Nutrition

How to drink alcohol and still lose fat

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if you’ve been looking around the fitness space for a while it’s easy to see that alcohol gets a bad rap. And quite possibly it should, however if you plan on having a life outside of the gym and the kitchen, you need to get good information on how to balance your alcohol intake with your fitness goals. It is possible. 

First of all let's get a few things to consider out of the way. While alcohol does account for around 7 calories per gram, there are a few things to note about this.

First the NET calories or the calories actually absorbed after minusing away the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is actually 6.3 calories per gram. It takes your body energy to metabolize the alcohol.

Second, the calories are mainly empty containing no nutritional value with the exception of carbs in beer and wine. So you need to account for these empty calories in your daily calorie intake, as it will affect your energy balance.

Third, keep in mind the recommendation on weekly consumption for health risks at 14 servings per week for males and 7 servings per week for females. (Why men get to drink twice as much as women in this equation is a mystery to me.) It does however serve a good starting point. If you regularly drink more than that then you may face other health issues down the road other than bodyweight. Just try to keep your weekly total around there.

For the 3 most common types of alcoholic drinks we find the approximate calorie counts as follows:

  1. 1 bottle of beer (330ml) : 150 calories (for a pint roughly double that)
  2. 1 glass of wine (5 ounces): 125 calories
  3. 1 shot of spirits (45ml): 100 calories

So when out on your binge keep track of how many drinks you have. The more accurate the better. One caveat, it is impossible and really no fun whatsoever to do this. A good estimate will do. Just keep it on the high side. If you look at the math then 10 drinks of spirits should get you really drunk and only have about 1000 calories. That is easy to account for during a week, maybe just cut a bit of calories or add another cardio session. Easy, peasy. Here are my top tips to make sure your night of debauchery doesn't totally derail your fitness goals.

1. Nutrition

On the big day, stick to a diet of mainly protein and vegetables, minimizing your carb intake. You do need some carbs in the beginning of the day, so pick a fruit or two, no starchy carbs. Make sure you eat your biggest meal (protein and veggies only) before you go out. You should arrive at the bar with a full stomach. Also, make sure you are well hydrated before. Consume at least one liter of water before going out. Food and hydration will slow down your drinking response, causing you to sip those first few drinks slowly. It will also save you the next morning: drinking on an empty stomach while thirsty is always a bad idea.

2. Stick to the low calorie options

As we saw above pure spirits are your best option to keep calories low. pick your favorite like vodka, gin, whisky and either consume it on the rocks or mixed with water or soda. If you absolutely have to have a soft drink stick to diet coke or something like that. Approach cocktails with caution the can be calorie bombs if you are not careful. Best advice is to stick to the classics and ask for less sugar, while avoiding ones with lots of juice and high calorie ingredients. Sip your drinks slowly and enjoy your time with your friends. If you can, have a bottle of water after every two drinks. You will thank me in the morning.

3. No eating while drinking

This is a big one. Always remember it. Most bar food is notorious for being high in calories. Avoid those yummy peanuts, chicken wings, french fries and such. Once you've had a few drinks, your ability to moderate your choices becomes difficult. If you arrived at the bar stuffed full of protein and veggies you won't be as tempted to eat  If you must snack try edame, its lower in calories and high in protein. Repeat after me "no eating while drinking." It's super important.

4. Get back to your routine as soon as possible

This is self evident I think. Unless you went on a total bender and have the entire philharmonic orchestra playing in your head in the morning, get back into the gym asap. Most people alternate rest days with workout days, so you can use what I call "drinking timing" to ensure you don't derail your fitness regime.

What that means is if you go out on a workout day aka post workout, then you will have the whole next day to recover. This is possibly the best time to have a big night out. Just make sure your post workout meal follows the guidelines above, with the exception of adding one handful of complex carbs to replenish your muscle glycogen. During your rest day make sure to take a 30 minute brisk walk, It will help.

If you chose to go out on a rest day, meaning you are supposed to go to the gym the next day, proceed with caution. Your best option is to have a light night out, limiting your consumption and making sure you go home early to get a good night sleep. Failing that, go workout out anyways. Even if you are hungover, keep your body in its routine. It will be painful, but maybe will teach you a lesson. You may try a supplement like curcumin to reduce the hangover. Just take it with oil and black pepper to aid absorption. Curcumin has been shown to help the body metabolise alcohol.

