Alright, I’m tempted to apologize for how long this is, and I realize you may well already be familiar with a lot of this - but I didn’t want to step in and just make assumptions so I went over everything
from the beginning in how I tend to approach this. Apologies if parts get long-winded or already familiar.
For me, calorie-counting and monitoring (sometimes called ‘CICO’ - calories in, calories out) has always been the way - the only way - to really take control of my weight. The process is deceptively simple: 1. Figure out how much I should be eating. 2. Keep myself honest in only eating that. 3. Work on finding a way to make that number as pleasant an experience as possible. How much to eat
So, step 1 is figuring out what exactly I should be eating.
So what I tend to do is start by calculating two estimates: my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and my Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount a body needs to survive in a coma
. Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is an estimate of how many calories are actually burned during a normal day. The formulas for a woman are as follows:
BMR = 655+(4.35*(weight in lbs))+(4.7*(height in inches))-(4.7*(age in years))
TDEE at Sedentary = BMR * 1.2
Obviously TDEE changes based on exercise amounts - but I prefer to calculate it at sedentary
because I spend most of my life in an office, and then if I’m doing a LOT of exercise I compensate separately - but if you’re not getting exercise 3+ times a week that sedentary number will probably work for you. If you’re on your feet a lot of the time - like you work a retail job on your feet all day or physically demanding manual labor job day-to-day - then maybe bump it up to 1.3 or 1.4 respectively.
Of course that calculation is done per your height/weight/age. As weight changes (like we want it to) this becomes a moving target, and keeping track of that can become a pain - so automation is our friend.
I’ve created a copy of the google doc I use for calculating everything, updated for your age/height here
. The later tabs which show how I track weight loss personally (and actually show my latest round of it at a high level, going from 200->180 about a year ago). As a note: that was a moderately aggressive patch of weight loss - but I think it’s good to see the serious ups-and-downs in the day to day.
So with considering exercise you have a decision to make. Do you want to burn extra calories because you’re exercising, or do you want to compensate for your exercise by adding more food (‘eat back’ your exercise)? If you want to ‘eat back’ your exercise here’s how I tend to do it: I use many of the various online calorie calculators
my calories burned. Be aware many of these tend to overestimate, but it provides a baseline. I then take what I’d normally do in a week - add it up, and divide by 7 (effectively just smoothing out the number over the week) to add to my daily amount.
So for example with your height/weight a riding lesson of 25 minutes of posting trot and 30 minutes at the walk would be ~325 calories for the hour (for your height/weight). Divided by 7 and you get ~46 calories a day. I think this probably also shows you why I don’t bother doing this unless I’m doing a lot
of exercise in a week.
So (and I realize you probably know this from your nutrition class) a pound of fat is approximately
3500 calories - a deficit of that much and you lose a pound, a surplus and you gain a pound. People nitpick these numbers all the time, but as a broad baseline they work. Neatly, that works out to a pound of weight loss a week being a deficit of about 500 calories per day. You can then just calculate your desired loss from there.
So, to use your numbers, at sedentary you could estimate that your TDEE is about 1950, subtract 500 and you end up with about 1450ish calories per day
. Eat that much, and you’d lose about a pound a week. If you want to ‘eat back’ your riding lesson, that would take you up to almost 1500 - not a bad number to work with. Usually I make a target ‘range’ of about 150 calories in either direction of my goal, and try to get my average on-point - but that just depends how picky you are.
A pound a week of weight loss, by the way, is what I (and a lot of people) tend to recommend just about anyone (baring either health concerns or being extremely overweight) start out with. After you’ve settled into that for a few weeks then you can look at trying to play with the numbers to get more/less restrictive based on either your frustration at not seeing results or your degree of suffering at keeping the diet.
Now, a few caveats: Generally accepted practice (and I agree with this) is that you should never go below eating around 1200 calories or
about 1.5% weight loss per week (whichever gives you the higher minimum number) without some sort of direct medical supervision. That latter number is really only applicable for people who have more to lose than either of us do. For most women in the ‘moderate weight loss’ category such as ourselves, that 1200 number is pretty much going to be our rock bottom, and I really don’t recommend pressing that low, especially to start out. Tracking Calories
Ok, great, so now there’s a target… now what? Well, this is where get to the annoying part. Now I need to track how much I’m eating. Personally, I do this through another archaic spreadsheet where I make sure to get calorie numbers for everything and then plug-and-play from there. I can share one of these if you like, but as I said: I’m a bit of an oddball in that I like that method.
