All About Calories

Counting Calories

You’ll find them in 99.99% of everything you eat and drink. They can be your greatest friends or your worst enemies. Eat fewer than you need and you lose weight. Eat more than you need and you gain weight. Yes, it is that simple.

Since calories affect everyone everyday, it?s important to understand them: what they are, what they do, and how to make them work for you instead of against you.

Some basic facts about calories:

  • They represent the amount of energy in the foods you eat and drink.
  • They are not partial to certain types of foods. A calorie from a carrot is the same as a calorie from a doughnut (although the carrot calorie is much healthier, of course!).
  • Different types of foods are automatically higher in calories. Take 1 gram each of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The grams of protein and carbohydrate each contain 4 calories, while the gram of fat has 9. Yes, that?s more than double the calories gram per gram. Yikes!
  • One pound of fat = 3500 calories.

So how do you get calories on your side in your weight loss battle? First of all you need to know your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories your body needs every day just to function properly?to breathe, circulate blood, adjust hormone levels, digest food, grow and repair cells, and so on. While there are several formulas to figure out your BMR, here?s an easy one:

Current body weight x 12 = BMR

150 pounds x 12 = 1,800 calories (BMR)

Simply put, if you eat more than your daily BMR, your body stores those extra calories as fat and you gain weight. If you stay below your BMR, you create a calorie deficit and you lose weight. One caution: women should never eat less than 1,200 calories a day, and men should never go below 1,500. Consuming too few calories sends your body into a protective starvation mode and slows down your metabolism, and a slow metabolism doesn?t burn calories as fast and can cause other problems as well.

There are three basic ways to create a calorie deficit:

  1. Eat fewer calories than your BMR.
  2. Exercise, because it burns calories and builds muscle, and bigger muscles burn even more calories!
  3. A combination of #1 and #2?the best option by far.

Here?s how this works:

  • If you create a daily 500-calorie deficit, you?ll lose 1 pound a week.
  • If you create a daily 1,000-calorie deficit, you?ll lose 2 pounds a week (remember that cutting too many calories from your diet is not good).

I know, I hear you: ?But Heidi, I don?t like to count calories.? You?re not alone. Counting calories is so not fun. However, it?s really important to know what you?re taking into your body every time you open your mouth. Studies show that most people think they?ve eaten 20% fewer calories than they actually have, so trying to estimate your calorie intake is a recipe for disaster.

Until you have an opportunity to weigh and measure your food to figure what your “correct” portions look like, this simple graphic shows a safe and easy way to choose appropriate portion sizes without measuring cups or a scale. This should also help keep you from creating a calorie surplus:

How to make a proper meal using the Choose to Lose portion guide

Some final words of advice:

  • It?s important to recalculate your BMR as you lose weight.
  • Some calorie tracking apps add the calories you burn from exercise into your daily to-eat total, making it look like you can eat more than you actually can, and if you do eat all those calories, you won?t have a calorie deficit at the end of the day. Instead, eat the number of calories in your daily eating plan, and subtract the calories you burned to see your deficit. Remember: one pound of fat = 3500 calories, so work to eventually create a 3500 calorie deficit.
  • You can eat calories much faster than you can burn them, so don?t use those exercise-burned calories as permission to eat more food??I burned 500 calories this morning, so I can eat this cupcake.? So not a good way to do it!

To learn more about our preferred and proven eating and exercise plan?Carb Cycling?check out our book, Choose More, Lose More for Life.

205 Responses

  1. My favorite workout to do with my children is ride our bikes together! Arizona is fabulous right now. Id die for those reeboks!

  2. My favorite workout to do right now with my 4.5 month old is dancing to Zumba music on Pandora! I either hold him in my arms or put him in my front pack carrier and we dance while he just giggles and smiles! It makes my day. 🙂 #makingmemories #workingoutisgoodforthesoul ?Anna & Damon Harward -SLC, Ut.

  3. Heidi, this is great! I have a question: Can a very SMALL woman drop below 1200? I am very, very short, and I’ve worked hard to lose weight to get healthy. But my BMI puts me at about 10 pounds overweight still (and I still feel like I have that much to lose.) However, using the BMR calcualtor, my daily calorie intake should be 1400. I’ve been eating exactly 1200 calories for several months, AND exercising hard about 6 days a week. However, I just can’t drop the last 10 pounds. In the past 2 months, I’ve lost no weight, even with carb cycling. Can someone who is very small like me drop below 1200 calories? I can’t really exercise any more. My schedule simply won’t permit it, nor would I be able to maintain more than 1-2 hours per day 6 days a week, which is what I’m doing! Thank you!

  4. Kristina- your BMR (based on your weight x 12) is 4200. That’s how many calories your body needs to maintain your weight of 350 pounds. To lose weight eat less than that. Subtract 1000 calories from your BMR to lose 2 pounds a week.
    The more you weigh, the higher your a BMR. That’s why it’s important to recalculate as you lose weight.

  5. Hi Heidi,
    I subscribed to enewsletter at I wasn’t able to download the free printable handy food guide. I was wondering if you could just send it through my email? Thank you:)

  6. Heidi,

    I weight 365 so that equals 4,380 BMR. I’m just a tad confused because if my body can’t possibly require that much. Would that mean if I eat anything less than that I would lose weight? Thats a ton of food. I am gearing up to hopefully start Chris’s Carb Cycling on Thursday. 4,380 is a lot more than 1,200.


  7. Hi Heidi,

    I have been on my weight loss journey for over a year now and have lost over 60 pounds. When I started exercising in August the weight loss slowed drastically and I haven’t been able to figure out how many calories to eat now that I do intense exercise and running. If my BMR is 2100 and the carb cycling plan suggests that I eat 1200 calories a day plus I burn between 600-700 calories from exercise I am netting far below 1200 calories (typically around 600). Is this low of a number ok? I asked a Bode representative and they said yes it was ok and it is what your clients on EWL follow as well. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks so much! You inspire me everyday!

  8. Hi Heidi,

    This has been on my mind for some time. I understand how to eat the portions for carbs, protein and veggies but when it comes to Fat – I’m lost. If I take a look at the Smart Food List and look at fats, should I be measuring out a piece of avocado or feta cheese the size of my thumb? Or balsamic dressing – am I supposed to pour out the amount of my thumb from the last joint to the tip? Or do I dunk my thumb in a bottle of dressing and whatever I grab would equate to what I could put in my salad? I know I’m being silly but really – how many grams of fat equal the size of a thumb? Respectively, what are the total grams of proteins and carbs as measured in a “palm” or a “fist”? That way I’ll know if I am eating the right amount. Thanks!

  9. Heidi I took a nutrition course in school and did very well in it but when it comes to the stuff we learned from a book to the actual eating of food it’s way more difficult to put into practice. Somehow instead of teaching nutrition from a book they should actually take us into a kitchen and teach us how to cook and eat properly because something is getting lost from the textbook to the kitchen.

  10. Hi Heidi I was wondering then I did my BMR and it indicates I would be good with 4200 calories per day that seems very high!!! I am 350lbs and I really want to lose weight I have a two year old son I am having a really hard time keeping up with him. I don’t really know where to start do you have some advice for me

    1. If you want to maintain your weight of 350 lbs you would consume 4200 calories. If you would like to lose 2 lbs a week then go down to 3200 calories a day.

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