Your TDEE : A Tool for Weight Loss That Trumps ALL Else

As I’ve mentioned before my journey towards health (and looking like a greek god) is not an easy one.

Despite there being more information on health and fitness today than ever before, I’ve found myself getting confused and frustrated by all the mixed messages.

After what feels like 100’s of hours of research (I’m a geek), I’ve found a few principles that seem to be the “keys” to effective and sustainable weight loss. One of them is the importance of building healthy habits into your life. Another one is having the belief you can actually do it.

In this brief post we’ll talk about what I feel is the most important one of all.

TDEE – The Science Behind Weight Loss

calorie deficit

Everyday your body burns a specific number of calories just by existing. This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate. The BMR is based on your weight, height and age. (Calculate your BMR here)

When you exercise or simply expend energy through physical activity, you burn additional calories. When you combine your BMR with the calories you burn through physical activity, you get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. (Calculate your TDEE here).

This is what is known as your maintenance calories. If you eat this amount of calories you will maintain your weight. 

So How Do I Lose Weight?

You lose weight by having a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit is eating less than your body needs to maintain itself and thus creating a deficit. Ever had more bills than you had money? You had a financial deficit. A calorie deficit is having less energy than you need to stay the same weight.

Let’s say that based on your age, weight, and height your BMR is 1700 calories and through some physical activity you end up with a TDEE of 2300 calories. To maintain weight you simply eat 2300 calories every day.

To gain weight you eat more than your TDEE and to lose weight you eat less.

Of course, you can also achieve a deficit through burning more calories through exercise.

Every effective diet I’ve come across, whether it’s high fat, low fat, high carb, low carb, uses a calorie deficit to achieve weight loss.

how many calories to eat

How Many Calories Are We Talking?

Technically you can eat nothing all day and achieve weight loss through having a calorie deficit.

Many “miracle diets” claim incredible results through eating specific magical foods or using unique protocols. Unfortunately many diets out there are nothing more than glorified Crash Diets. These diets put you into severe caloric deficit resulting in, yes weight loss (usually short term), but they can also cause health complications and damage to your metabolism.

To avoid doing damage, the general recommendation I’ve found and used is 500 calories less than your TDEE. Some people advise more, but I’ve found that to be unnecessary.

Also, having any more than a 500 calorie deficit makes it likely that along with losing fat you will lose lean muscle, which is not ideal as lean muscle helps burn additional calories.

There are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, so at 500 calories a day you will lose a pound in a week. (See how much exercise burns a pound of fat here.)

Note that your body can become conditioned to the same repeated exercise. This can affect your TDEE (see more about this).

get started

How Do I Get Started?

I suggest that you use flexible dieting to accomplish the goal of creating a calorie deficit in order to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way.

Flexible dieting is non-restrictive and allows you to eat all of your favorite foods as long as they fit within your TDEE and macro goals.

You could eat unhealthy foods and still achieve weight loss (as demonstrated by The Twinkie Diet). but weight loss and health are not mutually exclusive. My advice would be to fill the majority of your diet with fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and lean meats. This way you can feel great AND achieve weight loss.

We have a multitude of flexible dieting resources on this site, plus a comprehensive program that you can buy and get started straight away.

Don’t get bogged down by the latest and greatest research coming out of universities you’ve never heard of. All the conflicting diets and controversial advice from health gurus are enough to give anyone a headache.

Focus on your TDEE, which has proven time and time again, to be the most important tool for weight loss and getting healthier.

Just remember that whatever you decide to eat – the above information is enough for the majority of the population to get started losing weight. 

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    Citations:

  • Rising, R., Harper, I. T., Fontvielle, A. M., Ferraro, R. T., Spraul, M., & Ravussin, E. (1994). Determinants of total daily energy expenditure: variability in physical activity. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(4), 800-804. study link
  • Schulz, L. O., & Schoeller, D. A. (1994). A compilation of total daily energy expenditures and body weights in healthy adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 60(5), 676-681. study link
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81 Comments

  1. Bre 1 month ago

    Hi Ted! When I calculate my daily calories, it shows that for maintenance I need 1746. When I try to eat that little I don’t feel very good. Is that something I’ll get used to, or are my calculations wrong?

    Reply
    • Ted 1 month ago

      Hi Bre, I’m not sure because I don’t know your stats, exercise level or goal. If you’ve been overeating then you’ve created a set point for your body. Diverging from this does take some time to adjust. But, 1746 is much better than the 1200 calories many diets would recommend for a woman.

      Reply
  2. pjos 5 months ago

    My TDEE is 1191. I definitely wouldn’t want to cut out 500 calories. Maybe I’ll try the 20% reduction.

    Reply
    • Ted 5 months ago

      That doesn’t sound right and seems pretty low even for a maintenance sedentary TDEE. What are your stats?

