Stop being so anal about your calorie goal

Stop being so anal about your calorie goal

It is an estimate and should be treated as such.



Your expenditure will vary day to day


Your intake will vary day to day.

That means to maintain the exact same energy deficit day to day you would have to change your calories daily based on any changes in behaviour.. not only would this be insanely anal and unnecessary but we simply do not have the technology to do so accurately.

The importance of your specific calorie goal should not be over emphasised. If you need proof of this concept look at all the diets that work that don’t involve counting calories..  low carb, low fat, 5:2.

You do not NEED to count calories. Doing so is a sensible approach especially initially to gauge how much you should eat or if/when your fat loss stalls.

I do feel many of us have become too analytical and caught up on the numbers. There are so many chances for errors to creep in that worrying about precise calorie intake or expenditure and religiously following that is senseless.

Let’s have a look at where errors creep in..

– Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is an educated guess.
TDEE is calculated using an equation based on your current weight and activity levels. So in terms of accuracy we are already off to a bad start at the first hurdle.

– Your fitbit/Activity tracker is not accurate so if you are using it under the illusion you are tracking your expenditure precisely, well, I am afraid you’re not.
That’s not to say it is not extremely useful for increasing activity levels and staying accountable to how much you do (or don’t) move.

– Myfitnesspal is not accurate.. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.
Portion sizes vary.. one chicken breast is not always the same size. Even if you are weighing foods there are inaccuracies. Not to mention the fact MFP is an open resource and anyone can put in nutritional info.

– Restaurant calorie info is inexact.
Again, portion sizes vary, cooking methods vary, fat added varies.  Restaurants aim to make tasty food..they don’t care much about calories.

Your day to day activity levels vary.

Decide to take the lift instead of the stairs? There’s 20 less calories used. Helped an old lady up the steep hill to her house with 5 bags of shopping? There’s 50 more calories burned. Boiler broken and you’re sitting in the cold all day? An extra 80 calories keeping warm.

  • Some Advise:

    If weight loss is the goal focus on being in a net deficit by the end of the week and not obsessing over 20 calories here and there.

    Having a calorie target is useful but there is no need to obsess over it to the exact calories..

    If weight loss is your goal always err on the side of lower calories and if weight gain is your goal always err on the side of more calories.

  • Make sure the size of your deficit relates to your goal. E.g. if 1lb a week fat loss is a good goal for you (this will depend on the amount of fat you have to lose and any time restraint) then you will want to aim for a deficit of 3,500 calories a week (1lb of fat = 3,500 calories).

    *Note: weight loss is not linear and the scales will sometimes mask weight loss.

How long until over eating is noticeable on the scales?

This post ended up too long for Facebook so I thought I would post it here..

Something I would like your input explaining or at least your help exploring..

How long does it take to put on weight in a calorie surplus?
How long until over eating is noticeable on the scales?

There is no straight forward answer to this and it is obviously going to depend somewhat on the size of the surplus and also the individual. Nonetheless, there seems to be an interesting lag between increased calorie intake and increased weight gain.

Given this is an observation there is no right or wrong answer I am just interested in your thoughts..

And here are mine..

In the very short term lack of weight gain is unsurprising. You’re not going to pile on fat after 1 meal and you’re not going to drop body fat after 1 exercise session. This is a matter of the total magnitude of the calorie imbalance. Your body averages out calories in and calories out over time and your weight is a product of this. Small fluctuations are flattened out by this averaging.

When we consume food it goes through a digestive process. Food takes ~6-8hours to make its way through the stomach and small intestine and then continues to the large intestine where further digestion occurs and water is absorbed leaving the rest to be excreted. The energy taken from this food during digestion is then used by the body either as to fuel living- processes that keep you alive like breathing, movement and exercise. What is left is then stored as body fat.

Note: if no energy is left over after this then no body fat will be stores and you will not gain body fat. On the other hand if there is not enough energy from food coming in then your body will use stored body fat for its energy needs and you will lose fat.

Now that this is out the way I want to get on to the observation that even in the medium term (1-2 weeks) there seems to be a lag in weight gain while in a calorie surplus.

I don’t have an answer for this but I have come up with a few potential reasons:

1) Adaptation in order to defend a set weight.

Your body adapts in order to try and maintain a set weight examples of this include changes in activity level to offset a change in energy intake.

2) Increased heat production.

Meat sweats anyone? I often notice when I eat more I produce more heat.. the extent to which this contributes to total energy expenditure is likely very small but it could contribute over the course of the day.

3) You’re not actually eating as much as you think.

Maybe you aren’t in as big of a surplus as you might imagine. This may be especially true with ‘clean eater’. You could probably double most of your portions and still not be in a huge surplus if you are eating a diet based around lean meat and veg. Especially if you are coming from a deficit.
Example: You’ve been dieting for an event and then increase your calories but stick to the same types of food. You would have to eat A LOT more than when you were dieting to get you back to maintenance and then into a surplus.

It takes a lot of calories to put on noticeable weight. To put on 1 kg you would have to eat in excess of 7,000 extra calories. That is 1,000 extra calories a day for a week.  So, if you usually consume 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight you would have to eat 3,000 a day for a week to put on 1kg of fat.
*Let’s ignore the fact that this is not an exact science as we are not robots for now*

4) Maybe the weight change takes longer than we think when we change our calories.

We know that the body tries to defend its set point. It would make sense that it might take a few days to maybe up to 2 weeks to see a shift in scale weight. Which leads to my next point, weight change isn’t a very precise measure. We fluctuate with water, menstrual cycle, training load, food volume, time of day..the list goes on, all of which can mask your fat gain or loss.

5) The scales aren’t a very sensitive measure.

It is also true that weight can’t measure changes in energy storage/fat until you have created a fairly big surplus or deficit. Let’s assume you need to actually gain 1kg (ignoring fluctuations) to measure a change in body fat. That means you need to consume 7,000 extra calories before you see the scale go up by 1kg. And as most of us fluctuate by 1-4kg daily anyway this is hard to spot initially.

I have rambled on enough.. I am interested to know if you or your clients have experienced this and how you think this might be explained?