How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day to Lose Weight
Everyone has different calorie needs. Whether your goal is to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain your current weight, it’s important to have an understanding of your daily calorie requirements.
A calorie calculator is one of the best ways to determine your daily calorie needs. It is a great way to estimate how many calories you need to eat because it accounts for your current weight, weight loss goal, physical activity level, and other personal factors to estimate your needs.
This article will show you how to determine the right number of calories to eat each day if you want to lose weight. It will also help you understand the role that calories play in overall health and provide actionable tips to help you change your diet, improve your health problems, and reach your healthy weight loss goals.
How Many Calories Should I Eat a Day?
Calorie needs are determined by many factors.
Men generally have higher baseline calorie needs than women. This is because on average men naturally have a higher amount of muscle mass while women genetically carry more body fat (1).
Other factors such as age, activity level, and current body weight also factor into your daily calorie needs.
Use this simple calculator as the first step to help you determine your current body needs. If your goal is weight management, enter your weight loss goal and the time frame in which you would like to achieve that goal weight.
The number this calculator provides is know as total daily energy expenditure or TDEE.
What Is a Calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. Calories are used to measure the amount of potential energy stored in a food. Our body uses the energy from calories to fuel our metabolism and all of our daily activities.
All foods contain calories, but some foods are much more calorie-dense than others.
For example, foods such as soda, donuts, and desserts have a high-calorie density because they are loaded with sugar and fat. Other foods like broccoli and asparagus provide very few calories per serving.
These differences are driven by the different macronutrients in foods.
The macros found in food are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.
When broken down through the process of digestion, each of these macros provides a certain amount of energy for our body in the form of calories.
Calories are the fuel to our bodies. They do not exist to cause weight gain. It is only when we eat extra calories that we begin to store them away as body fat.
This is why it is a good idea to understand your calorie needs and know when a reduction in calorie intake may be needed to help with weight loss.
What Is BMR?
BMR is short for basal metabolic rate. Another word for BMR is metabolism. This represents the daily activities your body engages in to keep you alive. Some examples include your heart beat, blood circulation, and breathing.
BMR is a measure of energy usage that accounts for 70-80% of your total daily calorie needs.
Your BMR represents the minimum amount of calories you need each day and does not include energy used for activity or digestion of food.
The thermic effect of food (TEE) is a complicated term that is meant to account for the calories needed to break down food into useful components such as amino acids and blood sugar. Digestion accounts for about 10% of total energy needs (2).
BMR also does not account for physical activity. Most people need to multiply their BMR times an activity factor to account for calories burned during movement. On average, activity accounts for 10-30% of daily energy use.
The activity factor is lower if you only perform activities of daily living such as chores and cleaning dishes. It gets higher depending on how much structured physical activity you complete each day.
Your BMR times your activity factor plus the TEE tells you your TDEE.
How Many Calories to Eat to Lose Weight?
The easiest way to answer this question is to use the calculator above to determine the number of calories you should eat each day to reach your goal weight. This will provide a personal goal whether you want to achieve weight gain, lose weight, or simply eat enough calories to stay at your current weight long term.
A recommended starting point to create a daily calorie deficit is 1500 calories per day for an adult female and 2000 calories per day for an adult male.
Another general rule that is often highlighted by medical and nutrition professionals including dietitians is to reduce your current caloric intake to create a 500-calorie deficit each day.
This is harder as you have to have a baseline understanding of the type of calories you currently eat. You can start a calorie count to assess your daily calorie intake, then reduce how much food you eat either by 500 calories or down to 1500 calories per day for women or 2,000 calories per day for men.
To do a proper calorie count, you need to measure portion sizes and read nutrition labels. Track all of your food intake to measure your current calorie intake levels.
Remember the 500 calorie deficit is not a hard and fast rule, it should be used as a starting point.
A safe rate of weight loss is anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0 pounds per week. If you reduce your caloric intake too quickly your body may enter starvation mode. In the short term, you may see rapid weight loss but eventually, this strategy will have the opposite effect and you will stop losing weight or may even gain weight.
Focus on setting a new daily calorie goal that is achievable for you, provides enough food to keep you out of starvation mode and that you are able to maintain long term.
