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I am 5'10", 192 lbs., 28 years old, male.

My BMR (just using the average from online calculators) is: ~1960 calories. I average 5 miles (walking) per day, usually around 2.5 hours of activity. Using another online calculator, this comes to ~600 calories. I do not do any weight training.

My aim is to lose weight in the healthiest way possible on a balanced diet that I can maintain after I get to a target goal. If I understand correctly, I would need to have less than 1960 + 600 = 2560 calories per day in order to lose weight.

I cook most of my meals and use measuring cups which makes it easy to estimate calories. I aim for 500 calories for a meal, three meals a day. The meals are a balance of fat, carbs, and protein according to daily requirements but I typically cannot eat more than 60 g carbs per meal. I drink an average 80 oz. of water per day, based on thirst or urine color. I don't normally snack. This has worked well as a basic diet for the last two years for me and I feel satisfied after each meal. With some room for error calculations, I am definitely in the range of 1800-1900 calories per day.

If I eat out (2-3 meals a week max) in a place that does not list calories, I will simply eat half. If I am still hungry two hours later, I know that I didn't get enough so I will eat a snack. But typically, meal portions are so calorie-dense at most restaurants that eating half is more than enough.

Despite doing this for months, my weight has either stayed the same or increased slightly (4 pounds over 6 months). Why? The only major thing I have noticed that has changed is my appetite has suddenly been bigger over the last few months. Going with my usual 500 calories per meal means I get hungry within two hours which gives me really bad headache. I am concerned eating less is unhealthy but I am concerned eating more will not help me lose weight.

  1. What should my caloric intake be per day?
  2. How should I divide this per meal?
  3. Any other suggestions to stay healthy?
  • Did you lose weight at any point and then plateaued or you never lost weight to begin with? – A-Developer-Has-No-Name Jul 4 '16 at 23:40
  • I never lost weight to begin with. Since I made the original post I have been on the same diet/exercise plan and maintained the exact same weight based on weekly averages. (June 18th - July 2nd). – syntonicC Jul 5 '16 at 5:10
  • If you have never lost weight to begin with, them barring any medical conditions you are not eating in a deficit. Online calculators are just estimates , I would recommend you remove 100 calories from your daily diet and evaluate, and keep at it until you start seeing some loss. (Bear in mind, weight in , to be accurate should be in the morning the same day of the week.) Side note never use cups to measure food only liquid. Food calories are based upon mass and are calculated per gram . You can fit many extra calories into a half a cup of you squeeze hard enough😃 – A-Developer-Has-No-Name Jul 5 '16 at 5:14
  • I will have to give this a try and see what happens. As far as measuring, I only do this because many dry foods are listed in terms of cups and other volume measurements on the nutritional label. I assume grams is there too but I can't recall. I'll use a scale from now on. – syntonicC Jul 7 '16 at 5:22
  • That's true dry goods are given as volume also, however it can be very inaccurate. Take for example a protein powder will tell you one scoop is a serving however if you weigh it out more often than not it will come close to a serving and a third – A-Developer-Has-No-Name Jul 7 '16 at 5:36
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You're forgetting something VERY important here. As an example, consider this, if someone starts to workout their arms using 20lbs dumbbells (with no previous experience), they will eventually get stronger and the 20lbs will be easier than they were before right? So, now what if that person kept lifting 20lbs even after they got stronger? Do you think they're going to keep getting stronger? If that was the case, why would the gym need a bunch of dumbbells ranging from 10 to 200lbs, if you could just not change things up and progress? Do you get what I'm saying here?

You must understand that the human body is incredible at adapting. If, for example, you burn X amount of calories by walking 5 miles per day, your body will adapt. It will make its energy pathways more efficient and you will burn less than the X amount of calories that you used to burn, your body loves trying to save energy (hence why it stores extra as fat or glycogen). Same goes for any other physical activity you do, you MUST progress, either walk faster, longer, or more often.

Now that we got the most fundamental point down, there's still a lot of reason that can cause your situation, and I will outline the most common/reasonable explanations. Also I have no idea why you're adding 600 calories to your RMR, you should be subtracting it. If you're not losing weight with the amount of calories you're eating, its very simple...just reduce the calories.

