How many calories for fat loss? 5 awesome habits backed by science

how many calories for fat loss

How many calories for fat loss? Let’s say your goal is to lose 1 pound per week. If you were aiming to lose a pound each week, you would want to consume about 3500 calories less than what your body needs each week. Use this calculator to get an estimate of your calorie target to lose weight.

I found that many weight loss articles only told part of the fat loss story. This can do more harm than good. I spent 10 hours researching and included information from over 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles. I also weaved in plenty of psych tips to help you drop fat faster and with more ease.

Keep reading to discover how many calories to consume for fat loss:

Consuming the number of calories required to maintain your current weight is referred to as your body’s maintenance calories. Taking in less than your body needs is called a calorie deficit.

To double-check your calorie deficit, you might want another estimate of the calories needed to lose weight. To do this, simply multiply your current body weight in pounds by 10-11.

An example for someone weighing 226lbs:

226 x 10 = 2260 calories/day for a calorie deficit (to lose weight)

This is the number to experiment with. If you find you lose more than a couple of pounds per week after a few weeks, you might want to increase your calories by 100 or 200 calories. If you are not losing any weight, try reducing your caloric intake.

As always, consult with a medical professional before starting a new eating or fitness program.

How to stick to your calorie budget in a less painful way: the minimum effective dose

juggling how many calories for fat loss

What does learning to juggle have to do with implementing a healthy eating plan?

Best-selling author, Seth Godin explains in his book, The Practice, that the hardest part of juggling is picking up the ball after failing to catch it so many times [1].

This is where most people get fed up and give up.

To combat this, Godin teaches people to focus only on practicing to throw the ball for 30 minutes. Without being attached to the outcome of having to catch the ball, the jugglers-in-training free themselves up to simply practice throwing. Godin has found that once people learn to throw the ball, the catching part becomes easy and less balls get dropped [2].

Why not take this mentality with your new healthy eating plan?

It is highly likely that you will ‘drop the ball’ with your eating plan.

Knowing this, how might things be different if you planned to simply practice throwing with some healthy habits?

Here’s an example to illustrate:

Common way: An overworked person skips lunch and gets home feeling exhausted and starving despite having stopped for some fast food on the way home. Still slightly hangry, this person hammers some chips and guzzles down a can or two of something fizzy. An hour and a half later, they still crave something else and luckily the ice cream is handy.

Alternative: Around noon, this person enjoyed a nutrient-dense and delicious lunch. Upon arriving home, he felt more satiated and energized. He heated up some tasty chilli he had prepared the night before. 

Being filled up and feeling satiated, many people will ‘drop the ball’ less with their healthy eating plan. Especially compared to the person above who gets home hangry and looks to eat with a vengeance.

Additionally, I would argue the hardest part with dropping the ball In juggling or with your eating plan is not actually picking up the ball. It is the meaning we make of dropping each ball.

  • “I’m a failure;”
  • “This sucks;”
  • “I can’t do this anymore;”
  • “I’ll never make it – I’m made this way.” 

Similar to juggling, where people often give up with their healthy eating is after dropping the ball one too many times.

By focussing on eating healthy foods, you have to worry less about dropping the ball.

This brings us to…

Habit #1: Aim to ‘throw down’ at least 50% fibrous, low-carb vegetables with every meal and/or snack

fibrous vegetables: how many calories for fat loss

Why?

Consuming low-carb, fibrous vegetables and other foods high in water content can serve as a hack to keep us feeling full without packing on the calories.

Care to test this? Eat 200 grapes (which is about 400 calories). Now try eating 1 cup of raisins (which is about 434 calories).

Which one do you think would leave you feeling more full?

Making it a habit of eating roughly 50% vegetables with every meal can help you combat emotional eating related to boredom, stress, excitement, and other feelings.

Dr. Barbara Rolls explains that:

“Water adds weight and volume to foods without adding calories — it lowers the calorie density of foods. Our studies show that eating a diet low in calorie density helps people eat fewer calories while still eating a satisfying amount of food” [3].

Dr. Heidi M. Blanck et al. observed the eating habits of 7,356 adults in the United States. In The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Blanck et al. explains that men and women who consumed diets consisting of water-rich foods ingested less calories [4].

