How Many Calories A Day For Weight Loss


Calories For Weight Loss

Calories: they’re vital for life, but with excess calories, comes a lot of spare tire. Find out more about how to use calories for weight loss.

The most important thing you have to do before you can lose weight is to have a calorie deficit. You don’t need to obsess over every calorie, but it helps if you know how many calories your body needs in order to function correctly. You may want to know what are the best exercises for weight loss or how cardio workouts help with weight loss or how weight lifting can help you lose fat. This guide has all you need to know: proper diet plan and sample diet plans, how many calories your body needs and why a diet is crucial for weight loss and how much exercise is enough. You’ll find here everything you need in order to start losing weight.


Wait, what even are calories?

“All food gets broken down into energy—and that measurement of energy is calories,” says Cassetty. So calories are simply a unit of energy. And every body, depending on age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity, needs a different amount of calories, per the Department of Health.

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When it comes to weight loss and calories, the quality of the calories you’re consuming can also have a major impact on your weight loss goals. A 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism put 20 people on an unprocessed food diet and an ultra-processed diet for two weeks each. And the results showed that while on the processed food diet, participants gained two pounds and lost nearly two pounds with the unprocessed food diet. So be mindful of the types of calories you’re putting into your body, not just how many.

Got it. So how do I calculate my calorie needs for weight loss?

To lose roughly one pound of fat per week (which is considered a healthy goal), you need a 500-calorie-per-day deficit, Valdez explains. But this can be a bit excessive for some people. Cassetty recommends shooting for a 200- to 300-calorie deficit (via diet), and then stepping up your exercise routine.

But be careful not to cut too many calories—anything beyond an 1,000-calorie deficit is getting into a little bit of the danger zone. “It is possible to eat too few calories. It’s a very fine line and everybody’s a little bit different, but don’t go below 1,000 calorie deficit a day,” says Boova.

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This Is How To Lose Two Pounds A Week Sustainably

If you are game for taking your workouts to the next level, Valdez recommends decreasing your calories from food by 250 per day, and increasing the intensity or duration of your training so that you are burning an extra 250 calories two to three times a week through exercise. But that’s going to further increase your calorie deficit for the day, and you need to adjust the amount of food you eat to support your workouts, metabolism, and recovery between your sweat sessions, notes Boova.

She recommends two rest days minimum per week because your body needs a chance to recover so your muscles can regrow and rebuild afterward. Just like when you don’t eat enough, exercising more can slow down your metabolism, which is going to further increase your calorie deficit for the day. It’s possible for overexercising to backfire and hurt your metabolism in the process.


Are there any online calorie calculators to make this a little easier?

Luckily, yes! There are plenty of easy-to-use, expert-recommended calorie calculators that will help you stay on track. Cassetty recommends these three.

  • MyFitness Pal
  • Lose It
  • NIH Body Weight Planner

Reminder: Calorie calculators are meant to give you general guidelines. If you want a more precise daily calorie intake estimate or a specific weight loss plan, talk to your MD.

What are some healthy ways to create a 500-calorie deficit?

  • Valdez suggests adding a 30-minute walk two days per week to your routine to up your calorie burn. You can burn between 120-178 calories walking around 3.5 mph, depending on your weight, according to Harvard Health.
  • Assess your current activity level. Take note of how many steps you’re actually taking in a day, and then work that number up. Being generally active over the course of the day is going to be really helpful because you’re going to burn more calories that way, says Boova.
  • Is there a sugary drink you have with every meal but could live without (think: soda or a sweet iced tea)? Find a good alternative and that could be a couple hundred calories right there, Cassetty says.
  • If you’re big snacker (hi, it me!), and you find yourself constantly getting up to hit the pantry two or three times throughout the day—be mindful of that. Those snacks tend to add up. Try to cut it down to one to two snacks a day instead, Cassetty recommends. The Mayo Clinic advises you stick to 100-calorie snacks (think: one cup of sliced bananas and fresh raspberries or two tablespoons of peanuts) to keep up with your weight loss goals.
  • In the typical American diet, fat intake tends to be a lot higher than what it needs to be–especially when your diet includes overly processed snacks and foods, says Boova, so stay away from those. There are also healthy fats that we want to eat, but it’s possible to eat too much of a good thing! Everything in moderation.
  • If you’re someone who doesn’t love exercise, that’s okay. “Try to add in a walk around the block or make an effort to get up and walk around every hour whether it be at your home office, getting up and walking around your house, or in an office, trying to move around just to get extra steps in,” says Boova.
  • Staying hydrated is essential to healthy living and lowering your calorie count. “Bring a water bottle with you and walk to a farther water fountain to refill and also continue drinking because every time you drink water, you’re gonna have to use the bathroom and that’s a way to get more steps in,” notes Boova

Burning calories

For the human body to remain alive, it needs energy.

Around 20 percent of the energy we take in is used for brain metabolism. Most of the rest is used in basal metabolism, the energy we need when in a resting state, for functions such as blood circulation, digestion, and breathing.

In a cold environment, we need more energy to maintain a constant body temperature, as our metabolism increases to produce more heat. In a warm environment, we need less energy.

We also need mechanical energy for our skeletal muscles, to maintain posture and move around.

Cellular respiration is the metabolic process by which cells get energy by reacting oxygen with glucose to produce carbon dioxide, water, and energy.

How efficiently energy from respiration converts into physical—or mechanical— power depends on the type of food eaten, the type of physical energy, and whether muscles are used aerobically or anaerobically.

In other words, we need calories to fuel bodily functions, such as breathing and thinking, to maintain our posture, and to move around.



Here are some tips for burning energy and losing weight more effectively.

calories and exercise


Counting calories is not just a matter of what we eat, but how much we burn, too.

  1. Eat breakfast: A protein and healthy fat breakfast can keep you full for longer and help prevent snacking during the day.
  2. Eat regular meals: This can help you burn calories more effectively and helps prevent mindless snacking.
  3. Remember your “five-a-day:” Fruits and vegetables can be a tasty snack and they can bulk out your meals. They are high in nutrients and fiber and low in calories and fat.
  4. Eat slow-burning calories: High-fiber carbohydrates, such as legumes, and healthy fats, such as avocado, take longer to release energy, so you will not get hungry as quickly.
  5. Exercise: This can help burn off extra calories, and it can make you feel good. A brisk daily walk is easy for most people to do and costs nothing. Challenge yourself with a pedometer. For people who use a wheelchair, there are exercises that can boost heart health and strength.
  6. Drink water: It is healthful, has no calories, and can fill you up. Avoid alcohol and sodas as these can easily provide far too many calories. If you crave sweet drinks, choose unsweetened fruit juices, or better still, get a juice maker.
  7. Eat more fiber: Fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains, can help you feel full and encourage healthy digestion.
  8. Check the label: Some items have hidden fats or sugars. “Ten percent less fat,” might not actually mean very much less fat, and it does not necessarily mean that you can eat more of it or that it is really more healthful. If you are counting calories, the label will help you keep track.
  9. Use smaller plates: Research indicates that portion sizes have increasedTrusted Source over the last 3 decades, and this may contribute to obesity. Using a smaller plate encourages smallerTrusted Source portions.
  10. Slow down: Eat slowly and rest between courses or extra servings, as it can take 20 to 30 minutes for your body to realize it feels full.
  11. Make a shopping list: Plan a week of healthful meals and snacks, list the ingredients you need, and when you go grocery shopping, stick to it.
  12. A little of what you fancy: Banning foods can lead to cravings and bingeing. Spoil yourself occasionally with a favorite treat, but in smaller amounts.
  13. Get enough sleep: Sleep loss affects the metabolism, and it has been linked to weight gain.
  14. Avoid eating 2 hours before bed: Eating within 2 hours of sleeping can interfere with sleep quality and promote weight gain.

How to Calculate Your Daily Calorie Goal

Most people will lose weight following a 1,500 calorie diet. If you want to be even more precise about how many calories you should eat each day to lose weight, this simple calculation will give you a daily calorie goal that can help you lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.

To estimate how many calories you need each day to stay at the weight you are right now, multiply your current weight by 12.

To lose 1 pound/week: Cut 500 calories/day

To lose 2 pounds/week: Cut 1,000 calories/day


If your current weight is 160 pounds and your goal is to lose 1 pound per week:

160 [lb.] x 12 = 1,920 [calories]

1,920 [calories] – 500 [calories] = 1,420 calories

This formula is used in many clinical weight-loss trials and assumes the person using the equation is sedentary. If you’re an active person, you may find you need more calories than what you calculated to feel satisfied during the day. The best gauge for whether you’re at the right level is how satisfied you feel (you shouldn’t be hungry all day!) and whether you’re losing weight. If you’re losing weight on 1,800 calories a day and you feel great, stick with that. The calculation is just a suggested starting point. As you lose weight, you may want to run the calorie-target calculation again, since your calorie needs will have changed.

For healthy weight loss, we don’t advise losing more than 2 pounds per week. If you calculate a daily calorie goal that’s less than 1,200, set your calorie goal at 1,200 calories. Below that, it’s hard to meet your nutrient needs-or to feel satisfied enough to stick with a plan.

If you’re not sure, start with a 1,500-calorie meal plan (a calorie level that most people will lose weight on). Here we show what a day’s worth of food looks like on a 1,500-calorie diet. And when you’re ready for more, try our 7-Day Diet Meal Plan to Lose Weight at 1,500 Calories.

Want to take this meal plan to go? Pack everything up in our favorite meal-prep containers:

For Breakfast: These larger glass glass meal-prep containers (To buy: Glasslock Food Storage Set,, $20 for a set) are a nice for storing meals or meal-prepped items of different sizes.

For Snacks: These leakproof glass meal-prep containers (To buy: OXO Good Grips Smart Seal Containers,, $30 for a set) mean you don’t have to worry about your breakfast making a mess on the way to work or wherever you’re headed.

For Lunch: Mason jars are the original meal-prep containers and are still just as useful now, so pack up today’s lunch in one. To buy: Ball® Glass Regular Mouth, $12 for 4.

Some original reporting by Nicci Micco, M.S.

Breakfast on a 1,500-Calorie Meal Plan

For breakfast, choose something between 300 and 350 calories.

Avocado & Arugula Omelet


Sample Breakfast:

  • Avocado & Arugula Omelet (344 calories)
  • 1 cup green tea (2 calories)

TOTAL: 346 calories

Other breakfast ideas for a 1,500-calorie diet:

Apple-Cinnamon Quinoa Bowl

Huevos Rancheros Tacos

Strawberry-Ricotta Waffle Sandwich

Morning Snack

Aim to keep snacks around 100 calories. Try these easy 100-calorie snacks here.

Sample Snack:

  • 1 medium apple, sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon (95 calories)

TOTAL: 95 calories

Lunch on a 1,500-Calorie Meal Plan

Aim to make lunch 350 to 400 calories. Try some of these great lunch ideas for work.


Sample Lunch:Roasted Veggie Mason Jar Salad


  • Roasted Veggie Mason Jar Salad (400 calories)

TOTAL: 400 calories

Afternoon Snack

Use your afternoon snack to fill out the rest of the day’s calories.

Sample Snack:

  • 1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories)
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into sticks (25 calories)
  • 1/4 cup hummus (104 calories)

TOTAL: 145 calories

Dinner on a 1,500-Calorie Meal Plan

Aim for dinner to be between 425 and 525 calories. Browse these healthy 500-calorie dinners for a 1,500-calorie diet.

Zucchini Noodles with Avocado Pesto Shrimp


Sample Dinner:

  • Zucchini Noodles with Avocado Pesto & Shrimp(447 calories)
  • 2 cups mixed greens (18 calories)
  • Dressing: 1 tsp. olive oil + 1 tsp. Dijon mustard + 2 tsp. red-wine vinegar + a pinch each of salt and pepper (49 calories)

TOTAL: 514 calories

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