      Reply
  3. Mike 7 months ago

    Hello Ted, my maintenance is about 2000. I have been eating, roughly, 3000 each day for a good while. I powerlift, yet have a fairly sedentary job. I recently reduced my daily caloric intake to avoid unnecessary fat gain. I’m carrying, approx., 60 lbs of adipose tissue. I weight 210 with a supposed LBM around 150lbs. If I maintain a daily intake of 2275 with macros that correlate with lean muscle gain, continue my daily routine regarding energy expenditure, my body will slowly utilize my excess fat stores for fuel until my metabolic rate decrease tapers off, correct?

    Reply
    • Ted 7 months ago

      Hi Mike, Yes that is usually how it works. Since you have a fair amount of fat to lose, I would start with a deficit of 20%. You probably won’t gain much muscle but you should lose what you have and the fat will burn off faster.

      Reply
      • Mike 7 months ago

        Ted, thank you for your response. When you refer to the deficit, are you referring to my TDEE (2000) or from the 3000kcal that I’ve been eating daily?

        Reply
        • Ted 7 months ago

          Your 20% deficit is derived from subtracting it from your maintenance TDEE.

          Reply
  4. Liam 7 months ago

    Hello there. I’m having a hard time controlling my diet, primarily due to the availability of healthy foods and tight budget (as a college student). I’m always tempted to eat whenever I get easy access to food. There’s literally fast food everywhere in our place, and it’s easily making me forget diet. And then at night time, I can’t help but feel bad about myself.
    Anyhow, my TDEE is 2346. During weekdays, I always consume less than that. Although my diet is mostly composed of protein and sodium so maybe there’s something wrong with it. During weekends, I’m not so sure about the calorie count, but I tend to eat fast food for breakfast and lunch so I guess I’m over that limit.
    On the body composition side, I’m very unhealthy. I’m overweight, my body fat percentage is around 30% and I don’t exercise regularly. (although I think that may be compensated for the fact that I study in a mountainous region, so that may be replaced by walking on steep areas).
    On top of that, I tend to sleep around 12AM or even 2AM because I can only concentrate when it’s quiet at night. Our school library won’t work for me because my friends would often disturb my studying mood.

    Reply
    • Ted 7 months ago

      You really should start tracking your macros using a smartphone app. Being aware of how much you are eating vs. how much you need is a huge step in solving the problem. Start by learning more about the process here: https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting

      Reply
  5. Clara 7 months ago

    Hello,
    I have a question I believe you might be able to answer. I used the calorie calculator and determined that my maintenance calories are 2273, Fat loss 1819, and extreme fat loss is 1364 calories (I’m 5’3, 22 yrs old, 145 lbs). For almost a year I’ve been eating 1200-1400 calories and doing different exercises. I’ve managed to drop from 181 to 145 but have been plateauing for about a month now. I want to lose about 10 more lbs. I am currently eating 1200 calories and for the past 3 weeks have been running on the treadmill to burn between 500-600cals on my fitness tracker. But the scale won’t budge and this article showed me it’s because I’m under eating. Should I go up to 1800 calories and still continue to burn between 500-600 calories through running 4/5 days a week? Do I need to eat more? If I increase calories from 1200 to 1800 but continue to run, will I still gain weight?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ted 7 months ago

      Hi Clara, Yes, you’ve been undereating, which after time caused your weight loss to stall because your metabolism slowed down in order to preserve resources. You really need to work on getting your metabolism to where it should be for a 22-year-old. This involves eating more. I would advise that you gradually increase your calories, but don’t expect things to change overnight and you could possibly gain a pound or two during the process. Sometimes it can take 3 weeks to get things going again. You really only want to eat at extreme weight loss calories for no more than 6 weeks or what your dealing with usually happens.

      Reply
      • Clara 7 months ago

        Hi Ted,
        Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. Since I’m eating about 1200 cals and then burning about 500-600 cals, my net is about 600-700 cals which I can see is very low. I know you’ve suggested to gradually increase my calories, how should I go about doing this? Should I introduce about 100-150cals extra a week until I’m at 1800? Or do I need to increase even more because my net is so low so the increase in calories would level out? (basically, should I just eat 1800 for the next week because after subtracting exercises I’d be at about 1200 cals net?)

        Thank you!
        -Clara

        Reply
        • Ted 7 months ago

          Probably go up 200 each day and then increase after a week. Also be aware that most fitness trackers over-estimate calorie burn so the 500-600 may be a little high. They don’t account for things like exercise conditioning which is your body’s adaptation to exercise. Check out our calculator here, https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator and set it for moderate activity “lose” setting. This will already factor exercise calories in and show you exactly what you should aim for eventually.

          Reply
  6. Ravi 7 months ago

    I was just curious.. I am trying those fat and my calories deficit was calculated at 1819.. which is 20% below maintenance. However, my diet has been very bad and I have been as high as between 3000 and 3500 calories a day. Would you just drop straight down to 1819 or would you gradual go down said to maintenance for like a week and then to 1819? Is there any downside to going straight to 1819? I’m male, 44 yrs, 5’10 tall, weigh 225, BF is about 30%. Thanks

    Reply
    • Ted 7 months ago

      Hi Ravi, The only downside from making such a drop is that you’ll most likely feel pretty hungry until your body adjusts. It may be easier to do a gradual approach, but it’s not necessary if you feel can deal with the hunger aspect.

