How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

Use a weight loss calculator to find out how many calories to eat each day

Some calorie calculators help you find out how many calories you need to maintain your weight. But what if you want to slim down? Then, what you really want to know is how many calories should I eat to lose weight?

It's an easy process to get the right number of calories—for weight loss, for weight gain or for weight maintenance. Just follow these simple steps. Then, you'll know how many calories you need to eat a day to reach your goal.

How Does a Calorie Calculator Work?

To get the best calorie numbers, it's best to use a weight loss calculator. It's a simple procedure and can even be fun and interesting—even if you're not trying to change your weight. 

How does a calorie counter work? After you input data, it uses a formula called the Mifflin St. Jeor equation to calculate your resting metabolic rate. That's the number of calories your body needs to function when it is at rest. Then, based on your personalized lifestyle information, the calculator adds the number of calories you need to fuel your body for daily activity. Finally, it either adds calories to gain weight or subtracts calories to help you lose weight. 

But what if you want your weight to stay the same? The calculator can figure out how many calories you should eat to maintain weight as well. This information is helpful for many healthy eaters. If you are at a healthy weight and want to maintain your body size, you should make sure that you don't eat too much or too little.

For some adults, that means consuming a 2000-calorie diet. That's the number that is referenced on the Nutrition Facts label. But many people are larger or smaller than average, or are more or less active than normal and have different calorie needs.

Use the Weight Loss Calculator

Are you ready to give the calorie calculator a try?

You'll need to provide some important information about your age, gender, height and your current weight to get the right calorie number. The calculator needs this data because these are factors that influence your metabolic rate—or the number of calories that your body needs to function. In general, men need more calories than women. Larger bodies need more calories than smaller bodies and younger adults require more calories than older adults.  

You'll also be asked about your activity habits. If your body is more active during the day, it requires more fuel (in the form of calories). Try to be as honest as possible about your exercise and daily activity habits. If you fudge the numbers, you won't get an accurate result. If you're not sure 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 smart estimate.

Next, you'll be asked about your goals. It's important to be realistic during this step. Your goal weight may be different than an ideal weight or a perfect weight.

For example, you may want to weigh 120 pounds. But if you have struggled with your weight for most of your life and have never been lower than 150 pounds, then 120 may not be realistic at this time. Try to set a goal that you believe to be attainable. Once you reach your goal, you can always set a new one.

Lastly, you'll have the option to select a date when you'd like to reach your goal. Keep in mind that if you are trying to lose weight, a healthy rate of weight loss is 0.5 to 2 pounds per week. If you are trying to gain weight, you may be able to put on approximately one pound per week. 

Reach Your Goal Weight

When you complete the calorie calculator process, you'll get a daily calorie goal. This is the number of calories you should eat each day to reach your desired weight in the time frame that you set. If you are trying to gain weight, your daily calorie goal will include a calorie surplus. But if weight loss is your goal, a calorie deficit is factored into your final number. 

A calorie deficit is simply an energy shortfall. When you create a calorie deficit, you deprive your body of the fuel it needs to function. So your body burns stored fat (excess weight) for fuel, instead. A calorie deficit occurs when you cut calories by eating less than your body needs or burn extra calories with physical activity. You can also combine diet and exercise to create a calorie deficit.

As a general rule, most experts say that a total weekly calorie deficit of 3,500 calories will lead you to lose one pound of weight. If you cut more calories, you'll lose weight faster. But it is not safe or effective to cut too many calories. Very low calorie diets (less than 800-1000 calories per day) can backfire and should only be followed with a doctor's supervision.

Sound complicated? Let's use an example to explain. Let's say that you are a sedentary woman. That means that you don't exercise on a regular basis. The weight loss calculator may say that you need to eat 1,200 calories per day to lose weight. But you don't think that you can cut enough food from your diet to reach that number. That's OK. You can simply add exercise to your weekly routine to account for a few extra calories.

Here are a few ways you might make it work:

In each of these scenarios, you've added calories to your daily food budget, but you've burned more calories with exercise to maintain the proper calorie deficit for weight loss.  If you want to lose weight faster, you simply add the exercise to your daily routine without adding calories to your daily diet. 

FAQs About the Weight Loss Calculator

Still confused about using a calculator for weight loss? These are a few common questions that dieters often ask.

Can I eat whatever I want and still lose weight? This is a tricky question. You can eat whatever you want and lose weight as long as you stay in your calorie range. Theoretically, you could eat candy bars all day and lose weight.  But you probably wouldn't want to. Why? Because it would be very very hard to stay in your calorie range if you don't eat nutritious foods. Healthy foods help you to feel strong, energized and satiated. Empty calorie foods don't provide your body with the nutrients you need to live an active, well life. And when you eat junk food, you're likely to get hungry more often and overeat as a result.

Can I eat more if I exercise every day? If you factored exercise into the equation when you used the calculator, then you should not eat more if you exercise. Your daily calorie goal (the calculator result) has already accounted for the additional physical activity. But if you did not factor in exercise when you used the calculator and you added a workout session to your day, then the calories burned during exercise will increase your calorie deficit. If you don't eat back your exercise calories, the increased deficit will help you to lose weight faster. If you do eat back the same number of calories that you burned then you will lose weight at the same rate as indicated in your calorie calculator result. Be careful however, it's very easy to eat more calories than you burn after exercise. This causes weight gain, not weight loss.

How should I count my daily calories? There are different ways that you can keep track of your daily calorie intake. Many dieters use a smartphone app or website like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt. These services allow you to input the food you've eaten along with your portion size and it automatically calculates your daily calories. There are also activity trackers, like Fitbit, that help you count daily food calories and daily exercise calories. If you're not a fan of tech gadgets, use a paper food journal. Simply write your calories in a notebook or on a daily food intake sheet to count your daily numbers.

Should I buy or join a diet program to lose weight? If so, which weight loss program is best? There is no "best" diet because every dieter is different and has a different lifestyle with different needs. The diet that will work best for you is the diet you can stick to. For some people, a do-it-yourself program is best. But others benefit from the structured approach of a commercial weight loss program. Ask yourself key questions about your lifestyle (do you cook? how much time do you have to shop for healthy food? what is your budget?) and then make a decision that fits your needs. 

Are all calories the same or are some calories better than others? Even though your total calorie intake matters most for weight loss, all calories are not created equal. Calories from nutritious food sources will help you to feel full longer, provide fuel for your daily activity and improve your well-being. So what are healthy foods? Most experts recommend that you fill your plate with

Empty calories, on the other hand, can leave you feeling hungry, increase your cravings for food, and even increase fatigue. What are empty calories? You'll find them in processed foods that contain added sugars, trans fat, excess fat and calories. Candy, fast food, processed baked goods and sodas are common sources of empty calories.

What if I use a calorie calculator and don't lose weight? There are many factors that contribute to weight loss success. If you don't lose weight right away, it doesn't mean that you have failed or done something wrong. But it might mean that you need to stick to your program longer for weight loss to happen. Evaluate your eating and exercise habits to see if there are adjustments you can make to reach your goal. There may also be medical reasons that you can't lose weight, so talk to your health care provider if you've tried to slim down without success. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a registered dietitian for personalized nutrition advice or talk to you about weight loss medications or surgical procedures to help you lose weight.

Continue Reading