There are many reasons why you might not be losing weight. Weight loss occurs when we are burning more calories than we consume through a combination of both food intake and exercise. If either of these components is lacking, weight loss can slow down. With so much information out there, it can be hard to determine how many calories you need to be eating to lose weight. Today’s post will touch on how to figure out if you are eating too little, too much, or if you are right on target for meeting your weight loss goals.
I like to break down the kinds of people who are struggling to lose weight into two categories:
- Those who are not eating enough to lose weight
- Those are are eating too much to lose weight
If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, I encourage you to assess yourself on two things:
- What are you currently eating? How much?
- How active are you? How much?
In order to answer these questions, you must first track of your average daily intake. An easy way to do this is by downloading the app MyFitnessPal and adding in all the food you eat in over the next few days without restricting how much or how little you usually eat. This will give you a good idea of how much you are generally eating. It will ask you to fill out several questions about your goals, but for right now, just put down anything and just focus on how much YOU are currently eating regularly.
The second step is to determine your activity level. Your activity level factors in your normal daily tasks (cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc.), your job (are you standing and moving most of the day or do you have a desk job?), and your exercise routine (how much cardio do you do? weightlifting?)
Below is how you can determine your activity level. DO NOT OVERESTIMATE YOUR ACTIVITY LEVEL! This is the most common problem I see is people overestimate their activity which leads to a calorie amount that is too much for what you really need.
- If you have a desk job, do no moderate or vigorous activity and only do tasks like cleaning, cooking, shopping etc., you are sedentary or “not very active.”
- If you have a relatively active job (teacher, salesman) where you are on your feet a lot of the day, exercise equal to about 30 minutes of brisk walking, and do vary tasks throughout the day like cleaning, cooking, walking a pet, etc., you are lightly active.
- If you do daily living activities like described above and perform daily exercise equal to about 2 hours of fast walking and your work requires you to be on your feet all the time (nurses, waitress, etc.), you are active.
- If you do all the above daily living activities and exercise for equal to 4 hours of walking and have a hard labor job (carpenter, construction worker, etc.), you are very active.
Inputting Your Info into MyFitnessPal
Now that you have figured out how much you are currently eating and your activity level, set your profile up on MFP by entering the following information:
- What is your goal weight?
- What weight do you wish to be down to? Be realistic. Don’t just choose the weight you were in high school.
- What is your current weight?
- What is your height?
- How much weight do you want to lose a week?
- Don’t get greedy on this one. If you have only 10 pounds to lose, I recommend losing 0.5-1# max per week. If you are looking to lose 15+ pounds, set your weight loss goal to 1-1.5# per week. I wouldn’t recommend 2# per week unless you have a lot of weight to lose. Remember slow and steady wins the race for the long-term and will make the process a lot more enjoyable.
- What is your activity level? See above.
After you fill this info into MFP, it will spit out a number around where you should be trending to lose weight. If you look back at how many calories you are currently eating (which you should have calculated earlier), you can now assess if you are over that number or under that number or right on target.
How to Adjust your Caloric Intake to Match MyFitnessPal’s Recommendations
If you are way under or way over that number, I encourage you to not freak out and immediately drop down to the number suggested on your screen. Take a second to relax and breathe. Beginning the next week, slowing move toward that number on the screen. For instance, if you are eating 2500 calories and you need 1800 to lose, begin by dropping to 2400–>2200–>2100–>2000–>1800 over the course of a few weeks. If you begin losing weight at 2100, STAY THERE. The app isn’t always 100% correct, it has its flaws. 2100 may be your sweet spot for losing weight. Case is, if it’s working for you, KEEP IT! If you are not losing weight at 1800, give your body a few weeks to adjust. If you are still not losing weight, increase you activity level first (go for an extra walk or add in another day at the gym) before lowering your calories any further. It’s much easier for the body to be more active than it is to continue restricting calories.
On the other hand, if you are eating too little, say 1200 calories, and you need 1600 to lose weight, start SLOW. Make the climb from 1200–>1300–>1400–>1500–>1600 over the next several weeks. This will give your body a chance to adjust to the changes you are making and not make it freak out. If you do it the right way, you shouldn’t gain any real weight during this process. You may hold onto water the first couple weeks because you are eating slightly more, but once your body understands what you are trying to do, it should do what you are asking of it.
Putting it All Together
Losing weight takes a lot of time and patience. If you have been struggling to lose weight and have been eating too little or too much based on this post, start taking the necessary steps to get you to where you need to be…slowly. Over time, your body will adjust and you will be where you need to be. Realize that as you lose a substantial amount of weight, you will need to re-calculate how many calories you need to continue losing weight. This is because as you get lighter, your body needs fewer calories in order to fuel itself, as it is becoming more energy efficient. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, re-calculate your caloric requirements every 10# of weight loss. After you get to your weight loss goal, set your goals on MFP to “maintenance” and slowly bring your calories back up to where they should be to maintain your weight at your NEW weight. For instance, if you were eating 1500 calories and you maintain weight at your NEW weight at 1800 according to MFP, slowly bring up your calories over several weeks from 1500–>1600–>1700–>1800 to avoid any huge weight fluctuations when you return to a good maintenance weight.
Disclaimer: Please remember that I am not a registered dietitian and encourage you to not take my dietary advice as absolute fact. The information described is to be of use to those who are are chronic dieters and those that are unaware of how much they are eating, not for those who have serious medical conditions or those with Type II Diabetes. If you have any medical conditions or specific advice from a dietitian or doctor, please adhere to what they have prescribed.