      Reply
  7. Shreen Al jamali 11 months ago

    Hello 😊 I sent ia lot of msgs been 2 days but nobody answered me… Pls can you help understand this my Bmr is 1000 calories a day to maintain my weight so I’m supposed to eat 700 to lose weight … Suppose I eat 1400 calories which is more but burn in my exercise 1200 calories did I reach my goel … Meaning can I cut the extra consumed and also extra to lose weight… Cause I can’t eat less I get very dizzy… I prefer to creat my dificitcy thorough exercise and eat a liitle more …

    Reply
  8. Kaisa Paulson

    Hi! I’ve wanted to try this for years, but I’m terrified to go over 1300 cal and 60 g of carbs.

    I workout 6 days a week- 2 of those days twice a day. Lifting, bootcamp, and teach cycle. I’ve lost 100 lbs but can’t get the last 20/30 off for the life of me.

    I have PCOS, hashimotos, and hypothyroid

    Can flexible dieting help?!? The idea of eating 200 carbs a day seems SO SCARY bc people w all of my endocrine disorders “should never eat carbs” or dairy, or grains, or gluten.

    But there has to be a better way….

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Kaisa, Yes, it can be scary to eat more when, you’ve been on a low-calorie diet for so long. Read here: https://healthyeater.com/eat-to-lose-weight
      You can gradually start eating more and see how your body responds, but it will take some time to get your metabolism going again.

      Reply
      • Kaisa Paulson

        Thanks!

        What about hypothyroid and PCOS and hashimotos???

        Reply
        • Ted

          Have you been working with your doctor to keep your hormone levels regulated? I’m not qualified to give medical advice, so you’d have to consult your doctor as to how flexible dieting would impact these conditions.

          Reply
  9. Laura Jordan

    Hi. I’m a 27 year old female. 5’4″ and 200 pounds. I’m trying to lose 50 pounds. My BMR says 1698 and TDEE is 2123. Is 1700 calories a day going to get me losing weight? I’m currently not exercising more than my normal everyday functions of work and such. Should I start working out also? I enjoy working out. Should I lift weights? I’m trying for a high protein, low carb macro diet. If I do start working out and say I burn 300-400 calories during my workout, do I need to eat more or not? Little but confused. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Laura, Yes, that is a safe calorie deficit for losing weight. If you exercise, those calories must be factored in and yes, you’d be eating more because of it. Do exercise that you enjoy. I think you should do Flexible Dieting and not low carb. There just isn’t evidence that it’s more effective and it’s highly restrictive. Who needs that? Please check out my book which will be a great help for getting started. https://healthyeater.com/ebook

      Reply
      • Laura Jordan

        Thank you for the response! The only reason I’m trying low carb is because my doctor told me I have high sugar levels and want to take care of it before i become a diabetic.

        Reply
  10. Ariel

    Hi! So I’ve been eating way to low of calories for about a year now. I always thought to eat less work out more. Now that I’m getting the recommended calories/macros, I’m now gaining weight. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Ariel, often when you go from too low calories to normal calories you have to slowly add the extra calories in over the course of a few weeks to a month. Your body has been in starvation mode and your metabolism has slowed, so it needs some time to get back to normal.

      Reply
  11. trish

    Hi there,
    I have a couple questions about the TDEE number and macros. I’ve been dieting for quite a while, and while I have lost some weight its definitely not the amount I feel I should have lost by now with how much working out I’m doing. I can say I for sure say believe the theory of the TDEE diet because there have been times in the past where I have ate way more than normal, to the point where it seemed like overeating for me but I would look as if I was getting slimmer and it was pretty confusing at the time but this makes it all make sense. I have quite a bit of weight to lose to get myself at a healthy weight, about 60 pounds. I’ve used 3 different TDEE calculators. They did not all come up with the same answers but they were pretty close. It kind of blew my mind because according to the calculator I’m supposed to be eating around 1,924-1,974 calories a day. those numbers just look ridiculous and unachievable to me, unless I eat pure junk. According to my fitness pal, I’m supposed to be eating 1,320 calories per day and I have an issue even meeting that goal most days. So I guess my question is could this possibly be correct? Now for my question about the marcos, Can you tell me what the macros for carbs and fats would be? according to the calculator, I am supposed to be eating 172 grams of proteins a day but that is all it tells me, it just says “NaN” for the other two and I’m not familiar with that term. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Trish, I would guess that you aren’t seeing the results expected because you aren’t eating enough to support your metabolism and all the exercise you are doing. 1900 calories seems correct if you do a lot of exercise. And you certainly can hit those numbers with whole foods. I think you’ve been in a low-calorie mindset for so long that it’s more of a mental thing than anything else? Please use our calculator to calculate your macros. https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator And, give this article a read: https://healthyeater.com/eat-to-lose-weight

      Reply