December 02, 2011

How many calories did you eat while losing weight?

(Update 7/8/2017: I've written an updated post about this, after getting back to my goal weight via calorie counting in 2015. I would suggest reading that as well.)

I don't have much to talk about today, so I'll answer a frequently asked question :)

Something that a lot of people ask me is how many calories I ate while I was losing weight. I don't like answering this concretely, because what worked for me may be (and probably will be) different from other people. So please keep that in mind!

I decreased the calories a little as I lost, but it ROUGHLY breaks down to this: when I first started, I was eating probably about 1800 calories per day. Then I cut back a little at a time, and when I reached a "normal" BMI, I was probably eating 1400-1600 per day.

On days that I ran, I would usually eat more--if I ran 6 miles, for example, I would eat about half of the calories I burned on top of my daily calories. So burning 600 calories would allow me to eat 300 + my daily calorie intake.

Now, Sparkpeople suggested that I eat 1200-1550 calories per day, and I tried that. But I was starving and bitchy, and it led to binges. So I experimented for a while with different amounts until I found an amount that allowed me to be satisfied and not feel like I was totally deprived, but still allowed me to lose weight. You just have to experiment to see what is right for you. I was not willing to live on 1200 calories per day forever, so I didn't do it then. That's not much food, and doesn't allow for any indulgences; nobody wants to live that way!

A mistake that I think a lot of people make is to try eating 1200 calories a day, realize that it totally sucks, and then they quit. Instead of quitting, try eating 1600 calories a day and see if you lose weight; or 1800, or 1500...etc. I learned that the all-or-nothing mentality is what made me fail so many times in the past. I followed the plan 100% or not at all--and I would always fail. Once I started to make my own "rules", I learned what I could live with and be happy with.

I feel the same way about Weight Watchers Points. A lot of people think that they shouldn't eat their weekly points or their activity points, in hopes of losing weight faster. But usually what happens is they feel so deprived that they quit instead of just using their extra points. I would suggest using all the points you're allowed and see how it works; at least then you won't feel like you're starving. Even if Weight Watchers recommends that you eat 29 points per day, there is nothing wrong with trying 35 points a day at first and see if you lose weight. You can adjust as needed.

If there is one thing that I learned while losing weight this time around, it's that there isn't a single plan out there that works for everybody. You have to pick and choose from your plan what you are willing to do--not just what you can do to lose the weight, but what you are willing to do forever.

There is no way that I am willing to commit to working out six days a week for the rest of my life--so I chose a number that worked for me. I committed to three days per week (occasionally I do more, when I'm training for a race, but I've only committed to three). Three is do-able for me. Six is not. You don't have to answer to anybody but yourself.

As far as calories go, and what I ate to lose weight... I didn't eat anything that I didn't want to. There are so many different foods out there to choose from that there is no reason that you should force yourself to eat celery sticks and broiled fish (unless you really enjoy those foods, of course!).  For example, I don't like salad; but I do like roasted cauliflower. So I ate what I enjoyed (the cauliflower) and skipped the salad. I was still getting healthy food; but it was food I liked, and not what I felt I "should" be eating.

Something else that I did as part of my daily routine (and still do) is to eat a dessert every single day. Not just fruit, or sugar-free Jello or something like that. I picked an indulgent dessert for about 300 calories, and I set aside those calories at the beginning of the day to make room for them. I ate fairly healthy all day long, trying to get a good variety of foods--only things I enjoyed--and then at night, I would indulge in my dessert that I had planned out ahead of time.

That dessert gave me something to look forward to all day while staying on track. That dessert made it so much easier to say 'no' to tempting foods during the day when I knew I was going to have an awesome treat that night. You don't have to eat only health foods to lose weight. You can work some junk food into your diet... chances are, you're eating a lot of junk food now, so planning on one dessert would actually be cutting back. It was cutting back for me, anyway! ;)

Finally, in order to be successful while counting calories, you have to be honest with yourself. I highly recommend that you measure or weigh your portions (I prefer to weigh)! I can't stress this enough. It's so easy to guesstimate the amount of oatmeal or cereal or something you're going to eat; but when you take the time to weigh it out, you are getting the exact amount that you are counting the calories for. As much of a pain in the ass as it sounds, I actually weighed out, on a food scale, every single thing that I ate.

