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).

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 through having a calorie deficit.

Simply put, 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 my advise more, but I’ve found that to be unnecessary.

Also, having anymore 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 has been found to help 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.)

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

flexible dieting bookPlease see our comprehensive guide to flexible dieting.

It contains everything you need to know and do to be successful.

While you can 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, so check out our book or our other resources to get started with reaching your weight loss goals.

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. 

    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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Comments

  • spectra311

    This is awesome and I want to thank you for posting this. When I was heavy, I was eating close to 4000 calories a day but my TDEE was closer to about 2800, so to lose I just ate about 2300 a day for a while. I didn’t eat something crazy like 1200 a day because when you do that, you actually don’t lose as much because that’s when you get in the magic “starvation” zone. I weigh around 104 lbs now and I’ve never eaten fewer than 1600-1700 calories a day in my life. I would starve to death on the 1200 calorie a day diets that are out there.

    • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

      Glad to hear, Spectra! Unfortunately it’s all too common for people (especially women) to fall for the trap of extremely low cal eating. You have a very inspiring story. How much weight have you lost?

      • spectra311

        I personally lost 90 lbs and have kept the weight off for 12 years. The trick was definitely to not try to make too drastic of a diet change right away because you will not be able to stick with that and your body will start to rebel.

        • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

          Amazing! Did you follow in particular strategy to accomplish that?

    • anonymous

      thanks for sharing. It is really helpful to hear of your journey and how you accomplished it.

  • http://energyfiend.com/ JamesF

    Admittedly managing energy intake is the baseline. But things are always more complex, especially when hormones like leptin come into play.

    So, two people could calculate their TDEE, and eat according to this, but in one, more of the energy could be freed up from fat stores (leading to more fat loss). This may well be governed by hormonal responses.

    So complex.

  • Daniel Wagle

    This is exactly what I think. Research shows that when you match calorie deficits between let’s say low carb and low fat that there is identical weight loss. Also, if the calorie deficits are matched between exercisers and dieters, there is equal weight loss. You get a calorie deficit by increasing exercise expenditure by 500 calories above baseline, but not increasing intake above or below baseline. The dieters would decrease intake by 500 calories below baseline. A lot of people fail at this because they don’t figure out their TDEE. You can start with calculators and then very carefully measure food intake and having a consistent exercise program and then correlate with weight on the scale. Once you maintain your weight on the scale for perhaps a month at a certain activity level, then you can freeze your intake and exercise more to lose weight, or keep activity level the same and decrease your intake. I find that when I eat the number of calories that maintains my weight, I feel very satisfied. I still count calories, as well as exercise everyday, 3.5 years into maintenance.

    • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

      Totally agree, Daniel. Calculators are just that: a starting point. It’s best to figure out the amount of calories YOU maintain weight at, and then work from there!

      • Daniel Wagle

        I didn’t use the TDEE calculator before I wrote my piece. I maintain my weight on about 3400 calories a day. At the highest activity level, the calculator says I can maintain it on 3025 calories. I do have a stand up job and I bicycle about 2-3 hours a everyday and go on brisk walks fairly often on top of that. I can fit that two hours in on work days by commuting by bike to work. That is far more time efficient that driving 30 minutes each way after work to go to a gym and then exercising that much and then still have the car commute time to work. You could substract about 30 minutes from the time loss because driving to and from work takes about 30 minutes in all. Work is about 5 miles from where I live.

        • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

          Sounds like you’re really active! Keep it up

        • http://energyfiend.com/ JamesF

          2-3 hours a day cycling is a massive amount of calorie burned (http://www.freedieting.com/tools/calories_burned.htm) — and most TDEE calculators would probably not factor in such a significant amount of exercise.

  • http://www.energyfiend.com/ Ted

    Since I’ve been doing vegetarian Monday through Friday, I find it hard to even get to my TDEE. I also weight train 3 days a week, plus surf, hike, bike every week. I don’t like protein supplements and try to eat carbs according to this pyramid attached. I’ve been doing good to not lose weight, but I’ve been struggling to gain.. Oh well, I should just be satisfied.

    Anyway, my point is that big eaters can eat a lot of the right vegetables each day and still stay below their TDEE. This can help people feel satisfied without all the calories.

    • Daniel Wagle

      Are legumes included in this pyramid?

      • http://www.energyfiend.com/ Ted

        yeah, they are more of a protein/carb mix, but in my diet they would fall in the red zone since I need the protein. People who eat meat may want to move them to the orange zone as they are pretty carb dense.

