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.
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.