Men consumed an average of 425 fewer calories while women took in 275 fewer calories “even though they consumed more food” and felt just as satiated. The people who ate more fruits and vegetables were also less likely to be obese than those who consumed more calorically-dense diets [5].

It turns out your stomach will likely feel just as full after eating a pound of vegetables as it would after eating a pound of greasy potato chips!

Action steps for carving out your nutrient-rich calorie deficit:

Create a plan for implementing this new habit where every meal and/or snack you consume consists of 50%+ water-rich, fibrous vegetables.

If you struggle with eating larger portions of vegetables, you might want to find a recipe for a low calorie, yet delightful vegetable soup.

  • Cook up a big pot, and make it a goal to start or end every meal with a bowl of soup.
  • Also use your favorite spices and herbs for a flavor boost.
  • Avoid high calorie sauces and dips.

Examples of some of my favorite low-carb vegetables:

  • Broccoli 
  • Green beans
  • brussel sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Peppers (red, green, yellow)

Here is a longer list of fibrous, low-carb vegetables.

If your friends ask why you ordered a salad instead of fries with your burger. A simple reply might be:

“My mom told me to always eat my vegetables” or 

“I made a commitment with myself (and/or my spouse, friend, kids, doctor, etc) that I must eat vegetables with every meal.”

It’s hard not to respect someone prioritizing eating their vegetables.

Habit #2: ‘Throw down’ lean protein with every meal and/or snack

Why eat lean protein with every meal or snack?

As described in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, after analyzing 24 randomized controlled studies with a total of 1,063 people, Dr. Grant Brickworth et al. found that compared to those who consumed less protein, people who consumed higher protein diets on average:

  • lost more fat
  • dropped more weight and
  • sustained more muscle [6]

Additionally, in The Journal of Missouri State Medical Association, Dr. Heather Leidy [7] explains the results of another meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials conducted by Dr. M. Bianchi et al. This study showed that higher protein diets “led to greater reductions in body weight, body mass index and waist circumference [8].”

Eating more protein can also make it easier to stick to your calorie budget!

Leidy, PH.D [9]. cites other studies [10,11] that explain people who consumed higher levels of proteins ate 400 calories fewer than those who consumed less protein.

Dr. Leidy [12] also cites research that determined that eating a high protein meal led participants to voluntarily consume 600 calories less in their next meal than those who had less protein in their previous meal.

Skinless meats tend to be high in protein and low in fat.

  • My go-to is extra lean ground turkey.
  • Skinless chicken breasts or ground chicken are some other favorites.
  • Protein powders may also be a great choice for those short on time and for people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets.

Habit #3: Track your meals and calories

Why?

Research has shown that people tend to be really bad at estimating the number of calories we consume. We have the tendency to underestimate which can lead to eating more than we would like [13].

According to many randomized controlled studies, people who tracked their calories lost an average of 6.6lbs more than those who didn’t [14].

In another study, postmenopausal overweight or obese women who kept track using food journals often lost an average of 3.7% more weight [15].

Don’t want to carry a journal around?

Some popular calorie tracking apps include:

Habit #4: ‘Throw down’ more water

Drinking more water can make eating in a calorie deficit easier. Research has shown that drinking more water has led to more weight loss [16,17]. Similar to foods that are high in water content, water can help make the stomach feel full without any additional calories.

Habit #5: Include strength training

Why?

Because you are a human being, there is a chance that you will over-indulge and blow your calorie budget. if you are anything like me, you might even really screw it up more often than you’d like to admit.

Perhaps you have a bad day at work and resort to old ways of coping with stress through food and/or alcohol. Let’s build a plan that will work despite our imperfections.

Just like in the learning how to juggle example, starting a simple strength training routine can help us to focus on ‘throwing’ so that we develop the resilience and mental strength necessary to reach our goals.

If you are new to working out, I suggest starting with 1-4 body weight exercises that you are confident you can commit to doing every single day.

