As summertime approaches, we start to get a lot more questions about nutrition. I think it is a combination of the warm weather coming and also because a lot of people try to make some changes (or New Years Resolutions) that are usually pretty strict and don’t always stick. I wanted to tackle a really broad question – how much should I eat in a day?
One of the common misconceptions is that if you are not losing any weight, you are eating too much. While eating too much will definitely do it, it is not as simple as saying if I am not losing weight, I need to eat less. In fact, around half of the people we find having trouble losing weight are actually eating way too little. When you eat into a huge calorie deficit, your body doesn’t know that you are “dieting,” it simply knows that food is not coming in regularly enough for it to sustain all of its important functions. It will start to slow down your metabolism, look to store fat for future use, and slow down other non-essential functions.
So how many calories should you eat in a day? We like to start with your basal metabolic rate (BMR). The BMR is the amount of calories in a day that you need to run all your bodily functions at rest. This number is a great baseline because if you aren’t even eating enough calories to run your body sitting on a couch all day, not moving – they your body is going to have to slow down some of those important functions. We use the Inbody at the gym to calculate your BMR and it’s more accurate because it takes your body composition into account but you can still get a general ballpark by using a calculate like the one here.
Now that you have your BMR, you have some homework. Tomorrow, count all of your calories for the day. You can use a tracker like myfitnesspal or just a good old fashioned pen and paper. If you go out to eat, you’ll have to do a little google work to ballpark your calories – surprisingly most nutrition facts are online for restaurants and convenience stores nowadays. I am a huge believer that while everyone does not need to do macros and weigh their food all the time – everyone should do some kind of calorie macro count once or twice a year to reset your idea of what you are eating in a day. Usually, over time if we aren’t purposeful about our eating our protein portions will get smaller and carbs and fats tend to double.
At the end of the day, take your calorie intake for the day and compare it to your calories consumed. If you find that your intake is below your BMR, then create a plan to work your calories to be above your BMR (a good first ballpark is 500 calories over your BMR and you can see how your body responds to a few weeks there). If you find your calorie intake is above your BMR by 500-1200 calories, that’s a good range. It may be time to look at your protein intake next.
One thing to remember. If you have been eating below your BMR for a long time, it is going to take awhile to reverse your bodies changes in metabolism. It is important that you shift your focus from immediately losing weight to eating over your BMR, seeing an increase in energy levels, mood, and maybe even a little muscle gain you have never had – these are all great signs that your metabolism is reversing. After a month of two here, your body will be ready to lose some body fat.