Fat Loss Nutrition

Eating For Fat Loss — Art Or Science?

Written by shapeshifter

Is eating for fat loss an art or a science?

Actually, it’s a bit of both.

Every body reacts differently to food. Food can trigger hormones and neurotransmitters in varying ways for different people. Unfortunately, this means there’s no easy “recipe” that you can follow A to Z to get results. Eating properly means that each individual must experiment to find  what works best for him or her.

Some people can’t tolerate carbs (Ryan could tell you some stories about Adam!). Others thrive on them. Cheese and nuts can sabotage even the best dieter’s efforts, but for others they’re not a problem. Knowing which applies to you is the ART of fat loss nutrition.

The other half is plain old science. You must create enough of a caloric deficit to lose fat, but without overdoing it and sacrificing lean muscle mass. Losing muscle is a baaaddd thing. For starters,  muscle is what gives your body its shape. If you lose muscle along with the fat, you’re just going to look like a smaller, flabbier version of your current self. Muscle is also metabolically active, and it can help you mop up excess calories over time.

So you have to eat enough to maintain your muscle. But you can’t overshoot on calories or you’ll gain fat — or at worst you won’t lose any.

The Roman

Jeez, it sounds like a pretty fine line. And it is. That’s why your diets have failed you in the past.

But don’t go kicking your fridge to the curb just yet. There’s hope! On our recent BodyweightCoach epic Florida road trip, we connected with our friend and fat loss wizard John Roman. One of the discussions we had (over a disgustingly indulgent Superbowl feast of chicken wings, pasta, roast beef, and loads of other goodies — and let’s not forget the wide open beer taps) centered around the most effective fat loss strategies that Roman is using right now with his clients. And it turns out that it’s got everything to do with the SCIENCE of fat loss.

Last week on our blog Roman shared an awesome strategy for building  a super cool push up workout. This week he’s back with his number one strategy for figuring out EXACTLY how much to eat for YOUR body if you want to lose fat.

As Roman explains in the video, there are many ways to judge your food intake when trying to lose fat. Portion sizes are a great way if you aren’t willing to weigh and measure food. And that can work well for many people.

But if you want to know EXACTLY how much to eat, and if you want to dial in your fat loss and make maximum progress towards your goal, you can use the…

Roman Calorie Calculation Formula

Here’s how he explains it… (make sure you read below — the chart does NOT tell the whole story…)

The obvious reason for the structure is rate of fat loss. Simply put, the more fat you have on your body, the faster you can lose it, and the more of it you can lose without sacrificing LBM (lean body mass).

Therefore, if you’re carrying around significant fat you can consume fewer calories and still have a pretty decent rate of fat loss without really affecting the metabolic processes responsible for fat loss and muscle gain.

On the other hand, if you’re starting out in already (relatively) lean condition and trying to get even leaner, your body is going to necessitate a higher baseline level of incoming energy (calories) simply to maintain your starting muscle mass.

Using the above formula to determine your maintenance Caloric intake, simply subtract a modest amount (200-400 Calories) and you can begin to lose fat without sacrificing muscle.

The Calculations At A glance…
your weight x %bodyfat = fat massyour weight – fat mass = lean mass

lean mass x value from chart = base caloric intake

base caloric intake – 400 = lower range fat loss intake

base caloric intake – 200 = upper range fat loss intake

If you have any questions about eating for fat loss or about Roman’s calculator, drop them into the comments and we’ll get John over to give his two cents!

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  • so, last time i checked, i was in the 16% category. am i reading this right in understanding i need to eat 15000 calories per # of lean body mass??? how long do i get for that?? i only eat around 1200 calories a day! that seems really high for a 175# female that’s 5′ 9″. (most of my carbs are from brown rice and quinoa and veggies. )

  • One thing to note — keep in mind that Calories are a measurement of energy, not just nutrition.

    When we look at “food calories” that is supposed to be spelled with a capital C. This is “kilocalories.” It’s also represented as “Kcal” which is what I noted above in the chart.

    So, no, I’m not suggesting you eat 15,000 calories at all, especially not per pound of LBM.

    Adam’s got the correct formula. 1800 is about right if you have a high activity level and are trying to lose fat.

    At 1200, you’re short changing your metabolism!

  • Can you guys do videos on safely doing full back bridges and its variants?

    Somewhat related: I just starting taking ice cold showers and it’s been a phenomenal change of pace. It’s like one of those big decisions you make in life that you are damn grateful for. The idea came from this which I’m sure is up your alley: http://gettingstronger.org/2010/03/cold-showers/
    “Hormetism, based on the application of progressive, intermittent stress to overcome challenges and grow stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.”