While you should definitely moderate your drinking, I think you still need to have a social life. Many people when they start their journey, they try and quit everything at once. This almost always results in failure. The trick here is to build awareness first and then make sure your daily habits are in line with your goals. It is possible to balance your social life with your fitness life. No one wants to live in a cave. 

If you need some coaching to help you get your nutrition and fitness on track, I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer. Hit me up for a free consult below.

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Hand-sized portion guide

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When I write recipes or portion out my plates, I usually use hand size portions to control my calorie intake. If you have never run across this method before you might find it a little confusing, so I though I better explain it.

I first learned about hand sized portioning when I was completing my Level 1 Nutrition Coach Certification with Precision Nutrition, and I found this is a very helpful way to control my calories. And because I do make a lot of single serving dishes, it naturally found its way into my recipes, just to make it easier to make. 

Why hand-sized portions?

Well, believe it or not, actually counting calories accurately is pretty much impossible due to several reasons, but two of the biggest factors are the inaccuracy of the calorie estimations themselves (more on this in a future article), and your body's ability to absorb the nutrients or bioavailability. If you are interested to read more check out this article. Now I have to admit, I was once an avid calorie counter, in fact for an overview see my article on calorie counting. However I quickly found (ok not so quickly, it took me 3 months) that it was extremely cumbersome and annoying after a while. Not only to myself but my family as well. For example I used to carry my digital scale with me everywhere and whip it out even in restaurants, I was obsessed.

So enter hand sized portioning. It is based on some very serious science and is just as accurate as calorie counting without all the hassle. There are two basic principles that make this easy.

  1. Your hands are portable, so they go with you everywhere. With practise, it becomes easy to estimate portion size just by eyeball.
  2. Your hands are proportionate to your body size, meaning larger people have larger hands, and smaller people have smaller hands. Meaning you would eat more or less food based on your body size.

Now if you are saying, but what about calories, can we be a bit more accurate? I really need to know how many calories I am eating. I enjoy calorie math!  Well this is simple as well. First of all let's set out the portion size by macronutrient and approximate calorie count.

  • one serving of protein = 1 palm = 20-30 grams x 4 kcal = 80-120 kcal per serving

  • one serving of carbs = 1 cupped hand = 20-30 grams x 4 kcal = 80-120 kcal per serving

  • one serving of fats = 1 thumb = 7-12 grams x 9 kcal = 63-108 kcal per serving

  • one serving of vegetables = 1 fist = we don't count vegetables as they are very high in essential nutrients but low in calories. It's impossible to gain weight by eating too many vegetables. If you don't believe me just try it.

Now armed (or should I say handed) with this info we can estimate our individual calories by taking out our digital scale and actually measuring out our exact portion size based on our hand size. Once you memorise these numbers, it is so easy to estimate your calories.

In the next article I will talk about how to determine appropriate portion sizes for you! In the meantime, enjoy this infographic.

 Image courtesy of   Precision Nutrition

Image courtesy of Precision Nutrition

I am a certified nutrition coach and personal trainer. If you want my help to begin eating well, drop me a line for a FREE consult.

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3 things about eating slow

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This blows my mind:

If you pay attention to how you eat, the what and how much will pretty much take care of themselves

There is an astounding body of evidence and many proponents of eating slow. Or at least slowing down. I, for one, never really thought about it, until it came up in my Nutrition Coach training. I was (and still am) a bit obsessed with the what and the how much food to eat. Counting calories and macronutrient profiles used to rule my eating habits. And then I found slow eating. Fast forward to now , the what and how much food to eat is STILL very important, but the how was definitely a life changer. The theory is as follows. 

