In this article, you'll learn how to easily find your calorie needs for weight loss so that you can start getting results as quickly as possible...
Well hey there! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
If this is your first time here, then I’d like to quickly introduce myself…
My name's Carter.
I’m an online fitness & weight loss coach with a mission to help as many people as I can lose unwanted body fat and achieve the body of their dreams.
Why? Because I know what it's like to struggle with being overweight and feeling lost in a sea of information...
But I also know what it's like to overcome that struggle, achieve my weight loss goals, and maintain that success in the long-term:
What's more, I've worked with a number of clients through my 1-on-1 coaching program, who through my help and their hard work, have achieved amazing weight loss results.
I don’t share this to impress you, but rather show you that I truly believe in what I have to say...
The diet strategies I outline in this article are some of the best you'll find for losing weight consistently, and more importantly, maintaining a lean and healthy body forever.
Because at the end of the day, losing weight is only temporary...
The ultimate reward comes with keeping the weight off indefinitely!
I've experimented with hundreds of different diet strategies throughout my health journey. Some of them worked (which I continue to use to this day), but most were either ineffective or too unsustainable...
The one overarching lesson I've learned, though, is that it all comes down to moderation and self-awareness.
Just like everything in life, right? 😉
Before You Begin, I have a Word of Advice:
There's a lot of information and actionable advice in this article, and applying it may seem a teensy bit confusing at the start...
But remember - Knowledge is Power.
Once you have a clear and proper understanding of nutrition, you'll have the power to lose, maintain, or even gain weight (the "good" type of weight!) on your terms.
No more guessing. No more confusion.
No more "How the FLIP did I gain 20 pounds!?"
Seriously, let that sink in for a moment...
You are about to gain knowledge and skills that'll allow you to maintain a healthy body for the REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Your weight will no longer be an issue, and you'll be free to live your life without the physical and mental health burdens that come with carrying around an extra tire of belly fat.
Sounds good right?... 🙂
(Oh, and if you are uncertain about something I've written about, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
So without further ado, let's dig into this article so we can get you losing fat as quickly as possible!
After reading this article, you'll have:
- A Simple & Clear Understanding of Calories and Macronutrients (and why you should track them)
- A Quick Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Calorie Needs For Weight Loss
- Strategies for Tracking Your Food Accurately For Consistent Weight Loss Results.
At the end, you’ll have the opportunity to sign up for my free course, Fat Loss Forever.
This 14-Day fat loss course will take you through 2-weeks worth of actionable diet and exercise advice that makes losing fat and staying lean simple n’ easy.
Think of this article as the "preliminary reading" required before jumping into the 14-day course. 😉
What You Need To Know About Counting Calories & Macros
Like I said, a lot of the information in this article will be explained in much greater detail inside my 14-Day Fat Loss Forever course.
So to save us both some time, and get you straight to the actionable weight loss advice, here's a brief Need-To-Know about calories and macros:
▶️ Calories are simply Unit of Measurement used to Calculate the Energy in the Food We Eat.
I wouldn't dwell too long on the actual science of calories (unless you're weird like me and are interested in that kinda stuff). Instead, just know that how many calories you consume, determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain body weight.
▶️ "Macros" (short for macronutrients) are the Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats that make up the Calories in Food.
Each gram of protein, carbohydrate, and fat has a corresponding calorie amount...
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
- Fats = 9 calories per gram
▶️ Calories are King for Losing Weight.
▶️ Food Quality is Important.
Food quantity (aka calories) determines how much weight you lose, but food quality (aka vitamin and mineral density) and macronutrients determine what kind of weight you lose (fat loss to muscle loss ratio).
Food quality is also important for improving your overall health and regulating hormones.
▶️ Your Diet Should Focus On Whole Foods.
While you could lose weight on a twinkie diet, I wouldn't advocate it for the reasons stated in the paragraph above.
That's why I recommend making 80% of your food choices come from high-quality foods. Do that, and you can allow for 20% of your diet to come from "fun" foods as long as they fit your calorie target.
So Why Count Calories or Track Macros?
The simple answer? Accuracy.
You see, whether you lose weight following some fancy-schmancy diet program or through a special nutrition protocol like Paleo or Veganism, a similar phenomenon usually occurs...
Each of these approaches will likely put you in a calorie deficit.
This is especially true if you're switching over from a Standard American Diet (ironically shortened as the "SAD Diet") consisting of soda, pounds of sugar, heavily processed foods, and an excess of calories...
