Losing weight is very literally a numbers game. Eating fewer calories or exercising to burn off calories typically results in weight loss. One pound of body fat is equal to 3,500 calories. So to lose 2 pounds of bodyweight each week, you need to eat 7,000 fewer calories each week. This means eating an average of 1,000 fewer calories each day.
If you factor in exercise, you may not need to lower your daily calories quite as much to still lose weight. For example, if you cut calories by 700 but you also exercise to burn 250 calories each day, you’ll still lose 2 pounds a week.
Path to improved health
How many calories should I be eating to lose weight?
First, figure out how many calories it takes to maintain your current weight. This will depend on your current weight, your age, your height, and your activity level. There are many online calculators that will figure this for you.
For example, if you are a 35–year-old woman who is 5’6” tall, weighs 240 pounds, and it slightly active, it takes 2,476 calories to maintain your current weight. This means that cutting calories to 1,476 per day would result in 2 pounds of weight loss each week. But for a 27-year-old woman who is 5’6” tall, weighs 190 pounds, and is slightly active, it takes 2197 calories to maintain her current weight. She would need to cut calories to 1197 to lose 2 pounds a week.
If you have a lot of weight to lose, you’ll gradually continue to decrease your calories over time. Doctors and weight-loss experts generally recommend that if you go a few weeks without losing weight, it is time to recalculate your calorie goal.
Down for the count
While you are counting calories, it is important to document everything you eat. Keep a calorie tally through the day so that you always know how many calories you have left. There are many free apps that will help you easily track the calories you eat as well as the water you drink. You can find one that works with iPhone or Android devices Or, you may prefer to track things the old-fashioned way, with a notebook and pen. Either way will work as long as you are consistent with your tracking.
Make calories count
Following a low-calorie diet while exercising is one of the most successful ways to lose weight and keep it off. Even if you have a lot of weight to lose, try not to be intimidated. Research shows that losing just 5% of your body weight can have a positive impact on your health.
The best way to stick with a low calories diet is to really make the most of the calories you are eating. All calories are not created equal. If you do not make good choices with your limited calories, you are going to end up hungry and irritable. This is especially true if you are opting for junk food over real food.
Here are some tips for making the most of your calories:
- Don’t skip the protein. Try to eat some protein at every meal. Not only will it help keep you full, it will help you burn calories. Research studies show that protein increases your metabolism (how fast you burn calories). It also helps decrease your appetite because you feel fuller. There are many sources of protein. Try to choose lean meats, eggs, cottage cheese, fish, nuts, and legumes (beans, edamame).
- Don’t drink your calories. When you are dieting, there is no more important drink than water. Staying hydrated will help you burn calories. Try to avoid all sugary drinks such as sodas, fruit juices, and sports drinks.
- Dump the junk. Sure, you may cave to a craving every once in a while, but don’t make a habit of it. The calories from junk food are also called empty calories. This is because they don’t do anything to nourish you body. And they don’t keep you full for very long, either. It’s best if you can eliminate them altogether.
- Watch your carbs. Carbohydrates (carbs) come in many forms. Mostly, though, you can divide them into two categories: simple and complex. Complex carbs are generally your healthy carbs. They include vegetables, potatoes, and whole grains. Simple carbs are often called refined carbs. They include white bread, white rice, potato chips, sugars, and are often found in processed food (fast food and boxed food). Because fruit contains sugar, it is technically a simple carb – but it’s still considered a component of a healthy diet.
Things to consider
It may be tempting to cut calories even lower for faster weight loss. But it is harder to maintain a severe restriction of calories. And you should never do this without the guidance of your doctor. You can end up malnourished. Plus, research shows that people who restrict calories too much and lose weight too quickly usually end up gaining back the weight they lose.
In general, doctors suggest as a guideline that women should not restrict calories lower than 1,200 total calories per day. Men should not let their daily calories drop below 1,800.
Questions for your doctor
- Will a low-calorie diet work for me?
- Is a low-calorie diet the best way for me to lose weight?
- Should I exercise while on a low-calorie diet?
- Are there prescription appetite suppressants that would help me stick to a low-calorie diet?
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Finding a Balance
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Cutting Calories
National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Diets