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How Many Calories Should I Eat?
One-size-fits-all calorie recommendations do not work. They must be customized to each individual.
To accurately determine your daily calorie amount above, enter your current weight, age, height, and gender into the calculator. Do your best estimate of how much exercise you will be doing.
The results will show how many calories you may eat in order to maintain or lose weight. You don’t need to adjust this depending on your exercise rate – that is factored into the equation. The maintenance value is the same as what some people call Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
As you lose weight you will need to recalculate based on your new weight.
Calories for Fat Loss
Science tells us that 1 pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories, so a daily calorie deficit of 500 should result in 1 pound per week fat loss.
In reality things don’t quite work that efficiently!
Generally, a person’s energy expenditure becomes less as they get lighter – meaning that you will inevitably plateau. The amount of food intake that once resulted in weight loss, will now only maintain2.
Need help with the basics of weight loss? Read our straight-forward guide.
Always try to aim for the Fat Loss daily calorie level.
The Extreme Fat Loss level is effectively a rock bottom calorie level. Do not attempt to immediately drop your calories to this level hoping for the quick fix. This may ultimately backfire.
The Extreme Fat Loss level shows the lowest calorie amount
that can be considered. It should be seen as the exception rather than the rule.
It truly is better to burn the fat than to starve it.
The Weight Loss Plateau
Why use the 7-day Calorie Cycle (Zig-Zag)?
Over time our bodies adapt to a lowered calorie level.
Our body becomes more efficient at using energy (lowered metabolism), and therefore burns less fat.
This is why most of us reach a weight loss plateau.
At this point, the only option is to boost metabolism:
- increased cardio,
- weight training,
- ‘cheat’ meals (i.e. occasional high-calorie meals),
- cycling (or zig-zagging) calories,
- even manipulating macro-nutrient ratios can all help to do this (don’t forget adequate sleep and hydration).
You often find that the nearer you get to your goal weight (or body fat percentage) – the harder things get!
Continually dropping calories only serves to lower metabolism even further – the moment you return to ‘normal’ eating – the weight comes back on. The 7 Day zig-zag provides a suggestion for daily calories that will keep your body guessing – and increase your chances of continual weight loss.
Minimum Daily Calorie intake
It is difficult to set absolute bottom calorie levels, because everyone has different body composition and activity levels.
Health authorities do set some baselines – these are 1200 calories per day for women, and 1800 calories per day for men.
These absolute rules don’t make sense – are you are sedentary person with little muscle mass? Or someone who is tall, muscular, and exercises a lot? Absolute levels don’t work – but do give us a starting point.
When reducing calories:
Try not to lower your calorie intake by more than 500 calories below maintenance.
Doing so may invoke the bodies starvation response, which can lead to the Yo-yo dieting effect.
Try to gradually lower calories. A sudden drop (such as 500 calories or more) can cause your metabolism to slow.
Learn to eat slowly – research shows that faster eaters are heavier people1.
What happens when calories are too low?
- Muscle mass is broken down for energy (catabolism).
- Metabolic rate will begin to drop (typically) after 3 days of very low calories – this is related to, and compounded by the loss of muscle mass.
- With very low calories you risk sluggishness, nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, and often irritability.
You are completely set-up for a regain in fat if you suddenly return to your previous eating patterns.
As your exercise level was already factored into the equation, there is NO NEED to subtract calories burned by exercise.
It is very hard to generalize exertion from exercise.
For the sake of simplicity we define exercise here as 20 minutes of elevated heart rate.
So, 3 times/week is 20 minutes of elevated heart rate 3 times per week. For you this could mean a brisk walk, for others it could be a slow jog.
Intense exercise can be defined as an hour of elevated heart rate (however intense workouts such as a series of body weight exercises (or heavy weights) with little or no breaks are considered intense even when only a shorter duration).
Have a play with our calories burned tool to see how different exercises compare.
We encourage you to include exercise in your lifestyle change: it helps to maintain muscle when under calorie deficit, and it’s great for your heart and mental state.
Macro Counting is a popular way of calorie-based weight loss because it is very personalized and unrestricted. It teaches dieters how to calculate their calorie needs (just like our calculator does above) as well as how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein (macros) they should be eating each day for weight loss.
No foods are off limits as long as they fit your daily macro amount.
POPULAR Macro Solution by Ted Kallmyer, is a great place to start. It’s been a popular choice in recent years due to the no food restrictions policy. No foods are off limits – provided they fit within your daily or weekly goals.
Lose Fat AND Build Muscle?
Most people lose muscle mass when restricting calories. It takes great effort to maintain muscle tone – and it is even more tricky actually building muscle while losing fat.
There is a great resources for this.
- POPULAR Old School New Body from Steve Holman is a great program that focuses on shorter workouts (maximum 90 minutes per week), while losing fat and building muscle. Age is no excuse here as the author is ripped and in his 50s !
The Simplest Solution
If you have the budget, calorie-controlled delivered meals are the most efficient way of getting the right nutrition, and achieving weight loss.
- POPULAR Diet-to-go is one of the best US-wide delivery programs. If your daily calories from the calculator is in the range of 1200-1500 then the Diet-to-go Balance plan may be a good fit for you. Note that prices are around $18-24 per day.
“I just wanted to let you know how much your site has helped me over the past 6 months…
…I have used this calculator to help me lose weight. In total so far I have lost 50 pounds, I went from a size 14 to now a size 6-8…”
This calculator has been developed using the most accurate methodologies from peer-reviewed research. See the Calorie Needs Guide for a complete explanation.
-  Faster Self-Reported Speed of Eating Is Related to Higher Body Mass Index in a Nationwide Survey of Middle-Aged Women. Sook Ling Leong, Clara Madden, Andrew Gray, Debra Waters, Caroline Horwath Journal of the American Dietetic Association 1 August 2011 (volume 111 issue 8 Pages 1192-1197 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.05.012)
-  Modeling weight-loss maintenance to help prevent body weight regain. Kevin D Hall and Peter N Jordan , American Journal of Clinical Nutrition December 2008 (Vol. 88, No. 6, 1495-1503doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26333)Link
- MD Mifflin, ST St Jeor, et al. A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in healthy individuals.
J Am Diet Assoc 2005:51:241-247. Link
- Frankenfield DC, et al. Comparison of Predictive Equations for Resting Metabolic Rate in Healthy Nonobese and Obese Adults: A Systematic Review. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105:775-789. Link
- Frankenfield DC, et al. The Harris-Benedict studies of human basal metabolism: history and limitations. 1998;98:439-445.
- Manini, T. M., Everhart, J. E., Patel, K. V., Schoeller, D. A., Colbert, L. H., Visser, M., … Harris, T. B. (2006). Daily activity energy expenditure and mortality among older adults. Jama, 296(2), 171-179. Link