Hello, hello, GOALfriend, and welcome to episode number two hundred and eighty-eight. Today we’re talking about when to adjust your calories while you’re losing weight. This is such a good one, and it’s a topic I’ve never – to the best of my memory – talked about here on the podcast. I get asked this question all the time, and I’ve always given my standard response (which I’m going to tell you in just a minute), but I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot more to this topic than meets the eye. So that’s why we’re digging in today.
Here’s what really prompted me to sit down and create this podcast for you: a few days ago in The B Hive (which is my free Facebook group), a woman posted that she’s been faithfully following The 5-0 Method for about a year and she’s feeling great and can tell that she’s fitter and stronger, but she hasn’t lost any weight at all. So she asked what she should do to tweak the program in order to lose weight.
And it was kind of funny, because about half of the responses were telling her that she was probably exercising too much – which I love, because seriously, nobody else out in the world seems to be talking about over exercising, so I’m just so proud that my message of taking care of your menopausal body is sinking in.
And then the other half of the responses were saying that she probably needed to lower her calories a bit, which was… well, in spite of my work trying to educate women over 50 that undereating is also a very real problem, there’s still work to be done there.
And then, even though that was two halves, which should add up to a whole, there was another few responses that said she should probably talk to her doctor to check on her thyroid, which is certainly a valid point, and I’m always going to agree with checking with your doctor.
But here’s what I noticed: First, not one single person mentioned anything about journaling, which is the number one task in The 5-0 Method! (Which, by the way, is my free weight loss program for women over 50, and you can download it from https://getyourgoal.com/ ) And second, nobody asked about her water or her sleep.
So, before we even dive into the heart of the conversation about when to adjust your calories, let me set the record straight that the reason there are five tasks in The 5-0 Method is because ALL FIVE OF THEM – together, synergistically – create weight loss. If it was only your calories, or only exercise, or even if it was only those two things, I wouldn’t give you three other tasks as busy work. They’re ALL important.
And, the task I don’t mention as its own separate thing, but is intrinsic to the other five, is keeping records of your tasks. This is why I include data tracking sheets in The 5-0 Method, so you can see days and weeks and months of numbers and get a clear picture of what’s going on.
Interestingly, this was the other thing I noticed about the responses to the post: nobody asked for data. And really quickly, if you are a member of The B Hive and this was your post, or you responded to it, please don’t hear this like I’m “calling you out” or something. Not at all! The answers were all very supportive and kind, and I don’t expect anybody in the group to be an expert coach the way I am. And truth be told, I learned this lesson the hard way.
For years, when I first started coaching, I would totally take clients at their word. They’d say things like “I’m not losing weight, even though I feel like I’m being super consistent.” And I’d go straight into problem-solving mode. “Okay, let’s tweak your calories. Have you been working out with the program I gave you? Yes? Okay.” And I never asked for proof.
And, in full transparency, a lot of my clients didn’t get amazing results back in those days, because I didn’t question them.
Now, knowing what I know as a life coach, and understanding that your brain is ALWAYS telling you a story, I ask for numbers. I had a client one time with that exact story of “I’m not losing weight and I feel like I’m being consistent” and when she showed me her tracker, it turned out that she’d actually lost SEVEN POUNDS!
And, funnily enough, her consistency was actually all over the map. She was younger, she had a bigger calorie target window, but still. Her brain was telling her a different story than the numbers did.
In a slightly different way, that’s what was going on here recently, too. When I asked the original poster for some data, she gave me some numbers that helped me show her that the problem wasn’t her calorie target at all, instead, it was more an issue with consistency.
Which is a word you’re going to hear a lot today as I offer you my advice about when and how to adjust your calories.
There are two times you’ll want to make adjustments – at the beginning of your journey, and after you’ve lost approximately 40 pounds.
And please don’t hear either one of those as a hard and fast rule. I’m not saying that you will absolutely have to adjust your calories twice, nor am I saying that you’re only “allowed” to adjust your calories twice. I’m saying that there are two scenarios that might come up which might be cause for adjustments, and you might, in fact, adjust your calories half a dozen times overall.
