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One of the most common questions I see about keto is “how many carbs should I eat in a day?” The next thing people usually want to know is, “how many calories should I eat in a day?” Totally reasonable. There seem to be two schools of thought on this: those who ignore calories, and those who eat at a huge deficit. But, what should you do?
So, how many calories should I eat on keto?
Well, the answer lies somewhere in between not counting calories at all and going crazy, and being obsessive and eating very few calories. You’ve probably figured that much out, but it’s worth stating anyway.
There are many bro science-y keto advocates that preach the fallibility of the calories-in-calories-out model. And they’re not totally wrong – saying 100 calories of corn chips is the same to your body as 100 calories of broccoli isn’t really correct. Your body will get far more out of the broccoli, and it will actually decrease inflammation, whereas the corn chips will create inflammation.
As a quick reminder, inflammation is basically excess swelling in the body, which can cause water retention and weight gain. It also puts pressure on your various organ systems. So, the general idea with foods is that we want to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
What are your goals on keto?
Not everyone follows a ketogenic diet to lose weight. In fact, there are many medical conditions which studies have shown to be greatly improved by the individual remaining in ketosis. So, if your goal has nothing to do with weight loss, you can pretty much stop reading this article now, and just eat however much you want. 😉
For the small minority of you who are trying to actually gain weight, I’d advise a similar protocol as above, but just keep eating.
For many people, weight loss is the goal, and so the rest of this article will focus on that goal.
Setting An Appropriate Calorie Deficit on a ketogenic diet
Often times, people set a calorie amount that is just too low. So many times, I see people who are eating 1200 calories per day, and wondering why’ve they’ve stalled out. Your body is smart, and if you only provide 1200 calories per day in fuel, it’s eventually going to learn to only need those 1200 calories.
While you may lose weight initially eating very few calories, the weight loss will eventually stop, as your body adjusts. Once your metabolism slows to this point, it can be very difficult to get it back on track so that weight loss can resume.
If you end up hitting your goal before you plateau and start eating normally again, you may notice that the weight actually piles on again. At the very least, you’ll have to eat less than you did before dieting.
So, how do you figure out how many calories you should eat?
A good guideline is to consume around 15-20% fewer calories than you burn. You’ll first want to figure out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)- this is the amount of calories that you burn every day, just by living. If you want to be a bit on the conservative side, it’s always helpful to err on the side of caution and calculate calories for a slightly more sedentary lifestyle than you actually lead.
Use a calculator like this one to calculate your TDEE, and then determine what 80-85% of that number. That’s a good target for your daily calories. It may seem a little high for a weight loss goal, but this is a situation where slow and steady is the best option.
You’ll lose weight at a reasonable pace, and will have a little wiggle room when you hit plateaus. While the weight loss will be initially a bit slower than if you start at a huge deficit, the long term results will be far better!