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How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight? - The Doctor-Approved Guide

Just about everyone’s been there before: decided they wanted to lose some weight only to find out that they’re not quite sure where to start.  

Sure, most people are aware that watching their calorie intake is important when it comes to losing weight, but fewer have an exact idea of just how many calories it actually takes to see consistent results.  

That’s why in this article, we’re helping you figure out exactly how many calories you’ll need to eat each day in order to make your weight loss goals a reality.  

But before we get too far into determining your calorie needs, let’s first get a clearer picture of what your weight loss goals are. 

Figuring Out Your Ideal Weight

One of the first steps involved in the weight loss process is figuring out how much weight you actually need to lose.  And in order to do that, you’ll need to determine what a healthy bodyweight looks like for someone like you.

That’s where calculating your BMI comes into the picture.  Your BMI -- AKA your body mass index -- is essentially an estimate of how much body fat vs. fat-free mass you have.   Though it’s important to point out that estimates can be skewed for some people.  

It’s based on a standardized formula involving your height and weight and higher scores have consistently been linked with an increased risk of everything from heart disease and diabetes to stroke and even cancer.(1)(2)(3)

While it is only an estimate, your BMI can give you a good indication of how much body fat you need to lose in order to be at a healthy weight. 

Though you can calculate your BMI freehand, it’s much easier just to use a free online BMI calculator

Understanding Your BMI 

Here’s how the standardized BMI categories breakdown:

  • Individuals with BMI’s in the range of 18.5 - 24.9 are considered to be at a normal/optimal weight
  •  those with BMIs over 24.9 fall into the overweight category.  
  • A BMI over 30 falls into the obese category and is linked with the highest risk of disease and mortality. 

So based on this breakdown, the goal is for your BMI to fall somewhere between that 18.5 - 24.9 range.  If it’s currently above that, you’ll want your target weight to fall neatly within those margins.  

So for example, if you’re 5’ 6’’ and weigh 180 lbs your BMI would be 29.0.  That means in order to get into that 18.5 - 24.9 range, you’d need to weigh somewhere between about 120 - 150 lbs.  

If we split that estimate down the middle, and say your target weight is 135 lbs, we now know that your goal is to lose 45 pounds.  

How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

Once you’ve figured out how much weight you want to lose, the next step is figuring out how many calories you’ll need to eat to actually achieve your goals, which is a two-part process.  

In order to see consistent weight loss, you’ll need to be consuming fewer calories than your body burns off each day. Otherwise known as a calorie deficit, this basic principle is the single most important aspect of any successful weight-loss diet. 

But in order to set up a calorie deficit in your diet, you’ll need to know how many calories your body actually burns off in a day, which is known as your TDEE.  

Only then will you be able to determine exactly how many calories you’ll need to eat each day in 

in order to see the kind of steady weight loss progress, you’re after.    

Part 1: Figuring out your TDEE

The total amount of calories your body burns off in a day is known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).  In order to actually lose weight on a consistent basis, your daily calorie intake has to be lower than your TDEE.

Your TDEE is influenced by a number of factors like your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level, so your own specific calorie needs may ultimately look very different from someone else’s.  

That’s why you’ll need to do some investigation work to figure out your body’s own unique energy needs.  Luckily, you can easily get a quick (and relatively accurate) estimate of your TDEE using a free online calculator.

Part 2: Setting up Your Calorie Deficit

Once you’ve got a good idea of what your TDEE is, you’re ready to begin subtracting calories from your diet to create the necessary deficit you need to lose weight.  Again, you create a deficit by taking in fewer calories than your body burns off in a day.  

When it comes to how large of a deficit you should apply to your TDEE, there no one-size-fits-all answer.  However, research has consistently shown that somewhere between a 20% - 40% deficit seems to be the ideal range when it comes to seeing steady, consistent weight loss.(4)(5)

In other words, in order to maintain regular weight loss progress, you need to be taking in twenty to forty percent fewer calories than your body burns off each day.  

So for example (again, you’ll have to calculate your own), let’s say your current TDEE is 2,200 calories per day and you’ve decided to go with a 30% deficit.  Here’s how the math breaks down:

2,200 x 0.30 = 660 cal.

2,200 - 660 = 1,540 cal. per day

So based on those calculations, your goal would be to consume 1,540 calories per day in order to start losing weight on a consistent basis.  However, it’s important to note that as you lose weight, you’ll need to recalculate you’re TDEE to make sure that you still have a large enough deficit in place. 

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Tip For Reducing Your Calorie Intake

While creating a calorie deficit in your diet can seem pretty simple on paper, we all know it’s not always as easy in practice. But from increasing your protein intake to avoiding sugary drinks, here are a few tried and true methods for reducing your overall daily calorie intake. 

Increase Protein Intake

One of the easiest ways to reduce your calorie consumption is by increasing your protein intake.  It may sound counterintuitive at first, but research suggests that consuming protein actually helps to decrease your appetite and lower your overall food intake later in the day.(6)(7)

For example, in one weight loss study people who increased their protein intake, on average, wound up eating 440 fewer calories per day compared to those who made no such adjustments.(8)

Avoid Empty Calorie Sources

On top of increasing your protein intake, another way to reduce your calorie intake is by cutting empty calories out of your diet.    Things like soft drinks and juices, salad dressings, ketchup, and mayonnaise can ultimately add hundreds of extra unwanted calories into your daily diet.

Eliminating those empty calories can ultimately help to free up more space in your diet, allowing you a better opportunity to create the kind of deficit you need to start losing weight.  

Exercise More

Another way to put yourself in a better position to create a calorie deficit in your diet is to start up on a regular moderate-to-high intensity workout routine. 

While exercising alone won’t help you lose weight, what it does do is increase your overall calorie expenditure, which when combined with a reduced-calorie intake can help to create the perfect environment for weight loss to occur.

For example, let’s say you’ve already reduced your calorie intake significantly but are still having trouble losing weight consistently -- maybe some weeks you see progress but then other times you don’t.

Sure you could cut your calorie intake even more, but that can be a pretty tall order, especially when you’re struggling with hunger as it is.  

Instead, adding an exercise routine into the mix can help you burn up hundreds of extra calories each day, so instead of struggling to create a large enough deficit to see consistent results, you’ll have more room to create a 30% or even 40% deficit.  

Wrap Up

While there’s no magic number that’s going to work for everyone when it comes to how many calories you need to eat in order to lose weight, figuring out your own personal needs is a relatively simple process.

It starts with determining your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which represents the total number of calories your body burns off in a day. You can easily calculate your TDEE with a free online calculator.

Once you know your TDEE, you’re ready to kick off the weight loss process. In order to see steady, consistent results, you’ll need to apply somewhere between a 20% - 40% to deficit to your diet, meaning your taking in twenty to forty percent fewer calories than your body burns off in a day.

While achieving a calorie deficit of that size is not always easy, there are several things you can do to help. On top of increasing your protein intake, eliminating empty calories from your diet and exercising regularly are all tried and true ways of improving your ability to lose weight consistently. 

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