  • On cold showers, great comments here:


    Comment where Systema was referenced:

    The ritual of taking a cold shower will show you facets of you are truly made up of and will very quickly and noticeably develop your willpower and discipline (if self-mastery is what you are into)

    “Beyond sheer pain thresholds, dousing will massively increase your overall body awareness or what researchers call “kinesthetic intelligence”. Kinesthetic researchers have found one common truth in their studies: it is difficult if not impossible to move a body part unless you are first able to feel it. From this perspective alone, cold water dousing will give you an entirely new awareness of your total body and make you able to explore and discover new subtleties in your movement. In Systema, we often say that you will live the way you douse. If you run away from the challenge of dousing and choose the comfort and warmth of your bed over the conditioning and intentional work of dousing, you are in effect choosing to reinforce weakness and the self-image of yourself as a quitter. If you douse, but race through the activity as something you simply “should” or “must” do but fail to appreciate the practice, then you will likely live most of your life in the identical way, without the mindfulness and joy you deserve. As Jack London wrote, “the purpose of man of to live, not to simply exist.” The way in which you douse will also evidence your body’s natural flinch responses.

    *** If during your douse, you flinch, hunch your body, grow tense and forget to breathe, you would likely react in the same manner in the face of any pain or extreme stress. ***

    Dousing will reveal much of your true nature. ” – http://www.systemanorway.com/default.asp?iId=JLEIH

  • Thanks guys – this is a timely topic – I’ve always been slack with “calorie counting” since I think it’s unnecessary – I’ve had good results so far – but my fat loss seems to have slowed down a fair bit. Time to bite the bullet and start counting kcals…

    So… correct me if I’m wrong…
    I’m 177cms tall, my bodyfat is about 22% at the moment and I weigh about 67KG (147lbs).

    So it would be (147 x 78%) = 113lbs, x 14 = 1582, minus 400 kcal = about 1180 kcals per day?

    So… that would mean that “cesqua” above who is about the same height as me, and weighs quite a bit more but carries less bodyfat than me (you must be VERY muscular cesqua!!), needs to eat a heap more to maintain muscle mass? I’m not really understanding the science there… I’m guessing that the extra 400 kcals that I’m deducting from my food intake would come off my bodyfat stores? And if I’m burning bodyfat as energy, this would equate to losing roughly how much fat in lbs per week?

    • Hey Deb,

      Your math is nearly correct. I get 11.4.6×14= 1605 Small difference. Although, keep in mind that I provide a RANGE. So you could eat 1205-1405 calories per day.

      You are correct- cesqua has more LBM than you, and therefore needs to have a higher caloric intake in order to prevent loss of that muscle.

      Finally, to your last question…it’s impossible to quantify how much fat you’ll lose without trying the formula out. Ideally, yes, you’ll begin to lose body fat very quickly. Usually we look for about 1-2 pounds of fat per week, if your diet and training are in order.

  • Adam,
    This doesn’t make sense
    My weight at 5′ 7″ is 190
    My lean body mass is 105 with ideal weight 124 (too light
    For a female my height
    That says eat 1500 cals(taking the 124, not 105.)
    I’m too busy to live on 1500 day in day out
    14 cals is more accurate and not LBM but real best weight
    And in my 50’s I should have an extra 10 lbs
    All the people I see older and real thin get sick mre often

    • Hey Janei, a few things:

      1) height really isn’t a factor, in the absolute sense. Tall people don’t need to eat more than shorter people for any reason other than that being taller is generally going to lead to more lean mass.

      SOOOOO if I’m 5’7” an 190 with 10% body fat, and Ryan is 6’1” and 190 with 10% body fat, we can eat the same amount of food. HEIGHT becomes irrelevant.

      Just something to keep in mind.

      If your LBM is 105, that means you have 85 pounds of fat on your body, placing your body fat at around 45%

      Now, or GOAL is NOT to get you to 105! Or goal is to keep your LBM the same, while reducing your fat.

      SO–let’s say you wanted to get into your “ideal” weight, and a healthy range of body fat…

      KEEPING your LBM the same, a Good, REASONABLE goal would be 19% body fat–which would bring your total bodyweight to 125.

      (125 x .19 = 23.75)

      In that case, you’d have about 24 pounds of fat on your body. Which is fine. In ORDER TO GET THERE, you need to lose about 60 pounds of fat…which is a long journey, but certainly doable!

