Losing weight is all about burning more calories than you consume. I have always had aversion of cutting back calories because I love eating very much, especially the junk food. In my youth, whenever I noticed that I needed to lose weight, I could easily do so by increasing my physical activities through sports and strength training. Alas, I found it too difficult this time around probably because I had less time (and energy) to engage in very active sports (I used to play badminton around 2-4 hours daily, longer during weekends).
So with resignation, I decided to go on a “diet”. But what is the most effective and safe way to “diet”? There are a lot of fad “diets” out there and we should never fall for the quick fixes which claim to reduce weight in just a few days or weeks. These are never sustainable. So I went about researching on how to cut down calories safely.
So, how does one cut down calories safely and effectively? Here are 5 steps:
1. Know your BMR. Apparently, the first thing you do before cutting down your calories is knowing how much calories you actually burn per day. This will help you set a realistic target, and one which actually results in net reduction, i.e., you burn more than you eat. But at the same time, you don’t want to cut down too much either. That is why, you need to know the minimum amount of energy you need to keep your body functioning. This is measured by the BMR.
Your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is an estimate of how many calories you’d burn if you were to do nothing but rest for 24 hours. It represents the minimum amount of energy needed to keep your body functioning, including breathing and keeping your heart beating. You can estimate your BMR using tools available online which calculates BMR based on height, weight, age and sex. Here’s an example. As we age, it becomes harder to eat whatever we want and stay slim. I learned that this is because our BMR decreases as we age. No wonder I had more difficulty in losing weight compared to 10 years ago. On the other hand, depriving ourselves of food, aka “diet”, also decreases BMR. Thus, it is advised that one should follow a regular routine of cardiovascular exercise to increase one’s BMR.
2. Determine Your Daily Calorie Needs. Once you know your BMR, you need to calculate your daily calorie needs based on your activity level. Your BMR does not include the calories you burn from normal daily activities or exercise. Thus, you need to know approximately how much additional calories you burn based on your level of activities. The daily calorie needs is computed by multiplying your BMR with a factor based on your level of activities. For example, if you lead a sedentary lifestyle you will multiply your BMR with 1.2. More active lifestyle will have higher factor. Here’s another example. The results will show you the number of calories you need in order to maintain your current weight. Sample online calcualtor.
3. Set a target. Once you know how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, set a target for calorie intake below this number. The calorie deficit can be achieved either by reducing calorie intake or a combination of diet and exercise. I would advice the latter. This is where choosing an effective exercise program comes in. For more guidance in setting your target, read here. As a general rule, if you want to lose one pound a week, you need to cut down around 500 calories per day. You shouldn’t be aiming for more than 2 pounds a week. So that means cutting down around 1,000 calories per day. But do not do this by calorie restriction alone. You need to combine diet and exercise to achieve this goal.
4. Count Your Daily Calorie Intake and Increase Your Physical Activities. Now, this is the tricky part. How would you know how many calories you are eating? Fortunately, the internet is rich in information and you can get a lot of free online resources to show nutrition facts about food (see example). Also, a lot of products in your local grocery contain nutrition facts in their labels. Finally, there are a lot of companies that offer food delivery service with different diet packages, including breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner based on a target total calories. I myself availed of this and it really worked for me. Be sure to eat healthy and don’t source your energy from empty calories which junk foods are well known for. Also, take special note of calories from saturated fat. I really struggled with this since I love full cream milk (read: high in saturated fat!) with my cereals. Don’t forget about your exercise program to complement your calorie reduction. More important, though, do not cut down your calorie intake drastically. Women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day. For men, it’s 1,800 calories.
5. Track and Monitor your Progress. Keep track of the calories you take. Write it down. Keep a journal and be motivated by your progress.
And, oh, before I end this article, be sure to consult a doctor before embarking on any diet or exercise program. And don’t forget to throw in a rest day and a cheat day per week.
- Yes, you freaking do need more than 1000 calories. (caseytx.com)
- 7 Daily Habits That Can Boost Your Metabolism To Burn Fat (medicaldaily.com)