I’m going to pause on this point for a quick moment, because I think this is super important for you to hear. One of the things I always notice is that when I offer you weight loss advice, I sprinkle it with lots of “maybe”s and “possibly”s and “could”s – but when you quote me back to me, your language always seems to be full of “should”s and “must”s. As though what I’ve said in some kind of unbendable truth.
But that’s not the case at all, and the sooner you get on board with that, the easier time you’ll have. Because your weight loss journey is a grand, glorious experiment of one. Every time. I have expertise with the general biology of weight loss and that’s the knowledge I share with you, but your amazing miracle of a body is always going to do what it’s going to do, based on billions of factors, only five of which (journaling, eating, drinking, sleeping, and exercising) are under your direct control.
So please don’t hear anything I’m telling you today as a law. They’re rules of thumb, meant to give you guidance to make your own best decisions about what to do.
Okay, now let’s get back to it.
The first time you MIGHT need to adjust your calories is right at the beginning of your weight loss journey. When you first read The 5-0 Method and see that your daily calorie target is your current weight with a zero on the end of it, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to freak out and insist that there is absolutely no way in the world that you can eat that number of calories!
I understand completely. No matter if you’re coming to the number from a long history of overeating and think it’s way too low and you’re going to starve to death, or a long history of very restrictive dieting and think it’s way too high and you’re going to blow up like a balloon, you can start by offering yourself an “adjustment period” to get from your current calories to your target.
Later in your journey, after you’ve lost approximately 40 pounds (if you have 40 pounds to lose), there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll stop losing weight at your original calorie target. Because your body’s calorie needs are based in large part (not exclusively, but significantly) on your weight, your target is likely to decrease as you lose weight. If you are hitting 100% consistency on all five tasks and have not lost any weight at all for about four to six weeks, it’s probably time to make an adjustment.
So, how do you know for sure, and how do you decide to make adjustments?
I’m so glad you’ve asked!
Let me illustrate how this all works with a completely hypothetical example. Let’s say there’s a woman who is 5’4” tall and 56 years old. She currently weighs 170 pounds and her goal weight is 130 (which means she only has 40 pounds to lose).
Her daily target for calories is 1700 – her weight with a zero on the end of it – and she doesn’t have any adjustments for her height, age, or activity level. (I’m not going to enumerate those adjustments here, because they’re spelled out very clearly in The 5-0 Method, and you can go download that for free and get your own calorie target squared away.)
For the sake of our example, we’re just going to pretend that she’s an avid journaler who already has some experience with thought work, that she’s great at drinking her water, she’s a champion sleeper, and it’s super easy for her to exercise for 23 minutes a day. Honestly, this scenario is pretty unlikely, but we’re gonna go with it, so I can show you how the calories thing works without trying to figure out all of the rest of it, too.
But here’s the kicker: she’s basically been dieting for as long as she can remember. Most days, she’s barely eating 1200 calories and the thought of upping her target to 1700 sends her straight into a panic. Well, except when it doesn’t.
Every week or so, she’ll have a couple of days where she eats way over 1200 calories. And any time she’s on vacation, or has a special occasion, she’s more than willing to go over.
So, when she gets super super honest with herself (inside her journal, where all the most productive self awareness comes from!), she realizes that the 1200 calories isn’t realistic. In fact, it feels super restrictive, which is probably why she’s so willing to “fall off the wagon,” so to speak, every couple of weeks.
From a place of compassionate curiosity, she decides to try eating 1400 calories a day. It feels like a little bit of a stretch, but it’s not panicky. And she can even see how it might help her not feel so restricted all the time.
This is the first adjustment. Her target, technically speaking, is 1700, but she doesn’t feel confident about hitting that consistently. So she makes a decision to eat 1400 calories because she believes she CAN be consistent with it.
Listen again to how the decision was made. She’s not deciding “This is how much I think I need to eat to lose weight,” she’s deciding on a target she can hit CONSISTENTLY. Consistency over time with all five tasks is what creates weight loss.