      I understand that you’re very active, but I think we can be honest and say that regardless of how active you are, we can agree that maintaining your current level of caloric intake, which led you to be overweight, is not healthy for you.

      It seems like a challenge, of course, to have so few calories (in your case, about 1000 per day), however, I’m not asking you, as you put it, “to live on [that amount], day in and day out.” This isn’t a formula to determine how many calories you should be eating forever…JUST when taking an AGGRESSIVE approach to fat loss.

      I hope that clears things up

  • Please help me figure mine out. I’m 5 feet tall, weigh 122lbs and have 33% bf.
    122 – (122 x 33%) = 81.74 x 13 = 1062.62 – 400 kcal = 662.62.

    That seems way too low … even the 1062 calorie count. I do eat clean, enjoy a half cheat day per week, and workout (resistance train 3 days/week and cardio 5x/week). I’ve been eating about 1400-1500 calories per day.

    • Les,

      petite females (really, anyone who has less than 90 pounds of Lean Body Mass) are ALWAYS hard to figure out when it comes to calories formulas. ANY calorie formula is going to read pretty low.

      In your case, I would say that, if you are looking ONLY for PURE FAT LOSS, then starting with 1062 is a good starting point and adjust from there. Subtracting 400 would be too much, you’re correct.

      You could go as low as 900 without too much in the way of a problem.

      • Thanks for replying Roman. While I need to get my bf percentage down, I also want to gain lean muscle. Would I still stick to the 1062 calorie target?

  • I am also one of those petite older females…5’1″, 118 pounds, mesomorphish. Lift heavy 4 days a week. I have been doing the zig zag method of clean eating and have been plateaued for a year! My low calorie days are 1000 calories and 1130 calories…high days are 1500 calories. Supplements are a way of life. I do have one cheat day a week which I think might be undoing everything.
    The thought of dropping to 900 calories a day is scary! because 1000 is rough..especially on leg day.. I am really afraid of losing what muscle I’ve built over the last few years. My activity level is low during the winter(other than my workouts and cardio) and high during the spring,summer,fall.
    A personal trainer friend told me that petite women are still a “science experiment” 🙂

    • Actually you have it dialed in pretty much perfectly, Annie!

      “Science experiment” is in an…um, interesting way to put it! But not wrong.

      I wouldn’t drop below 1000 if you lift heavy 4 days per week, for sure.

    • Nice to meet another petite, over 40 endomorph. I also did the 1000 calorie and carb rotation deal but I recently changed my cheat day to a half cheat day and that seems to help my plateau a bit.
      Best of luck to you Annie!

  • Hey guys. 152 lbs & 8%. I workout 5-6 days a week with cardio & resistance routines. I have been eating around 2500-2700 cals and maintaining 6-8% body fat (usually closer to 8). I would love to build more lean mass and shred the fat below 6%. I did the calculation and came up with 2377 with a range of 1977 – 2177. That seems low to me, but I am not where I want to be so maybe I need to change. I stay pretty active so I don’t know if I need more than that or not. I am a hard gainer and I don’t want to lose any precious LBM. Help!

    • Hey Lanny,

      Your calcs are correct.

      So, what I would do in YOUR case, since you’re really looking for re-composition, is I’d eat MORE on workout days, and LESS on non-workout days.

      So, on your training days, aim for about 2500 calories, and on NON-training days, aim for 1900 calories.

      That way, you’re mimicking carb-cycling and calorie bouncing, giving your body the energy and nutrition it needs to grow right after training, and lower calories when you don’t need as much.

      Best way to handle it for re-comp

      • Thanks John. I appreciate the answer. I will give it a try and see how it goes. I do 3 days of resistance training and 3 days of cardio a week (usually one of the cardio days is yoga or a stretch routine). Any other suggestions that come to mind would be helpful.

        Thanks again.

  • Hey, I think I need some help. I am not overweight but I need to bring down my bf. I am currently sitting at 23%, 121 lbs. I am 5’5″ so I don’t really have any weight to lose. Two things: first, I take in about 1500 calories a day… and I am fighting to keep myself from feeling hungry all the time. I eat clean with one cheat day a week. I don’t eat white flour, deep fried foods and I make all my meals from scratch. I can’t even imagine bringing my caloric intake down to 1000. I weight train 3-4 times a week and keep an active lifestyle. HELP!! Second, how do I lose bf without losing weight? I am so interested in getting a lean body but having so much confusion on how to do it… mostly with the diet side of things. Thanks.

