T Nation

Calories, Fitbit and WTF!?

Im a middle aged fatty, trying to get my obese ass into shape. Thanks to the power of the internet I have no clue on the best strategy to do this (from an eating perspective). As you all know, there is a bunch of conflicting information out there but whilst everyone has their own opinions, i’m pretty certain that I’m not going to get any 6 weeks abs, juiceplus+ or herballife suggestions here, so I hope you’ll help me out and not burn me too much for my lack of knowledge.

Okay, so I’m 45, 6ft tall and weigh 97kg. My BF% puts me in the upper 20’s which translates as obese by UK standards. My eating has always been okay (ish) but my excess fat has come from the consumption of too many empty calories (in the form of lager).

I’m now prepping my meals and have quit alcohol (completely for now, but will go back in moderation at some point I suspect) so calories are now being regulated and I’m holding myself accountable for what I eat and drink.

I’ve looked at a bunch of macro set ups and nutrition plans and have finally settled on something by Roman Fitness systems (i wont link as not sure of forum rules).
This guys plan makes sense and is easy enough to set up. Its a body recomp approach rather than a cut/bulk, which really suits me as in my own mind it seems like something I can stick to.
My biggest concern however, is the calories and also, the energy expenditure that my fitbit shows.

The approach of RFS recomp is eat a slight surplus on lifting days and a deficit on non training days, adjusting macros accordingly. Again this feels okay to me, however the ‘calories in’ feel pretty low.

The ‘energy needs calculation’ RFS recommends is 13 cals per pound of lean body mass if over 22.1% body fat. At 28% body fat, my LBM comes out as 156, multiplied by 13 cals thats 2028 cals for my energy needs.
Using the surplus/deficit recommended, I’m to eat 2128 on lifting days and only 1528 on non lifting days. Whilst I think 1528 is very low, I need to lose a lot of fat, so im happy to go along with it…however there is a snag, my fitbit calories.

I understand that fitbits are far from accurate and are a guide at best and probably not a very good one. However my last fit bit and my current one, show my average energy consumption to be over 3000/day when I train ( yesterday i did a HIIT session and came in close to 4000 calories) and even non training days I still show up around 2500-2700.

Whilst I acknowledge the lack of accuracy of fitbits, the consistent numbers compared to the recommended intake is a concern as I don’t want to become skinny fat and I also want to be able to hang on to my limited muscle and ideally put some LBM on.

So, my point (yes there is one…if you’re still reading, I appreciate your patience) am I going to f*** myself up at these numbers and will it prevent me lifting and even worse to lose the limited muscle that I have?
My plan is to get to 10-13% BF and then up cals considerably and follow a more traditional bulking protocol, where I have a surplus every day (although I have no idea how I’m going to consume over 3000 cals with clean eating, but I’ll worry on that when/if I get there).

Thoughts ladies and gents please?


I think you’ll fuck up eating 1600kcal per day from the onset - you have zero wiggle room when things get hard.

The fitbit is a non issue. Use the scales to guide you, the numbers are great to calibrate but once that is done use your scales.

Measuring Calorie Expendature

No devise, including the FItbit, is going to provide you with a reliable measure of caloric expenditure.

At best, you will get a ball park figure, as you have noted.

Fitbit Sucks

The problem was in the “calories burned” or energy expenditure readings. They all sucked:

No device achieved an error rate in energy expenditure below 20%.

The most “accurate” device was off by an average of 27%.

The least accurate was off by 93%.

The error rate was worse for males and those with darker skin tones.

Weight Loss Plan

The foundation of every weight loss plan is creating a calorie deficit.

Thus, altering the number of calories you eat from day to day will work providing your are consuming less than you burn.

Energy Calculation

All method of calculating energy needs are incredibly inaccurate.

A More Effective Method

Think of lowing weight/body fat as taking a trip. You first need to find out where you are on the map.

The same applies with losing weight. You first need to determine how many calories a day that you are consuming.

To obtain that number you need to perform a…

Three Day Recall

  1. Count all the calories you consume in three days.

  2. Divide the total number of calories by 3, the three days. That will provide you with you average daily caloric expenditure.

Providing you are not losing weight on your current diet, you next…

Decrease Your Caloric Intake By 20%

Independent research by Dr John Ivy (Exercise Physiologist) and Dr Layne Norton (PhD Nutrition) determined that the most effective method that insure muscle mass is retained or increased and maximizes fat loss is to decrease your caloric intake by 20%.

Decreasing Metabolism

The issue with decreasing weight/body fat is that you eventually plateau and stop losing weight, NO matter which diet you are on.

