At the age of thirty-seven, I was fat, and since the age of thirty-eight, I have never been fat again. That’s the whole idea of effective weight loss – it’s permanent because it’s part of your lifestyle and the way you think about yourself, with pride and a sense of accomplishment. The goal you achieve is your own – you own it.
All the diets that work, have one characteristic in common: a calorie deficit.
By definition, a calorie deficit is a state in which you’re eating fewer calories than you’re expending to keep your body alive, go about your daily activities, and exercise. This is how you can lose body fat over time.
Once you achieve your fat loss goal and want to maintain your weight, then you don’t need to stay in a deficit. You now need to achieve calorie balance, or a state in which your calorie intake (food) matches your output (survival, daily activities, and exercise).
To accomplish this, you need to increase the amount of calories you’re eating. Hurray!
However, if you increase them too much, you can accidentally get into a calorie surplus, which is the opposite of a deficit and will cause fat gain.
So by how much should you increase your calories without regaining weight?
In this article, I’m going to teach you a three-step method to calculate your maintenance calories for when you’re done with your diet, or when you want to take a temporary break from it.
I take this approach with myself and all my clients to ensure they not only drop fat, but also maintain those hard-earned results.
How to calculate your maintenance calories
Step 1. Work out your average rate of loss (ROL) using the last four weeks of your fat loss diet.
Let’s use this example:
Add up these four numbers to get the total loss over the four-week period:
0.4 + 0.6 + 0.4 + 0.7 = 2.1 lbs total loss
Then divide the total loss by 4 to get the weekly rate of loss:
2.1 / 4 = 0.5 lb weekly loss
Based on these calculations, every week you lost an average of 0.5 lb. This is your ROL.
Step 2. Multiply your ROL by 3500.
A common rule of thumb is that 1 lb of fat equals 3500 calories. This isn’t strictly correct, but it’s still a useful heuristic that yields pretty accurate results.
By multiplying your ROL by 3500, you get your weekly calorie deficit:
0.5 * 3500 = 1750 calories
In other words, for the past four weeks, you ate 1750 calories less than your weekly maintenance calories. Therefore, 1750 calories is your weekly calorie deficit.
If you’ve been losing fat eating around 1700 calories per day for the last four weeks, you can multiply this number by 7 to get your weekly fat loss calories:
1700 * 7 = 11 900
You then add 1750 calories to this number to work out your weekly maintenance calories:
11 900 + 1750 = 13 650 calories
Step 3. Once you know your weekly maintenance calories, divide this number by the seven days of the week to get your daily maintenance calories:
13 650 / 7 = 1950 calories per day
Based on these calculations, you can increase your current daily calorie target from 1700 to 1950 without fear of regaining body fat.
An alternative method:
Take the weekly calorie deficit calculated in Step 2 (1750 calories) and divide it by the seven days of the week to get your daily calorie deficit:
1750 / 7 = 250 calories
Every day, you were eating 250 calories less than your maintenance, so you can add this number to your current daily fat loss goal (1700 calories):
1700 + 250 = 1950 calories
If the math totally went over your head, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do it for you.
What can you expect when you increase calories to maintenance levels?
As weird as it sounds, you won’t regain body fat (otherwise, by definition, you wouldn’t be in a state of maintenance calories), but your weight can still go up.
The increase is due to the following factors:
So don’t panic!
In general, if you’ve estimated your maintenance calories correctly, then this initial weight increase will stabilise after a few days to a week.
If you keep gaining weight, then you’re likely in a small calorie surplus.
If that’s the case, adjust your calories downwards for a few days at a time until your weight starts fluctuating up and down within a small range.
How do you know you’re maintaining weight successfully?
Most people won’t maintain the exact same weight. For instance, it’s unlikely you’ll be exactly 150 lbs year after year. Successful maintenance is the maintenance of your weight within a range of a few pounds, which I call your weight maintenance range.
There’s no “best” weight maintenance range for everyone. For instance, I couldn’t say, “Everyone should maintain their weight within 10 lbs”.
Instead, you can define your own weight maintenance range based on the way you feel:
Therefore, your weight maintenance range is the range within which you feel your best in your own skin: on average, you have good energy, stable moods and hunger levels, and a balanced body image.
Do you need to recalculate your maintenance calories if you knew what they were before you started the diet?
The short answer is yes.
If you’ve been dieting for a long time and you’ve lost a considerable amount of body fat, your maintenance calories will be lower than before you started the diet.
The main reason is that a bigger body needs more energy to stay alive, carry out daily tasks, and exercise than a smaller body. So, after a successful diet, you won’t need as many calories to maintain your new, lower bodyweight as you did before you started.
That’s why I recommend you recalculate your maintenance calories using the last four weeks of your diet. With these recent data, you’ll be more likely to estimate your maintenance calories correctly and avoid unwanted fat regain.
Thanks for reading. May you make the best gains.
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An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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