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How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?


I get asked this all the time, and finding the answer to this question is one of the first things I do when working with a client who wants to lose weight. Calories are a big deal; the fact is, if we eat too many, we gain weight and if we eat too few we lose weight. There are different ways to control your calorie intake, including calorie counting or tracking, following a calorie-controlled meal plan, and eating mindfully by getting in touch with feelings of hunger and fullness. The most important thing I want my clients to know about calories is that although to lose weight you need to eat less, going too low in calories while dieting can have detrimental effects.

You may have heard of this equation before: There are 3500 calories in one pound of fat, therefore if we create a 500 calorie deficit each day, we will lose 1 pound per week, and if we create a 1000 calorie deficit each day, we will lose 2 pounds per week. I recently watched “Fat Head,” a documentary starring Tom Naughton. I did not care for the movie, mostly because he was very good at pointing out problems but fell short in offering solutions. One of the problems he pointed out was that this equation does not always translate to producing the expected result when put into practice.

Most people who work in the health and fitness industry already know this (Mr. Naughton is a comedian and computer programmer). The reason for the discrepancy is because when your calorie deficit is too large, your body decreases your metabolic rate, this closing the gap of deficit. This is a survival response and prevents you from starving. Although this will happen any time you reduce your calorie intake for a prolonged period of time, the effect is much more significant the more severe the calorie deficit.

If you are just starting a weight loss program and doing it on your own, I advise limiting your calorie deficit to 500 calories per day. You can further help protect your metabolism by splitting the deficit between calories and exercise; eating 250 fewer calories, and burning and extra 250 calories. Then, be patient. We all know time passes so quickly, except when you are waiting for a pot of water to boil, or weighing yourself daily waiting for those pounds to fall off. Keep in mind as with everything, weight loss takes time, and since time will pass anyway, you may as well set some very achievable habits into place to do consistently that will help move you toward your goal weight.

Here are some helpful steps to getting started:

  1. Determine how many calories you need per day given your age, gender, weight, height, activity level, and other factors that affect total calorie expenditure. A great resource to help you get started is the Healthy Body Calculator created by my fellow RD Joanne Larsen MS RD Select “maintain weight” in the assessment form, and that way you can create your calorie deficit manually. Or, call me for an appointment at 480-703-8883 for help determining what your appropriate calorie intake should be.
  2. Decide how you will burn an additional 250 calories daily. Choose a physical activity you enjoy enough to be able to stick with. Cut your daily calories by 250 per day; use a calorie tracking tool, or contact me about getting weekly meal plans for your target calorie level to take the hassle out of calculating and planning your menus.
  3. Implement your plan and log your progress. You can’t measure something you have no data on, so it is crucial while changing your habits to lose weight that you log your daily food consumption, fluid intake, and exercise. Then, each week, decide on 1 or 2 things you are going to improve upon next week. Perhaps you will add 5 minutes to your daily walk, or increase the speed of your walking. Or maybe you will decrease episodes of eating out from 5 to 2 times per week. Make the goals specific, because a goal like “eat better” is very difficult to track and measure, and is usually not effective in helping you change your habits.

Please comment below with your own experience or suggestions, and remember to sign up here for more free tips via email, check with me at for weekly meal plans, or click here to sign up to have weekly dinner plans emailed to you.

Healthy a healthy day!


Weight Loss Mindset

Thoughts become actions.  In fact, every action that has ever taken place started out as a thought.  If you are having trouble losing weight, you may not realize the significant impact your thoughts are having on your success or failure.  You may be able to link your disappointing results to a specific action or lack of action, such as missing your workouts or skipping breakfast.  But what was the CAUSE of those behaviors?  If the cause and underlying thought forms that lead to your actions are not identified and manipulated, you are likely to continue the same behaviors and produce the same disappointing results.



Negative self-talk can be a silent saboteur as we often do it unconsciously and have little awareness that it is happening, much less its effects on our emotions and behaviors.  Let’s look at the difference between negative self-talk and positive self-talk.