As the saying goes, “Everything (all diets work) but nothing works forever.”

The plateau effect has to do with,

The General Adaptation Synerome

This means you body eventually learn to adapt to any stimulus. You body will learn to learn to live on you new caloric intake and stabilize.

Research found this method to be effective…

Building ‘Breaks’ Into Your Diet Could Help You Lose More Weight

This is an “Intermittent Diet”. It is NOT Intermittent Fasting.

…periods of dieting and rebalancing would last for two weeks each, based on a classic semi-starvation study that found metabolism plunges for about two weeks after initial calorie restriction before adjusting to a new body weight and composition.

intermittent dieters lost more weight, and more fat mass, than the people who dieted continuously for 16 weeks. The intermittent dieters lost an average of 31 pounds, and 27 of the lost pounds were fat.

Dr Layne Norton

Norton’s “Reverse Dieting” came out before this research. Norton’s does an excellent job of going over this in…

Reverse Dieting

Fundamentally, “Intermittent Feeding” and "Reverse Dieting amount to…

Yo-Yo Dieting

Yo-Yo Dieting is associated with individuals who go on a low calorie diet. Then quit and go back to their original diet and at times consuming even more calories.

Ironically, Yo-Yo Dieting can also be an effective tool for decreasing weight/body fat.

The same principle applies only in reverse, as Norton demonstrated with “Reverse Dieting” and the research shows with “Intermittent Dieting”.

The Roman Diet

It will work to some degree.

However, it is plagued with flaws.

Kenny Croxdale

Cheers mate, I suspected that but appreciate confirmation from another human being.

Wow okay thanks for the detailed feedback.
I’ve not been able to watch the vids / read the articles yet but will do this evening.
Hopefully not too much info for my simple inexperienced brain but will give it a good go.
Appreciate your time.

At your body fat percentage you’re being overly-conservative with the calories, IMO. Recomping is for people who have a decent, muscular body wrapped in a bit too much adipose tissue. Go ahead and do it if you like as long as you don’t mind the long slog. You will get results provided you have the stamina to see it through for +12 months.

As things stand, your biggest advantage at this moment is that your fat percentage will actually allow you to shed lbs at a much greater rate than someone much leaner. You should be looking to diet as aggressively as possible. Along with a proper lifting plan (T-Nation anyone), you may even be able to build some muscle along the way.

Thanks for your input mate. So I should shoot for lower calories? I think I’d struggle with that.

From a lifting perspective I’m focusing on compound lifts with 1 or 2 accessories, hitting each major group twice a week with a 6-8reps, slightly heavier and 90sec rest on Mon/Tues then similar movements with some differences for 8-12, slightly lighter with 60 sec rest on Thur/Fri.

My focus is definately to gain muscle, but I’d like to be able to see it too. My main problem area is my belly, because as I said, I was a beer monster. Also pecs and quads to a lesser extent. The rest of me just needs to grow.

Thanks again.

Absolutely lower calories. There are myriad of options. A middle road approach would be the type of system Nate Myaki uses. Search his articles on this site and use the lower calorie calculation. You could even kick off this with a super strict 14 day blitz, e.g. going 1500 kcals, etc. Your training sounds as though it’s covering the basics so nail down the nutrition now. Good luck.


Take advantage of your simple, inexperienced brain and just do what the program instructs.

2000/1500 calories sound like a good starting point.

Use a TDEE calculator. You can find plenty online. They are not 100% accurate, but close enough. After using that, subtract 300 calories and weigh yourself once a week. If you are losing 0.226-0.680kg (0.5-1.5lbs)/week then you are on the right track. If you weigh yourself for 2 weeks and see that your weight has not dropped, then lower your calories by another 300 and repeat.

Its good to minimize the alcohol you drink because thats an easy first step, but otherwise, don’t cut out entire food groups because that is how people start yo-yo dieting. The trick to changing your eating habits is to limit what you eat, but not restrict what you eat. For example, if you really want to eat a cheese burger, feel free to eat one once a month, but don’t eat one once a week.

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The Issues With TDEE Calculations

It is incredibly inaccurate. It amounts to basing or projecting your diet on a house built out of cards, a faulty foundation.

Losing weight is similar to taking a trip. Using TDEE amount to guessing about where you are rather than knowing.

To really know where, here is…

A More Effective Method

Think of lowing weight/body fat as taking a trip. You first need to find out where you are on the map.

The same applies with losing weight. You first need to determine how many calories a day that you are consuming.

To obtain that number you need to perform a…

Three Day Recall

Count all the calories you consume in three days.

Divide the total number of calories by 3, the three days. That will provide you with you average daily caloric expenditure.

