I don’t know where people get these round numbers for their calorie needs come in but I don’t think having 1500, 1200 and even 1000 calorie diet plans readily available to copy on the internet helps. Just because it’s on the net doesn’t mean it’s correct.
And just because it may be correct for someone, it may not be correct for you.
There are many calorie calculators on the internet such as this one here but they’re not all accurate, in part due to the fact that what you determine to be ‘intense’ or ‘regular’ exercise might be different to someone else’s interpretation. Calorie calculator results should never be taken as gospel, only a vague starting point if you really do have no idea how much you should be eating. This of course assumes you’re not happy with your current health, body or weight. If you’re already a healthy weight then whatever you’re eating right now is clearly right for you!
There are a few factors that come into calorie needs:
Body size – the bigger you are, the more you need to maintain that size. This includes height – tall people need more.
Muscle mass – muscle is ‘metabolically active’ – it burns calories, so the more muscle you have, the more you need (a good excuse to get strong – you can eat more!)
Exercise – how much, and type or intensity
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – how much walking, pottering, hanging out washing, tidying up etc. you do compared to sitting down doing nothing.
I know that personally I need around 1800 calories a day to maintain my current weight; I’m petite (5’2 with small bones) which means I should need less, but I’m also pretty active which bumps my numbers up a bit. A much taller, broader woman may need more than me even if they weren’t as active.
But I’ve had calorie calculators tell me I should be eating as little as 1200 (presumably because of my height, or lack of), which I know would make me underweight, or very tired and lethargic. MyFitnessPal is known for underestimating calorie needs for petite women.
(Watch this afterwards too > How many calories do you need?)
Well you probably will lose a little weight at least at first, if you keep it up for long enough. Undereating for a couple of days won’t do anything at all, your body isn’t that quick to respond.
Let’s say you need 2000 for maintenance but the calculator tells you 1200 would be a good amount to achieve weight loss (assuming that’s your goal). That’s a huge deficit and a lot less than you’re used to eating. You’d likely be tired, hungry, grumpy and crave all the things you’re trying to avoid. It’s not to mention awkward – try eating at a restaurant on a low calorie diet and you’ll soon see you’re a cheap date having to pick tap water and a side salad.
But back to this hypothetical situation, you go on your low calories diet and somehow manage to stick to it. You normally workout four times a week plus walk the kids to school and walk during your lunchbreak, all contributing to the necessary calorie deficit.
But now you’re not eating enough you struggle to get out of bed let along workout, and if you do force yourself you’re basically floppy and weak and not really getting the most out of it.
All the excuses come out as to why you drive to school instead; it’s raining, you’re running late, they’re playing up, yet really it’s because you’re tired and don’t have the mental energy to get yourself or the kids organised properly.
And when you’d normally be supermum sorting the washing and watering the garden in those spare 5 minutes, now you find yourself slumped on the sofa.
All in all you’re burning way fewer calories than you were before, which sort of dismisses the point. Aren’t you better off eating well enough to have the energy to be active and still lose weight? A less aggressive middle ground?
A more detrimental issue is muscle loss. That muscle that burns calories and makes you look toned is being used for energy in lieu of food, so you’ll end up more skinny fat than slim & toned. This muscle loss can partly be offset by eating lots more protein and doing resistance exercise, but then we get back to you not having enough energy to do said exercise.
Your body doesn’t want you to starve, and will slow your metabolism, the amount of calories you burn, to compensate for this undereating. That’s natural and inevitable in any weight loss diet, but more so if your dieting is extreme. It’s harder to fix too, and is the reason many women not only gain all the weight they lost but actually gain more.
As we said at the start a calorie deficit is needed to lose weight, and since exercise doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as people think it’s way easier to create that deficit through food intake. But going too low is difficult, unpleasant, and may backfire when it comes to being fitter, stronger, healthier and slimmer anyway.
If you know you’re eating too many calories because you’re overweight and know you eat too much cake/chocolate/*yourfavourite and not enough vegetables, then make those foods treats rather than every day (several times a day?!) foods.
Swap higher calorie meals like fish & chips for fishcakes & mushy peas, or have smaller portions of treats such as a couple of slices of pizza with a large salad rather than a whole pizza.
Cut out liquid calories as your body doesn’t recognise these as food so they won’t satisfy you as much, and watch for little extra calories like salad dressings, mayonnaise, and oil in cooking.
And finally increase the ratio of protein (meat, fish, eggs, tofu) and vegetables in a meal compared to starchy carbs (pasta, bread, rice, mashed potatoes) as the former are very nutritious, and more filling for fewer calories.
It may help to track your food intake over 3 days with an app just to see what you’re eating and compare that to how you’re feeling and whether it’s working (you’re losing weight), but don’t get too reliant on the numbers, your body doesn’t work like a calculator and won’t react a certain way just because the numbers say they should!
Are you struggling to figure out what’s right for your body or maybe you know but can’t find the motivation to do it? Start by downloading your free guide here, then come and chat to me and other Mums in my free Facebook Community Group where I’ll be able to answer all your questions and get you going on the right path to success.