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How to Calculate "Calorie Deficit"

You've probably heard by now that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat in a calorie deficit. But what does that mean? Does it mean eating 1200 or less a day? That's what calorie trackers like MyFitnessPal told me. Does it mean restricting certain foods or entire categories of foods? That's what a low fat diet, or Keto diet, and many other types of diets do. 

I don't follow any specific diet, and only use a calorie tracker app every once in a while to calculate the calories in any new foods or recipes I'm eating. Following a moderation approach, eating nutritious foods I enjoy and treats, in a slight calorie deficit, has worked for me and my clients to lose weight. 

To calculate a true calorie deficit, most dietitians will use the Harris-Benedict Equation calculate BMR (basal metabolic rate), and then TEE (total energy expenditure), adjusting for PAL (physical activity level), and then subtract anywhere from 200 to 500 calories. It's a complicated equation, which is why I use this online Harris-Benedict Equation Calculator to determine my clients and my own Basal Metabolic Rate, Total Energy Expenditure, and adjust for Physical Activity Level. 

If you really want the exact equation, I'll write it out at the end of this post. 

In the meantime, this is how I use the online Harris Benedict Calculator

First, I plug in my numbers: 

You'll notice that my TEE (total energy expenditure) is 1,783 calories per day. 

This is how many calories I need to maintain my weight if I sat around and did nothing all day, but breathe and think. 

That is far more than 1,200 calories, and this isn't even adjusted, yet, for my PAL (physical activity level). 

PAL is how much I move during the day, AND any workouts I do. My job requires me to stand much of the day and do lots of walking on campus. I also take clients through fitness routines, in addition to my own workouts. So, let's adjust for PAL. 

Second, click the "Advanced Mode" to add in PAL: 

I strength train three to four days per week, and do cardio on the others days. This is in addition to all the activity in my job. 

Now my total calories per day necessary to maintain 135 pounds is 2,237! If you've dieted frequently, this may seem like a lot of calories. It's not. Our body needs energy and is hard-wired to fight calorie restriction. 

From this final number of 2,237, if I want to lose weight, I would subtract anywhere from 200-500 calories per day. Most of my clients want to start right away subtracting 500, the maximum amount, but remember, the body is hard-wired to resist calorie restriction, intentional or not, which is why diets don't work. 

I usually suggest starting by subtracting 250 calories per day. So, for me, that would mean I would eat 1,987 calories per day. The goal is to aim for consistent, steady weight loss, without binging because we've restricted too much. 

Will you calculate your TEE? Let me know how you do! 

Equation as promised: 


Stop tying weight loss with happiness.

Are you waiting to lose 10, 20, 30 or more pounds? Waiting to fit into that special dress, bathing suit, or pair of jeans? Waiting to be "happy" with your weight, that ever elusive specific number you've set in your mind? 

If your health and fitness goal is weight loss, and you are unhappy now with yourself/your body, my question to you is this: 

Why aren't you allowed to be happy right now, instead of when you've lost weight?
Acceptance of ourselves, and allowing ourselves to be happy NOW is necessary to make any progress. 

I struggled for years on diets, calorie counting, and excessive exercise. I tried every diet out there, reduced my food intake to 1200 calories or less a day, and lived my life by a long list of food rules. Then, I would binge on all my restricted foods, feel sick, guilty, and berate myself for being "weak." Obviously, nothing worked, which just made me feel completely hopeless as I gained more and more weight. 

I had to learn to respect my body and be content in my skin. This process began when I read

the book Within: A spiritual awakening to love and weight loss, and then therapy. I am happy with the way I am now. I know that sometimes I have to make healthier lifestyle choices, but also allow myself to enjoy delicious foods, without guilt or berating myself. 

If this sounds familiar to you, get professional help. You are not lazy; you are not alone. You have a mental health issue that needs treatment. It was like a weight lighten from my shoulders that I felt had been there my whole life. 

We put so much pressure on ourselves to lose weight - like everything is riding on it.
Be happy NOW, content in your skin. 

Think of your very best friend. Do you love her for her abs? Do you love her for the amount she weighs? We don't love people for their abs, because they have long legs, or for the amount shown on a scale. We love them because of who they are, their kindness, their love, the way they treat others; the fun and laughter we have when they are around us! 

Might we need to make healthier lifestyle choices? Maybe. Let's let go of tying weight loss with happiness. 

Who's with me?