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It's no secret we live in a super hectic time. I mean really hectic. Just think about your average day. Maybe it goes something like this: jump out of bed in the morning, rush to get ready, scarf down breakfast in 2 minutes (or skip it), fight traffic to get to work, endless meetings, emails, text messages, phone calls, maybe have time for lunch or a working lunch at your desk, more emails, meetings and messages, spend some time on social media, fight traffic to the gym (maybe), eat dinner in 10 minutes, have some down time, throw in some kids and family time (if applicable), and collapse into bed after. Sounds exhausting, I know I was exhausted just writing it!  And to top it all off, our over stimulated, hectic lives have one really bad effect. Stress. Stress is a killer. No if this was your day, do you feel in control? Slow eating is about taking back some control, in an area where it will do the most good: your eating habits and nutrition. This is 20% time. It is important.

Now don't think eating slow is easy. I still constantly struggle with it. However in my coaching this a foundational habit. The premise is simple, take 20 minutes to eat each meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's it. Try it. I will repeat, it's not easy. The first thing you should do is start to measure how you actually eat right now, write it down for a couple of days. See where you are at. Then, over time slowly (haha) add 1 or 2 minutes to your target eating time.  Remember slow progress is still progress. If you add only 1 minute per day, you would take less than a month to hit the target. If you struggle with some ideas oh the how to eat slower, here are some tips:

  1. set aside adequate time to eat, put it in your calendar if you must
  2. use a timer or an app to track time
  3. concentrate on eating, no TV, no phone, no computer. Just you and your food
  4. put down your utensils between each bite, chew slowly and thoughtfully
  5. really taste your food, paying attention to textures and flavours
  6. take a sip of water between bites
  7. take time for a breath or 3 between bites
  8. sit down to eat, don't eat standing up
  9. talk to the people you eat with

Now if this helps with the how, then the next thing is why. A clear why helps us do things, it is key to keeping motivation. Here are some benefits of slow eating. Oh. ANd an experiment.

1. Tune into our hunger and fullness cues

Did you know it takes up to 20 minutes for our satiety hormones to kick in? Yep. 20 minutes. You didn't think the timing was random did you? Now what this means is that as we eat, our body naturally tells us when to stop, we have just forgotten how to listen to it.  By slowing down, we learn to tune back into these feelings. Each thoughtfully chewed and swallowed bite will make us more full.  Notice how that feels. And then stop when you are satisfied, not full or stuffed. When we eat too fast, we miss these feelings, the hormones haven't had time to kick in and only when they do we know we ate too much.  Bleh. Not a great feeling.

2. Aids digestion and nutrient absorption

Have you ever ate a meal in 5 minutes or less and felt bloated and/or have indigestion? It sucks. Our digestive system, works in 3 main parts: The mouth, the stomach and the intestines. Eating slowly keeps the mouth doing its job, releasing enzymes, and and breaking up the food up into smaller particles that make it easier for the stomach and intestines do their work. The more efficient our digestion is, the better we can absorb the nutrients from the food we eat. Compare this to eating fast where you chew a couple of times and then swallow. The stomach and intestines have to work much harder and digestion becomes inefficient. Not to mention the bloat and indigestion.

3. Helps aid weight loss

The cool thing about eating slow is we tend to eat less. This is good news if you are trying to lose fat. The satiety hormones (once they kick in and we know how to listen for them) will naturally tell us to stop eating when the body has enough nutrients.. One study found that people who ate slower consumed around 11% less calories overall, even though they spent longer eating. Makes you think. If you can cut over 10% of your calories almost effortlessly, you got to be moving in the right direction. 

4. Helps make better food choices

Try this experiment: 

Eat fast food slowly. Go on try. Supersize that sucker too.

Think about how the food make you feel. My theory is that its called "fast food' cause you need to eat it quick before you actually taste it. Hit me up in the comments below if you try. When you slowly and thoughtfully eat your food, you just seem to naturally care more about what is in it. At least I do. Again try it.

The low down

 Most of us lead hectic lives, so it’s easy to see that we might try to rush our meals, without even realising it. But eating quickly doesn't help us.  When we eat too quickly we end up eating more, have poor digestion, increase our risk for weight gain, and have lower satisfaction from our meals. Not to mention feeling stuffed, bloated and suffering from indigestion. Eating slowly, in contrast, makes for better digestion, easier weight maintenance – and much greater satisfaction and fullness from our meals. If that's not win, win, win, I don't know what is.

Additional resources:

http://eatingmindfully.com/

http://www.intuitiveeating.org/

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-slow-eating

Need help getting your diet under control?