Providing you are not losing weight on your current diet, you next…

Simplistically Untrue

The failure rate is essentially the same in the long run, no matter what diet is followed.

Calorie Restriction

Any diet in which you burn more calories than you consume will work.

A prime example is the…

Twinkie Diet

Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University demonstrated that that decreasing caloric intake is the key to weight loss.

Haub “lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks subsisting almost exclusively on Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos and other treats by ensuring that he consumed fewer calories than he burned.”

Kenny Croxdale

ACE recommends their trainers to use a TDEE calculator with their clients, but if you have a problem with using a TDEE calculator, you can use the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation, which is a “fairly accurate estimation of resting metabolic rate”. It has a 79% accuracy. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/88/4/959.full Once you know your calories, subtract 500 to be on a caloric deficit. When you stop losing weight, subtract another 500 until you reach your goal. I should have recommended the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation earlier. I forgot that I did that for myself rather than using the TDEE calculator. When I was writing my earlier comment, I remembered wrong. I thought I used a TDEE calculator for myself.

The people who follow fad diets, which restrict large food groups lose a lot of weight in the short run, but there is a large drop out rate. Only 6.6% of the participants stayed in the program for an entire year. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16755283

I do not disagree that “any diet in which you burn more calories than you consume will work,” but I am talking about good eating habits, which will not just keep unwanted fat off, but will also be healthy.

If/when you decide to gain weight, use the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation, but be conservative with it. For example this is my personal experience, I powerlift 4 days/week, but due to health reasons, I can’t do significant cardio. I chose to categorize myself as moderately active for the equasion. I am on a caloric surplus. I gain 0.5-1lb/week. So far, I have also been losing body fat, which has been a pleasant surprise, but losing fat and gaining weight probably won’t last that much longer, but I’ll see how long that goes for.

I’m sure KennyCrox will have something to say that supposedly proves me wrong, but this is what I experienced and you can’t disprove someone’s personal experience because it happened to them. Before last summer, I took a year off from powerlifting due to my work schedule. When I got back into it during the summer, I weighed 186.4lbs and my goal was to weigh 165lbs so I had room to bulk. I starting by eating one serving of carbs, one serving of protein, and one serving of fruit/vegetable, but stop eating when I felt satisfied. NOT full, but NOT hungry. I drank a 30g protein shake before each meal as well to get my protein needs up and so I get full before finishing all of the food. I would finish the rest for the next meal of the day after drinking another protein shake. I did that and got down to approximately 170lbs, while also gaining a little muscle and a lot of strength. Beginners/people who have not lifted in a long time will get bigger and stronger without paying much attention to diet. Thats whats nice about being a beginner. I couldn’t drop those last 5lbs so I decided to cut out the protein shakes. I got down to 165lbs after a couple weeks. Yes, some of that weight loss was muscle, but only a couple pounds was muscle and I knew I was about to start a bulk so it didn’t matter that much. I didn’t count my macros nor my calories for pretty much the entire cut. The trick to losing weight is just eat less and exercise.

I have been bulking for a little while now after using the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation and now weigh 173lbs and am stronger.

Thanks this is great

Thanks for this

Some good stuff to get my head into here. Nothing unanimous but then what works for others isn’t nailed down to work for me. I’ve dropped a kilo in the last week just from dropping out on beer and am still fine tuning the diet. Have meal prepped to match the Roman system so will let that play out.
I must say that training on Thursday after a low calorie (1500 ish) Wednesday is tough. I’ve got very little in the tank.

Thanks for all of the input people. I’ll try to incorporate some of this to get the BF down before increasing to some size on


The Inaccuracy Issue

The inaccuracy issue still remains, even with the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation or any other method employed.

It is impossible to accurately determine the amount of calories burned during daily activities by knowledgeable individuals, let along the average individual.

The problem is magnified by individual who are “Guessing” at their calorie expenditure during daily activities. The majority of individual over estimate the caloric expenditure.

Magnification of The Caloric Expenditure Issue

The caloric expenditure issue is exacerbated due to the inaccuracy of cardio equipment that grossly over reports the number of calories burned.

Don’t Get Burned by Calorie Counters

“On average, the machines overestimated by 19 percent and the watches overestimated by 28 percent.”

Your Fitness Tracker Sucks

No device achieved an error rate in energy expenditure below 20%.

The most “accurate” device was off by an average of 27%.

The least accurate was off by 93%.

The error rate was worse for males and those with darker skin tones.

Overall, A Good Rule

The American College of Sports Medicine has essentially stated the same, decrease caloric intake 500 kcal a day.