Most people prefer something like the phone and web app My Fitness Pal
If you try this and your experience is anything like mine you will learn a LOT about food through this process. It’s kind of a pain, but the very act of checking
calories will often lead to a lot of interesting realizations. “Wow, that’s a lot worse than I thought it was!” and “Awesome, I didn’t realize this was healthy.” Just the act of paying attention to it helped me a lot in looking at what I was eating and making smarter life decisions. Also, the act of recording and knowing that I was going to be accountable for everything I put in my mouth, really cut down on random thoughtless eating. I couldn’t just munch a bag of chips - now I needed to record
it. It was amazing how many times I didn’t bother to eat a bit of junk food because I didn’t want the hassle of writing it down. (To the point where just recording, without consciously cutting calories
would still result in me not eating as much as I otherwise would). The process of recording created this little mental ‘check’ on if I really
wanted those skittles. If I did, I’d eat them - but it was no longer mindless.
Personally, I found this whole process was made much easier by pre-calculating most of the things I liked to eat (i.e. the sub I like at subway is 530 calories, this stir-fry is about 400 calories, this cheesecake is about 750 calories a slice, this small apple is about 60…). Then I just plug in the numbers as I go. I also tracked protein, both because I’m vegetarian and for some other reasons I will mention below, but that’s really not critical for most people.
Now, a warning: Being this conscious of your eating patterns can lead to ‘obsessive’ in some people. If you experience any sort of body-image issues, this whole process can tend to kick that a bit. A certain degree of concern (and yes, it can even seem a little obsessive) can be healthy to staying on the diet - but if you start feeling worse
as the pounds come off, something is going wrong. This usually hits people going for vanity harder than those going for fitness because the temptation to try to get rail-thin isn’t as attractive a draw. Still, it’s something to watch - this is a good and healthy thing you’re trying to do for yourself and it’s important it stay that way both mentally and physically. How to make this not suck
So when I first went from my ‘default’ diet (which I’d guess was around 2200-2400 calories, realistically - I gain about 2-4 pounds a month if I just eat whatever I want) to seriously dieting it was… kind of miserable. A lot of that misery dies down after the first 2-3 weeks, which are definitely the toughest, but I’m also not going to lie and say that it’s all flowers and roses.
The harder you ‘jump’ into the diet the rougher those first couple weeks. There are kind of two philosophies here - either start reducing calories slowly (starting with just counting and not adjusting anything, and then maybe paring 100 calories off your average every 2 weeks until you’re down to your ‘target’ number) or there’s the ‘get it over with’ approach of just forcing yourself onto the new diet and trying to ride out the unpleasantness until the body adjusts. I’ve used both personally, and my personal favorite is to do about 1-2 weeks of ‘watching’, then jump down 500 calories or so to a ‘reduction’ diet and then, if I’m going to do anything more intense, to jump to whatever my final number is about two weeks later.
I’ll be honest: despite my advice to only cut 500 calories to start out, my personal numbers (having done this several times both for short and longer terms) usually ends up being a 750 calorie reduction with eating-back. So I usually go 2000->1500->1250 as a sedentary baseline. When exercising and eating back that means my final numbers look like 2200->1700->1450. I’m taller than you, but older, so our numbers actually look really close to each other.
The second area to really look at for enjoying one’s new diet is the the concept of satiety
. Satiety is basically how full and satisfying certain foods are. People say that there’s a magic bullet for this (and there are all sorts of attempts to rank foods according to satiety), but in chatting with various people doing the dieting thing it seems like everyone’s a little different - though usually within certain trends.
Things people tend to find satiating:
For me, that’s about the order they’re in - but this is different for different people. A lot of people find that ‘volume’ is the number one thing that they find makes them feel ‘full’ (this actually seems the most common one). For others, it can be fiber that really does it. This is a matter of playing around with things a bit - specifically, how full does 300 calories which is high on one of those, but low on the others, make you feel about 20 minutes later?
My personal method is to calculate protein-per-calorie, and use that to rank how ‘good’ foods are. I’m constantly low on protein (especially when exercising) so this usually helps me find foods that are filling and healthy for me. As a side-effect of this my diet tends to end up being low-carb, kind of by accident. This isn’t low-carb like atkins low carb, but I avoid bread because it’s high calorie and not terribly filling. Also, frankly, I have a horrible sweet tooth - I’d rather have a donut than a bread roll, and shockingly they’re often about the same calorically.