How Many Calories to Eat a Day to Lose Belly Fat?
Creating a daily calorie deficit will lead to weight loss and loss of body fat mass. Unfortunately, there are no proven methods to directly target a loss of belly fat.
However do not lose hope; the belly area is the main area of fat storage for most adults, especially men. When you start to follow a healthy diet and create a caloric deficit you will begin to lose body fat and naturally reduce your belly fat over time.
Here are five easy ways to start reducing the number of calories you eat each day. When you combine these strategies with a daily calorie deficit you should lose an average of one pound of fat per week and start to see that unwanted belly fat melt away.
5 Easy Ways to Reduce Calories
Many dieters believe the key to losing weight is to simply eat fewer high-calorie foods that are considered empty calories. While this may be true, it’s better to eat more whole foods, choose healthier beverages, and incorporate these foods into a new healthy lifestyle.
Here is how to get started.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
When you first begin a new diet plan and start eating fewer calories than you are accustomed to, your body quickly burns through the glycogen that is stored in your liver.
Glycogen is the storage form of blood sugar. Water is attracted to glycogen, and as you begin to lose weight much of this initial loss is water weight.
Drinking enough water and avoiding dehydration is a critically important factor in how much weight you will lose. It can also help you lose even more weight than you would by cutting back on calories alone.
In a recent study, two groups of individuals were given reduced-calorie meals. Half of the group was also told to drink two cups of water before the meal.
After 12 weeks, the group that drank water before the meal reduced their calorie intake and lost significantly more weight than the group that only consumed the lower-calorie meal (3).
This study provides great evidence that drinking water before a meal can help you lose weight.
2. Increase Daily Activity Levels
One of the healthiest ways to create a calorie deficit is to increase your daily physical activity with a good workout. Not only does exercise help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it is an effective way to improve your overall health (4).
There are two types of exercise to focus on; weight training and cardiovascular exercise.
Training using weights is an especially important part of a weight loss program. Strength training has been shown to help maintain lean muscle mass in individuals following a low-calorie diet (5).
This is very important because losing lean muscle tissue lowers how much energy your body burns on a day to day basis.
Regular strength training non only counters the loss of lean tissue, it encourages muscle growth and maintains a higher metabolic rate.
Cardio exercise has also been shown to help people lose weight. One study found that doing cardio exercises five days per week was enough to help participants achieve meaningful weight change (6).
Seek to increase your level of physical activity slowly over time. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing a combination of strength building exercise and cardio exercise 30 minutes per day at least five days of the week (7).
Even activities like a brisk walk can help you get more cardio exercise.
This combination helps create a healthy weight loss resulting from fat loss and not a change in muscle mass (8). Use a fitness tracker to accurately track the amount of activity you engage in each week.
3. Eat More Protein
Increasing protein intake is an excellent strategy to help you lose weight.
Replacing carbohydrates with protein has been shown to boost the production of appetite-suppressing hormones. This leaves you feeling full for longer, reduces cravings, and leads to weight loss (9).
Make sure lean protein such as chicken breast, fish, and lean meat are a regular part of your diet.
Plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are also healthy foods that can be part of any weight loss eating plan.
Nuts are considered a high-calorie food, however, a couple of handfuls of nuts such as walnuts and almonds can make a great high protein between-meal snack.
4. Cut Back on Carbs
Diets that are low in carbs are very popular right now.
One of the reasons these diets are beneficial is that high-fat foods tend to be more filling. For example, a recent analysis showed that individuals following a low carb high-fat diet were less hungry and had better appetite control (10).
Cutting back on carbs can also help reduce belly fat.
A recent study assigned 148 individuals to either of two groups for a period of 12 months. The first group followed a low carb diet and the other followed a low-fat diet. At the end of the study, people who followed a low carb diet lost more belly fat than those following a low-fat diet (11).
To cut back on carb intake, eat fewer starches by reducing portions of grains like bread and pasta and be sure to eat plenty of real food including non-starchy veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil.
If you find yourself craving something sweet, berries are an excellent choice because of their high fiber content. Even though they may have a similar content of total carbs as other fruits, their higher fiber content prevents them from spiking blood sugars like other sweet foods do.
