The Weight Loss Pyramid: Exactly How To Approach Weight Loss No Matter Where You’re At In Your Journey

I say it all the time, weight loss is no easy feat.

And there is SO much information out there. There are so many opinions, so many “diets” and so many strategies… it can be really difficult to decipher through all it.

One question I am often asked by clients is “should I count calories?”. And with all the rage of IIFYM and flexible dieting as of late, people ask “should I count macros?”

(Note: If you are not familiar with any of that— not to worry… I got you covered to :))

My answer to the above questions? It depends on where you’re at in your journey. If you don’t have the nutrition basics down first, you may be setting yourself up for a very unpleasant weight loss journey.

In this post I am going to walk you through the different weight loss strategies (or levels) I use with my clients to get them the results they desire depending on where they’re at in their journey. 

First thing’s first: Self Identify

First of all, it’s important to self-identify where you are at in your weight loss journey. If you are not sure with how to structure meals for Optimal Fat Loss and/or are not sure what constitutes as a lean protein, non starchy vegetable etc… you’ve got to get the basics down first.

Please note that we ALL are in Level 1 with our nutrition at one point or another in our lives. It’s not important *where* you’re at (you can achieve weight loss at any level)… what is important is that you take the time to go through the different levels before moving on to the next one. 

Not sure where you’re at? Read below to self-identify.

Level 1: Basic Nutrition For Optimal Fat Loss
You are in Level 1 if ANY of the following statements is true for you:
You are not sure what a lean protein is
You cannot distinguish a starchy vegetable from a non starchy vegetable.
You are not sure what a healthy fat is.
You are not sure what to do about portion sizes.

Level 2: Calorie Counting & Meeting Protein Requirements
You may move into Level 2 if:
You have a solid understanding of how to eat for fat loss.
You can eyeball a portion like a pro
You have achieved weight loss using Level 1 strategies
You have hit a plateau with your weight loss AND/OR you are curious to learn about calorie counting.

Level 3: Macro Counting
You may move into Level 3 if:
You have a good understanding of calorie counting
You get adequate protein in daily
You have hit a plateau with your weight loss using Level 2 strategies
You are curious to learn how macro counting effects your physique.

Important: Do not, I repeat do NOT skip over the levels.

Be real with yourself. People are very tempted to go right into calorie counting when they start dieting and avoid establish a baseline of healthy habits. This is really what Weight Watchers does (they just swap calories for points). What I tend to see happen here is that a lot of people tend to grab the 100 calorie snack packs or fat free yogurts etc and they feel hungry and miserable all the time.

(Hey by the way— guess who did that once? Yep— a 19 year old me!!!)

Since they haven’t been taught the foundations of healthy eating and meal structuring they find themselves relying on packaged foods and snacks.

Also, do not go right from Level 1 (eating for optimal fat loss basics) to Level 3 (macro counting). It’s important that you understand how the amount of calories you eat effects your progress.

Bottom line: Be real with where you are at. You can (and will) lose weight at all different levels of the pyramid— but to set yourself up for success long term, you should learn the steps in each phase.

In the next part of this post, I outline the Levels and exactly what you need to do in each phase:

Step 2: Determine the steps needed for your LEVEL.

So now that you know which level you fall into, read the section below that corresponds with your level.

Level 1: Establishing a baseline of healthy habits and eating for optimal fat loss.

Start with the basics (these are all outlined in my free guide BTW!).

Here are the baseline healthy habits for good nutrition & weight loss:

  • Include lean protein at every meal & snack. (Chicken breast, lean turkey breast, fish, eggs/egg whites, quality protein powder etc).
  • Include veggies at every meal (and sometimes fruits too!)
  • Prioritize starchy carbohydrates around your workouts (brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa etc).
  • *Include healthy fats at every meal, (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts/seeds, nut butters/seed butters)
  • Stay hydrated (aim for 1/2 oz of water per lb of body weight, if you are very active aim for 1 oz per lb of body weight).
  • Stop eating when you are 80% full.
  • Include treats in moderation (refer to my guide).
  • Use your hand to judge portion sizes. See charts below:

*The only time I recommend that you avoid fat is post workout as it slows digestion.

Level 2: Calorie Counting & Meeting Protein Requirements.

This step BUILDS off of Level 1, so please be certain that you have the basics down 🙂

Remember, you are ready to move on to Level 2 if:
You have a solid understanding of how to eat for fat loss.
You can eyeball a portion like a pro
You have achieved weight loss using Level 1 strategies
You have hit a plateau with your weight loss and feel you need to dial in a bit more
You have a solid understanding of how to eat for fat loss and you are curious to learn about calorie counting.

Quick note: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it— if you’re doing just fine in Level 1, then you can stick with it. Only move on to Level 2 if progress has stalled OR if you are curious to experiment with a more granular approach.

For this level you will need a food scale and a food tracking app like My Fitness Pal or My Net Diary.

I recommend a food scale over measuring cups because measuring cups leave WAYYY too much room for error. By using measuring cups you could be overestimating by hundreds of calories (per day!!), and that can be really frustrating!

Instead, buy a food scale app (any will do).

Ok now that you have your food scale… you will want to…

Calculate your CURRENT MAINTENANCE calories. From your current maintenance calories we will then create a deficit.

Step 1: First, use this link to calculate your BMR. Your BMR stands for your Basal Metabolic Rate (aka the total number of calories you would burn in 24 hours if you sat in bed all day and did nothing).

Let’s use an example. Let’s say we have a 5’5” female named Susie who is 150 lb. We plug this into the equation and we get 1311 calories. In other words, if Susie were sick and had to lay in bed all day long, she would need 1311 calories JUST for her body to perform it’s necessary functions to live.