You say you want to lose weight in the healthiest way possible but you also say you don't lift weights. This is almost a contradiction. If you don't lift weights, when you do actually lose the weight, you will undoubtedly lose muscle as well (even if the majority of the weight was fat). If you lose muscle, you lower your metabolic rate. If you lower your metabolic rate, you now need to consume even less calories than before in order to lose weight. So if you needed 2000 (your RMR - 500 for example) calories a day to lose weight, and didn't weight train, and then you lost 5 lbs (3 lbs fat 2 lbs muscle). And after this, you STILL consumed the same amount of calories, you are now going over your maintenance calorie levels since you dropped your RMR by losing muscle, and hence you will actually gain weight! And since you don't weight train, you definitely didn't gain muscle, and now its gonna be even harder to lose this weight since your RMR is dropped! Do you see the contradiction now?

Nevertheless, you can still lose weight in a healthy way without weight training, it will just be a lot harder and not the "healthiest" way possible.

Your apetite increasing in the last few months can be explained by leptin.You eat below maintenance calories over a period of days or weeks. Your fat cells shrink as you diet, not eat, etc., and fat cells release less leptin. Your brain senses that leptin levels are low, and that you are no longer "fueled up." The hypothalamus senses the decrease in leptin levels, lowering metabolic rate and decreasing energy expenditure. It also sends a "hungry" signal, increasing appetite and encouraging you to eat. Leptin action isn't confined to just the hypothalamus. There are leptin receptors all over the body. This allows leptin to precisely coordinate appetite, metabolism, and energy expenditure.This is nature at its finest. Your body is programmed to survive. To combat this, it's actually not a bad idea to have "refeed" days. This would be a day (every two weeks or something) where you eat above your maintenance level calories in order to shock your body, so it doesn't adapt to lower calories and stall your progress.

Moreover, the sources of your calories matter. The less protein you eat, the more you risk muscle loss and hence lowering your metabolic rate which will make losing weight harder and even cause weight gain. The types of carbs you eat also matter. For example, if the majority of your carb sources are high-glycemic foods such as white rice, white bread, cereal, pasta, fries...etc, then you will over time build up insulin and leptin resistance (remember leptin is key). Insulin resistance will make it so that you can't utilize future carbs effectively for fuel and make you store them as fat easier. While leptin resistance will increase your apetite without you actually needing more calories.

Now, sorry I went on a huge squeal about this stuff, I just saw your real 3 questions, but luckily they're easy to answer.

Caloric Intake per day?

Obviously, every person is unique and will respond differently to different situations. You say your RMR is around 1960 from online calculators and this is a good place to start but you have to remember to experiment. There is nothing linear in the world of fitness and nutrition. If you're eating 1900 calories a day per weeks and not losing any weight, obviously the only sensible thing to do is reduce the calories, personally I would reduce by around 200. Also note that you added 600 to your RMR. What I personally do is reduce 600 not add it so that's interesting. Im currently prepping for a competition and have been steadily dropping a pound each week for 5 weeks.

How should you divide per meal?

This is highly individual and depends on your goals. However, the best time to consume carbohydrates are period of high insulin sensitivity. This would be right in the morning when you wake up, and right before and after your workouts. Remember the main function of carbs is energy, so ideally you want to minimize their intake when you don't actually need them or it will be harder to burn fat. On the other hand, you don't wanna eliminate them completely because you will lose muscle easier. So for example, morning meal: high protein med carbs low fat, snack: high protein low-med fat, pre-workout: high protein med carb, post workout - high protein med carb, lunch/dinner and rest of the snacks- high protein med-high fat.

Basically, just eat carbs around the workout and the morning. Eat fats when you dont eat carbs for energy. Eat protein ALL the time.

Any other suggestions to stay healthy?

Lift weights. I can't stress this enough. When you first lift weights, you will gain muscle (healthy weight) increase your metabolism and so many more hormonal benefits its actually crazy not to workout. Also, do some research around the internet (from cited articles) regarding your goals. There are lots of great sites for this, bodybuilding.com, simplyshredded.com etc...