Some people, however, aren't willing to weigh/measure food--and that's fine! Remember, I said you should only make changes that you're willing to make. Just try to make your best guess and be honest with yourself. You might lose weight a little slower than if you weighed/measured your food, but you'll still be making a conscious effort to eat less calories, and the weight will come off.

Losing weight is a ton of work. If you're expecting it to be easy, you're going to have a much harder time. It takes a lot of time and dedication to weigh your portions, plan your meals, and keep track of your calories. Most people are so disappointed to hear that THIS is how I lost the weight--by putting in a lot of work! But if you're willing to do the work, then you'll definitely see the results.

For the past year, I've been experimenting with "intuitive eating" or "mindful eating" or "normal eating" in order to not have to count calories forever. It's been extremely difficult, but I'm learning a lot about myself and why I eat. I still believe that counting calories is the best way to lose weight at first--for at least 6 months to a year--to get used to smaller portions, having accountability, having structure, getting into a routine, etc.

Ultimately, I would love to be able to eat intuitively and maintain my goal weight though! However, I've accepted that this may not happen, and I'm okay with that.

I hope this is helpful for anyone who is thinking about counting calories. The most important things to remember are: 1) Only eat foods you truly like; 2) You don't have to follow someone else's guidelines--make up your own plan that works for you; and 3) You'll probably have to do some experimenting to see what works--but don't quit!


  1. I completely agree about the WW points. Every time I have stuck to WW I have been successful and for me, sticking to plan means eating every single point they allow me.

    I also am a fan of including daily dessert. This week I ate skim milk and two homemade cookies every day and lost 4 pounds! :) I just counted the pts.

  2. PS The ads are very clever because they keep popping up with items I have looked at recently on line, like shoes from Zappos, or a watch I like. :)

  3. Thanks for posting that Katie!!! That is such great advice!!!! I hope you slept better without the drains!!!!!

  4. I agree whole heartily

  5. When I started on my journey to lose weight my sister sent me a blog entry of yours from SP. I started and lost 14 lbs and ways doing great. Then we were sent to Japan and my plan sort of stopped but I continue to follow your journey. I got pregnant here and am due Feb 15th and do you know that I have only gained 2 lbs!!! I continued to walk and I wanted to prove my dr. wrong who took one look at me and was said my biggest obstacle would be my weight gain. Well here I am close to my 29th week and he actually told me that I looked great! Ha! I am so inspired by you that I want to make sure I stayed as healthy as I could for this little one in my oven and my other 3 kids have been cheering me on. My 13 year old said "mom, when are you going to get as big as that lady?" and he was referring to a woman who was pregnant and so I asked her how far along she was and she was only 22 weeks so after we left my son was like wow really have done great! So it's an amazing feeling. I can't wait to have the baby and find "my routine" to lead me to a wonderful new me just like you did. Thank you are AMAZING!!!

    ~j2marine (sparkpeople)

  6. I have read in a Biggest Loser book that a 'rule of thumb' guide is to take your current weight times 7 to lose weight, adjusting every ten pounds lost. Then, once you have reached your goal, to maintain, you take your goal/current weight times 12.

  7. Thanks for the insight. Dr. Oz really should have dedicated an entire show to you:) You have so much wisdom to offer - and from your own experience! It's so valuable to have you as a resource, Katie:)


  8. What a great post Katie. You deserve so much credit for the way you adapted your plan to fit your life. I know you hear this all the time, but you're such an inspiration to others!

    Love the little row of "Katies" at the bottom. What is the weight difference between the first and second photos? It's just a BIG change!!

  9. You give great advice. :) I am so happy someone else doesn't like salad too. :)

  10. My sister's girlfriend asked her what I did to lose all of my weight, hoping for a quick fix answer. She had already had the lap-band, lost weight and put it back on. I don't think she was happy with my sister's answer, that I just ate better and exercised. If people would just give themselves half a chance, they would do whatever it takes to feel as good as we do without lugging all that weight around! Loved this week's Biggest Loser! Can't wait to see the marathon!!

    How did you sleep???

  11. I agree about the calories! When I started I did what spark gave me 1200-1550. Then I started boot camp and handed in my nutrition logs to coach. I thought I went way over on cals........she disagreed. She said I was just right because I should be at 1400-1800. Of course my first day I went in to shock and couldn't seem to comprehend eating that many calorie to lose weight, but she was right and I actually lost more weight and felt better. I had energy, I wasn't cranky and hungry.