My personal favourite daily exercises are:

  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Plank
  • Chin-ups/pull-ups
  • Deadlifts and single leg deadlifts

Strength training has plenty of amazing benefits:

  • When eating in a calorie deficit, it is common to burn muscle as well as fat. Including some form of strength training makes it more likely that you will burn fat while maintaining muscle [18]
  • If you overeat, your strength training will help your body mobilize the calories to build muscle as opposed to storing fat [19]
  • Since muscle is metabolically active, having more muscle results in burning more calories [20,21]
  • It is easy to integrate these exercises into your day. Listening to a Zoom call at work? Drop and give yourself 20 or plank it!
  • Strength training exercises such as these can help develop your core and provide you with the strength and stability that will help prevent injuries and keep you nimble.
  • Strength-training sessions also require energy and thus burn calories [22]
  • Your body will burn additional calories after each strength-training sessions [23]
  • It will provide you with a concrete ‘win’ everyday. (Watching the scale can be tough…especially when it doesn’t budge or goes up for no apparent reason!)
  • After having reviewed a number of randomized controlled studies, researchers explain in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that “strength training reduced sports injuries to less than 1/3 and overuse injuries could be almost halved.” Not only does this prevent injury, you will also be able to stick to your training/fat-burning plan [24].
  • It reinforces the belief that you can and will push through with strength and discipline even when you feel weak (you’ll likely feel great after every set!)
  • Bodyweight exercises can help build incredible muscle strength and endurance while also serving to improve your cardiovascular health. Super athlete, Hershel Walker, has used bodyweight exercises as his primary training and has reached elite levels as a professional football player in the NFL, through mixed martial arts, sprinting, and Tae Kwan Do [25].
  • When combined with a solid eating and cardio plan, you are more likely to burn more fat and improve your body composition [26,27].

Putting the fat-melting habits into action: How many calories for fat loss?

Habit expert, James Clear, encourages those of us who are starting new habits to play the long game by focusing on making habits easy, satisfying, obvious, and attractive [28].

Make it easy to win (and hard to lose) [29]: How many calories for fat loss?

When starting a life-changing journey such as burning excess fat, your mind may very well be your greatest nemesis. In order to combat this, make it easy for you to succeed each day with your journey.

If the scale doesn’t budge for you for a week or so, don’t fret. Quickly do a self-check on all of your other wins.

  • Did each meal or snack (or almost all of them this day or week) consist of 50% fibrous vegetables? …#win!
  • Did you have some lean protein with each (or most) meals/snack today/this week? …#win!
  • Did you track your calories? …#win!
  • Did you only drink water and other no-calories drinks today/this week? …#win!
  • Did you perform your daily (or weekly) strength-training routine? …#win!

If you consistently answer ‘yes’ to the above questions, trust that you have built some muscle and burned some fat. You may also want to snap a photo of yourself at the start of your journey. 

A few months down the road, this can be a life-saver if the scale doesn’t seem to be cooperating.

Your picture can serve as a 1000 affirming words once you see that you have improved your body composition even if the scale is similar to what it was a few months back.

Bonus: If you want to take extra steps, consider taking measurements of your waist, chest, and other areas for additional proof of your #wins.

Make it easy[30]: part 2 – How many calories for fat loss?

Keep refining your meals so that you can make them as quickly and automatically as possible. Have the healthy ingredients ready to go each week. Unless you love cooking new things, try to find the meals that you love that also take very little time or effort.

I am admittedly a passive chef. Most days, I eat variations of the same meal 2x a day and it always leaves me feeling satiated.

Make it hard to overindulge. For example, if there are cookies in your fridge that are all too tempting, consider placing them in your garage, trunk, or somewhere else that is less convenient for you to eat too many on autopilot. Adding a few extra steps to make the instant sugary or fatty gratification ‘less instant’ has been really helpful for me.

Make it satisfying![31] How many calories for fat loss?

Experiment to find the meals that leave you satiated and feeling energized. 

Reinforce your new habits with a satisfying daily reward. For example, for every day that I stick to my habit, I have set my bank account to automatically deposit $7 into a separate account that is for Chad-purchases. This can provide additional concrete wins to help you stick to your journey. After a few months, I splurged and bought myself some shoes that I love and wouldn’t have otherwise treated myself to.

