By Katie Watson

Katie bio pic

Raise your hand if you have ever tried to lose weight. Raise your hand if you have felt hungry while trying to lose weight. Raise your hand if you were successful at losing and keeping the weight off.  I have not met one single person who has not tried to lose weight at some point in their lives. In fact, most people I know are STILL trying to lose weight!  

The more we understand how the human body works the easier it is to manipulate it to do what we want. Understanding how my body works has helped me have a healthier relationship with my body and with food. 

We are constantly told in order to lose weight we have to eat less. That is correct but what is less? Less than what? There’s more to it than just eating fewer calories. When I ask people how much they’re currently eating they don’t have any idea. 



In this post, I’m going to help you figure out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE. First, we need to understand that calories are just a way to measure the amount of energy something has…energy in our food and energy that our bodies need and use. Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle, maintain your current weight, or body recomposition, you have to know what your body needs. Once you know that, you can manipulate the amount of calories for the desired result. 

Not all calories are created equal. One gram of carbohydrates or carbs is equal to 4 calories and is the same for 1 gram of protein. Compare that to fat at 9 calories per gram. These nutrients, carbs, protein, and fat are known as macronutrients or macro. These are the main nutrients we all need from food to sustain our bodies. Fun fact, you can eat the proper amount of Macros and not eat a single veggie or fruit! Not at all what anyone should be striving for! 

There are also micronutrients that come from nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and veggies, that also contain the macros we need. As you learn to count your macros, make sure to fit as many micronutrients in there to get all the vitamins and minerals that will help you feel your best. 

In order to lose weight, you will need to be in a calorie deficit, which means consuming less calories or energy than what your body needs on a daily basis. The idea is to encourage the body to use the extra fat stores to make up for the calories not being consumed.  


A lot of people jump right away to cutting calories to the extreme. Down to 1200 calories! Another thing I see is they are eating at an appropriate deficit but the majority of their calories are coming from carbs and they are constantly hungry despite eating at a calorie deficit.  In both cases, they are starving and they end up binge eating later in the day or during the week. 

Here’s why neither of those scenarios worked.  The person eating 1200 calories was consuming too few calories and starving from the beginning and that’s not sustainable. Plus, eating at an extreme calorie deficit like 1200 for a prolonged period of time will ruin your metabolism. Your metabolism is driven by how much lean muscle you have. If your body thinks it is starving it will stop letting go of the extra fat. Our bodies are smart. If it is not given what it needs it will find a way to get it. When being starved, the human body needs energy and fast! To turn fat into energy takes too long and is not very efficient when in starvation mode. Instead, your body will go to the easiest energy source which is glycogen and once that’s gone it will turn to muscle. 

If your body thinks it is starving it will stop letting go of the extra fat. Our bodies are smart. If it is not given what it needs it will find a way to get it.

In the second scenario, eating the appropriate calories but still hungry, doesn’t work because the calories are coming mostly from carbs and not getting enough fat and protein. Have you ever eaten several bowls of cereal only to still feel hungry? You need fat and protein to trigger that satiety hormone telling you you are not hungry anymore.  

Your body needs calories for your organs to function and for your muscles to maintain their mass, even if you don’t have huge muscles, any muscle is hungry and needs calories. Once your body starts turning to what muscle you have for energy you begin to lose lean muscle mass and slow the metabolism. Not at all what you want!! The more lean muscle you have the faster the metabolism!  


In order to calculate your TDEE we need to first find what our Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) is, or the amount of energy needed just to live and breath, nothing else. The following formula is used for men and women to find the BMR. Notice that you will need to convert your height to centimeters and your weight to kilograms.

  • Male: (88.4 + 13.4 x weight in kilograms) + (4.8 x height in centimeters) – (5.68 x age)
  • Female: (447.6 + 9.25 x weight in kilograms) + (3.10 x height in centimeters) – (4.33 x age)

This formula does not take into account any physical activity. Let’s use a made-up person, we’ll call her Suzie. If we plug in Suzie’s weight, height and age into this formula this is what it would look like:

  •  (447.6 + 9.25 x 63.5) + (4.8 x 63) – (5.68 x 36)= BMR of 1031.8

Now that we have Suzie’s BMR we need to calculate her activity factors. We will take her BMR and multiply it by her activity factor below.

  • Sedentary (little to no exercise + work a desk job) = 1.2
  • Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days / week) = 1.375
  • Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days / week) = 1.55
  • Very Active (heavy exercise 6-7 days / week) = 1.725
  • Extremely Active (very heavy exercise, hard labor job, training 2x / day) = 1.9

Using the same example of Suzie, her BMR of 1031.8 x activity factor of 1.55 = 1599.29. So Suzie’s Total Daily Energy Expenditure is 1599.29 calories every day.  This number can increase or decrease depending largely on the activity factor.  Suzie has a goal to lose 10 pounds for a wedding coming up in two months. 


Suzie should only lose 1-2 pounds a week. Since Suzie has two months before the wedding, losing 10 pounds is a reasonable goal. To lose 1-2 pounds a week Suzie will need to be in a calorie deficit of 200-500 calories for 5 weeks. Since Suzie’s TDEE is 1599 we can reduce her calories by 200 to 1399 to keep her in a healthy calorie range and increase her activity level to 6-7 days of exercise a week to increase the TDEE, creating a larger calorie deficit without reducing the amount of calories being consumed. 

If Suzie had a larger TDEE to begin with and a larger amount to lose I would still start with a 200 calorie deficit for one to two weeks at a time before further reducing or cutting calories. A slower reduction is gentler on the body and allows for more room to adjust when needed. If Suzie jumped right away to a 500 calorie deficit it would be hard for her to maintain and when she plateaued there would not be very much room for further adjustments. Her chance of success will also be decreased because it’s not sustainable. 

My personal preference when it comes to being in a deficit is a combination of cutting calories and increasing physical activity. I like to eat so I’d rather increase my activity to create a bigger deficit than reducing calories.


Another tip for not starving while in a calorie deficit is making smart choices with the foods we eat. Carbs are great for energy but don’t forget you can get carbs from veggies and veggies are more fibrous and filling. Along with protein and fats that will actually be more satisfying and keep you feeling fuller longer! Make sure to reach for something with veggies and protein/fat at every meal and you will have a better experience while in a calorie deficit. 


Good news! Suzie reached her goal to lose 10 pounds for the wedding! But now what? Once you reach your goal you do not need to stay in a calorie deficit. Suzie will now slowly reverse-diet back to her TDEE to maintain a healthy weight. She will do this by adding 200 calories back into her diet at a time and/or reduce her workout sessions gradually over several weeks until she reaches her TDEE. 


You should never be in a calorie deficit for longer than 16 weeks, or you will risk ruining your metabolism and entering starvation mode! If you are not at your goal by 16 weeks you will need to reverse-diet slowly back to your TDEE and stay there for 4 weeks before beginning another deficit or cut in calories. 

Hope that helps you with your weight loss goals! Remember to be patient with yourself and set realistic weight loss goals with an end in sight. 

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