Everyone has their dieting challenges. For me, it’s this: I have a huge and chronic sweet tooth. So I find myself picking my sweets carefully. When dieting I will often go out and buy expensive truffles - and then for my candy/sweets I will eat one
or if I’m feeling super-indulgent maybe two
. I don’t buy cheap bags of candy, I go straight for the jelly-bellies in my favorite flavor if I’m going to eat candy. If I’m going to eat sweets it’s going to be really indulgent good sweets - and to be honest, many times my diet has 100 calories of candy in it most days. It works for me. I am not big on doing things because that’s how they’re supposed to be done - we should enjoy such things.
Likewise, I emotionally eat - so sue me. Food is one of the ways I deal with stress. So I go buy some really good
fancy chocolate bars to do it with - the kind that are $6-$10 a bar at the fancy grocery store (I really love vosges
). Then I will get stressed at work and half of one will be gone…. At like 250 calories - diet not busted, and I feel better.
I also do cheat meals/days - or actually, more often ‘maintenance’ meals/days (i.e. I change the calorie number back up to 1950). The key with those is to not do them so often that they affect the average. 1 day every 2 weeks really isn’t going to affect your numbers much, 3-4 days a week really will. This is just a balancing act.
As my diet gets very restrictive (so during those times when I’m doing less than 1400 for some reason) I will try to actually plan a little bit roughly how much I want for each meal - so I want about 200-400 calories for breakfast, 400-500 for lunch, and 500-700 for dinner let’s say. Then I have pre-planned ideas for what meals will go in each of those slots and slip them in.
In another controversial statement: I am really quite lazy with all this. I love pre-packaged and pre-portioned foods. High-Protein oatmeal packets and an apple make a great breakfast, as do protein bars, or even a skim-milk starbucks coffee (surprisingly good macros!). Egg-patty sandwiches can be surprisingly healthy, as can some specific brands of frozen-yogurt ice cream bars. Greek Yogurt is shockingly
healthy - I like Fage, but Chobotti 0% or 2% is good too. Frozen meals make great lunches - everything is calculated for you on the box, they’re easy, and especially some of the indian and organic ones are really interesting. A lot of fast-food (or fast-casual) places I can calculate my order once and go from there. I eat subway, carefully ordered taco-bell, zoup, and panera (if you avoid the delicious, delicious bread). I also like noodles and company, but that’s not quite as healthy. Leftovers from any of these places work great. Small pizza slices are surprisingly healthy if you keep your eating of them controlled and put something like a salad on the side. I’m super-picky about canned soups, but have discovered that I do like Wolfgang Puck Canned Soups
when I can find them. I’ve played around with some of the harder-core diet foods to wildly mixed success and can go into my thoughts on them if you’d like - but everyone’s tastes seem to vary wildly. I drink a lot
of diet soda - though some people swear it’s bad for you or it makes you hungrier - I’ve never noticed this effect.
It’s probably even better if you cook. You can totally make even healthier things that way. I usually have neither the time nor inclination. Sometimes my partner cooks and thus I will eat some of whatever he’s cooking - but he also does the health/dieting thing so he calculates the calories for the meal and I just use those. Yes, I am almost humorously lazy at times.
The other thing is that I can keep up a diet strictly usually for about 3-4 months before I inevitably get frustrated with it, a big key for me was learning that this is ok
. I then go from ‘dieting’ to ‘maintaining’ (so not letting myself gain weight and continuing to track myself on the scale) and then when I feel like it, I go back to dieting again. This has resulted in a lot saner ‘stepping’ down then the times I’ve gone off and tried to lose 60 pounds at once (that got a little crazy). I can lose 15-20 lbs in 4 months, spend a few months enjoying it, and then go back to losing weight again. You’ll notice if you check that sheet I went from 200->180 back in Jan->March of this year. My goal next year is to go from 180->160ish and stay there. Not losing all the weight at once wasn’t a failure
it was just a step
on a longer journey. My goal is just to try to make sure I’m heading the right direction.
I could keep rambling on for a long time here. There are lots of bits of advice that work for other people but don’t work for me. Some people like what’s called ‘intermittent fasting’ which basically is just not eating anything say after 8 pm until noon. I don’t like it, but some people swear by it. Some people say you can lose weight faster if you keep alternating the calorie range up and down day-by-day… I have no idea if there’s any truth to that, but I will say it makes me utterly miserable to try. Some people are really careful to restrict the foods available in their house so that they don’t have temptations around - I find that makes me feel shockingly deprived and like it’s not my choice I’m dieting. Any of these methods might help you though - just not for me.
Anyway, as is evidenced by my long tirade - I am happy to talk about this. Seriously, it’s been a struggle since I was 16. I’ve managed to keep it under control (unlike some of my 400lb+ relatives) but it will probably always be a something I have to keep tabs on.