While all those things sound scary, the last piece—an excess of calories—is what causes the majority of the weight & health problems...
When you switch to a Paleo or Vegan diet that consists of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, etc.) and very few calorically-dense processed foods (soda, chips, etc.), you'll naturally eat fewer calories, and the result will be...
You guessed it—weight loss baby!
But here's the problem...
The mindless calorie deficit created through eating healthier foods will only last for so long. Over time, you'll likely reach a point where you plateau and stop losing weight.
I see this happening quite often with struggling dieters...
They lose 10-20 pounds by eating healthier and eliminating junk food, but they eventually reach a point where, no matter how hard they try, they can't seem to lose more weight.
And this is where food tracking comes in (and why it's so freakin' awesome for losing weight)...
Tracking your food intake (counting calories/tracking macros) allows for an accurate record of how much food you're actually eating.
It doesn't matter whether you eat a Vegan, Paleo, or go on some weird baby food diet... accurately tracking your food intake will get you to your weight loss goals quicker and easier than any other approach - guaranteed.
3 Steps to Quickly Calculate Your Calorie Needs & Macro Targets For Weight Loss
Finding your target calories and macros for weight loss should be a quick process...
The goal here isn't to find the "perfect" calorie deficit from the start. Rather, you want to figure out a few nutrition targets that'll get you in the "ballpark" and then adjust as needed.
Step One - Find You Calorie Deficit Target
Perhaps the most common question I get asked...
"How many calories should I be eating to lose weight?"
Another variation I get is...
"HOWZ MANY CALZ I NEEDZ TO LOOSE DA FATZ!?!?"
I personally like the second best. 😊
There are around a bazillion and one different calculators, formulas, and calculations meant to find the "perfect" calorie deficit...
The problem, though, is it's nearly impossible to find a "perfect" calorie deficit based on just a few numbers about someone's height, weight, age, and activity level.
At the end of the day, every approach is still just an estimate, and it'll need to be adjusted based on how your body responds (we'll talk more about this in step 3).
That's why I prefer to use a super simple formula for calculating a calorie deficit:
Multiply your GOAL bodyweight (IN POUNDS) by 10-13.
Where 10 = completely sedentary, 11 = somewhat active, 12 = moderately active, and 13 = very active.
So for a 230-pound person who's somewhat active and wants to weigh 180 pounds, they'd simply take 180 x 11, and get a ballpark calories deficit target of 1980 calories.
I also like to set up a calorie target range of +/- 150 calories. It much easier and less stressful to have a calorie target range than a specific number.
For the person above, they'rd aim for 1830–2130 calories per day.
Note: this will be a good place to start for MOST people. However, some folks (specifically very short females or very obese individuals) may find that they need to eat more or less than what this simple equation gives them..
Luckily, this problem can also be fixed by following the instructions in Step 3!
Step Two - Find You Macronutrient(s) Target
There are two camps when it comes to tracking food...
The "Calorie Counters" and the "Macro Trackers."
Calorie Counters simply monitor the number of calories they're taking in without much regard to the ratio of protein, carbs, and fat grams they're having.
Macro Trackers, on the other hand, are more concerned with hitting a specific target number for each of the three macros.
Tracking macros is a bit more accurate than calorie counting (due to calorie rounding allowed by food companies), but it's also more involved and requires a greater level of effort & practice to get right.
I prefer to use a hybrid of the two that gets the benefits of both...
My approach involves counting calories AND tracking a minimum protein target.
You see, all three macronutrients are important, but when you're losing weight, protein rises above the other two...
Protein plays an essential role in maintaining muscle, regulating satiety hormones, and keeping your metabolism healthy—all of which need paying attention to while you're dieting.
Do You Have a “Broken” Metabolism?
Unless you're trying to get super lean—where accuracy becomes ridiculously more important—you don't need to track exact carbohydrate and fat grams.
Plus, if you're consuming a variety of WHOLE foods and eating junk foods in moderation, then you shouldn't go too low in either macronutrient.
But If you do decide to track your carbs and fats, keep them both above 20-30% of your total calorie intake.
The most important things is to make sure you're getting plenty of all three macronutrients.
We've already discussed how to find your calorie deficit, so all you need now is a protein target to shoot for...
Here's how to find yours:
Take your GOAL body weight (IN POUNDS) x .64-1
The number you get will be your protein target in grams.