  • I’m about 6′ tall, 165lbs. maybe around 12% – 14% BF. Male/57 years old (if that makes a difference. Trying to get to about 8% BF wanting to lose belly fat and love handles. Lift heavy 3x a week plus 3 days of crossfit type metcons. Eat very clean (Paleo) and have been for 3 years. Stuck on the same BF % all this time. Currently eating almost all meat, chicken, and fish with a few greens to keep carbs real low so body will burn the extra BF. Not much luck. Get 6 to 7 hours of sleep.

    Appreciate your thoughts how to recude the belly fat and love handles,

  • Oops. I am eating between 1500 to 1800 calories a day. Fats 55% – 62%, Protein around 28%, and the rest carbs.

  • I have been trying to figure this out for awhile. what is the word on oatmeal?? Everyone always talks about rice and breads but can anyone weigh in on oats?

  • Hey John,

    Just wanted to say you’ve got some great stuff. I actually just ran through it while checking out Nate’s site. The only thing that I wanted to run by you was how do your calculations fit in with intermittent fasting? It’s something that I have been doing and getting some incredible results while strength training.

    Let me know your thoughts if you get the chance. Thanks!

    • Hey Andrew,

      I can’t speak directly for John, but we have talked about fasting in the past and I know he uses it. Personally, I use it quite a bit in my nutritional approach. During certain periods I’ll fast consistently once or twice a week. At other times I won’t fast at all. I think the trick to fasting is to look at it as an accelerator. Don’t factor it into the rest of your calculations. On the days you don’t fast, just treat them as if you hadn’t fasted or aren’t going to fast.

      Not only does fasting give you a great opportunity to reduce your overall calories — and lose more fat if that’s your goal — but it also offers a whole host of other benefits like reduced inflammation, a “break” for your digestive system, re-balancing of hormones, etc.

      Hope that helps.


      • Hey Adam,

        Thanks for the quick response. I’m definitely going to continue to incorporate intermittent fasting however your calculations make things more accurate and objective. I feel much more comfortable with objective perspectives as opposed to anything subjective, as I am sure you do lol.

        Once again great stuff you guys have here. Look forward to following up with my results.



  • Hi coach Adam and Ryan,
    Thank you so much for the blog and such detailed answers to people’s queries. its nice to see someone stand behind their product and e-business (most weight loss sites/products i have purchased offer no support at all)
    My question is….i am 36 yr old woman, a vegetarian, currently 200lbs with a LBM of 120 (yes a whole 80lbs of FAT!!!) so that means 120*13Kcal=1560 cal….1560-300 deficit=1260 Kcal a day…am i correct?? Now i work out 5-6 days a week…(kick boxing 45-60 min a day, weights 4-5 a week)..burning about 500-700 calories in workouts and i was told that 1260 cals were too low for me and i was put on a 1700-1800 cal a day diet. i lost some weight then but now i am again eating about 12-1300 and am stagnant.
    i am really at a loss and just stumped and depressed now!!! what do i do? what do i change? would really appreciate your input.
    many many thanks for giving many, like me, hope….

  • Im trying to use your formula but i think my calculation incorrect. I weight 187lbs and 5’8. I have 25% body fat and bmi 28.9. So it seems i need take 1500 calories a day? Is that correct? How much gram protein do i need take daily? My goal is being lean not bulky.

  • i’m 62, 5’8 weigh 121lbs, workout 3xweek, strength and cardio and have 33% body fat. Is this because I’ve lost muscle mass? What can I do about it?

  • This is years later but….:) I am 148lbs at almost 5’5. I do TRX 3x a week, and high cardio dance classes 6 days a week and I am a PE teacher so I am on my feet all day. My body is capable of building muscle which is what I want! I first want to burn off fat while keeping my lean muscle so I can build even more. I imagine I am 22%+ based on my weight and height. So my question is 1) what is my base calories 2) is base calories all calories for the day or is it those calories + extra calories burned from my exercise? On MyFitnessPal they start me at 1200 calories but I can “earn” my eating calories when I work out. Thanks for your help!

  • I have recently enrolled into crossfit and am also following another fitness program in the interim.
    My Body weight as of Apr was 260lbs and I am 5’6″ based on these calculations I should be consuming around 2000Cals for fatloss but I have been consuming between 1650-1250 cals in the past 3 weeks and have actually lost weight (Curr. wt – 249lbs). I am not sure if my calculation was correct or if my current meal and exercise plan is good enough for me to continue. Do advise.

    • Hi Meg…

      How old are you? If you do not mind me asking.
      We need it to determine the correct caloric range.

      Jeng 🙂

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