"Just eat less and exercise more!"
By the time I finally decided that I wanted to get healthy and lose weight more than I wanted to continue my dysfunctional relationship with food, smug people had offered me this equally smug message more times than I could count. The pounds had sneaked up on me over the years, but here's the thing — I thought I had been eating less and exercising more in recent times. I know for a fact, actually, that I'd made efforts to walk at least 30 minutes a day and reduce my portion sizes.
What I hadn't been doing, on the other hand, was counting calories. It turned out that that was the crucial missing puzzle piece. Learning about a few acronyms made all the difference between "maybe I can't lose weight and it's just my age" to seeing plummeting numbers on the scale every week.
What is Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE?
It's not a diet or a program. Using it doesn't guarantee you'll lose weight, and definitely doesn't guarantee you'll lose weight in a healthy or sustainable way. TDEE is information; it's a tool that gives you information. What you do with that info is up to you.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure is a shockingly simple concept that simply refers to the total number of calories you burn on a single day. The calories you burn when your body only does the things it needs to do to stay alive — like, you know, breathing, heartbeats, and the like — are referred to as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or Resting Energy Expenditure (REE). When you add the calories you burn by doing literally anything that isn't totally automatic, from vacuuming your floor or walking over to your office coffee machine to going swimming or participating in a HIIT class, you get your TDEE.
OK, how can knowing about this help me lose weight?
All this involves plenty of sciency math stuff that not everyone is going to want to get into. Your BMR can be calculated using different formulas (with the so-called Mifflin St Jeor equation widely considered to be most accurate), and it depends on factors like your age, biological sex, and weight, as well. This part is fairly easy to handle, as you don't actually need to get your graph paper out and can just hit the internet to get a very good estimation of your BMR. All you need to do is input accurate information, and a myriad of apps and websites can do the rest for you.
To find out what your TDEE is each day, you need to do a little more work — because it requires knowing how many calories you're consuming and how many you're burning through physical activity, so anything above and beyond the Basal Metabolic Rate. You could work this all out on paper with the right information, of course, but there are also, again, plenty of apps that can make it a ton easier. I used one. I'm not here to promote that specific app, so I won't mention its name, but I will say that apps will give you a nice rough idea of how many calories "30 minutes of brisk walking", "20 minutes of swimming", or even "120 minutes of sitting at your desk" will burn.
Tracking food is slightly harder, but not that difficult. Packaged foods will come with information about the number of calories portions contain, which will give you all the info you need if you're, say, eating exactly one pudding. Apps can also already have information about how many calories that Starbucks coffee or McDonald's burger will cost you, calorie-wise. Fresh, unlabeled, foods are trickier, and the same goes for things like pasta, for which it may be difficult to figure out exactly how much you ate. A food scale can be your friend, here. If you know how many grams of spinach or rice you ate, you can once again quite easily enter that information into your chosen app and find out how many calories that equaled.
How much of a calorie deficit do I need?
That depends on how much weight you want to lose. If you want to lose one kilo or two pounds a week, you're looking for a daily calorie deficit of roughly 500. You can get there by burning calories through exercise or by ingesting fewer calories. (This doesn't have to mean eating smaller quantities food, as there's a big caloric difference between, for instance, choosing spaghetti and zoodles — basically spaghetti-shaped zucchini.) If you have a smaller calorie deficit, you'll lose weight at a slower rate.
A final word
Some people will get really into the science behind weight loss, while others are happy to let technology take care of most of the calculating work. Either way, understanding how many calories you burn through basic bodily functions and added activities, and how many you're getting through your food, is the key to losing weight and keeping it off. Weight loss is often described as "simple, but not easy", and that's really true. Simply exercising more and eating less (which doesn't necessarily mean getting fewer calories, depending on what you eat) may not cut it, though. With that little something extra — being aware of your TDEE and adjusting accordingly — you can go in for the win and hit that weight goal.