Dieting 101: Calculating calories and macros

DISCLAIMER: This is not intended to replace the work of a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist. If you have health problems related to diet, the following advice will not rid you of them. This is only intended as guidance for those who are overall healthy but wish to understand the mathematics behind how energy intake works in the context of losing and/or gaining weight. If you have struggled, or are currently struggling with eating disorder(s) or disordered eating behaviours, I strongly advise seeking professional help and do not recommend reading on.

Welcome to the micromanager’s guide to dieting.

You want the accuracy and accountability of following a science-based dieting approach, but don’t know where to start.

Several social media influencers offer “macro coaching” for a fee. However, if budget is tight you really can do it with just a little patience.

Phase 1 – Determine your maintenance calories

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Step 1 – Weigh yourself**

Step 2 – Track a full week of eating

  • the point is to determine current eating habits.

Step 3 – Weigh yourself again

  • If your weight stayed relatively the same, you’re either at or close to maintenance.
  • If it changed, you are already either in a deficit or surplus.

Step 4 – Gather data from the app

  • Take an average of your calorie totals (add them and divide by 7).
  • use this as maintenance for now (obviously can edit down the road).

** note: avoid testing this if you are a woman near ovulation or menstruation, your results will be skewed due to water retention**

Phase 2 – Make a specific goal with a realistic timeline

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Same weight can be dropped in 1 week, 1 month, or 3 months. But the real question to as is which will be easiest to maintain?

Step 1 – Lose or gain weight?

  • Losing weight = calories less than maintenance calories.
  • Gain weight/muscle = calories more than maintenance calories.

Step 2 – How much less/more = how quickly

  • Someone eating 250 calories less/more than maintenance and someone eating 500+ calories less/more than maintenance will both reach the same goal weight. The latter will reach the goal faster but will be much hungrier (if losing) or uncomfortably full (if building muscle). This method runs the risk of having the person relapse into old eating habits because the perceived effort is much higher and your body will have a harder time adapting
  • For this reason I always go slowly so it’s less mentally taxing and my chances of sustaining the new weight are much higher. For me this means no more than a 200-350 calorie deficit/surplus.

Phase 3 – Calculate macros that work best for YOU.

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It’s all a balancing act you can tailor to yourself.

All math below is based on a 2000 kcal diet for a 130 lbs individual.

Protein:

General rule for protein is to make it high and keep it constant. This means 20-35% of total calories should come from protein and that target should be met every single day except for your birthday.

  • Lower range protein intake: Bodyweight in lbs x 0.7 = 91g
  • Upper range protein intake: Bodyweight in lbs x 1.2 = 156g
  • Pick a smaller target range that falls between the lower and upper limits of 91 g and 156 g like 115-140g.

This means for an individual eating 2000 calories a day at 130lbs body weight the protein target should be between 115-140g a day.  Always give yourself a range so you don’t feel like you failed yourself if you ate 115g one day but your goal was 125g because it’s really not that serious.

Carbs:

For those who have very high-intensity workouts, spend a majority of their day on their feet and/or would rather die than give up pasta and bread:

  • Set carbs to 45-60% of your total calories.
  • 50% = 1000 calories.
  • Carbs = 4 calories/gram.
  • 1000 kcal/(4 kcal/g) = 250g.
  • Set a target range around this number such as 235-255g to allow for flexibility.

If you do not relate to the above psychographic and do really well with cutting carbs, you are welcome to move the carb percentage as low as 35 -45%*.

Same math applies.

*edit: you are more than welcome to go under 35% and still be healthy, I am just giving a range that tends to work for most people

Fats:

For those who are more sedentary, generally prefer high-fat meat, high-fat dairy, coconut oil, nuts, seeds,  avocados, chips, chocolate and don’t really care about eating heavy carbs: 

  • Set fat to 30-40% of total calories.
  • Use the same math as above BUT fat = 9 calories/gram.
  • 35% of 2000 calorie diet is 700 calories and therefore comes to 78 g of fat.

If you identified with the high carb description, your fat will be whatever is leftover. This will likely fall around 20-30% of total calories.

BRING IT ALL TOGETHER NOW:

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Fibre: the forgotten friend:

  • 40 g at the very least.
  • Eat vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains as regularly as possible.
  • BUT if bathroom trips are starting to look like nuclear bomb explosions, you’re taking it too far.
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Learning how to calculate my macros at the ripe age of 8.

Alcohol: honestly just don’t.

…and if you do, either track as carbs, fats …or pretend like you accidentally dropped your phone in the toilet and and will start over tomorrow.

Full disclosure: I usually go with option 3.

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And that’s really it.

If you are not seeing expected results or you are finding it very hard to stick to the numbers you set, revisit them and try something new.

Don’t stress about hitting exact numbers like 123g of protein. Give yourself room to breathe a bit. Not every day will be perfect.

I strongly believe counting macros should not be done for the rest of your life. Use it as an educational tool… like a personal science experiment.

So go ahead, try it out and see for yourself.

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