The American College of Medicine does NOT designate where those 500 kcals come from; carbohydrates, fats, protein, etc.

Reduce your calorie intake 500 kcals per day from your “Present Daily Caloric Intake”.

The fundamental issue is to Subtract the 500 kcals from what you KNOW you are consuming, not what you are guessing that you are consuming.

Guessing means you don’t know.

Define Fad Diet

That is a vague statement with no definition.

Restrictive Diet

There is initially more fall out when a diet is more restrictive. However, the end result in the long run remains the same. No matter the diet, the majority of individual eventually quit.

That is one of the reason that one-third of American are projected to be Diabetes by 2050. The root cause driven by over consumption of carbohydrates and calories.

With that stated, most individual, especially old individual need to cut back on carbohydrate intake. Another topic for another time.

Good Eating Habits

This is another vague term with no real meaning. You need to define it.

Take Home Message

  1. No metabolic calculator or equation is going to provide you with much accuracy. At best they give you a ball park figure

  2. To lose or gain weight, you first MUST determine the number of calories you are consuming on a daily basis. Then add or subtract.

To do that you MUST perform a “Three Day Recall”. One of those days MUST be a weekend day. That due to the fact that you eating habits are different on the weekend than through the week.

Your Success

Evidently, you’ve had some success with your plan.

However, for individual who want to obtain more accuracy in finding where they are on the “Caloric Road Map”, the “Three Day Recall” is mandatory.

Kenny Croxdale

Really dude? Just let it rest. I’m not saying your way is wrong, but everything I described is good as well and it has worked for me and works for many others so you can’t disprove my argument. Your way probably works well for you and probably works well for others as well. Its just 2 equally good ways to get to the same place. There is still a margin of error in your’s because most people do not eat the exact same food and calories every day. Averaging the days still has a margin of error. On Monday I might have fish with dinner and on Tuesday I might have beef. The following Monday, I might have pork so your calculation has its errors as well. I said that I think people should be on the more conservative side when determining their energy expenditure. For example, I put that I do moderate exercise and would change it to low or high depending on the results after a week or 2. Fortunately, moderate worked out well.

I agree that cardio equipment is a horrible way to measure calories burned. I never advocated that. They don’t put into account the rest of what you do during your day and I don’t know the details of how they work, but I do know that how they work isn’t very accurate.

Its good that we agree on the 500 kcals deficit, but the equasion is good enough. If it turns out that you thought you subtracted 500, but it turns out that it is more like 400 or more like 600 then that is okay. You will still see the results you want, but you will plateau a little sooner than you want. If you are smart with what you expect your level of exercise is (low, moderate, high, etc.) then you won’t be far off from accurate.

I thought fad diet was obvious, but some examples include Atkins, Paleo, Jenny Craig, etc.

I entirely agree with what you are saying about restrictive diets so if you are just trying to teach the OP some info, thats awesome, but if you are trying to prove me wrong somehow then you clearly misunderstood something I said.

Good eating habits is pretty straight forward, but if you want details then the ACE recommendation is to learn from choosemyplate.gov, but the DASH diet is a good call. Its very balanced. Generally good eating habits means you should eat fruits, vegetables, grains, lean proteins, and other complex carbs. This stuff isn’t rocket science.

In short, your system works, my system works. They are just 2 sides of the same coin. The OP should try one or both and see what they like. No matter what, they will lose weight using both and since they are a novice, they will have a few months or more before they need to dial in their diet as long as they are eating enough protein.

There seems to be 2 philosophies in terms of how much protein someone should eat who strength trains. There is the common 1g/1lb of body weight and the 20% protein/30% fat/50% carb recommendation. I have tried the 1g/1lb of bodyweight method several times. It works well and I fully support recommending people try it, but in the past, I have overcalculated my calories to accomodate that. What I am trying now and so far its been successful as described above is use the Mifflin-St. Jeor Equation, add 500 kcals if you want to bulk and subtract 500 if you want to cut, and then do the 20% protein/30% fat/50% carb strategy. Toward the end of the day, I usually end up being 100-200ish calories shy of my goals mostly for the carbs, but sometimes with fats as well. I just drink a 60g protein shake that is 270 calories and there I hit my calorie and got more than what I need for protein goals for the day. Except for that one protein shake, I have cut them out from the rest of my diet because whole real foods are usually healthier than protein shakes.

Margin Error

There is a margin of error with everything. However, the Three Day Recall ensures greater accuracy than the TDEE Calculators.

The Three Day Recall is more like measuring your food with a scale. The TDEE, is more like looking at a bowl of food and guessing.

