The first step, finding your numbers

You will need two numbers to get started, the amount of fuel your body uses to power you each day and the amount of fuel that you take in. We will measure both numbers in calories; you can think of calories of food for your body just like gallons of gas for your car. 

The fuel your body uses to power you each day is called your total daily calorie expenditure (TDEE). Everyone's TDEE is different, and even an individual's can change slightly from day to day based on activity level and changes in their body.  You will be doing some experimenting down the road to get a better handle on your TDEE, for now we just need a rough estimate. Download the free MyFitnessPal (MFP) app from your appstore or use their website at if you prefer. When making your account, set your goal to maintain weight for now, and it will give you an estimate of your TDEE after answering a few questions.

Next comes the fun part, figuring out how much fuel you put into your body each day. MFP is the best tool I've found for this, their huge database of food information makes tracking easy and you can even scan barcodes on packaged foods. Track your food for at least a full day or two before moving on to the next step. A few tips for tracking:

  • Everything counts! Condiments, dressings, snacks, drinks, "healthy calories", everything that goes in your mouth should go in your log.
  • Track first! Make it a habit to track your foods right before you eat them so you don't have to remember them later on.
  • Get a food scale! When I first started tracking I had no idea what 4oz of chicken looked like. Having a kitchen scale is key to tracking accurately.
  • Round in your favor! If you are forced to estimate calories, round them up. Many foods are more calorie dense than we realize.
  • Everything counts, again! This one is worth repeating. If you don't track accurately then it will be very hard to progress towards your goals. Don't cheat yourself!

Speaking of goals, now is a good time to set one if you haven't already. If you are unsure of what your final goal weight should be, you can use one of many online BMI calculators to get a rough estimate of a healthy weight based on your height. You can also talk to your doctor to find their opinion on an ideal weight.

Now that you have your numbers, you can start to take action. As long as you keep your daily calorie intake below your TDEE, you will be making progress. The size of the gap will determine how quickly you make progress, but bigger isn't always better. It can be tempting to aim for a massive deficit to lose weight quickly, but most people will struggle to stay consistent under such conditions. It is better to aim for a steady approach with a target of losing around 1-2 pounds per week. The next section of the guide will cover how to make your plan and put it into action.

Got it, next!