If you are struggling with your nutrition or diet, I am a certified Nutrition coach. Hit me up for a FREE consult.

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5 steps to starting a healthy kitchen

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When I first started to want to become healthy, one of the first things I realised is that my kitchen is working against me. It had teamed up with my pantry and went for the one-two punch for unhealthy eating. What’s even worse is they called in the refrigerator to help. And it worked for many years. One of the most commonly overlooked factors when it comes to trying to lose weight or just be healthier is the impact of your environment, meaning in this case, where you live and eat. And I can guarantee that your kitchen is in on it. So long story short if you want to clean up your diet, you must clean up your kitchen. Makes sense right? Let’s see a few tips to make this easier. 

1. Load up on healthy stuff

This is often easier than the next step. Make sure your kitchen is stocked with healthy, whole foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and good carbs are a great start. After all, if there is good food to eat, you can at least choose wisely when snacking or eating, even if you haven't totally purged out your kitchen.

2 Slowly get rid of unhealthy stuff  

This is a tough one. Slowly cut back on processed food like cakes, cookies, chips, etc. If these are in your pantry, you WILL eat them. At the beginning of your healthy eating journey, I highly recommend just reducing the amount, don't go cold turkey. I had (and still have) an Oreo addiction, so I simply cut out one packet a week at the beginning. Eventually I got to zero. 

3. Buy some spices and herbs

Nothing jazzes up your meal like a good dose of spice. What's more, is that many herbs and spices have additional health benefits, such as turmeric, garlic and many others. One of the biggest complaints I've heard is that healthy food is quite bland. But it doesn't have to be. Load up on spices from different cuisines and add some flavour. Buy a few cookbooks (healthy of course) to get some inspiration. Or go online. There is ton's of info.

4. Plan your meals

Planning is key to change. Set aside some time to think about the food you want to prepare for the coming week. Identify things you can prepare in advance and a few solid go to healthy meals. Think tons of vegetables, some fruit, protein and some good carbs. If you are super busy then plan on some grab and go items, like individual greek yogurt, prepared salad greens, baby vegetables, etc.

5. Shop from a list

After you have a rough plan for the week, and checked out what you have on hand, make a shopping list. And I mean write it down and bring it with you. All the planning in the world won't save you if your forget everything at the supermarket and end up rushing right to the cookie aisle. A good habit is to not buy too much, only what you can prepare and consume otherwise you may end up wasting food. If need be, try 2 small shopping trips to stock up on fresh ingredients.

I think fixing your environment is key to lasting nutritional change. Hit comment or like if you agree.  As part of my nutritional coaching programs, I offer a kitchen clean-out feature where I can help you get on track.

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How to count calories

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Now comes to the second part of the Energy Balance Equation, the calories in part. Here is the formula again in case you forgot:

EBE = Calories In - Calories Out

In previous posts I examined how to estimate your calories out using your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) and Physical Activity(PA) levels. For a quick review the articles click on the links. 

Now at the beginning you are going to learn one hard truth; counting calories is a pain in the ass. I mean really. However it is a necessary evil. At least at the beginning. As you get accustomed to counting calories it gets easier to estimate just by eye. The premise of this is very simple. you simply measure all the food you consume to arrive at a calorie in count. If you want to lose weight then you must get a negative calorie balance.

To get started, you will need a kitchen scale (one with ounces and grams is best to avoid excessive math), measuring cups and spoons and a decent database of foods which includes their calories, and macros.

You have two basic option here:

  1. Keep a written food log recording food item and weight or volume measurements. Time of day is useful too later. Then you use an online database to estimate calories accordingly. There is a pretty decent one here called self-nutrition. You simply search for the foods, calculate based on items eaten and record in your log. Its purely manual so will take some time.
  2. If you want to shortcut option one, then use something like myfitnesspal.com. They have a database, mobile apps and a free account (upgrading is optional)  that allows you to record all your meals. I use this myself and once you learn how to use the app, it is 10 times easier than doing it manually. 

Ready to give this a try? Here is some motivation:, studies show that people who count calories are more successful in losing weight.  That said let's go with some tips to make this easier.

