Calorie Calculator – Finding Your TDEE Without One

Q: I've heard that some of those calorie calculators are not correct.  I don't want to eat too much.  Is there any 100% method of finding out what my TDEE is?  I've heard of the RMR testing is that the only way?  Didn't you say that you found maintenance without using a calorie calculator?  How would I do that?calorie calculator


A:  Yes, you are correct, I did not use a calorie calculator to find my maintenance, as the calcs weren't as readily available then as they are today.  The calculators have simplified things because they let you know 'round about what you should be eating.  Using a BodyMedia FITor Fitbit, etc are also known methods for finding a more accurate number.  I do feel that the way that I've always done it is quite accurate for me, because I am patient and take my time to figure it out, and I'm no longer afraid to eat too much (rather, quite the opposite).  I actually use my “old school” method, still today, at least once a year, because it actually raises my metabolism, and I typically end up able to eat more than most calculators allow.

So I usually only recommend this method to people that I work with privately, as I can monitor them more closely, and push them to keep going when they feel they have “hit” maintenance sooner than I feel that they have.  This method is also MUCH slower than the “calculate and jump in” method, and most people are in a hurry to get things moving.  It also takes much more mental focus to keep going after each increase.  This is because it will depend on how sensitive your body is and how it reacts to the initial calorie increase.  Finding TDEE without a calorie calculator basically involves slowly upping your calories until you hit a “plateau,” riding it out, then upping again..and again…and again, until you start seeing “true” gains.  This is a very lengthy process, and I use my bulking period as my time to do this, as I have more time to dedicate to it then.

calorie calculator
We typically recommend jumping right in, if you can take it, mentally.  However, I just recently did this again this fall, and took it reaalllyyy slow, lol.   I like to use each month in my bulk as my measuring tool for cals, so what I did this time was (because I went into a deficit for a couple months in the summer time to “cut” a bit more, and had to come back up to maintenance for the holidays, lol – def didn't wanna miss out on that good eating!) So I basically ate in a slight deficit over the summer, and then when I started STS in the fall, I used each Meso as a new cal level. So I was basically pyramiding my cals along with STS, in order to get maximum benefit from each month's phase.  Here's part of a message, that I wrote to someone during that time (I was upping main calorie intake, yet also “eating back” exercise cals):

“Right now I'm at my highest cals (2020 before exercise, today was 2400!), Meso 2 I was about 200 lower, and Meso 1 was at the end of my cut, so I was around 1700 (before exercise). I would slowly up the cals each week until I was at the new cal level.   Not saying that you have to take that long, lol, but just to give you an idea of just how slow you could go…

I would think that it could take up to a month or more, though to really know how your body is responding to the added cals. Some people might get scared off immediately because of a jump in the scale that has nothing to do with the cals. Sometimes you gotta just see it through, in order to know. Case in point: I started upping my cals toward the end of Sep/beginning of Oct. When I look at my weight progress chart, I see that my weight remained pretty steady until Nov. Between 11/12 and 12/2, I was up 2 lbs (I remember distinctly thinking I must have finally hit my max, because that extra 2 lbs was holding strong…until 12/12 when things magically evened out again and I was down 2 lbs again, but eating almost 400 cals more than before. I'm pretty sure I've hit my max now, (up 2 lbs again, lol), but I'll give it a couple more weeks (when I'm on a rest week, so that there's no extra water from the heavy lifting) before I make my final decision. If I'm still up, then I may cut back down very slightly, and consider it my new maintenance.  If I'm gaining, I'll cut back to the last number I maintained at.”