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  • Thank you for your detailed response. Many people lose weight without weight training though - does this mean they are (likely) not doing it in a healthy way? Doesn't cardio raise your metabolic rate and if so, why can it not be used instead of weight training? Can I just Google for basic weight training (or from the sites you linked) or is there some specific kind of training I should be looking for? Your diet suggestion seems pretty low on carbs overall (added up through the day). Is it really healthy to cut back this much? If I had that little I would definitely have a headache. – syntonicC Jul 7 '16 at 5:19
  • @syntonicC It can still be healthy, just not "the healthiest way possible". Cardio doesn't increase your metabolism, it just burns extra calories. Weight training helps build muscle, and the increased muscle mass is what increases your metabolic rate. Excessive cardio will lead to muscle loss and hence a lower metabolic rate not higher. As long as you get your carbs from low GI sources, then you can increase them as you see fit assuming ur not gaining weight. I suggest bodybuilding.com for beginner workouts. – Mert Mumtaz Jul 7 '16 at 17:51
  • Gyms don't just have 20lb dumbbells because I wouldn't want to be curling for 2 hours to get a workout. Can I workout with 20lb dumbbells and gain muscle and get stronger- yes. Also what evidence is there that your body will adapt to walking by 5 miles a day by burning less calories? I have never heard of this. Why do the guys in bike races - tour de france - have to consume 10k calories a day... shouldn't their bodies be used to it? Sorry this just doesn't make sense. – DMoore Jul 9 '16 at 0:25
  • Read the strength training sections of Supertraining by Yuri if you want further proof. – Mert Mumtaz Jul 9 '16 at 0:47
  • @DMoore - Your body does adapt to exercise by becoming more efficient and burning less calories for the same amt of exercise. For example, if you were to do one day of the TdF as you reference, you might need 12,000 calories. Because they are more efficient, they need less than you. That doesn't mean they don't still need a lot of calories. Slightly more politely said, just because you haven't personally heard of it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You need to expand your research and reading, exercise and metabolism is a vast subject. – JohnP Sep 8 '16 at 17:16
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Disclaimer: I am not a medically trained professional. Please consult with your doctor before making changes to your diet or exercise habits.

I would like to post an answer to my question because in the last few months I have figured out some very important mistakes I had been making. Please note that these changes worked for me but they may not be appropriate for everyone. I think my answer can help serve to avoid making the same mistakes I did if you find yourself struggling with weight loss.

When I first wrote this post, I mentioned that, despite the diet changes I was making, I was gaining weight. You can see this here:

Early weight loss trend

So what happened on August 17th with the huge drop in weight (nearly 7 pounds)? This was the early part of my diet where I lowered my carb intake to roughly 20g a day. This rapid loss is likely attributed to water weight and is normal in the beginning of caloric restriction (which happened quite naturally with carb intake that low) as far as I know. I used this to "jump-start" my diet and did not intend to keep this up permanently.

From there, I made the following observations and/or changes:

  1. I was counting calories wrong. Horribly wrong. I was convinced I was counting my calories perfectly but my estimations were far off. Worse, even though I mentioned all the measurements in my post I wasn't really following it to the extent I claimed in my question (sorry about that!) but I didn't want to admit it. The point is, there is a massive psychological factor to weight loss that makes it so difficult. A cheat meal here and there, a snack here because I was just so hungry - it adds up! On August 17th, I started measuring calories properly. I was averaging 1200-1500 calories a day and it showed. The take home message is this: If you think you're counting your calories correctly but your weight increases or stays the same, reassess it. Are you sure? Did you go out to dinner, have half the meal and say, "This whole thing was about probably 1000 calories so half of that is 500, I'm good." Eating out can be crippling to your diet and meals can range from 1000-2500 at many restaurants. Don't fool yourself! Constantly reevaluate your estimation strategies.
  2. I was stressed. Trying to writing a doctoral dissertation and juggling some personal stress is not easy! I tend to stress eat so I would just be hungry all the time since it distracted me from work and made me happy. Just remember that sometimes focusing on weight loss might be a project for when your life has slowed down a little.
  3. I wasn't exercising enough. For weight loss, all I have read suggests that exercise doesn't make nearly as big of a difference as diet. The fact is, you can run on a treadmill for 30 minutes and, assuming you are at max heart rate and you don't hold the support bars, you will probably only burn 250-300 calories at best (despite what the machine says). You could immediately nullify this with a protein shake, candy bar, or snack. For me, exercise became a psychological motivational tool and just made me feel amazing throughout the day. This encouraged me to persist in my diet. I started by taking long walks everyday, increasing to 4-5 miles. Then I started running. Slow at first, but suddenly I overcame the wall and at my best, was running 16-20 miles per week (5.5 mph pace). This, combined with weight training surely raised my BMR (though I never had it machine-tested) and pretty soon, I noticed that I could run 3 miles at a 5 mph pace and barely be panting by the end. I cannot stress the incredible changes this had on my psychological state and my desire to continue my diet. I also started lifting as per the suggestion of Brofessor in their answer and found it very helpful to maintaining my fitness.
  4. I wasn't cooking nutritionally balanced meals as I thought. This one is tough since finding the right diet by looking online takes you down a rabbit hole of conflicting scientific data and personal anecdotes. Basically, I followed a diet that was fairly low on carbs (80-120g per day) and medium on protein and fat intake. I tried to eat plenty of vegetables, lots of fish/chicken (occasionally beef but no cold-cuts), occasional nuts, whole grains, and drink lots of water (80-100 fl. oz. per day). Mostly I cooked with sesame oil, avocado oil, and sometimes olive oil.
  5. I wasn't used to calorie restriction. This is the toughest part. I began intermittent fasting on this schedule: Wake up at 7:00 am, workout, eat a small lunch at 2:00 pm (400-500 calories), eat a larger dinner around 7:00 pm (700-800 calories), and a small snack if I needed it (100-200 calories). This ~16 hr fasting gap landed me in the 1200-1500 range. On my best weeks, I was losing 2 lbs/wk but more often, it was closer to 1.5 lbs/wk. The first two weeks of this were miserable. It was so challenging and I went to bed hungry every night. When I got hungry it was so easy to justify going to fridge and just having 300 calories right away. But then, around week three, an amazing thing happened. I stopped craving things and wouldn't get hungry until around 1:30 pm. I felt incredible, had so much energy, and slept better. My meals were much lighter so I had very little post-lunch slump. What was initially a calorie-restrictive diet actual became my norm and made me feel great. Important note: I don't know if this was a safe diet; everything I read suggested it was okay, but it made me feel very good so I persisted.

