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Weight Loss 101: Determining Your Weight Loss Caloric Intake

Posted Jan 22 2009 3:41pm

The nation's obesity epidemic continues to get worse. While personal responsibility, societal and lifestyle factors, the easy access and availability to food, food marketing and advertising, individual genetics, lack of exercise etc. all contribute to the problem, I think general confusion is the biggest barrier people face when trying to lose weight. Simply, people just don't know where to start.

We are inundated with weight loss information, most of which seems to contradict itself, each and every day from our doctors, the media, television infomercials, bloggers, fitness trainers, etc. One day it's "don't eat carbs at all". The next, it's "stay away from fat"...but you can have some as long as they are rich in omega 3 & 6. The day after that it's "carbs are ok as long as they are the right ones". Then, it's "calories are the only thing that count", followed up by "you don't have to count calories to lose weight." Then we get the message that as long as we stay away from sugar, we should be just fine. Then we hear we can incorporate sugary foods as long as it is in moderation. Oh, wait, vegetarian is really the way to go...or was it eating raw foods? Ah, screw all of long as you get to the gym 3 days/week, you should be fine and you don't have to worry about what you are eating.

I think you get my point. It is hard to know what to believe, what not to believe, and where to start. Given the information overload regarding weight loss, I wanted to provide a resource which simplifies and "stream lines" everything...welcome to my "Weight Loss 101" series.

There are thousands upon thousands of weight loss oriented products and services out there. If you actually had the time and desire to sift through all of these weight loss services and products, what you'll find are a handful of basic principles which are universal to weight loss success (or lack thereof). Well, let me save you time and $ and let's get to the meat and potatoes. Let's disregard the "methods" and focus on the principles.

In order to lose weight, the first-and most important-thing you must do is establish, adhere to and not exceed your weight loss calorie requirements. Yes, despite what some may say, CALORIES do count. Not exceeding a certain calorie limit, day in and day out, is going to account for 90% of your success when it comes to weight loss. I don't care if you are eating the most nutritious foods on earth...if you are eating them in excess of what your body needs to maintain its weight, you are not going to lose weight.

Well, if this is so important, how do you come up with your weight loss calorie limits? Easy.

1. Multiply your current body weight by 12

2. Subtract 20% from that figure

Example: if you are 150 lb. female who wants to lose weight, you require roughly 1440 calories daily to start seeing weight loss. 150x12=1800. 1800-20%=1440 calories.

Now, you could go out and spend a bunch of money getting your resting metabolic rate tested, but I can tell you from experience the figures derived from the little formula above will be comparable to whatever those tests reveal...within 5% high or low.

Now that you have your weight loss calorie limits established (that was the easy part), it is up to you to put those figures into action. You absolutely have to get in the habit of keeping track of how many calories you are consuming throughout the day, and, when you meet your limit, you are done. You need to keep a running total as you go. Use your cell phone, your computer, a pen and paper, whatever. Just do it. This means you have to read food labels, measure out serving sizes, etc. You have to be precise.
Also, you need to differentiate between hunger and appetite, and you also need to be aware of the fact you-and others-often eat for emotional reasons (you had a bad day at work so that pint of ice cream will make things better) or in certain situations (while watching television). Very few people will ever experience true hunger, where their health is in jeopardy due to lack of nutrition. Most people have a gigantic appetite, fueled by emotional factors or certain environments, social situations, or similar circumstances. Believe me, if you are getting between 10-12 calories/pound of your current weight, day in and day out, you are not hungry. You are getting plenty of food. You are not "starving", as many proclaim when they actually exercise some restraint. Just keep this mind. I tell my clients to make this part of their positive "self talk"..."I'm not hungry, I just have an appetite which has been fueled by years of overeating, and overeating for the wrong reasons."

Get yourself a food scale...I'm telling you, it's absolutely necessary to make this process "doable". Using an online nutrition database, where you can look up the calorie content of the foods you eat, is also necessary in my opinion. You'll need this as an adjunct to the food labels you see on most packaged foods. In addition to keeping daily tabs on running calorie intake, it is also a good idea to keep a list of the foods you commonly consume (I'll make recommendations in later installments of Weight Loss 101), and the amount of calories contained per serving. I like to break things down by the ounce (again, this is where your food scale comes into play). This makes for quick reference and you won't have to run to the computer every time you eat something to see what the calorie content is. Hang this list on your fridge and make another copy to keep with you (put it in your phone or mobile device if you want...I do). As you start to lose weight, keep in mind you are going to have to adjust your calorie requirements downward, as there is "less of you", and you won't need as many calories (although you should never go lower than a 1200 calorie diet for any reason).

Yes, THIS IS A JOB! It takes sacrifice, discipline and planning. It can be tedious for the first few weeks until it becomes a part of your life, which is the ultimate goal. There are no shortcuts here. If weight loss is primarily a matter of input vs. output, it is hard to have success if you don't know what your daily input is. If you go out to eat at a restaurant, yes, you are going to have to do a little research beforehand and choose foods that fit into your calorie structure. Again, this takes sacrifice and effort. This is unavoidable. Don't make excuses as to why you can't do this.

I chose to cover this topic of calorie requirements first because it is that important. In future installments of Weight Loss 101, I'll cover a bunch of other stuff: food selection, how many times to eat per day, carbs/fat/protein, etc. However, if you don't get this first part right, the rest of stuff I'm going to present isn't going to make a difference. Every topic that follows this one in the Weight Loss 101 series is meant to "accelerate" your weight loss...but only if you get this first part right. In fact, if you completely ignore everything else that follows in this Weight Loss 101 series, you'll still get results if you honestly adhere to your weight loss calorie requirements. Are you getting the message that establishing and adhering to your calorie requirements is REALLY important yet? :)

In the next installment, we will cover food selection recommendations. Stay tuned! Now, go buy a food scale, check out, and start tracking your calorie intake!
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