Plan in advance

The key to victory is to plan your diet according to your goals (lose, gain or stay the same). You will have to dedicate some time and effort to this as you will need to coordinate your menu and grocery list accordingly, I wont go into that now, but I will in the future. The easiest way is to plan some protein and complex carb dishes that you can prepare in advance, refrigerate and keep over a few days.

Eat what you measure, don't measure what you eat

What I mean is you weigh the food before putting it on your plate. With practise, you will develop an eye to see how much food there actually is on the plate at a given measurement. This will come in handy when you eat out. Trust me on this one.

Cook more at home and portion your food

Cooking at home is the best way to following your plan. You have absolute control over ingredients and portion sizes. Packing a lunch for work allows you to keep your calories under control. I carry food everywhere.  Estimating calories consumed in a restaurant is quite difficult unless you bring your scale with you. I actually do this and it was embarrassing at first, but now I don't care. My food scale stays in my bag. At least until i am confident in my estimation skills.

Add a margin of error

I wish I could tell you this is an exact science, but it's not. When estimating calories there is considerable opportunities to make errors: inaccurate weight and measures, database errors in actual calories, the problems with calorimetry itself, complex food dishes and of course lying to yourself and not recording correctly. That does not mean you shouldn't do it. What I do is add a considerable margin of error of 25% to my calorie consumption. I have myfitnesspal counter set on a goal of 1500 calories per day and add 25% to come to 1875 calories. 

Keep track of your progress

You need to keep track of your weight on a weekly basis and tweak from there. Invest in a good digital bathroom scale. Here are the simple rules

  • If your weight is going down, then congratulations, you are in a negative caloric balance and on the way to meeting your goals.
  • If your weight is going up then you are eating too much or a positive caloric balance, reduce your calories in or up your exercise.
  • If you stay the same then you would be in an equal caloric balance. Although this is very hard to do.

Based on your results, you either eat less (or more) and/or adjust your PA levels accordingly. There is no shortcut here. Real sustainable weight loss is a hard goal to reach, but measuring and being mindful of what you eat will help immensely..

Real life example

Let me show you using an example of how I figure out my EBE in its entirety, using data from the previous articles. Active PA is for a 30 minute jog. This is the full equation:

Energy Balance Equation = (Actual consumption + margin of error) - (RMR + passive PA +activePA) 

EBE = (1500 x 1.25) - (1715 + 400 +273)

EBE = 1875 - 1791

EBE = -513

From this we see there is a negative balance of 513 calories which when multiplied by 7 days is equal to extra 3591 calories burned, hopefully from fat. Interestingly enough 1 pound of fat is equal to about 3500 calories, so I should be on track to lose about 1 pound a week. In actuality I have some very active days like Muay Thai and weight training so my negative balance is closer to about 7000 calories per week or about 1 kilo of fat loss. I do not eat more on these days I just cycle my macros and meal timing to make sure I have the energy to go all out.

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Calculating your Resting Metabolic Rate

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Let's get started on being VERY specific on how to lose weight. This article is going to be a bit scientific and mathematics driven so bear with me. The bottom line is, if you want to be successful at weight loss (and I know I do), then you need to learn how this works from the ground up. Ready? Let's go.

The first thing to realise is that all weight loss stems from a very simple formula called the Energy Balance Equation. It looks like this:

Energy Balance Equation = Calories in - Calories out = your results.

Furthermore, you need to understand that energy (in this case as a calorie) is never created or destroyed, it is simply transformed, This is the 1st Law of Thermodynamics. Why it is relevant is that the calories you consume are either metabolised (used by your body) or stored for later use. Normally in the form of fat.

Yes, it's really that simple. It's pure physics. What it means is this:

  • if you have a positive calorie balance and you will gain weight
  • if you have a negative calorie balance and you will lose weight.
  • if you have an equal calorie balance you will maintain your weight.

Note: When I refer to a calorie, I am referring to a Kilocalorie just to make it easier and follow convention.

In order to make weight loss effective you need to understand and quantify both sides of the Energy Balance Equation or both calories in (your diet) and calories out (your metabolism). This article is about your calories out. By knowing how many calories we can be expected to burn every day we can adjust our calories. Let's look at the components of metabolism.