5. Avoid Sugary Drinks
Added sugar is one of the worst and most unhealthy ingredients in processed food. It contains no nutrients or vitamins but adds empty calories that can cause us to gain weight and increase our body fat.
The worst sweetener is liquid sugar. Studies show that drinking sweeteners does not trigger the normal sense of fullness we feel after eating solid food. Research also shows that people tend to eat the same amount of food with a meal whether their drink contains calories or not (12).
Sugar-sweetened beverages provide a lot of calories that our body can quickly absorb. They can spike blood sugar levels but do not make us feel full. Cut these beverages from your diet and choose a healthier alternative instead.
One 12 ounce can of sugar-sweetened beverage contains 156 calories 37 grams of sugar (13). For reference, one level teaspoon of white sugar is equal to four grams, meaning the average can of soda contains about nine teaspoons of sugar.
Drink water, unsweetened coffee or tea, or other zero-calorie flavored beverages instead.
Remember that weight loss is a journey. Avoid quick fixes like fad diets and instead, slowly make adjustments to the types of foods you choose. Start reading food labels to understand the calorie content and type of nutrients in the foods you are eating.
Your goal should be to change your diet in a healthy way. Choose more real foods including non-starchy veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Focus on cutting back on starches, eat fewer servings of bread and pasta, and remove foods from your diet that contain excess calories like junk food and fast food. These foods contain can add extra pounds but provide no nutritional value.
By making healthy lifestyle choices you give yourself a better chance of sticking with these changes long term and not getting diet fatigue. Work with a registered dietitian if you need assistance making healthier choices.
- Schorr, Melanie, et al. “Sex Differences in Body Composition and Association with Cardiometabolic Risk.” Biology of Sex Differences, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018. Crossref, doi:10.1186/s13293-018-0189-3.
- Du, S., et al. “The Thermic Effect of Food Is Reduced in Older Adults.” Hormone and Metabolic Research, vol. 46, no. 05, 2013, pp. 365–69. Crossref, doi:10.1055/s-0033-1357205.
- Dennis, Elizabeth A., et al. “Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-Aged and Older Adults.” Obesity, vol. 18, no. 2, 2010, pp. 300–07. Crossref, doi:10.1038/oby.2009.235.
- Warburton, D. E. R. “Health Benefits of Physical Activity: The Evidence.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 174, no. 6, 2006, pp. 801–09. Crossref, doi:10.1503/cmaj.051351.
- Sardeli, Amanda, et al. “Resistance Training Prevents Muscle Loss Induced by Caloric Restriction in Obese Elderly Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 4, 2018, p. 423. Crossref, doi:10.3390/nu10040423.
- Donnelly, Joseph E., et al. “Aerobic Exercise Alone Results in Clinically Significant Weight Loss for Men and Women: Midwest Exercise Trial 2.” Obesity, vol. 21, no. 3, 2013, pp. E219–28. Crossref, doi:10.1002/oby.20145.
- “Physical Activity Guidelines Resources.” American College of Sports Medicine, www.acsm.org/read-research/trending-topics-resource-pages/physical-activity-guidelines. Accessed 30 Sept. 2020.
- Willis, Leslie H., et al. “Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults.” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 113, no. 12, 2012, pp. 1831–37. Crossref, doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011.
- Leidy, Heather, et al. “Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance.” OUP Academic, Oxford Academic, 29 Apr. 2015,
- Gibson, A. A., et al. “Do Ketogenic Diets Really Suppress Appetite? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 16, no. 1, 2014, pp. 64–76. Crossref, doi:10.1111/obr.12230.
- Bazzano, Lydia A., et al. “Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets.” Annals of Internal Medicine, vol. 161, no. 5, 2014, p. 309. Crossref, doi:10.7326/m14-0180.
- Pan, An, and Frank B. Hu. “Effects of Carbohydrates on Satiety: Differences between Liquid and Solid Food.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, vol. 14, no. 4, 2011, pp. 385–90. Crossref, doi:10.1097/mco.0b013e328346df36.
- “Soft Drink, Cola”, fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789510/nutrients. Accessed 30 Sept. 2020.