Weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. The nutritional approach you take has to go beyond temporarily adopting the newest diet—you need to implement a lifestyle shift. Part of this process involves understanding your food consumption. With that, let’s answer an essential question: how many calories should I eat a day?
The first step is to establish a daily calorie requirement for your body to achieve your goal. Once you find your baseline, you can work around that.
Using references for average Body Mass Index (BMI), height, and healthy weight in adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services places the general daily Estimated Energy Requirement (EER) at 2,000−3,000 calories for men and 1,600−2,400 calories for women.
We know the golden rule of weight loss is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. There are many factors to consider besides the number of calories you consume per day. Daily calorie intake is determined by your body (age, gender, weight, height, and physical activity level) and your fitness goal (to lose, maintain, or gain weight). It decreases as you age.
Consider that different frames have different caloric needs and that lowering your caloric consumption lowers your energy levels. When you reduce your calorie intake, your body will try to compensate, so a flash diet will undermine all your efforts to lose weight.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight vs. Losing Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is all about meeting your daily requirement of maintenance calories. However, beyond the numbers, it’s about making healthy choices and turning them into sustainable day-to-day habits. It’s not about starving yourself or working yourself to the bone at the gym; it’s about providing your body with essential nutrients and the right dose of healthy movement.
Losing weight is achieved through consistency. Irregular eating habits slow down your metabolism. Implementing the correct nutrition and exercise plan will boost it again, but you should also consider your metabolic type.
People who follow the same diet and exercise routines get entirely different results because some have high metabolisms and others have slow ones, which indicates a fundamental difference in how each body naturally processes food.
The only classic technique that works for everyone is keeping blood sugar stable. By combining protein and carbs, for example, you can keep cravings under control. If you set a bare minimum for your caloric needs and match your daily intake to that baseline, you will maintain your weight. If you wish to lose weight, you need to go below your baseline.
How to Use a Weight Loss Calculator
Weight loss requires commitment, hard work, and discipline. Because there are so many factors to consider—mainly, that every organism is different— there is no set formula. However, you can determine all your basic measurements to get a general idea of the direction in which you need to progress.
These four numerical values are worth examining if you’re serious about understanding calories as part of your weight loss plan:
- Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
- Body Fat Percentage
- Physical Activity Multiplier
Each of these can be calculated online. There are apps to track calories; just remember to view counting them as a method to stick to your maintenance calories number.
So that you don’t limit yourself or lose sight of your purpose in the process of transforming your health, rather than focusing only on counting calories, consider the option of counting macros.
Reaching Your Goal Weight
Once you have determined how many calories you should eat a day, avoid obsessing over counting them with absolute precision, and focus on developing healthy eating habits. Be disciplined but flexible: snacks are a good thing, so long as they adhere to your body’s nutritional needs.
Let your fitness goal guide you. If you want to build muscle, your diet should feature a calorie increase. Conversely, if your objective is to shed some pounds, reduce your calorie intake.
While staying hydrated and physically active will not occasion much, if any, weight loss, it may help with your physical conditioning. Also, burning fat by restricting your caloric consumption can be a useful strategy, but you should understand how many calories your body needs and account for essential nutrients.
Once you’ve reached your ideal body weight and gotten to where you want to be with your fitness, stick to your maintenance calories, continue with a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. Leading a healthy lifestyle is more important than having an exact number of calories you should eat per day.
How many calories should I eat a day: Frequently Asked Questions
Finally, we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the relationship between calorie intake and weight loss.
How do calories really work?
Calories are not the sole factor at play when getting in shape, so they should not be the only aspect on which you focus. The point of having calorie restrictions is not to limit you but to provide you with nutritional guidelines. Find the daily calorie intake that works for you.
Check out our article, What is a calorie? There, you’ll find a breakdown of high-calorie and low-calorie foods.
What is my baseline?
The amount of energy you need each day to meet your physical requirements is calculated via your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), Body Fat Percentage, and Physical Activity Multiplier. With these measurements, you can find out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Our article on calculating maintenance calories, linked above, explains it all in further detail.
How does exercise fit into this?
It depends on your goal. Decide whether you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight. Keep in mind that gaining weight does not necessarily mean increasing body fat, as it is firm muscle tissue that is heavier.
How do I build a fitness plan?
Design a strategy that combines a balanced diet with targeted exercise routines, all tailored to your body, metabolic type, and specific goal.