Negative Positive 
Those pants are too small, I am so big that I can’t fit into them anymore…I absolutely must lose weight I will feel so great, and those pants will look so amazing on me once I become more active, eat healthier, and reach my desired weight
Emotions Evoked:  Fear, Desperation, Guilt Emotions Evoked:  Excitement, Confidence

Here are some other negative and positive thought patterns:

Negative Positive
“I can’t do this” What are your expectations?  If you’re setting out to do something that feels impossible, your goals may be too drastic “Won’t I be excited when I’m able to look back and say ‘I did this!’” 
“I must be thin” This feeling of desperation makes it difficult to focus on gradual, lasting behavior change “I’m going to become healthy and look great, and will be a better version of how wonderful I already am!”
“I need to lose weight immediately!” This sets you up for failure because weight loss is  a gradual process, and when results are not realized immediately, you will become discouraged “Over time, I will see amazing results and am ready to enjoy and celebrate all the small milestones along the way”
“I need comfort now!” Eating to fill an urgent void will set you back and can become a habit “I can relieve my stress by meditating, winding down, or participating in a favorite activity, which will all provide me more comfort than food”
“I already blew it for today, I might as well eat whatever I want and start again tomorrow” This all-or-nothing mindset sets you up for behaviors that are far worse than your “normal” because you let yourself off the hook for a period of time (the rest of today!)  This can become a bad habit.  Remember that perfection is not necessary to achieve great results; instead do the best you can with what you have in any given moment “It’s been awhile since I’ve eaten one of those, I sure enjoyed it!  Now I’m happy to get back on track!”
“I’m a loser” Thinking that your worth is somehow attached to your appearance or your ability to lose weight is not true and is de-motivating “I am good at so many things and have risen to so many challenges in my life.  Any difficulty I face losing weight does not change the  truth about who I am “

Negative thoughts will inevitably enter our heads.  The key is to let them flow out as quickly as they flowed in, and to consciously replace them with positive thoughts.  For positive results with weight loss:

  • Maintain a long-term focus and be patient and loving with yourself.  Keep focused on the emotion behind your motivating factors.  For example, instead of  thinking “I need to lose 30lb,”  think “I am doing this so I will look and feel fabulous.”
  • Imagine yourself already looking and feeling the way you want to…and feel the emotions you expect to feel when that happens.  If you make this a daily practice, you will be thrust onto a one-way road to your goal and there will be no going back!
  • Believe that you are worthy of your goal and all the wonderful benefits that will come along with achieving it.
  • Be flexible with yourself.  Most everyone experiences set-backs along the way…don’t let it shake your emotions or mindset.  Push bad thoughts out of your head and forgive yourself, and resume the positive self talk, affirmation, and visualizations.
  • Give in now and then and eat something you’re craving.  Keep the portion reasonable and hop right back on the healthy horse afterwards.  Also make it a habit to incorporate many of the foods you really like into your daily routine. This way you will not be as prone to the “I need comfort now!” and “I can’t do this!” mindsets.  Celebrate and affirm frequently, and repeat as needed!

What negative self-talk do you notice going on in your head?  What successes have you found with using positive self-talk and affirmation?

The Paleo Way…A Healthy Diet or Bologna?

The Paleo Diet is one of the biggest diet trends of 2010.  In the book, written by Loren Cordain, Ph.D., professor at Colorado State University, readers are called to eat the way he states  primitive people ate, in order to achieve a body as trim and free of chronic disease as our cave-dwelling ancestors.

The Diet


Paleo enthusiasts, such as Sebastien Noel of The Paleo Lifestyle, profess “you get to gorge on all the good meat, fish, and good fats you want,” while avoiding foods  we generally think of as healthy, such as grains, dairy, and legumes, and even limiting fruit.  The rationale is that before agriculture, people did not have access to carbohydrate sources and therefore, our body is not designed to process these foods.  Paleo supporters believe foods with carbohydrate lead to fat gain, diabetes, heart problems, and inflammation.  The list goes on to blame carbohydrate for obesity,  depression, mental illness, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, osteoporosis, and dental problems.

The other two macronutrients, protein and fat, are heavily promoted by the diet, especially saturated fat.   On Noel’s  website, he states  ”fat, especially saturated fat, is the cleanest energy source available to us,”  and promotes butter and coconut oil, discouraging the use of olive oil, which is a known source of monounsaturated fats.  Monounsaturated fats  raise good cholesterol and are the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which has been proven to reduce the risk of certain diseases and cancers.

The Paleo Diet’s criticism of grains and legumes goes beyond the fact that they contain carbohydrate.  It focuses on two of the main chemical components that are present in some grains and legumes:  gluten and lectins.  Gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye, is a known antagonist of Celiac disease, which is characterized by gluten intolerance.  Lectins are found in grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and certain vegetables in the nightshade family.  Cordain states lectins harm the body by causing the immune system to attack itself.

