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What is a Calorie Budget and Why you Should Have One

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Having a budget is a great way to gain awareness of where your money is being spent. Without one, you are kind of flying by the seat of your pants, hoping that it all works out in the end. Very often, not having a basic budget can mean we are spending much more than we realize.

But this is not a personal finance blog. We talk health and fitness here. So how does a budget relate to calories? Well, just like we can budget to set aside money for a big purchase, we can do the same with calories. Acting in this way can allow us to enjoy life and prepare for those special occasions where we might just want to have that extra slice of cake. Let’s find out how this works.

How Many Calories Can I Eat?

To get started, we first have to find out how many calories we have to “spend” in a day. To do so, you would first start by estimating your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of calories your body burns during the day at rest. To elaborate, this is the amount of calories your body uses to maintain life-sustaining function, such as digestion, organ function, blood circulation, breathing, etc. Basically, this is the calories you would burn if you just sat on your ass all day.

To estimate your BMR, you could use a few different equations. One of the most popular is the Harris-Benedict equation, which varies by gender (Sorry ladies. Your BMR will be lower than an equivalent guy).

MEN: BMR = 66 + ( 6.2 × weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 × height in inches ) – ( 6.76 × age in years )

WOMEN: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 × weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 × height in inches ) – ( 4.7 × age in years )

Or, if math scares you, you can use a nifty online calculator, like this one.

This number might be higher than you thought it would be. When I first started tracking calories years ago, it surprised me how many calories I burned just existing. The percentage of the overall calories burned from exercise make up a much smaller portion of the overall daily calorie needs than I would have originally thought.

Now, once you have your BMR, you would make slight adjustments based on your activity level. Try to be conserative with your multiplier, since it is my opinion that these correction factors can easily overestimate your calorie needs.

  • Sedentary: If you get minimal or no exercise, multiply your BMR by 1.2.
  • Lightly active: If you perform low intensity exercise one to three days a week, multiply your BMR by 1.375.
  • Moderately active: If you perform moderate exercise three to five days a week, multiply your BMR by 1.55.
  • Very active: If you engage in high intensity exercise six to seven days a week, multiply your BMR by 1.725.
  • Extra active: If you engage in very hard exercise six to seven days a week or have a physical job, multiply your BMR by 1.9

Or, if you want to get a bit more specific, you can try to take a guess at how many calories you burn during your specific forms of exercise throughout the day. Be wary of what your fitness tracking watch or exercise equipment says you burned. Equipment like treadmills, stair steppers, apple watches, etc. all typically overestimate your calories. They can easily be off by a few hundred calories. A good rule of thumb is to assume that you burned 25-45% less calories than what they are telling you. 

Also, you are not burning nearly as many calories as you think you are during a weight lifting session. Even on the hardest of leg days, you are probably only burning 100-300 calories. 

Regardless, whatever you calculate as your calorie burn during the day, it is only an estimate. The only way to truly validate it would be to track your calories by tracking your food and weighing yourself daily over the course of 2-3 weeks. If your weight stays steady during that period, then congratulations, you found your maintenance calorie amount for your current bodyweight. However, if you were to gain weight or lose weight, your maintenance level will change as well, since it correlates to how much you weigh/how much muscle you have. But, for most people, having a basic guess of your maintenance calorie level can be enough to get started.

How to Budget Your Calories

The old school way of thinking about calories is a daily allotment of what you can eat during the day. This will work and get you the results you want if you consistently do so. However, doing so day in and day out can be tough and means you have to maintain high levels of self control during special events, like dinner with friends, a night out, or a party. When events like this occur, it can be very easy to overrun your allotted calories for the day. When this happens, it can cause a feeling of dread since you failed at keeping to your budget. And honestly, that feeling sucks. It can lead to mentally beating yourself up and could lead to giving up on your diet.

Luckily, there is a better way to think about calories. Instead of thinking about them in terms of daily limits, it can be helpful to think about them as an allowance over the course of a week. In this way, instead of thinking about your maintenance calorie level as, for example, 2,000 a day, you would think about it as 14,000 over the course of a week. 

This would still give you the same overall results as a daily allotment, but gives you some more flexibility. With this mindset, you can “save up” calories earlier in the week if you know you have an event later in the week where you would want to eat/drink more. For instance, if you normally eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight, you could instead eat 1,800 calories for the first six days of the week and then on the day where you have an event, you would have 3,200 calories to “spend.” You would still need to have some control during the event, but you would have more flexibility to eat higher calorie foods and still maintain weight. 

This can also be used in reverse. So, if you had a day where you ate more than you planned, you can cut back on the following days to still keep on track. However, I am not advocating starving yourself as “punishment” for having a bad day. Punishing yourself will just lead to more unhappiness and mental fatigue, which can push you even farther from your goals. Gotta have some self-forgiveness and self-love since you are the only person who has to live with you 24/7. It is way more fun to have a healthy relationship with yourself. Plus, starving yourself/severely cutting back calories will only lead to more issues than it solves. Check out THIS ARTICLE to see why it is counterproductive.

Budgeting to Lose Weight

Now, if your goal is to lose weight, you would have to be eating under maintenance calories. The general consensus is that eating 500-1000 calories below maintenance is a healthy and safe deficit. This would have you losing about 1-2 pounds a week. Going above this level is often counterproductive, as it increases the chance your diet will fail and oftentimes leads to regaining the weight. In my opinion, even a 1000 calorie deficit is too high for the average person. I get that everyone wants results fast, but chasing fast results often just means you are setting yourself up to fail.

In my experience, a smaller deficit works best for results that last. Yes, it will take longer, but when you are eating at a level that is as close to your maintenance calories as possible, you will be hungry less often and have less cravings. This greatly improves your chances of success. 

Conclusion

Just like calories do not have to be thought about on a daily basis, you are not limited to a weekly basis either. You can look at the timescale in terms of months, years, or even a lifetime. 

The point is, fitness and health are a lifetime journey and one bad day/week/month/year is not a life sentence. You have time to make changes that lead to a body you are proud of. All that matters is that you do not give up and you stick to it. Persistence and the ability to get back on the horse when you fall off is worth more than any special diet or exercise routine. 

You do not have to be perfect right away. Nobody is. It is all about making mistakes and learning from them so you can understand what works for you. 

With that, whatever your goal is, assume that reaching it will take twice as long. This is often much more realistic than the timeframes we set for ourselves. Having realistic expectations is the key to success. The results are there for you to obtain as long as you are patient enough. It is worth it.

If you want help learning how to do this and certain tricks that can help make it all easier, feel free to reach out to me HERE.

Or, you can take some time to read the below articles, which showcase some of my favorite food tips and tricks that have helped me and are currently helping me stick to a healthy eating style all year round and loving what I eat.

Plus, if you want some exclusive tips, tricks, and methods before they make it on the site, make sure to sign up for the Block Party Newsletter below. We have fun 😉

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