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My husband and I are starting out on a weight loss journey. However, I'm a little lost as to what activity level to choose when using calorie calculators. We're currently sedentary, our jobs are office jobs, and we're not working out. BUT, we're going to be starting a 5 day a week workout regimen next week including cleaning up our diet. SO, my question is, do we choose the activity level we're at now or do I choose the activity level we'll be at when we start working out? I just don't want to overeat calories and be counterproductive. We both have 80+ lbs to lose and when putting in our current weights then selecting moderately active and a 20% calorie reduction the recommended intake levels are really high. Please help!

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Calorie counting is an odd beast, in that it can be very hard to get an exact amount of calories eaten. Your best bet is to track your calories (Even down to weighing food at the beginning), activity and weight on a daily basis. For the weight, weigh yourselves at the same time and same situation each day (For example, I weigh myself in the morning after I shower), and track the trends. Educate, educate, educate. Find out exactly how much a 4 oz portion of steak is (Not much), things like that.

For your base question, you want to adjust for your activity level. You need to know your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is how many calories it takes simply to lay on the couch and breath in and out all day. Then you add all your activities, and that is how many calories you get to eat if you want to maintain weight. Then adjust for your projected weight loss and monitor for a few weeks. Adjust as necessary.

A couple cautions based on the information in your post:

  1. Loss rate - Initially, you will lose weight in large amounts, and you may see high daily fluctuations. This is normal. This is water weight effects, and your body adjusting to new activity. This will slow down as you start approaching your goal weight, and this is normal.
  2. Timeline - Don't expect that if you have 80 lbs to lose that you can do it in a few months, despite what commercials tell you. 80 lbs can take quite a long time to lose, especially as you get closer to the 80 side.
  3. Prudence - The big alarm bell that is ringing is that you are going to start a 5 day a week regimen AND clean up your diet. While I applaud the ambition, you are setting a higher likelihood of slipping back and/or failing. Additionally, depending on the activity you are choosing, you may be so sore by day 3 that you won't want to move.

I would start by cleaning up at least 60% of your diet initially, and adding in a workout every other day. Do that for a couple weeks, and get an idea of how the activity affects you and your life, and how convenient it is going to be to adjust to the diet.

Once you've got that, then you can look at cleaning up the last 40% of your diet, and adding in more activity. Also, don't worry if you have a day where you lose control and eat 5 bags of chips with dip and 20 sodas. Gaining of the weight was a long term process, losing of the weight will be a long term process. Yes, there will be days you just don't feel like working out. There will be days where you eat horribly. That's ok, as long as you don't let that become the norm again.

Also, don't forget to adjust. The calorie counters use weight as a factor, so if you are 200 lbs it will give you value X as a maintenance target, and if you are 180 lbs you will get value Y, which will be less than value X. Anytime you go down 5-10 lbs total, recalculate your numbers. This will help alleviate some of the slowdown.

Welcome to a better lifestyle, and I hope you have a lot of success in your plans and journey!

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    Everything written here is pretty good. I might recommend starting with "Sedentary" for calorie calculation purposes, and adjust up if needed. All too often, people have an activity 5 days a week, but don't realize it's not the type of activity that warrants all those increased calories. Initially, they may not physically be able to do the kind of activity that those higher multipliers require. There's a big difference between hitting the treadmill 5 days a week and drilling for a team sport 5 days a week. – Berin Loritsch Jan 21 '15 at 16:39
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    +1 Regarding not beating yourself up for mistakes, I was told "it takes time to get in shape, and it takes time to get out of shape". Most of fitness I've found is about getting back up after you've had a layup. The emotional hit from having to make up lost ground is the real enemy you'll need to constantly overcome. – Eric Jan 21 '15 at 20:13

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