How Many Calories Should I Eat For Weight Loss

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How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day?

How many calories should I eat per day? It is a question that is asked far too often, and you’ve probably heard conflicting information. You might also have seen statements by people swearing they lost tons of weight just by eating small portions. This can make tracking calories seem too difficult and confusing.

The amount of calories you need each day is dependent on a variety of factors specific to each individual. This can make it difficult to answer the question, “How many calories should I be eating per day?” Depending on your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level, the number of calories you burn per day may range from 1,200 to 2,000 or more.

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Recommended Calorie Intakes

Knowing the recommended calorie intake guidelines can provide a better idea of your calorie range. These vary based on whether you are an adult, a teen, or a child.

The recommended calorie intake for adult women ranges from 1,600 calories per day to 2,400 calories per day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.2 For men, the amount is slightly higher, ranging from 2,200 to 3,200 calories per day.

Adults

If you are somewhat sedentary or older, your calorie needs are likely toward the bottom of the range. You may be closer to the top if you are fairly physically active, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Teens

Calorie intake recommendations for teens vary based on age, sex, and activity level. A 13-year-old girl’s recommended intake ranges from 1,600 to 2,200 calories daily, with a 2,000 to 2,600 recommended intake for a 13-year-old boy.

These amounts increase slightly in the later teen years. The range for girls aged 14 to 18 is 1,800 calories per day to 2,400. The recommended calorie intake for boys in this same age range is somewhere between 2,000 and 3,200 calories.

Children

Children between the ages of 2 and 3 need between 1,000 and 1,400 calories daily. Where they fall in this range depends on how active they are.

At 4 to 8 years of age, the range starts at 1,200 calories daily and increases to 1,800 calories for girls and 2,000 calories for boys. At 9 to 13 years, the calorie range is 1,400 to 2,200 calories per day for girls and 1,600 to 2,600 calories daily for boys.

Infants and young children are generally good at self-regulating their calorie intake, so it may be more helpful to ensure they have a balanced diet versus watching how many calories they consume.3

Factors That Affect Your Target Calorie Intake

As the recommended calorie intake guidelines suggest, the number of calories you need per day can vary based on various factors. Among them are:4

  • Sex
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Age
  • Activity level

Additional factors that can affect how many calories your body uses for energy, thus also impacting how many you should consume, include your hormones,5 some medications (such as steroids and some diabetes medicines), and your overall health.

The Nutrition Facts label on foods provides information based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. But people can have different calorie needs. Determining your individual needs can help you maintain a healthy weight.

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Using Weight Loss Calculators

Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain your current weight, a weight loss calculator can help. The calculator uses your sex, weight, height, and age to determine the number of calories you need to fuel your body for daily activity.

Then it adds the calories needed to gain weight or subtracts the calories required to help you lose weight. It can figure out how many calories you should eat to maintain weight as well.

Inputting accurate information can help determine your daily caloric needs. If you’re unsure how active you are during the day, keep an activity journal for a week or look at data from your fitness tracker to get a quick estimate.

Next, the calculator will ask you about your goals. It’s important to be realistic during this step. Your goal weight may differ from an ideal or “perfect” weight. Try to set goals that you believe are attainable. Once you reach your goal, you can always set a new one.

What are calories?

Calories are a measure of how much energy food or drink contains. The amount of energy you need will depend on:

  • your age – for example, growing children and teenagers may need more energy
  • your lifestyle – for example, how active you are
  • your size – your height and weight can affect how quickly you use energy

Other factors can also affect how much energy you burn. For example:

  • some hormones (chemicals produced by the body) – such as thyroid hormones
  • some medicines – such as glucocorticoids, a type of steroid used to treat inflammation
  • being unwell

Calories and kilocalories

The term calorie is commonly used as shorthand for kilocalorie. You will find this written as kcal on food packets. Kilojoules (kJ) are the equivalent of kilocalories within the International System of Units, and you’ll see both kJ and kcal on nutrition labels. 4.2kJ is equivalent to approximately 1kcal.

Maintaining a healthy weight

To find out if you are a healthy weight, use the BMI calculator.

To maintain a healthy weight, you need to balance the amount of calories you consume through food and drink with the amount of calories you burn through physical activity.

Losing weight

To lose weight in a healthy way, you need to use more energy than you consume by eating a healthy, balanced diet with fewer calories while increasing your physical activity.

For more information on weight loss, download the NHS weight loss plan, our free 12 week diet and exercise plan.

A GP can also give you advice about losing weight.

Gaining weight

You should get advice from the GP if you’re underweight (your body mass index is less than 18.5).

To gain weight, you need to eat more calories than your body uses each day.

Calories: Fuel for your body

Calories are the energy in food. Your body has a constant demand for energy and uses the calories from food to keep functioning. Energy from calories fuels your every action, from fidgeting to marathon running.

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the types of nutrients that contain calories and are the main energy sources for your body. Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat.

These stored calories will remain in your body as fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories.

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Tipping the scale

Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. And if you eat fewer calories and burn more calories through physical activity, you lose weight.

In general, if you cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, you’ll lose about 1 pound (0.5 kilogram) a week.

It sounds simple. However, it’s more complex because when you lose weight, you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water. Also, because of changes that occur in the body as a result of weight loss, you may need to decrease calories further to continue weight loss.

Cutting calories

Cutting calories requires change but doesn’t have to be difficult. These changes can have a big impact on the number of calories you consume:

  • Skipping high-calorie, low-nutrition items
  • Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options
  • Reducing portion sizes

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