calorie calculator
I hope I answered your question without really answering it, lol. It's really up to the individual, and how much time you are willing to put into it.   Many people have comfort and assurance when the numbers are already figured out for them and they just have to do the eating.  Some people are more adventurous and want to test the waters, and others like me just wanna beat the system.  Find the method that works for you, but be real with yourself.  If you are thinking of not using a calorie calculator because you are wanting an excuse to eat LESS, then stick with the calculators/fitness devices  until you are mentally prepared to eat more, or you may undercut yourself.  My goal is always to lose weight while eat as MUCH as possible, which is why I choose to use such an experimental method.  If you are already fully convinced in the “eat more” path, then this route may be perfect for you, as you seek out your exact numbers, or to push the limits a bit.   If you do choose this method, you may just decide to do it in a shorter amount of time if you feel that your body will handle the increase, ok.  Many people prefer to just get it over with, and get on track, sooner.  Or you may want to take your time. It all depends on what you're most comfortable with.  Because I was already at goal weight, it may have influenced my decision to take my time this go round…That may not be the case for you….

How to Find Maintenance Calories – Finding Your TDEE

How to Find Maintenance Calories – Finding Your TDEE

Q:   “I'm 5'9 166lb, 30 yrs old, and I'd like lose weight.  Why do I need to find maintenance calories?”

A:  The first thing that we teach clients, regardless of their goals, is how to find maintenance calories.  This one step is SO scary that most people run the opposite way and are not even willing to try.  The reason we do this (other than to show people how little they're usually eating) is because if you don't know what your true maintenance is, then everything else is a guessing game.  It becomes really hard to set up your macros, and you never really know if you're eating enough (most dieters aren't), or too much.  When you don't know, you just guess at a number, start eating below that number (for fat loss) and hope for the best.  For some people it works, for a while.  But then they plateau, and the only way to start seeing results again is to drop calories even further (or do more cardio – don't even get me started), and the cycle never ends.

Confused about how to figure out your maintenance calories?

Confused about how to find maintenance calories?

By my calculations, your TDEE could be anywhere between (at the absolute lowest – as in super sedentary) 2040 and 3060 (super active).  So, depending on how active you are, lets assume you fall somewhere in the middle.  This would be around 2500 (may be higher or lower than what you get in a TDEE calculator).  In this case,  a 10-20 percent deficit would put you around 2000-2250, which as you can see is quite higher than your current cal goals.  This could be an outrageous number…or maybe not.  We would never know for sure unless you tested it out and found your true maintenance.  We recommend this because most people that actually test it out, find that they can eat A LOT more than they were giving themselves freedom to eat.  Because the body isn't getting what it needs, it's storing EVERYTHING, which counteracts everything that they're working to accomplish.

In addition, we always recommend taking a week or so off from deficit eating for that same purpose.  You need to make sure your body remembers exactly what “maintenance” is, so that it doesn't assume that your deficit eating is the new maintenance (even when this happens there are ways to “reset” your metabolism and increase your maintenance – which we would absolutely recommend to anyone with an unreasonably low maintenance).

There are many technology tools that you can purchase to help you figure out your maintenance, such as Fitbit or BodyMedia FIT.  You can also use the EM2WL calculator.  Enter your information to determine your BMR and TDEE along with your Cut value.  If you workout three to five times per week select “Moderate.”  For the “Select Your Goal” option select “Lose Fat – 15% caloric reduction.”

So now, you should have your BMR, TDEE, and Cut Value (TDEE – 15%).  But how to find maintenance calories? The only way to really find your “true” maintenance (here comes the scary part) is to EAT and test those waters out!

Get your calculations together, and get those cals up.


photo by: Creative Tools

Understanding TDEE and BMR for Fat Loss

Excerpts from the Starter Kit

What is BMR?

Your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the minimum calorific requirement needed to sustain life in a resting individual. It can be looked at as being the amount of energy (measured in calories) expended by the body to remain in bed all day!

What is TDEE?