And she does pretty good with the 1400 calories. Her consistency is probably in the 80% range, but she still has those occasional days (or weekends, or whole weeks) where she overeats by a lot.
But her confidence is up. She can really see herself – literally, by looking at the numbers in her tracker – she can see herself getting more consistent. She decides to adjust her calories up a little more, to 1550. Again, this is just a bit of a stretch, but not panicky. That number sounds doable. She’s pretty sure she can be consistent with it.
And oh my goodness, she feels so much better at this target. She starts to regain the hunger cues she lost after so many years of dieting, her energy is up, and her consistency skyrockets up to 95%.
But there’s one problem. The reason her consistency is “only” 95%. She’s HUNGRY. Like, legit hungry. And even though I just said it was a “problem,” this is the very best problem to have. Creating the brain-body connection with yourself to recognize hunger cues is the heart and soul of The 5-0 Method.
Our friend is now six months into her journey, and she’s lost a grand total of five pounds, but what she’s gained is a relationship with her body, a solid foundation of consistency, and a whole lot of confidence.
At 165 pounds, she adjusts her calories up to 1750, because her energy is up and she’s noticed that she’s actually a somewhat active person. Not because she’s exercising more, but just in general, she likes to be busy.
With 1750 calories as her target, she’s only hungry when it’s time to eat, her energy level feels really good, and she’s hitting her daily target at 100%. She doesn’t overeat anymore, she feels totally satisfied, and now – after six months of adjusting to her calorie adjustments – she’s ready to lose weight.
And that’s exactly what she does.
Six months later, she’s lost another 25 pounds (for a total of 30 overall), but she’s noticing a different kind of snag.
Somewhat suddenly, she’s starting to feel a little sluggish. And sometimes she’s got that “overfull” feeling after eating. Her weight loss has slowed, and she’s finding it a little more difficult to hit her calorie target, and occasionally finds herself undereating her target.
She’s okay with putting her head down and continuing to do the work, but she wonders if it’s time for another calorie adjustment. So, she decides to start tracking not just her calories, but her body sensations.
After a few weeks of taking notes, she’s gathered data that supports a calorie adjustment: specifically, her weight loss has slowed from about a pound a week to approximately one pound a month, her hunger cues are less strong, her fullness cues are stronger, and she feels overfull more than 50% of the time. Her energy level for daily activities is harder to quantify, but she can see in her journal that she is finding fewer helpful thoughts than she was just a few months ago.
She trusts these body signals and decides to lower her calories to 1500. While deciding, though, she also commits to paying attention to her thoughts (basically being aware of any restrictive or “dieting” thoughts or feelings), looking for a return of hunger cues and energy level, and reversing her decision if, at any point, it just doesn’t feel good. She feels confident about getting up to 100% consistency again with an amount of calories that her body feels good with.
And this adjustment really fits the bill for all of these things!
Within just a few weeks, her energy level feels good, she’s hitting her calorie target every day without feeling too hungry or too full, she’s noticed a few “diet-like” thoughts, but they were easy to spot in her journaling, and – best of all – she’s losing weight again at a rate of two pounds a month. Not quite as fast as when she was heavier, but not as slow as before the adjustment.
Two months later, she hits her goal weight, and, as the story goes, she lived happily ever after.
Ahhhhh, such a great story, right? And of course this is a simplified version of what you’re going through. But seeing it laid out like this can help you pick out the universal pieces of wisdom that I’m offering you. Here are the key takeaways that are going to help YOU on your weight loss journey:
First and foremost, it’s okay to adjust your calories. That already feels like a huge relief for lots of you.
Second, and I didn’t stress this very much during the story, so I’m pulling it out for you now – take your time adjusting. Don’t be trying to hit a new calorie target every week. Spend at least a month or even several months gathering data before you make changes.
On that note, the data you’re gathering isn’t from the scale, it’s from your body and your journal.
And finally, make your adjustments based on whether or not you can eat your target calories consistently, not on whether or not you think it’ll “make you lose weight.” Calories don’t make you lose weight, consistency does.
My friend, thank you so much for joining me this week. I hope this was really helpful for you, and I’ll talk to you again soon.