What We Know


Lectins are found in many plant foods and are tolerated by the majority of people.  There is some research that shows certain lectins may mimic hormones and behave like insulin, causing fat gain.  People with certain digestive disorders may be particularly sensitive to lectins and should avoid them.   Just as a small percentage of people are allergic to peanuts while many others aren’t, people can have sensitivities to a wide array of foods and food components that cause symptoms, which can vary greatly between individuals.  Many children with autism have been shown to benefit from a gluten free casein free (GFCF) diet.   The important distinction here is that just because a food component can cause symptoms in some does not mean it’s harmful to all.

Although we all eat some lectins, we don’t all get diabetes, arthritis, or become obese.  Why?  According to David J Freed, allergist, it is “partly because of biological variation in the glycoconjugates that coat our cells and partly because these are protected behind a fine screen of sialic acid molecules, attached to the glycoprotein tips.”  Our cells are generally protected from potentially harmful food components.  In many cases where this protection is compromised, it is due to infection, such as a flu or strep virus that strips off the sialic acid molecules.

Pros of the Paleo Diet


Recommends fewer processed foods and emphasizes whole foods.  Processed foods contain refined grains, sugars, and excess salt that contribute to chronic disease.

Plenty of vegetables.  Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that help prevent chronic diseases and cancer.

Calorie reduction:  most people who  follow the Paleo Diet eat fewer calories than they did before, which facilitates weight loss and can contribute to longevity.

Cons of the Paleo Diet

Macronutrient Ratio:  Paleo supporters encourage a macronutrient breakdown of 20% of total calories from carbohydrate, 65% from fat, and 15% from protein.  Whereas this is consistent with dietary guidelines for protein, (ironic considering the emphasis on meat,) it is way too low in carbohydrate, as 40-60% carbohydrate is recommended for a healthy diet.  A healthy intake of fat is 20-30% of total calories, whereas Paleo enthusiasts insist up to 80% fat is safe and even beneficial.  This ratio is sadly not based on research, but on the composition of human breastmilk and the human body itself.

The Paleo Diet eliminates food groups such as dairy, legumes, and whole grains that are considered to be healthy for the majority of the population.  There is plenty of evidence that people who eat dairy are more likely to be a normal weight and have better bone density than people who do not.  Cutting out grains makes it difficult to get enough essential vitamins, such as folic acid, which reduces the risk of neural tube defects like Spina Bifida.  And legumes, including beans and lentils, serve as a source of protein, minerals, and are a great source of fiber, which reduces cholesterol. “They’re a cheap source of protein and have so many good qualities that it would be foolish to give them up,” states Joan Salge Blake MS, RD, LDN who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The premise of the Paleo Diet:  even today there’s such variability in the diets of hunter-gatherer cultures that it’s impossible to identify one general type.  In fact, recent anthropological findings suggest primitive diets consisted of plentiful gatherable foods, such as seeds, berries, roots, nuts, shellfish, honey, and the occasional animal.  A recent study which analyzed archeological digs in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic revealed traces of starch grains on stones used for preparing food. “There is probably no single diet to which our ancestors were adapted,” said University of Arkansas anthropologist Peter Ungar.   “Recent foragers have varied in their diet from marine mammals (the Inuit) to diets composed mostly of a few plant species in the outback.”

Modern concerns:  raising animals for food is considered the greatest contributor to global warming, and rainforest destruction.  Production of modern meat is threatening the many indigenous people who live in forests, with a lifestyle similar to the primitive man the diet is modeled around.

My advice


I want to encourage anyone who’s seeking a healthier lifestyle to go for it, and not be discouraged by the sea of confusing information.  The key is to educate yourself as much as possible and maintain an open mind.  My suggestion for those interested in the Paleo concept is to do a modified Paleo Diet that includes vegetables, lean meat, fish, and eggs (limited to 1 yolk per day), but to also add in some of the power foods that research still stands behind as healthy and disease-fighting for the majority of the population.  This includes beans, whole grains, nuts, 2-4 servings of fruit/day, and olive oil.  This is what I consider a “whole foods” diet.  Continue to avoid processed foods, refined sugars, and be cautious with saturated fat (see my last blog, Cuckoo for Coconut Oil).

I agree with the Paleo philosophy that many of the chronic diseases people experience today are caused or accelerated by our modern diets and lifestyles.  Our processed foods, consumption of refined grains and sugars, and activity are at the top of the list of the antagonists to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and others.  I disagree that whole grains, legumes, and dairy should be cut out by the majority of the population. And my biggest concern is that in trying to be healthier, people may do themselves harm in the process.  For those wanting to improve their health, going to the extreme of cutting out three food groups is the equivalent of using a skin graft to treat a paper cut.  As you gather information and hunt for the best eating plan for you, continue to consider me a qualified resource to help you on your journey.