  12. The other bad thing about starting a weight-loss journey at 1200 calories is that it will probably kill your metabolism. Also, you need to eat few calories as you get smaller. Dropping down from 1200 does not sound like fun. I lost 60 pounds in nine months by eating 2000-2500 calories/day and doing light exercise.

  13. What a great post. I love that you emphasized that just because it worked for you does not mean it will work for someone else. I think a lot of people try exactly what someone else did and find it doesn't work and get frustrated. I have taken some things here and there from what you did, like a small indulgence each day, and tweak them to my life. I love that also that you all maintain that weight lose sucks and there is no easy way out.

  14. All great advice Katie. You really have to find out what will work for you that you can live with for the long haul.


  15. Thank you for sharing & pointing out everyone should find what works best for them. Loved the spark people link on FB too!!

  16. Love the picture progression Katie--like you emerged from that chubby face into the gorgeous woman you are now! You were always in there--I always find it so amazing to see people after they have lost a significant amount of weight on shows like Biggest Loser, it's like this little person that was inside is finally on the outside! LOVE IT!

    You're right--losing weight is just hard work. There is no easy way to do it, and counting calories worked for me too. I'm having some trouble now, on maintenance trying to figure out how much I need to eat, course I'm not tracking it religiously anymore either, and maybe I should be. I have been in the 140's since June though (except for that brief dip into the 130's on Oct. 30), so I must be doing something right.

    I also LOVE your idea of saving a snack for the evening--something to look forward to all day long. I do that sometimes, but sometimes I try to get through the evening without eating, especially if I had a bigger than needed dinner. Oh well, I figure I'm a work in progress. Hopefully I can continue to be successful at this maintenance game.

    Today at Penney's, I applied for a credit card to get 20% off my purchase. For the first time since I hit goal, the clerk who looked at my driver's license said, "You've lost a lot of weight." I even got stopped for speeding (got away with a warning--whew!) a few months ago, and the cop didn't even say anything. I just knew somebody would notice eventually. My fervent hope is that in a year when my license expires, this weight will still be gone--so I can have a new SLIM picture taken! Wish me luck!

  17. Wow, I really like your plan! I usually stay between 950 and 1200 calories a day. Also I walk on a treadmill, everyday, seven days per week for 85 minutes. I can do this for 6 - 8 months, perfectly, and then I wonder what went wrong and gain all the weight back. My weight has been as high as 252 and as my goal is 135 lbs. I have the will power but I guess I get to the point that I'm starving and can't go on.
    I really love your blog and look forward to reading it every day. I'm also trying your recipes. So far I've made the Spinach Tortellini Soup, the Chicken Stew and I'm making the Spicy Black Bean Enchiladas today! All very good, so far.

  18. That is some good advice. I also think that counting calories is the way to go! You just learn so much while counting. I kinda do the whole dessert thing you do. During my whole 81 pound weight loss I set aside 100-200 calories for my favorite dark chocolate (or the occasional serving of ice cream).

  19. yes, 1200cals = bitchy!

  20. I love that you mention that "you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself."

  21. Great advice!!! I remember reading a post from you a while back where you said you didn't eat anything you didn't like. I think that is the key. So many people eat food they hate because they think it's what you have to eat in order to be healthy and lose weight. It's not easy to get out of that mentality.

  22. Oh my gosh, this really hit home for me. I struggle so much with my nutrition, and it's because I am one of those I need to eat 1300 calories people and I end up stuffing my face by the end of day 2 because I'm staving. You have no idea how helpful you are.

  23. Thanks for all the info, Katie. I always feel hungrier on the days that I work out, but I always figured it was my mind playing tricks on me. I'm going to try adding some calories on those days - maybe I'll enjoy my workout days a little more.

  24. Hi, I found your blog on Pinterest and I have been reading through it for hours now. I must say you have inspired me. The fact that you allowed for the dessert calories everyday---genius! I do not do well with deprivation so I know this will work for me. Thanks for sharing your story!

  25. Thank you for all the info and for sharing so much about your personal journey, Katie. Your blog is really helping me. :-)


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