These shoes are not only super comfy and healthy feeling, each time I put them on, I feel encouraged to keep being awesome by sticking with my habits. It also helps me see myself achieving my goals which can serve as extra reinforcement to keep going. 

If you don’t have the money or are less motivated by material ‘bliss items,’ you might want to give yourself an experiential reward each day that you stick with your habits.

On the contrary, you might also want to make it hurt just a little bit if you find yourself becoming too lax with your habits. To illustrate, if I skip or miss my habit, I withdraw the $7 from my reward fund as a concrete reminder of the cost it has on my health and life.

This also helps me deal with the negative self talk that can linger for too long. By giving myself a concrete consequence, I have found that I have less negative mental chatter going on in the background of my mind. Perhaps because I realize that being too hard on myself with verbal insults can actually push me to break my habits more.

Make it obvious [32]: How many calories for fat loss?

Get in the routine so that you don’t forget to prepare your healthy meals. For example, prepare the slow cooker the night before so that when you get home, the aromas hit you and you crave your healthy meal.

On the flip side, put away or hide foods that might trigger you to blow past your calorie budget.

Make it attractive[33]: How many calories for fat loss?

To make it extra likely that you will stick to your habits, you may want to recruit the empowering support of your own set of fans – AKA an accountability group. For instance, you might run the idea by 2-3 close friends and invite them to join a WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger chat.

Each time you stick to a habit, take a photo. For example, you might post a photo of each meal to show your fibrous vegetables and lean protein. You might also want to record yourself doing your workout, drinking your water. Lastly, consider taking a screenshot of your calorie-tracking app after logging your meals. I also send in a picture of the number on the scale each morning.

Do your best to encourage your friends to do the same and celebrate each other’s wins.

Tips for staying consistent with your habits: How many calories for fat loss?

Back to the juggling analogy, focus on throwing or finding enjoyable ways to de-stress and relax. Many of us turn to events revolving around food or alcohol to relax and de-stress. Experiment with activities to see if any can happily replace a routine focused on eating and/or drinking.

I say routine, because many of us have 1-2 eating/drinking habits, that if replaced, could lead to us dropping plenty of pounds of fat.

Some activities you might want to try replacing eating/drinking habits with might include:

  • A ‘walk and talk’ with a friend
  • Playing a round of disc golf
  • Going for a dog walk
  • A walk while listening to an audiobook
  • Lawn bowling
  • Going for a bike ride adventure
  • A bath with nice music

Other ways to stay consistent with your habits:

Finding multiple ways to track your progress can help make you more resilient in the face of the potentially unbudging scale number. For instance, you might want to take a picture of your body from the front and side.

I found it really difficult when I saw the scale increase by 15 lbs. Especially because I had been in a calorie deficit for 6 months and had actually gained 6lbs since I started. I knew I still had some habits that took me over the calorie budget, but I felt baffled and questioned if I should bother continuing.

Then I realized my lifts had increased by 33% and my body photos told a different story. This led me to conclude that much of the weight had been muscle gained. Realizing this helped me relax and dial back my temptation to let ‘all or nothing’ thinking lead me to binge-eating. This also helped me relax back into a calorie deficit after eating at maintenance calories for 4 weeks.

Being in a calorie deficit for too long can slow your metabolism down leading to little or no fat loss. If you have stuck to your daily calorie deficit, but the scale has not budged, try eating your maintenance calories for 3-4 weeks. I have found this is especially helpful after being in a calorie deficit for 3 months or more.

Boosting up your calories can help keep you fresh and prevent you from getting burnt out from constantly lowering your food intake. I have also found it easier to stick to a calorie deficit afterwards where I almost look forward to consuming less calories again.

Eating at maintenance calories can serve as a refreshing break while also reminding you that you are in this for the long haul. It can also provide a lesson that you don’t have to take it too seriously if you go over your calorie budget on occasion.

The Wrap: putting this all together

You now know how many calories to consume for fat loss. You also have five powerful habits to implement in order to lose weight.

If you would like to speed up the process, you might want to figure out what is the best cardio workout? You might also want to check out which exercise or activity is best for fat loss? 

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