Cracking the Code to Counting Calories
How to lose fat, not muscle, and be the healthiest you ever.
Ok. Here we go.
Let’s have a little conversation before we dive into the tactical advice of how to actually count calories to lose fat (not muscle). I am well aware of the day and age that we are living in and I am here for it.
I am one hundred percent here for women owning their bodies and embracing their individual sexiness. I believe with everything I have that all women are beautiful and every body type is sexy.
Fat, skinny, big, petite, short, tall, wide, narrow, big boned…. we are all uniquely beautiful and I can’t love it enough.
I also believe that fad diets are whack. I’m not about that lifestyle. Restrictive diets are the devil and I don’t want any part of them. If that’s your jam, you do you, boo… but seriously, you know you hate it too!
I am here for embracing imperfections. I am here for loving our bodies AS THEY ARE, not what we hope they will be one day.
I am also here for women wanting to be healthier and have more energy and feel more confident in their skin. Those things are important too and shouldn’t be dismissed.
I believe it’s ok for a woman to say, “I’m not happy with my weight, and I want to change.” You can love yourself and still improve yourself. You are allowed to want your body to look anyway that makes you happy!
If you are big and beautiful and love every second of it, that’s amazing and you should never be made to feel like you need to change anything about yourself.
This article is not meant to make anyone feel like they NEED to change.
But if you WANT to change, that’s ok too. There are ways to do it that are safe, healthy, and yield long term results.
I have been passionate about fitness for the better part of my life. In highschool, I would read articles in Self magazine like they were the holy grail. Soaking up every fact I could find on how to get that perfect physique. (insert heavy eye roll)
I didn’t get it. I was very unhealthy throughout my teen years and all of my twenties.
I would eat like crap, gain weight, crash diet, lose weight, start eating like crap again, gain weight, crash diet, hate myself, lose weight, still hate myself…. it was an exhausting, never ending cycle. I was never satisfied and I was never really taking care of myself so I felt horrible to boot.
It wasn’t until about 3 years ago when everything finally clicked for me.
I realize now, what I was missing and what I see so many other people missing, (aside from the mindset change) is the actual knowledge of how to eat healthy.
The majority of people I talk to do not understand how to eat for their health. They don’t know how calories work. They don’t understand what their bodies need.
The bulk of them believe that healthy eating is having salads three times a day. (just to be clear, that’s not healthy)
But can you blame them?
I mean, every time you turn around, there is new information that contradicts previous beliefs about “good nutrition”. Not to mention, most still possess the horrendous “low fat everything” mentality that grew popular in the 80's.
Let’s face it, understanding nutrition and how it relates to your goals can seem impossible. But if you can crack the code, you will have everything you need to reach your fitness goals. Nutrition is the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Without good nutrition, you’ll always be chasing your tail.
So, Let’s break it all down!! Ready? Get comfortable because this is a lot of information.
What is a Calorie?
In the simplest of terms, a calorie is just a unit of energy. More technically, it is the measurement of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree celsius.
So, when we fuel our bodies with food, each gram of food that we eat contains a certain number of calories that give our bodies the energy that we need to sustain life.
Our bodies know exactly what to do with those units of energy and they disperse them as they are needed.
Every person has a basal metabolic rate (BMR), or the amount of calories we burn in a 24 hour period if we were just laying there breathing and digesting food.
This is not to be confused with our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) which is our BMR plus the amount of activity we do in a day.
If there are too many units of energy than what is needed for our TDEE, then our bodies will store the unused energy for later. These units of energy are stored in adipose tissue, or fat cells.
Interesting fact: We continue making new fat cells throughout our adolescent years. However, once we have stopped making new fat cells, we can either grow or shrink what we have but we don’t make any more.
Got it? Calories=energy
What is a Macronutrient?
Macronutrients, also known as macros, are the nutrients we need to survive that make up the bulk of our diet. These are fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Our bodies need all three of these nutrients to survive and function properly.
I am always surprised by the number of people who don’t know where to find good sources of these nutrients. With that said, I try not to ever assume that this is just basic knowledge.
If you already know where to find these, feel free to skip ahead.
Protein can be found in meats such as chicken, pork, beef, and fish. As well as many plants and dairy products, such as milk and cheese.
Nobody I ever talk to is ever eating enough protein. A good rule of thumb is 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight (or your goal body weight) per day.
Good sources of Fat can be found in nuts, seeds, and oils as well as animal fat in meats listed above. By volume, you need much less fat than carbs and protein as fats are much more dense than the latter two.
Favorable carbohydrates can be found in fruits and veggies, gluten free whole grains, white rice, and sweet potatoes.
The thing about favorable and unfavorable food choices is, you don’t really realize how bad the unfavorable foods are until you cut them out of your diet.
If you are used to eating foods that cause inflammation such as gluten, sugar, and processed dairy, then you probably don’t even realize what these foods are actually doing to your body because you’re used to feeling like crap.
When you cut out food that is harmful to your body, not only can you feel how incredible the right food choices make you feel, but you also notice when you eat something “bad”, just how bad it makes you feel.
Fun Fact: Sugar (or foods that breakdown into sugar like complex carbs) stimulate the same dopamine receptors in your brain as cocaine. When you eat sugary foods your brain releases dopamine and you feel happy. Your brain remembers this and craves these sugary foods to repeat that high. If you can’t kick those starchy carb cravings, you’re likely addicted.
Recap: Macros are proteins, fats, and carbs.
How does your body process calories and what does it do with them?
So by now we understand that calories are just units of energy stored in food. And energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be transferred.
When we eat food, we are ingesting energy in the form of the chemical bonds of the food molecules. When our body breaks these molecules down, our body will do 2 things with the energy: burn it or store it.
