Calorie Intake for Weight Loss and Weight Management

Read about the proper calorie intake when working on losing weight or mantaining your weight.
Young girl eating a oatmeal with berries after a workout
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Weight loss is a formula of calories in and calories out. People lose weight through a combination of reducing the number of calories they consume and increasing the number of calories their body burns through exercise.

How Many Calories Are in a Pound?

Every pound of body weight contains approximately 3,500 calories. However, when creating a calorie deficit, it's important to still give your body proper nutrients, and not restrict too intensely. 

The most important part of any weight loss plan is sustainability. Many people find reducing their average daily calorie intake by about 500 calories per day results in a loss of one pound per week. The math is simple: 500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories lost.

Calculating Your BMR for Weight Loss 

The number of calories each individual burns per day is different depending on factors like age, size, sex, and activity level. Things like hunger hormones and medical conditions can also make it harder or easier for someone to lose weight. If you are trying to understand how to lose weight and manage your weight in the long term, you can get a general idea of how many total calories you should eat each day, to either maintain or lose weight, with the following formula:

  1. First find your BMR (basal metabolic rate: the amount of calories needed to perform your normal bodily functions at rest).

    BMR = your current weight × 10
  2. Next, multiply your BMR by an activity factor.

    BMR × 0.30 (for average daily activities)
  3. Last, add your BMR to your activity factor.

More: Calorie Guidelines for Women

BMR changes based on a person's activity level. People who participate in regular physical activity more than three times a week will need to raise the activity factor to .40–.60. Similarly, muscle burns more than fat. People who participate in regular weight training and physical activities may have a higher percentage of muscle and a lower body fat percentage. This means their bodies burn calories more effectively. 

How to Maintain and Lose Weight 

Fitness woman stretching in the grass

The example shows that an average 130-pound woman can maintain her weight on 1,690 calories per day.  Now, let's say she wants to lose a few pounds. To lose weight, she needs to create a negative balance by reducing the number of daily calories and increasing her exercise to burn even more calories. For instance, she needs to get on a 1,400-calorie food plan, plus work out aerobically 4 –5 days per week. She'd have no problem shedding some weight safely and efficiently. The lower your starting body weight, the fewer calories you generally burn per day. This means that shorter or smaller women shouldn't aim to lose weight at the same speed of their taller peers. 

More: Counting Calories: How Many You Need in Your Diet

Plug your own stats into the formula, and figure out what it will take calorically to melt away those unwanted pounds. Understand that no one should ever eat less than 1,200 calories per day; you will slow down your metabolism and set yourself up to gain all the weight back. Even if you are very petite, and the math works out to be less than 1,200—stick with 1,200 calories and jack up your exercise.

If you decide to work with a nutritionist, remember: you want a food partner, not a food dictator! Find a qualified registered dietitian (R.D.) who will move at your pace and make you feel completely comfortable.

Wondering how many calories you burn in one day? This video breaks it down: