How Many Calories Should You Eat To Lose Weight?

A calorie is a unit of energy obtained from the food and drink we consume that allows us to perform daily tasks, such as physical activity, digestion, thinking, breathing, and maintaining organ function. 

All types of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) are sources of calories. The only difference between them is the number of calories they contain. Protein and carbohydrates offer four calories per gram, while fat provides nine calories per gram.

Understanding your estimated calorie needs plays an important role in helping you to lose and maintain weight.

A healthy number of calories for weight loss

The number of calories you need to consume on a daily basis depends on a range of factors, including your height, current weight, activity levels, age, and health status. 

The general rule of thumb, if you want to lose weight, is to eat 500 fewer calories per day to lose approximately one pound/half a kilogram per week. 

Losing weight is a slow, sustainable manner will help you to lose fat while preserving muscle mass.

The number of calories you should consume for healthy weight loss depends on your personal circumstances.

Men

Moderately active

Moderately active men aged between 26 and 45 typically need approximately 2,600 calories per day to maintain their weight. Consuming approximately 2,100 calories per day can help you to lose one pound per week.

Active

An active man who walks more than three miles per day may need between 2,800 and 3,000 calories per day to maintain weight. Consuming between approximately 2,300 to 2,500 calories per day can help you to lose one pound per week.

Young men

Younger men require more energy to maintain their weight, which can be on average 2,800 calories or up to 3,000 if you are more active. Consuming between approximately 2,300 to 2,500 calories per day can help you to lose one pound per week.

Men aged 46-65

As energy requirements reduce with age. Moderately active men between 46 and 65 years require approximately 2,400 calories each day. After age 66,  the average calorie requirement reduces to about 2,200 calories per day. For weight loss, you should consume approximately 1,700 to 1,900 calories per day.

Women

Moderately active

Moderately active women aged between 26 and 50 need to consume about 2,000 calories every day to maintain their weight. To lose one pound of weight per week, you should consume approximately 1,500 calories per day.

Active

Active women who walk for over 3 miles per day need to consume at least 2,200 calories to maintain their weight. To lose one pound of weight per week, you should consume approximately 1,700 calories per day.

Young women

Women in their early twenties require approximately 2,200 calories to maintain weight. To lose one pound of weight per week, you should reduce your intake to approximately 1,700 calories per day.

Women above 50 years

Women over 50 tend to need fewer calories than younger women. Moderately active women over 50 may require approximately 1,800 calories per day to maintain weight. To lose one pound per week, you may need to reduce your calorie intake to approximately 1,300 calories per day. However, these estimates exclude breastfeeding and pregnant mothers who have significantly higher calorie requirements.

Calorie deficit

When you eat more calories than your body needs, the excess energy is stored as fat. On the other hand, if the calories you consume aren’t enough to meet your daily energy requirements, your body compensates by drawing energy from its fat stores. When this happens, you enter a calorie deficit which causes you to lose weight.

How to calculate daily calories for weight loss

Understanding how many calories you need to consume each day is the first step to determining the number of calories you should consume to lose weight.

Below is a guide on how to calculate your estimated daily calories for weight loss¹:

  1. Convert your weight in pounds to kilograms (divide your weight by 2)

  2. Multiply the weight (kg) by 1.0 (men) and 0.9 (women).

  3. Multiply by 24

  4. Check the lean factor

Lean factor multiplier

Use the lean factor multiplier to account for your body fat percentage:

Men

  • Aged 14-18 (1.0)

  • Aged 19-28 (0.95)

  • Aged 29-38 (0.90)

  • Aged over 38 (0.85)

Women

  • Aged 10-14 (1.0)

  • Aged 15-20 (0.95)

  • Aged 21-28 (0.90)

  • Aged over 28 (0.85)

As an example, let’s take a look at the calorie needs of a man weighing 134.5 lbs (61 kg) with a body fat percentage of 30% who works on a construction site:

61 kg (134.5 lbs.) x 1.0 (male) x 24 x 0.90 (30% body fat) = 1317.6

The resulting figure is your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories burned in a day even when you are doing nothing.

Daily activity level multiplier

Multiply your BMR by the daily activity level multiplier to estimate the number of calories you should consume each day based on your occupation and lifestyle:

  • 1.3 (Very light) – Typical sedentary office worker who does little physical activity throughout the day.

  • 1.55 (Light) – You work a job that requires you to stand or walk.

  • 1.65 (Moderate) – Your job requires you to engage in physical activity such as cleaning, biking, or jogging.

  • 1.8 (Heavy) – Your job involves heavy manual labor jobs such as construction, for at least four hours a day.

  • 2.00 (Very heavy) – Your work requires you to do moderate to hard physical activity for a minimum of eight hours a day.

In the sample calculation, the male individual works on a construction site, so his activity multiplier is 1.8. This means his daily calorie requirement would be:

BMR (1317.6) x light activity (1.8) = 2,372 calories per day

To lose approximately one pound of body weight each week, you need to consume approximately 500 fewer calories than the amount you need to maintain your current weight. In the sample calculation, the male individual would need to reduce his intake to 1,872 calories per day.

How to reduce calorie intake

While it may sound simple to expend more energy than you consume, applying this to your day-to-day lifestyle can be challenging. It is not recommended that you just cut calories without considering the nutritional content of the food you consume.

Eating processed foods instead of whole foods is not a sustainable or healthy way to lose weight, and can lead you to feel hungry and/or overeat as they are less satiating and nourishing.

The following lifestyle changes can help you to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way:

1.   Eat more vegetables

Vegetables have a high fiber content, which the body cannot digest, that fills up your stomach without increasing your calorie intake.

Fiber can also be found in foods such as whole grains, legumes, and fruits, all of which are satiating, nutrient-dense, and low in energy.

Fiber supports important bodily functions, such as feeding your gut microbiota and regulating bowel movements.

2.    Eliminate distractions

Eating while using a computer, smartphone, tablet, or watching TV distracts you from your hunger and fullness signals and increases the likelihood of overeating. Try eating mindfully and slowly without distractions, so you can focus solely on enjoying the taste and smell of your meal.

3.    Reduce condiments

Condiments, sauces, and salad dressings can contain many hidden calories that you don’t realize you are consuming. Dressings such as caesar, mayonnaise, ranch, and blue cheese have large amounts of fat from cream and oils that can quickly add up to a lot of extra calories. 

When eating out, ask for dressing or sauces on the side so you can control your own portions. At home, opt for mustard, vinegar, or lemon juice for a hit of flavor that is much lower in calories than rich condiments.

4.    Hydrate

Staying hydrated is extremely important for weight loss. Water is naturally calorie-free and assists with satiety, reducing the likelihood of overeating at your next meal. 

Water is not only important for hydration, but it also assists with digestion, metabolism, and supporting your organs to remove toxins from the body.

5.    Exercise

Restricting your calories for a long period of time can reduce your metabolic rate, causing your weight to plateau, and increase the risk of muscle loss. When you are in a calorie deficit, your body compensates by storing, instead of burning, energy. Increasing strength-based training, such as lifting weights, can assist in preserving muscle mass and promoting fat loss.

6.    Increase protein intake 

When you want to lose weight, you should eat plenty of protein. A study has revealed² that consuming 25% of your daily calories from protein reduces obsessive thoughts about food by 60% and curbs late-night snacking by 50%, which can both lead to increased weight gain.

Eating more protein is an effective way to lose weight as it reduces hunger and cravings, and preserves muscle mass. Protein can also increase your metabolic rate as it requires more energy to digest than carbohydrates or fat.

7.    Cook at home

Homemade dishes often have fewer calories than those prepared at restaurants. Restaurants aim to make their food as appealing as possible so they often use lots of added sugars, salt, and fat. When you cook, you’re in control of the ingredients, the amount of fat and oil you use, and the portion sizes you serve yourself.

By preparing your food yourself, you can significantly reduce your calorie intake to lose weight and eat healthier. Consider investing in lunch containers, meal prepping in advance, and portioning out your lunches to take to work or school. Not only will this help your waistline, but also your wallet.

Examples of healthy low-calorie lunches that are easy to prepare include whole-grain pasta with veggie and turkey sauce, veggie chili, Buddha bowls, and chicken-veggie stir-fries.

The lowdown

Your daily calorie needs depend on factors including your age, gender, height, current weight, activity levels, and health status.

To lose one pound of weight per week, you typically need to reduce your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day. This is considered healthy weight loss, whereas reducing calories too hard and too fast can have the opposite effect. It may increase the likelihood of you overeating due to hunger and cravings. You can also lose muscle mass and other health consequences if you restrict calories for too long. 

To lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, focus on making simple lifestyle changes over time, such as exercising, eating more protein and vegetables, drinking enough water, and sleeping well.

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