TDEE is the common abbreviation for Total Daily Energy Expenditure which is a metric to calculate the amount of calories your body needs to function in a day.  This is quite similar to BMR; in fact, you need your BMR to calculate your TDEE; but your TDEE accounts for your average daily activity as well to give a figure truer to your specific situation.  Basically, the TDEE calculation relies on categorizing your daily activity into one of the metrics' predetermined groupings:

Sedentary – desk job and little to no exercise
Lightly Active – light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week
Moderately Active – moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week (*SIDE NOTE – even if you have a desk job most people fit right here when you workout 3-5 days a week)
Very Active – hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/week
Extremely Active – hard daily exercise/sports and physical job or training

Once you have determined where you fit in on the TDEE activity rate scale, this activity rate is used to weight your BMR giving you a more accurate assessment of how many calories you really need throughout the course of the day.

Enter your information into the EM2WL calculator and it will provide your TDEE and BMR along with your Cut value (again, if you workout 3-5 times a week select “Moderate” and the “Select Your Goal” option you will select is “Lose Fat – 15% caloric reduction”).

So now, you should have your BMR, TDEE, and Cut Value (TDEE – 15%)

Here is a video that talks about this in great detail that hopefully will clear up any questions you may have:

(If the video blesses you, please “LIKE” it on YouTube and maybe even share it on Facebook.  Pay it forward and spread the word to help others to EM2WL…we LOVE comments too!)

If TDEE is figured out correctly, then exercise cals don't have to be “eaten back” (when using applications like MyFitnessPal) because, technically, TDEE figures them in.  The underlying factor here, is that most people underestimate their activity levels (for fear of being told to eat “too much“) and then proceed to under eat.  If a person is burning 1000 cals/day in exercise, then that should be figured into their TDEE.  This means that their TDEE should be AT LEAST 1000 cals more than their BMR.  If this is not the case, then they are undercutting themselves on calories.  So a person with a BMR of 1300, that puts up 1000 cal burns should have come up with a TDEE calculation of 2400 or more.  Any situation where a person is not getting those calculations, they should be eating back some of those exercise cals.

So if you come up with a BMR of 1300, TDEE of 1800,  you need to either:

A) eat back some cals, or

B) recalculate your TDEE to include the actual burns that you're getting.


Using TDEE for Fat Loss

So to cut using true TDEE figures, you'd just eat a flat TDEE -15%.  As long as TDEE is correct, you should be fine.  But if you are using MFP's calculations, or are not getting a TDEE that includes the amount you burn each day plus BMR, you need to eat back some exercise cals. (*NOTE-If you have been eating low calories for an extended period of time, you may want to consider taking a diet break by eating FULL TDEE for an 8-12 week period to do what is called a “Metabolism Reset.”  Here is a video that will help you to decide if TDEE -15%, or a Metabolism Reset is right for you.

We make the following macronutrient recommendations to start.  Change the following in your MFP Goal settings under Custom:

Carbs 40%
Protein 30%
Fat 30%
Fiber 30
Sodium 2500

Macronutrient Ratios can be adjusted as you get to know your body type needs.  Starting with the above gets you started with eating more protein, which is important for maintaining and building muscle.  If you're new to eating more, break up your food intake into small meals during the course of the day.  Once you're able to fit it all in without feeling stuffed, feel free to eat on the schedule that best suits your lifestyle.

***Eating healthy should go without saying — we all are (hopefully?) trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle, in general.  However, we all have “loves” and this is about “living,” so EM2WL recommends allowing all things in moderation.  If you are truly sticking to your goal numbers and ratios, there is no way to completely junk out…hence the reason we recommend them!***

If at week 6 you have not lost weight, inches, or see changes in pictures/clothing fit (which is rare) — double check that you are doing ALL of the above.  If you feel that you are — or just need reassurance that you're on the right track –post a topic in the forums, or invest in a personal EM2WL coach, and let's review what you have been doing during the time-frame.  We have yet to find it is due to too many calories.  The culprit has typically been inconsistency and/or underestimating calories burned.  We can't stress enough the importance of being consistent in eating enough, hitting the above macros, and making sure your activity level is correct.


Happy Eating!

~Team EM2WL

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