Your metabolism consists of 3 parts, your resting metabolism, your physical activity and the thermic effect of food. It looks like this:

Now lets talk about these 3 things in order of simplest to most complicated.

Thermic effect of food (TEF)

This can account for up to 10% of your daily calorie expenditure. What it means is that the harder to digest your food is, the more calories will be spent on digestion. It is quite difficult to affect (and measure) this, but if you are eating a diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates with plenty of fiber from your veggies, you already got this covered. However there is a limit to how many calories are burned here. For my calculations, I like to disregard trying to calculate this and use it as a bonus to my equation.

Physical Activity

This one is very straightforward too. Physical activity can account for 15-35% of your daily calorie burn. I defined this previously as having two parts passive and active activity. In essence Passive is what you do every day, such as walking, housework, working, etc. and Active is when you choose to exercise, either cardio or at the gym. It would stand to reason that the more active you are, the more calories you will burn. This is referred to as your Voluntary Metabolism (VM).  This article explores the calorie expenditure of various activities including exercise so you can more accurately estimate your calorie burn. Look for that soon.

Resting Metabolic Rate

Here is where we get into the nitty gritty, and is the most calorie burn in your day. Your body needs calories for all its basic processes, such as digestion, breathing, heartbeat, nervous system and your organs. Your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) accounts for 60-70% of your total expenditure, so we need to understand this. Your metabolic rate is variable depending on age, gender, genetics, height, weight, lean body mass and hormone activity. In order to successfully effect the Energy Balance Equation you need to know this number. There are 2 main ways to calculate this.

Lean Mass Equation

This equation requires you know your body composition accurately in terms of fat-free mass. It is gender and age non specific so does have some accuracy issues. It look like this:

RMR = (21.6 x Fat Free Mass in Kg) + 370

For me this looks like:

RMR = (21.6 x 62.3) + 370

RMR = 1345.68 + 370

RMR = 1715 calories per day

Harris Benedict Equation

This equation is slightly more accurate in terms of using multiple data points, however fails to identify lean mass (which is more metabolically active than fat mass). Instead, it uses instead predictive norms of the general population (American by the way) when it comes to body composition. It looks like this:

Males: RMR = 66 + (5 x height in cm) + (13.8 x weight in kg) - (6.8 x age)

Females: RMR = 655 + (1.8 x height in cm) + (9.6 x weight in kg) - (4.7 x age)

For me this looks like:

RMR = 66 + 890 + 1028 - 299

RMR = 1685 calories per day

So you see there is quite a difference. of 30 calories. Let's just take an average or about `1700 calories per day, which falls within the predictive norms for my weight and age.

Note: If you want to shortcut this whole thing, a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis using a machine like an Inbody will give you a pretty accurate evaluation of your RMR. my latest BIA gives me a value of 1715 calories per day. ( I think they are using the Lean Mass Equation) So it seems I am in the ball park..

So your Calories Out part of the Energy Equation will be:

DCE = RMR + VM 

or in english:

Daily Calorie Expenditure = Resting Metabolic Rate + Voluntary Metabolism

Do note we are going to exclude the Thermic Effect as stated above. I think it gives you a bit better margin of error. Hopefully positive. Haha.

Anyway let's say I hypothetically burn 1000 calories a day from my VM.

It would look like this:

DCE = 1700 + 1000 = 2700

That means I can expect to burn 2700 calories per day.

Figuring out how much calories to cut

Now there is a lot of different opinions here, but I like to think that the easier any change is the better you will adhere to it. So for example I would cut around 10% (around 300) of my calorie intake to make sure I was in a Negative Caloric Balance. These are the magic words for weight loss. For me this would mean restricting my diet to about 2500 calories per day. Or if I wanted to be more aggressive, I would go for cutting 500 per day or  about 2200 calories.

Now this can and should be adjusted up or down depending on your results. You need an accurate scale and need to keep track of your weight each week to see if you are losing, going up or staying the same. 

Note: There can be a significant margin of error in this calculation, mainly do to the VM part. It is hard to calculate actual calories expended. I will detail this in my upcoming as already spoken.

Now that we have an estimate of our calories out we can then start to worry about our calories in. This is the next part of the Energy Balance Equation.

Got a question about this? Shoot me a line or a comment. I am happy to answer. 

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