Using the example from before, a 240-pound person wanting to weight 190 pounds would aim for 120g-190g of protein per day, with ~120g being the MINIMUM daily target.
Step 3 - Adjusting Your Targets
This third step is, without a doubt, the most necessary step for accurately determining your weight loss calorie needs...
So listen up! 🙂
You have a calorie and protein target that's relatively close to what someone of your age, sex, size, activity level, and desired goal weight should be eating.
Now, you'll need to start tracking your food intake, hit those calorie and protein targets with precision, and see how your body responds.
A common "rate of weight loss" recommendation you see tossed around is 1-2 pounds per week.
For most people, this is a decent place to start, but it's not perfect for everyone...
You see, losing 1-2 pounds a week is VERY different for someone who weights 300+ pounds vs. someone who weighs 120 pounds...
The 300-pound person will likely be discouraged losing only a pound or two a week from the start. On the other hand, a 120-pound person would have to go to diet extremes and muscle loss suicide to see 1-2 pounds drop off the scale consistently...
Context matters, which is why it's much better to use a percentage-based weight loss rate of .5-1.5% of body mass each week.
- For a 300-pound person, that would equal out to be ~1.5–4.5 lbs per week.
- For a 120-pound person, that would equal out to be ~.6-1.8 lbs per week.
For heavier individuals, 1-1.5% (or slightly more) seems to work well in the beginning. As they get leaner, though, they'll want to aim for a .5-1% rate of weekly weight loss max.
Here's what to do: Track your calorie and protein targets for two weeks...
▶️ If after two weeks, your average loss per week is more than 1.5% of your body mass, add 100-200 calories to your target amount.
▶️ If after two weeks, your average loss per week is less than .5% of your body mass, don't change anything just yet. You should ONLY reduce your calories if you're no longer losing weight for more than 2 weeks.
Remember, ANY rate of weight loss is progress. If the scale is trending downward, you're doing something right!
How To Track Your Food Intake Accurately
The key word being "accurately"...
See, you could have the perfect calorie and macronutrient targets in the world, but if you're not tracking & logging your food intake with precision, it won't matter one lick.
WHAT you track is much less important compared to HOW you go about tracking...
I don't care as much whether you just track calories, track calories and protein, or track all three macronutrients..
I'm more concerned with the accuracy you apply to tracking your nutrition targets—that's what's going to have a greater impact on your weight loss.
Tracking Your Calorie & Protein Targets
Now that you have your calorie and protein targets figured out, it's time to actually track them suckers!
There are a few different approaches to measuring food, but the best way—BY FAR—is using a food scale.
I ALWAYS recommend using a food scale for measuring and weighing out food. It's the only guaranteed way of knowing that what you're logging is 100% accurate.
A big mistake people make starting out is tracking their food intake by estimating serving sizes and eyeballing portions.
The problem, though, is that most people are absolutely terrible at estimating their food intake accurately...
In fact, one study found that even nutritional experts struggle with guessing proper serving sizes! (study)
Accurately measuring your food is a must if you're just starting to track calories for weight loss. So much so that I require 99% of my online coaching clients to use a food scale when they start working with me.
When I tell my clients about my food scale adamancy, they usually respond in one of two ways:
1. They are excited because it will increase their accuracy and they won't have to worry about accidently eating too much.
2. They think food scales are too complicated, obsessive, and time-consuming to use.
I understand why some people might think using a food scale is obsessive, but look at it this way:
Isn't following a strict diet protocol where you eliminate particular food groups or an entire macronutrient ALSO obsessive?
In fact, I would say an approach like that is even MORE obsessive than setting aside a measly 10-15 minutes every day to weigh your food.
Plus, meticulously measuring your food with a food scale doesn't have to be permanent. Once you reach your goal weight, you don't need to worry about being 100% accurate with your food intake.
What's more, the experience you gain from weighing food will make it much easier to estimate proper portion and serving sizes.
Think of measuring and weighing food like learning to ride a bike...
You had to start with your mom or dad holding you up... then came the training wheels... but eventually, you were able to ride by yourself.
And guess what? You probably know how to ride a bike still - even if you haven't done it in a while.
The same phenomenon happens once you take the time to track food and learn portion sizes.
Sure, It takes some time to get used to in the beginning, but once you learn the skill, you'll have it for life.
You won't accidently overeat, and you won't mindlessly gain 20 pounds. If those things do happen, you'll know how to recover before your weight gets out of hand.
