I don’t intend to count calories to lose weight this time around (unless I’m sort of stuck and need some information to move forward), but for fun, let’s talk about them for a moment.
The best way to determine your caloric needs is to experiment and see what level leads to gradual weight loss. No formula can tell you what real life can. I know from time to time some of you ask me in the comments “Is XX calories/portion size appropriate for me” and my response is always “It depends.” It does depend on so many factors because we are all individuals with different day jobs, workouts and metabolisms. Only an individual nutrition consultation and some trial and error can get close to a good guess.
I’ve received some requests for more thoughts behind my food choices. While I don’t count any of the macronutrients I eat, I’ll talk about them here for learning purposes. I have developed an instinct about meal size and my own needs over time. But for the most part, my stomach rules the roost!
As a breastfeeding mama who is active on most days of the week, I’m going to guess my calorie needs are about 2400. That’s about:
1700 for basal metabolism + lifestyle daily activities (what it was before pregnancy)
250 daily exercise (this goes up on active days and down on rest days – so it’s an average)
450 breastfeeding (what a nice bonus! Estimating 450 from this site’s references)
To get to the 1700 number, I put my stats into this calculator and put “maintain my weight” and “sedentary” (because I’ve separated out exercise here) to get basic lifestyle calories required. The second site has a great calculator for breastfeeding moms too. It also notes that it takes a gradual amount of weight loss into account, which is wise.
My goal would not be to eat up to 2400 calories required every single day. Women’s bodies store fat during pregnancy specifically to use during breastfeeding, so I do want to be relying on some of that for my needs and for some weight loss.
This article on Kelly Mom, an excellent site for research-based information, recommends at least 1800-2200 calories to maintain good milk supply. The key to losing weight while breastfeeding is gradual weight loss.
Based on the above, I’d give myself a 2,000 calorie goal. That’s pretty generous when eating real food in the comforts of home. Not-so-generous when going out to dinner or eating lots of calorie-dense foods. I’m sure it’s up on some days and down on others for a nice average. I also always think one should shoot for a conservative number knowing you’ll probably under estimate portions and bites.
I’d estimate on average I eat about 500 calories for breakfast and lunch and 600-700 for dinner plus a 200-300 calorie snack in the afternoon. On days when I do a lot of exercise, the later might get bumped up a bit (a bigger snack or more at dinner). And days when I have a huge breakfasts, lunches are often smaller. My goal is always to spread out my calories fairly evenly throughout the day.
I’m also always thinking about the balance of food groups. If I have bread in the form of French toast for breakfast, I might not have a sandwich for lunch but a salad instead (although I do have salads most days of the week regardless). If I have overnight oats with yogurt for breakfast, I don’t have yogurt again for an afternoon snack. That’s not to say that I can’t have it, but I try to brainstorm other foods to get more balance in my day.
I don’t worry so much about macronutrient breakdowns or grams of protein or fat throughout the day either. Rather I try to eat complex carbs, protein and fat at every meal and snack and hope that the totals will trickle down. I hope the ratios fall within the normal ranges, such as 50% carbs, 30% fat and 20% protein (I’m just picking these numbers as standard breakdowns but they can vary slightly depending on your own preferences). But I don’t know for sure. Vegetables get 100% enthusiasm all the time – if you can! I try to have fruit for breakfast and snacks and veggies at both lunch and dinner. Kudos if you can eat veggies for breakfast – I can never stomach the thought! Except maybe a green smoothie.
Were I not breastfeeding, my goal might be closer to 1700/1800 with a little bit shaved off of each meal, particularly dinner since if I would hopefully be sleeping through the night!!
As someone who food journaled for years, I’m obviously a big fan of the practice if you’re trying to lose some weight. I don’t think you need to log every bite as I once did, but at least for a week, write down every bite and learn what your typical foods and portion sizes count for. Once you get an idea of good benchmarks and foods you might be overeating (or undereating – salads!), then you can go back to a more relaxed, mindful nature with tweaks accordingly.