  • Connor Bryant Steel

    Hi Daniel. Actually, among well designed studies, isocaloric research designs show that low carb tends to trump other macronutrient ratios, in terms of fat loss.
    And its a good excuse to eat lots of meat.
    Dunno if you guys have seen it? or not but theres a book over at
    learningthesteel.com
    That is interesting about diet, but mainly about discipline and the mental effects of all this too

    • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

      Thanks for sharing, Connor! I’ve actually come across a few of those studies – They’re pretty intriguing and seem to be backed by a lot of research. My takeaway and personal experience is that calories in and out is a great place to start but being aware of your macro ratios is even better, both for health and physique.

    • Daniel Wagle

      From what I understand of the research, very few studies comparing low fat vs low carb actually match the calorie deficits. They eat more “ad libitum” which means until they were satisfied, not eating to a specific calorie deficit. This study,

      Low-Fat Versus Low-Carbohydrate Weight Reduction Diets

      Effects on Weight Loss, Insulin Resistance, and Cardiovascular Risk: A Randomized Control Trial

      Una Bradley, Michelle Spence, […], and Steven J. Hunter

      closely matched the calorie deficits to 500 calories. In this study, “All food was weighed and distributed, and intake was calculated to produce a 500 kcal/day energy deficit.” Food is not measured and weighed in ad libitum studies. Since the calorie deficits were matched in this study, the low fat and low carb groups had equal weight loss. As for meat eating, there are many cross sectional studies which show that Vegans are thinner than meat eaters. Vegetarians are thinner than meat eaters, but Vegans even thinner still. However, I lost most of my weight while I was still eating meat. I don’t eat it anymore. It may be that Vegans consume fewer calories than meat eaters.

      • http://www.energyfiend.com/ Ted

        Thanks for taking the time to share that study. Very interesting and good explanation of how some diet proponents can bend stats to support whichever eating plan they are promoting. In the end it really is about calories in a basic sense.

  • John

    I lost my weight when I stopped counting calories. Low carb and leptin control was a right solution.

    • http://www.energyfiend.com/ Ted

      But weren’t you still mindful of how much food you were eating? Low carb diets are still designed to put the body in a calorie deficit and cause it to use stored fat for energy instead of sugars.

      I don’t count calories, but I have a general sense of when I have eaten to much or too little.

  • gmail

    hi, i liked ur search about the fat it was realy intresting but i love food i cant stop eating with a touch of masalas….i am 23 female weighting 70kgs i wana decrease my weight upto 25 kgs please help

    • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

      My personal recommendation would be to apply the lessons from this article – Knowing how many calories are in your TDEE will be key to losing weight.

      I’d also recommended to evaluate what you’re eating. Is it moving you towards good health or away from it?
      Have a read of this to see what I mean:
      http://healthyeater.com/eat-move-sleep

      Hope that helps,

      Dan

  • http://www.redalicerao.com/ Maliha Rao

    I lost 13kgs once in less than three months because of following the calorie deficit method. Going to start doing this again. P.s: I would have married one of you guys cause you know so much about healthy weight loss it would beat downloading apps and hiring a trainer :p (p.s: Geeks are awesome too!)

  • Marcos

    I think the one thing I’m not getting here is fat loss vs muscle loss. Weight is weight yes, and at the simplest level it’s all about calories in and calories out, but what if I want to weight 180lbs @ 8% body fat vs 180lbs @ 20% body fat. I think this is where I get confused. I don’t really care about the number in weigh but rather the body composition.

    • JamesF

      No one in their right mind would want muscle to disappear. However this is often what happens when people go on diets.

      They are so keen to watch the scales go down that forget all about body composition. The goal is to gradually reduce calories, while still maintaining resistance training so that our body learns to use stored fat as a fuel source rather than breaking down muscle.

      For some people this seems easier to do than others.

      The idea if this article is that a gentle calorie deficit works far better than a drastically restricted diet.

    • Molly

      I have also found that consuming more than the daily recommended amount of protein, along with strength training (and ideally the two on the same day) contributed to what I called my “toning up”. As a woman, I wasn’t looking to get really bulky, but consuming more of the protein that my body needed to rebuild my muscles and less of the fats and carbs that are less efficient (and thus not sought out by the body) to do that role, I was seeing more muscle definition in my arms and legs WHILE STILL LOSING WEIGHT! It felt like magic, but it’s really science! My BMI was decreasing AND my weight. While I was doing this, I strove for a macronutrient ratio of 40-45% carbs 30-35% protein and 28-30% fats. I’m not saying that’s right for everyone, but it is what worked for me.

  • BodyBuilder FD

    Diets is not what you need to loose fat, weight training and good nutrition is what you need. If you want to get low body fat while keeping good strengh and muscle definition, stay low in weight and train for 1h to 1h30 a day 5 day a week and eat lot of protein and cut all the food with added sugar and with too much fat go natural.EAt less but more often also. every 2-3h will keep your internal body active and also burn extra calories.