The Bottom Line: using a food scale is the best way to accurately track your food intake and lose weight. Additionally, it will teach you about proper portion sizes and the different macronutrient ratio of foods, which is a skill that'll benefit you for the rest of your life!
Here's a great video on how to use a food scale:
What About When You Don't Have a Food Scale Available?
Again, you should be using a food scale the majority of the time. Especially in the beginning when you're just starting out and learning the ropes.
However, things come up, and there are going to be times when it's not possible or desirable to haul around a chunky piece of plastic...
Here are some tools/tips that will help you estimate the calories and portion size of your food without having to use a food scale.
Use Measuring Cups & Spoons
I'm not usually a fan of measuring cups or spoons because they aren't always accurate. Most of the time, they end up overestimate actual portion sizes!
Here's a video I shot for my Instagram page that shows this phenomenon in action:
If you MUST use measuring cups/spoons, here's what I recommend doing:
Use a food scale to determine the accuracy of the measuring cups & spoons you have available.
That way, you can see how accurate or inaccurate they are and adjust accordingly
Use Your Hands to Estimate Portions
Don't want to carry around measuring cups all day? Use your hands (and fingers) instead!
This tool comes in handy (hah!) when you're out at a restaurant and still want to track your intake, even if it's not going to be perfect.
Here's a graphic showing some of the measurements you can find:
If you want to get pro at using this strategy, try estimating your meals with your hands and then weighing everything out after to see how accurate you were...
I typically do that little drill every 3-4 months to keep myself sharp and ensure my guessing is still on point.
A Couple FAQs About Calories, Macronutrients, and Tracking
Q: All of this counting and tracking sounds super stressful... is it always going to be that way?
Learning how to count calories, track macros, and weigh your food accurately does have a bit of a learning curve in the beginning.
But after a few weeks, it gets MUCH easier. Plus, it only gets easier the more you do it...
With traditional "rule-based" dieting, there's not much room for flexibility. As a result, the effort required stays mostly static over time...
With counting and tracking... Yes, you have to put in more work upfront...
But you quickly reach a point where weighing/logging your food intake becomes habitual and natural.
After a few weeks, it'll only take a measly ~5-10 minutes a day!
So, over the long run, you're saving time, stressing less, and losing weight eating foods you enjoy in moderation.
Q: Okay, I understand the idea behind counting calories and tracking macros, but what foods am I supposed to eat exactly?
People really struggle with the "what foods do I eat?" question when they're first starting.
Every other diet plan they've tried in the past outlines which foods they CAN and CAN’T have... Now I’m saying they can eat anything they want as long as it fits within their calorie & protein targets, and their brains just about explode!
They come around to the idea, though... 😉
BUT - just because you can eat whatever you want, control your calories, and still lose weight does NOT mean you necessarily should…
The quality of your food is going to be incredibly important for your health, fullness, and energy—which is why I recommend sticking to the 80/20 Rule of Dieting:
As long as 80% of your diet is coming from REAL micronutrient-dense foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, seeds, whole grains, potatoes, etc.), then you can allow for 20% to come from more processed foods (i.e. cookies, donuts, ice cream, chocolate, etc.)
Q: Any recommendations on what foods I should eat to hit my calorie and protein targets?
First things first, ONLY eat foods that you enjoy. That's one of the main things that'll make your diet plan sustainable.
Here's an illustration showing some common foods and whether they're protein, carb, or fat dominant (or a combination of two or all three):
Ready To Start Dropping Fat? Here’s What To Do Next…
We just covered a hefty helping of weight loss material in a relatively short amount of time...
If you’re like most people, then you may feel a bit overwhelmed and have a laundry list of questions on counting calories, tracking protein, accurately weighing food, etc.
That’s where Fat Loss Forever comes in...
Fat Loss Forever is a free 14-day fat loss email course I created for folks who—like you—are wanting to lose fat and keep it off once and for all.
Over the span of two weeks, I’ll be sending you daily emails with informative and actionable advice for setting up your diet and exercise routine in a way that’s enjoyable, sustainable, and guaranteed to get you results.
(I split the information up into 14 emails so that you'll have time to easily digest each new piece of content and ask me questions along the way)
Oh… and did I mention it’s FREE? 😉
If you want to sign up for my 14-Day Fat Loss Forever course, lose your unwanted body fat, and build the lean and fit body you’ve always wanted…
Then click the button below to sign up now and be instantly enrolled in the course. In fact, you’ll receive your first lesson within minutes of joining!