If you eat fewer calories than you burn in a day, your body will be forced to use the stored energy in your adipose tissue. Thus, shrinking your fat cells.
If you eat more calories than you burn in a day, your body will store the excess energy in your adipose tissue. Thus, enlarging your fat cells.
Energy is also stored in muscle fibers in the form of glycogen for quick and readily available fuel.
When your body burns calories, it transforms them into a different type of energy. Either heat, electrical, sound, or kinetic energy.
How many calories do you burn in a day? BMR+Activity=TDEE. Knowing these numbers is very helpful in achieving your goals. Don’t worry, We’re getting there.
Interesting Fact: 1 gram of protein= 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates= 4 calories, 1 gram of fat=9 calories
How to reach your fitness goals
Healthy Mindset- If we’re going to talk about reaching fitness goals, then we have to first talk about having a healthy mindset.
You can count your macros, and you can do the workouts, but if you aren’t healthy in your head, it will never be enough.
Wherever you’re at in your fitness journey, just give yourself permission to be in that space. Embrace this moment in your life and offer gratitude for the body that you have.
Movement should come from a place of love. A love for the way it makes you feel. A celebration of what your body can do.
Food should be enjoyed and it should nourish your body and add value to your life.
These things aren’t meant to be obsessed over and your life shouldn’t revolve around them either.
Skip a workout. Eat the dessert. Celebrate with loved ones and enjoy good times. Don’t let food or concerns about how your body looks lurk in the back of your mind.
Calculate your your daily calorie needs- If you want to lose weight, you have to consume less calories than you use.
There’s a formula to find out how many calories you should be eating for healthy weight loss. This deserved it’s own article. Find the step-by-step process to calculating your daily calorie needs here:
How to Calculate your Daily Calorie Needs
Step-by-step formula to determine how much you should be eating to reach your fitness goals.
Best ratio of macros for fat loss- Once you know your daily calorie needs, you can divide those calories into their 3 categories. Fat, Proteins, and Carbs.
The best ratio for fat loss and muscle maintenance, is 40% Carbs, 30% Fat, and 30% Protein.
So if your total calories are 2,000 calories per day, 800 calories would come from carbs, 600 calories would come from Protein, and 600 calories would come from fat.
Remember that cool fact about calories per gram of each macro? Well, in order to find out how many grams of protein, carbs, and fats you need each day, now you have to divide.
Carbs and protein are divided by 4 and fats by 9. So in the above example, you would eat 200grams of Carbs, 150 grams of protein, and 67 grams of fat each day.
How to track your macros- This is where the real work kicks in. And it’s not that it’s hard, it just takes some getting used to.
Once you know how many calories you should be eating and your macronutrient breakdown, you need a way to track and plan your meals. I use myfitnesspal. There might be other ways but myfitnesspal does the job just fine for me.
You’re going to want to customize the daily calorie and macro needs to fit your specific numbers. To do this, when you open the app and are on your dashboard, click on ‘more’ with the three dots on the bottom right corner as seen here:
From here, you click on ‘goals’:
To adjust your daily calorie needs, click on ‘calories, carbs, protein and fat goals’:
On this screen you’ll be able to enter and update your numbers according to your calculations:
Once you’ve completed this process, you can start logging your food. It’s a good idea to log your food for a few days without making any changes to your current diet. That will give you an idea of where you need to make adjustments.
You’ve got this!
Tips for success
- Keep it simple. I like to keep staples on hand that make it easy for me to grab my food and go without having to think too much. If you notice, I don’t really log my food much anymore because I know more or less what I should be eating. Cooked chicken breast, turkey, hard boiled eggs, grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, almond butter, almond milk, greens, protein bars, protein powder, collagen, string cheese, nuts, avocados… those are just a few of the basics I keep on hand and can throw any combo together in a pinch for a healthy day of eating.
- Strive for progress, not perfection. I cannot stress this enough! It’s ok if you don’t hit your numbers every single day. It’s ok if you blow the whole day. Just keep going. If you have one great day out of seven, that’s one more good day that you wouldn’t have had if you weren’t trying at all. Maybe next week you’ll have 2 great days, then 3, and before you know it, you have more good days than bad.
- Make it fun. If you want something to stick, find a way to fall in love with it.
- Have a grateful heart. This just makes everything easier. Remember how fortunate you are. If you have an able body, you get to workout. You get to fuel your body with nutritious foods. None of this is a punishment. It’s a privilege.
Long Term Sustainability
Here’s the truth about achieving any goals in life. If you want them to be long term, you’ve got to dig deep and stay as consistent as possible.
You can have the most legitimate reason in the world, but at the end of the day, it still means the same thing as the rest of the excuses; you don’t want it bad enough. When you want something bad enough, you find a way.
But it’s ok if you don’t.
You are allowed to be whatever it is that makes your heart happy.
If your heart isn’t happy doing what you’re doing, then it’s time to try different things. Shake it up. See what happens.
Do what is good for your soul. That’s where you find the endurance to do anything for the long haul. You have to have the heart for it.
Anybody can do anything. You just have to keep showing up everyday and be willing to put in the work even when it’s not that easy. That’s when mental toughness is forged.
And never forget, our bodies aren’t meant to be statues. Live your life. Enjoy your food, move your body, love your family and friends, wear the crop top, eat the cake, and dance the night away! Life is better when you live in the moment and plan for the future. You can do both.
If you want it to last a lifetime, you have to make it apart of your everyday life.
How to Live a Fit and Healthy Lifestyle
Top habits seen consistently in the fitness community
I hope this article was helpful and serves you well. If you have any questions, I’m always here to help!
Much love! XoXo, Rachel
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