    • Gabriel Taylor

      I have a question. Can I, a slightly overweight individual, take in the same amount of calories I usually do and add exercise (burning additional calories) to lose weight? Or is having some sort of caloric deficit ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to weight loss?

      • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

        Exercise can create a calorie deficit which is why it helps people lose weight, unless you are eating back more than you burn during exercise. You have to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight and this can be achieved with diet, with exercise or a combination there of.

        I suggest that you check out our calculator here.

        http://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator

  • Loraine205

    I weigh 125 lbs and I would like to weigh 95 lbs, keep in mind that I’m a 5 foot teen. How many calories should I consume each day to reach my goal weight?

  • deborjolin95

    I was overweight and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 20 pounds in one month without any exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

  • joanne

    how supposed to put my macros ratios if I endomporh body type always the carbs is tho high for my and in the end store fat in my belly, I look like skinny fat..right now I am in 130 lb 5’6 27years and do power lifting

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Joanne! If you feel that you are carb sensitive then you can decrease your carbs and add more grams to your protein and fat macros. Remember 1 gram of protein or carbs is 4 calories and 1 gram of fat is 9 calories. Your total calories shouldn’t exceed your weight loss TDEE.

    • Aloshan Dookie
  • Jordan

    i’m still confused. according to IIFYM.com, my TDEE at sedentary is 1568. If I add 5 days a week of activity, it increases to about 1900 cals. So, where I get confused is that activity is already factored into TDEE. Therefore, my thought is I have to eat LESS than 1900 cals a day to lose weight. BUT someone was telling me no, i can still eat back calories burned as long as the total amount of calories is less than 1900. Does that make sense? Which is the correct use of TDEE for weight loss?

    • dcmining

      No one who is on a cut should eat more than 1800 calories per day. If you want results you have to make real sacrifices and stop cutting corners.

      • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

        This isn’t true and it depends on what your personal weight loss TDEE is. After factoring in my exercise I often eat over 2200 calories and I’ve had great results. This is what makes flexible dieting different from traditional bulk/cut type diets. https://healthyeater.com/personal-experience-with-flexible-dieting

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Jordan, Our calculator as well as the one at IIFYM already has factored in a calorie deficit for you even at 1900. That is, of course, if you selected weight loss when doing the calculation. Establish what your maintenance TDEE is and you’ll see the difference. https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator
      You should be true to your exercise adjusted TDEE because eating too few calories can actually mess up your metabolism.

  • Reagen

    So say I’m supposed to eat 1600 calories a day, but with excersize say I burn 500 or so calories. If I want to achieve a healthy weight loss, do I just stick with 1600 call and burning that 500 off or do I add back another 500?

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Reagen, it depends if you already factored your exercise into the equation or not. Please see our calculator or better yet check out my new book, which explains everything and offers a lot of great tools and advice.

  • Sam

    Hello! My bmr is 1561 and tdee is around 2600. How many calories should I consume. I burn around 600-700 calories by exercising. Sedentary lifestyle. Need to lose as much as I can in 3 weeks. Pls suggest the best way.

  • ScarlettDuchess

    Insulin is the weight loss God. When insulin is high there is no fat burning going on. I found that out the hard way due to severe insulin resistance with chronically high insulin levels. I also gain body fat eating in a calorie deficit if I eat too much sugar. What you eat matters. Be nice to insulin aka the fat storing hormone.

  • momof3

    According to these two calculators, I am to be eating 865 calories a day. What???

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Did you set your height as inches?

  • UpstateIngrate

    Thank u so much for posting this info. This strategy is clearly fool-proof! Honestly, I’ve never read or heard how to go about weightloss explained so well. This is such a simple strategy! No gimmicks! Omg, I luv that! I will definitely be purchasing the book although it sounds as though one could lose the weight without it, which is nice! Finally, hope! Thank u!

  • Kelsey

    Hi, so you recommend to figure your TDEE and subtract 500?? Well my TDEE is 1225 cals a day…119g carbs, 111g protein, and 34g fat. If you take away 500 from the 1225, what are my macro goals then, or,do,they stay the same?? Please help!!

    • Harold

      Kelsey, to help you please download the myfitnesspal app, or bodycalculator app, they help immensely in planning your calorie goals and macro carb/protein/fat goals, been using myfitnesspal for the last 3months and I was able to lose 20 pounds. 1225 cals sounds very low for TDEE, please download the apps and you will see what I mean.

  • 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!

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ 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

  • 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?

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ 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.

  • Pingback: 2. Understanding : Carbs, calories & fat loss ? | Fat means fire()

  • 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!

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ 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

      • 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.

  • 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….

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ 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.

      • Kaisa Paulson

        Thanks!

        What about hypothyroid and PCOS and hashimotos???

        • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ 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.

  • Shreen Al jamali

    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 …