How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?

A guide to calculating calories and tracking intake for weight loss

You’re going to hate me for saying this, but I can’t tell you the answer to this question. Caloric needs vary greatly among individuals; your energy requirements and the way your body processes calories are both extremely different compared to the next person. Plus, weight loss most likely isn’t only related to how much you eat, but also the quality of the foods you consume.

In an extremely thorough and well thought out article on Greatist, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa explains:

“People have different fuel efficiencies, whereby two people eating the same number of calories may see markedly different impacts of those calories upon their weights; the more processed a food the more calories it’ll effectively make available to your body; and some foods will leave you hungrier and in turn (given our caloric modern day wonderland) lead you to eat more.”

Like I mentioned above, the way that your body processes the food you eat is highly individualized, which means that if you can pay attention to patterns and signs to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you, tracking your caloric intake isn’t a completely moot strategy when it comes to weight loss.

At the end of the day energy balance (how many calories you consume vs. how many you expend) will have an effect on your weight, it’s simply a matter of becoming more in tune with your own personal consumption needs.

Even after explaining why calories aren't quite an exact science, Freedhoff goes on to explain why he still counts his daily caloric intake using a food diary. He emphasizes the fact that several studies have proven food-logging or calorie-counting effective strategies for weight loss candidates when compared to those who didn’t keep track of their intake.

He goes on to say:

“Sure, it’s nice to have a rough idea of what your energy intake looks like, but more valuable than numbers is the actual act of tracking food intake. It’s a behavior that truly takes seconds to minutes a day to do, but each and every time you pull out your app or diary, you remind yourself of your healthy living desires and strategies. It’s through regular and conscious efforts and reminders that new habits are formed, and any behavior that helps you to keep your goals and intentions at the forefront of your busy mind is a good one.”

Calorie-counting isn’t the best weight loss strategy for everyone, but for those who do find it to be a valuable tool, I will show you a few of the measurements and formulas that you can use to estimate your daily energy requirements for weight loss.

-How to Calculate How Many Calories You Need-

It’s generally agreed upon that one pound is equal to 3,500 calories. Following this measurement, in order to lose one pound per week you would have to cut 500 calories from your daily intake every day for seven days (500 x 7 = 3,500). It’s important to note that some of this 500-calorie deficit can also be achieved through exercise. For example, if you burned 250 calories working out and also ate 250 less calories than you usually do, you would still achieve about the same 500-calorie deficit as you would by cutting 500 calories from your daily intake. (Note: combining exercise with a balanced, nutritious diet is the best way to achieve optimal weight loss results, but your diet is slightly more important.)

Additionally, you could accelerate the process by creating a daily deficit of 1,000 calories, which would theoretically lead to a loss of two pounds per week however, this amount is generally agreed upon as the limit for what’s considered a “healthy” weight loss rate, so it’s not recommended that you go above a deficit of 1,000 calories per day.

Now that you have an idea of what sort of daily deficit is required for weight loss, you’ll need to figure out how it relates to your own specific needs. As I mentioned earlier, energy requirements vary greatly among individuals and that’s because your needs are based off of different factors such as your height, age, gender and current weight.

If you want to skip a few steps and simply find out about how many calories you would need to consume to maintain your weight or lose one to two pounds per week, you can enter your information into an online caloric calculator like the one on

If you’re interested in learning more about how a calorie calculator determines your caloric needs and would like to calculate the numbers on your own, you can review the equations below.

First you’ll need to determine you basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the base amount of calories that your body needs daily to survive at your current weight. In other words, the amount of calories your body would need to carry out all basic biological processes if you never moved for the entire day.

To calculate your BMR, use the following equation:

Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in year)

Once you’ve calculated your BMR, the next and final step is to determine your ideal daily caloric intake (or active metabolic rate– AMR) based on your activity levels using the Harris Benedict Equation below.

  • If you get little to no exercise: AMR= BMR x 1.2
  • If you are lightly active and exercise at a low intensity 1-3 days per week: AMR= BMR x 1.375
  • If you are moderately active and exercise at a moderate intensity 3-5 days per week: AMR= BMR x 1.55
  • If you are very active and exercise at high intensity 6-7 days per week: AMR= BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active and exercise at a high intensity most days of the week and/or have a physically demanding job: AMR= BMR x 1.9

Your AMR is the estimated number of calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight. So to determine your daily caloric intake for weight loss, subtract 500 to 1,000 (depending on how many pounds– one or two –you want to lose per week) from that number.

Remember, calories aren’t an exact science so you should use your number as a guideline and use a food diary (you can calculate the caloric value of different foods online at websites like or or a calorie counting app like MyFitnessPal to help keep yourself honest about how much you’re really consuming.

Freedhoff sums it all up concisely:

“A food diary is simply a source of information to help inform your decisions, as well as an incredibly powerful habit-building tool. Sure, you can diarize anything and get the habit-building benefits, but think of calories as the currency of weight: If weight’s your concern, tracking its currency is likely to be a good bet. That said, don’t forget that with calories as currency, the exchange rate varies constantly. Not knowing the exchange rate doesn’t mean that price tags don’t matter, just that some will do more and less damage than you might have imagined at point of purchase.