The Big Picture: A Weekly Calorie Allowance

Counting calories is a proven way to lose weight but what if you hate keeping a daily log? Good news: There are some benefits to tracking your calories weekly as opposed to sticking with a firm daily allowance.

November 17, 2015
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Calories, calories, calories. It’s what a lot of people who lose weight use as their barometer for whether they are following their diet correctly. Counting calories is a proven way for losing weight, but there are many variations on what should be a relatively simple process. One question I often get asked is whether keeping track of calories on a weekly rather than daily basis works. Here are some things to consider if you want to track weekly versus daily calories.

The Concept

The concept behind weekly calories is simple. When you track weekly calories it doesn’t really matter how many calories you eat on a Tuesday or Saturday. What matters is that at the end of seven days, you have met your calorie goal for the week.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you want to keep your calories between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day. Simply multiply those numbers by seven to get the weekly totals. In this case, you can eat between 8,400 and 9,800 calories each week.

The Benefits

Daily calorie counting means that you stick to a certain calorie number or range every single day. For some of you, that might be too restrictive. The benefits of a weekly versus daily calorie target are:

  1. You can vary your calories day to day, traditionally called calorie cycling.
  2. If you have a cheat day or huge meal one day it doesn’t matter as long as you are within the target number for the week.
  3. It feels easier to track because you are looking at one final number rather than worrying about seven incremental numbers.
  4. It gives you flexibility for vacations, social events, and stressful situations.

The first benefit, calorie cycling, also has some research to back it up. Animal studies that were published in a 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that calorie cycling may be a good way to increase weight loss in humans.

The Downsides

Like any dieting strategy, a weekly calorie goal has some downsides. While it can work for weight loss, the truth is that a weekly calorie goal does still require you to monitor your daily calories. You can’t just guess at the end of the week as to how many calories you consumed each day and still lose weight. You’ve got to know for sure.

A second downside is if you eat too many calories early in the week, you may not have enough calories to stay full and feel satisfied by the end of the week. Using the earlier example of eating 8,400 to 9,800 calories per week, if you eat 8,500 calories for the first five days of the week, you don’t have enough left for the last two days. That’s a problem.

What will you do then?

Well, you should eat at least 1,200 calories a day, so you will have to go over your calorie allotment for the week. If you do that a few weeks in a row, you aren’t going to lose much weight.

Tips to Really Make It Work for You

To make weekly calorie counting work you have to do three things:

First, you’ve got to have a solid way of tracking calories. Fortunately, it’s super easy to do by using an app on your phone or a website you visit on your computer. Enter in your daily food intake and keep a running tally of your calories for the week. At the end of the week, analyze how you did.

Second, you must be flexible. If eating a strict diet every day appeals to you, you likely won’t love weekly calorie counting. Flexibility in your food choices allows you to have lean days and generous days when it comes to food.

Third, make sure you are honest. Because you are looking at the week as a whole, you may find it easy to forget to write down a food you ate or make assumptions about your calorie intake. Honesty with yourself not only helps you keep to your calorie goal but helps you identify areas of weakness within your food plan.

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