So, nearly one year later, here is my progress:

Remaining weight loss trend

And I could have done better too. I lost the majority of the weight from August through December. Then I more or less maintained through May with a bit of weight loss (I also stopped recording weight during some of this). Since July, I've started losing weight again, with my new target of 150.

The biggest message I can tell you is: Don't give up, be disciplined, and don't become complacent about your habits! Question them, restructure, and try again. This was one of the most difficult challenges I've been faced with and I overcame it. Best of luck to anyone in their health endeavors!

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  • I appreciate the update. You lowered your carbohydrate intake, improved food quality, and did intermittent fasting, working out before you ate your first meal. These pieces are the cornerstone of what appears to be an emerging successful long term approach. Whether this approach was successful because it lowered your insulin levels, as I believe, or because it improved your calorie deficit, as you suggest, doesn't entirely matter. However, it shows that weight loss is a little bit more complex than randomly eating less than you you expend. Well done. – michael Jul 19 '17 at 18:12
  • Thanks! As it is with most complex problems, it was probably the combination of factors that led to my success. Similarly, I suspect my insulin levels dropped in addition to my calorie deficit. I had a blood test done in August 2016 before I started making these changes. I can't remember if my insulin was on there but my blood sugar was at 98 at the time. It may be only two data points, but I'll get a blood test again at my annual checkup and see if it dropped. – syntonicC Jul 19 '17 at 18:52
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Sounds like you're on top of your game with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight. I give you cuddos for that type of dedication. I read that you do not weight train but, I did not see you mention if you took your body measurements? I ask this because I completed the Body for Life Challenge once and lost a total of 17 inches with very little weight loss and weight training. I know you do not weight train at all but even the slightest bit of physical activities changed to your daily routine can add muscle weight (body resistance training for example). I suggest you try taking you're body measurements just to see if this is the weight gain culprit (or even better getting your muscle mass weight recorded by doctor at your next physical). Supposing this isn't the case I recommend a cheat day (no exercise and eating more than your routinely calorie intake, once a week onky). It is a good way of getting your metabolism raised more to burn even more fat than usual, regardless of how high it is already. In return you will positively lose weight. Authors of health and fitness books and fitness pros both agree on this, and alot more others. I know it worked for me. For being hungry and getting headaches more often than usual is your body trying to tell you something. I highly recommend talking to your doctor about these experiences to get more answers. I hope I've helped in anyway possible. God bless and good luck.

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  • What is your evidence that cheat days raise metabolism ? – A-Developer-Has-No-Name Jul 4 '16 at 23:44
  • My apologies to everyone. I do not know why I typed cheat day, I meant to type cheat meal. Experts call it the 90/10 rule. It worked for me when the body for life challenge. – user21871 Jul 13 '16 at 16:25

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