Step 2: Get current maintenance calories by adjusting your BMR for activity (use a multiplier below).

Of course, since most of us move around and/or exercise during the day, we need to adjust our BMR by adding in our activity so we use a multiplier. Please select the multiplier that best describes your situation.

BMR x 1.2 If you are sedentary-you do little or no exercise in a day

BMR x 1.375 If you are lightly active-light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week

BMR x 1.55 If you are moderately active-moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week

BMR x 1.725 If you are very active-hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week

BMR x 1.9 If you are extra active-very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training

**Most people tend to OVER estimate the # of calories they burn. I would err on the side of caution here. Unless you partake in intense exercise on a consistent basis, you are likely NOT above a 1.55 multiplier.

Ok back to Susie. Let’s say that she has a desk job and she weight trains 4 days a week and walks 10,000 steps a day. I would put her at a 1.55 multiplier.

We take Susie’s BMR X 1.55 and get 2032 for current maintenance calories. That means that for Susie to maintain her current weight at her current activity level, she should consume 2032 calories every day.

Step 3: Choose a deficit (anywhere between 15-25% is ideal. I would start with 15% at first— you can always increase your deficit if needed, but if you start at 25% it’s hard to decrease more from there as calories will likely get incredibly low— something you don’t want).

Susie wants to lose weight so knowing what we know about the energy equation, we must create a caloric deficit. Let’s start Susie out with a 15% deficit.

So we take her current maintenance calories 2032 and create a 15% deficit. 15% of 2032 is 305 calories. We then take 2032-305 and get 1727.

Susie should eat 1727 calories every day in order to lose weight.

Now there is one more step that I put at this level because it’s important that if you are training you are getting adequate protein in.

Step 4: Calculate your protein requirements.

To do this take your current weight and multiply it by .8 and by 1. This is your protein range (in grams) per day.

So if Susie weights 150, she should be eating between 120-150g of protein per day.

So now we have the total amount of calories Susie should eat (1727 calories) and we have calculated that Susie should be eating 120-150g of protein per day. Susie would track these numbers by using her food tracking app and measuring her food with a digital food scale.

Important things to note in Level 2:

  • Be weary of inaccurate food listings in food tracking apps. A lot of entries have been uploaded by other users.
  • Be vigilant about packaged foods and total calories listed. The FDA allows companies to not only get away with the labels being 5% off— BUT the FDA also allows companies to NOT count “net carbs” in total calorie counts. (Net carbs = carbohydrates = fiber). Thus a food item can TRULY have 250 calories even though 190 calories are listed (Quest bars— I’m lookin’ at you!). The way to not have to worry about this? Limit your packaged food intake 😉

Level 3: Macronutrient counting (aka IIFYM/Flexible Dieting)

Finally, you are ready to move on to Level 3 if:

  • You have a good understanding of calorie counting
  • You are eating mostly nutrient dense foods
  • You get adequate protein in daily
  • You have hit a plateau with your weight loss using Level 2 strategies
  • You are curious to learn how macro counting effects your physique.

Macro counting is a dieting strategy that takes calorie counting to a whole other level by monitoring the grams of protein, carbohydrates and fats you consume daily. Level 2 already had you tracking grams of protein, but in Level 3 we track carbs and fats as well.

For exactly HOW to calculate your macros — check out my post here.

Maintenance Mode: Once you have reached your goal

If you have gone through the stages from establishing a baseline, getting familiar with calories and protein requirements and macro counting and you have reached your goal.. it’s time to maintain.

Realize that since you have been losing weight you are in a caloric deficit. You will want to slowly increase your calories (macros) up to maintenance level. You can calculate your new maintenance level by using the same BMR link.

Instead of going immediately to maintenance macros from your deficit, I recommend increasing your calories by 50-100 per week. Keep track of your weight while in maintenance for some time and then you can decide if you want to put your tracking tools away for a bit now that you should have a good understanding of what it takes to maintain your current physique.

(Note: maybe you simply reached your goal just from implementing Level 1 which in that case, you may not need to change anything. So long as you are following those strategies and listening to your body (especially eating mostly nutrient dense foods, staying hydrated and stopping eating when you are 80% full), you might be able to maintain just fine. If you continue to lose weight and you don’t want to, I recommend increasing carbohydrate sources and/or fats just a little bit.)

To summarize:

  • Start with building healthy foundations first (grab my free guide!) (LEVEL 1)
  • Move onto calorie counting & meeting your protein requirements IF you are either stalling in progress OR if you are curious to get more granular with your process. (LEVEL 2)
  • Move on to full on macro counting IF your progress is stalling or IF you want to explore a more granular approach. (LEVEL 3)
  • Be weary of food entries in food tracking apps that have been uploaded by other users.
  • Be weary of food labels, if it’s too good to be true— it probably is.
  • Cook your food as much as you can— when you eat food you didn’t prepare you can’t control what goes into it.
  • Enjoy treats 10-20% of the time, don’t go overboard.
  • Slowly work your way up to maintenance once your goal is achieved.
  • When you are maintaining your goal physique (for at least 1-2 months), and feel comfortable you can put your tracking tools away and go back to eating Level 1 style (this is how I eat most of the time unless I have a certain goal I’m after). Pick up the more nitty gritty tools when/if you need them again.
  • Always stay hydrated. Aim for 1/2 your weight (lb) in oz of water, if you are VERY active aim for closer to 1 oz per lb.

Remember, creating sustainable change is a journey not a quick fix. Take the time to lay the foundation and learn!

Leave a Comment