It come down to how accurate you want to be.

500 kcals

Yes, the ACE and ACSM’s generic recommendation is a good general guideline that works. Again, it just depends on how accurate you want to be.

Common MIsconception

None of the above falls into the category of “Fat Diet” as defined by Wikipedia…

“A fad diet… makes promises of weight loss or other health advantages…without backing by solid science, …” Resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fad_diet

Atkins Diet

This diet has been around since 1972, 46 years ago. It based on science and research has demonstrated to provide health benefits.

"It (Atkins) was inspired by a research paper he read in The Journal of the American Medical Association.; published in 1958. Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atkins_diet

The Low Carbohydrate, Moderate Protein, High Fat Diet has plenty has gain some momentum with recent research in the field of sports.

Endurance athletes are now implementing it as a means of eliminating or delaying “Bonking”,

Dr Jake Wilson and Ryan Lowery’s, PhDc (formerly with the Human Performance Lab at the University of Tampa) research with Strength Athletes has demonstrated that it is effective at decreasing body fat while increasing muscle mass and strength.

Wilson and Lowery’s research is built on previous research that has demonstrated the same.

The A To Z Diet Research

“A” meaning Atkins and “Z” meaning The Zone Diet.

This research was ironically conducted by a Vegan. The research demonstrated that The Atkins Diet was more effective at decreasing body weight and improving health over the Traditional Western Diet and Pritikin Diet (ultra low fat).

Paleo Diet

“The idea of a Paleolithic diet can be traced to a 1975 book by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin,[6]:41 which in 1985 was further developed by Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, and popularized by Loren Cordain in his 2002 book The Paleo Diet.[7]” Resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_diet

So, the Paleo Diet has been around for 16 years.

Defining “Fad”

Fad is defined as “an activity or topic of interest that is very popular for a short time,…” Resource: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/fad

Since the Akins Diet has been around for 46 years and the Paleo Diet for about 16 years, they cannot be define as “Fad Diets”.

Low Carbohydrates Diets

The common thread that the Atkins Diet and Paleo Diet share is that they are restrictive, primarily with carbohydrates.

Jenny Craig

Jenny Craig is so to speak a pre-packaged diet plan that allows for most food. It is not a “Fad Diet”.

Restrictive Diet Plans

The more restrictive a diet is, the less likely someone is to comply and adhere to it,

Thus, the majority of individual don’t last long on Atkins, Paleo, Pritikin, Zone, Ornish, etc.

With that said, the majority of individuals fail with all diets for a variety of reasons.

Personal Experience

Due to a metabolic issue, I have followed a the Ketogenic Diet for about two years: Low Carbohydrate (50 gram or less per day), Moderate Protein (up to 25% of daily kcal intake) and High Fat (70% plus of daily kcal intake).

My daily consumption of macros is…

  1. Fat: 210 to 250 gram with around 30 to 40% being Saturated Fat.

  2. Protein: 120 to 145 grams.

  3. Carbohydrates: 50 grams or less.

It has not impaired my lifting. I enjoy the diet. My Lipid Profile was good and is even better on the Ketogenic Diet.

With that said, I do not recommend the Ketogenic Diet because it require more dedication than most individuals are willing to comply with.

My Recommendations

  1. Intermittent Fasting

I often integrate this into my “Diet Plan”.

From using it an working with others, this “Diet Plan” has demonstrated to be effective and one of simplest method for weight/fat loss.

Nothing to fix, no time or effort required. You simply skip a meal, which we have all done.

  1. Carbohydrate Reduction

The majority of individuals consume more carbohydrates than they need.

Carbohydrate reduction is best accomplished by consuming fibrous foods, as you know. High fiber foods are low in carbohydrates and calories.

Kenny Croxdale

I agree the TDEE calculators are not that accurate, but if you recall I corrected myself and explained that I used the Mifflin-St. Jeorg Equation, which I still say is pretty accurate. Its probably roughly as accurate as the Three Day Recall, but no common system is 100% accurate.

You are clearly reading too far into my usage of the term “fad diet”. It just describes popular diets, which oftentimes work in the short run, but not in the long run because most are restrictive diets. Lets put that argument to bed.

That is great that you have been sticking to the Ketogenic Diet. I tried it for a couple days awhile ago and failed to stay in ketosis. I think everyone should give it a shot even if it is just a couple days because it opens your eyes to exactly how many foods have carbohydrates and as you correctly pointed out, many people eat more carbohydrates than they need. The thing that ruined the ketogentic diet for me is that I like fruit. Please correct me if I am wrong, but if you eat 1 banana, you have kicked yourself out of ketosis.