RMR by your activity level then you should steadily begin losing weight, the pace of which will be set by how much below that number you are safely able to go.