So, how many calories should you eat to lose weight? Well, it all boils down to your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Your TDEE is the total number of calories you burn every day. If you want to drop some weight, the trick is to consume fewer calories than your TDEE.
Now, how do you figure out your TDEE? Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of calculating it, let’s first explore what calories are and how they relate to weight loss.
Table of Contents
- What Are Calories?
- How to Calculate Your TDEE
- How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
- Closing Remarks
What Are Calories?
What exactly are calories? A calorie is a unit of heat energy. Calories are a big deal in fat loss because your fat acts like a storage container for all the energy reserves that come from food.
When we measure food energy, we use kilocalories or Calories (with an uppercase C). One kilocalorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water by 1 degree Celsius. It’s equal to 1000 calories (with a lowercase c).
In scientific literature, they make a strict distinction between kilocalorie/Calorie (uppercase C) and calorie (lowercase c). But in popular literature, “calorie” (lowercase c) is often used to refer to what’s actually a kilocalorie. So, in this article, we’re going with the popular convention.
Now, your body burns calories every day for your essential bodily functions and activities. That’s what I mentioned earlier as your TDEE. At the same time, you’re also taking in calories from the food you eat.
If you burn more calories than you eat, your body burns those energy reserves (read: fat) to make up for the calorie deficit. But if you eat more calories than you burn, your body will store that excess energy as fat.
So, if you want to lose some weight, the key is to eat fewer calories than you burn. Of course, you can crank up the calorie burn by getting your sweat on with exercise. I totally recommend that! But let’s be real, just working out like crazy won’t cut it if you’re not watching your calorie intake too.
How to Calculate Your TDEE
If you want to figure out your TDEE, you’ve got to start with your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories you burn just by doing the essential stuff your body needs, like digestion and breathing. It’s the biggest chunk of your TDEE.
Now, there are a bunch of fancy formulas out there to calculate your BMR, but let’s keep it simple so you don’t get overwhelmed. We’ll use the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, which is a popular and reliable one.
Here’s the Mifflin-St Jeor equation for men:
BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age years) + 5
And here’s the Mifflin-St Jeor equation for women:
BMR = (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age years) – 161
Once you know your BMR, calculating your TDEE is a piece of cake. Just multiply your BMR by your activity factor to get your TDEE. The formula goes like this:
TDEE = BMR x activity factor
Your activity factor is a number that shows how active you are physically. Check out the table below to find your activity factor:
|Sedentary||Little or no exercise||1.2|
|Lightly active||Light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week||1.375|
|Moderately active||Moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week||1.55|
|Very active||Hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/week||1.725|
|Extremely active||Very hard exercise/sports every day and a physical job||1.9|
Now, let’s put it all into action with an example. Say, you’re a 30-year-old woman, weighing 154 pounds (around 70 kg), and standing at 5 feet 3 inches (roughly 160 cm) tall. Your BMR would be calculated like this:
(10 x 70) + (6.25 x 160) – (5 x 30) – 161 = 700 + 1,000 – 150 – 161 = 1,389 calories per day
Let’s say you’re a lightly active lady, hitting the gym or doing some exercises for 15-30 minutes, 1-3 days a week. Your TDEE would look something like this:
1,389 x 1.375 = 1,910 calories per day
And there you have it! Now you know how to calculate your TDEE like a pro.
How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
Once you know your TDEE, you can answer the question: how many calories should you eat to lose weight. The key lies in eating fewer calories than your TDEE.
As I mentioned earlier, when you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you create what’s called a calorie deficit. That’s when the magic happens. Your body starts tapping into its fat stores to get the energy it needs, and voilà, weight loss!
The question is, how big of a calorie deficit should you aim for? Well, for most people, a safe range is around 15-30 percent below your TDEE.
So, let’s put it into action with our earlier example. If your TDEE is 1,910 calories per day and you decide on a 20 percent deficit, then the number of calories you should eat in a day is 1,910 – (20% x 1,910) = 1,910 – 382 = 1,528 calories.
Creating a deficit of 382 calories per day might not sound like much. But in just 10 days, you’ll have a deficit of 3,820 calories. That’s more than a whole pound of fat (1 pound of fat is around 3,500 calories), assuming most of what you lose is fat.
Keep in mind that your TDEE can change over time. After dieting for some time, your metabolism may slow down, and your BMR might take a dip too. This means your TDEE could decrease as well.
If your TDEE drops to match the number of calories you eat, you’ll hit a plateau. But you can readjust your calorie intake to keep that deficit going.
So, you’ve answered the question: how many calories should you eat to lose weight. Now you want to use that number to whip up a meal plan.
Some people out there complain about how counting calories is a total drag. They think they have to count calories every time they sit down for a meal.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use that number to create a meal plan for a few days or even a week. That means you’ve only got to count calories when you’re making your meal plan, not every time you want to eat.
Sasha Lizaveta is a fitness enthusiast and content manager at BadassBodyProject.com. She advocates a conservative yet effective approach to fitness. She believes in the power of gradual changes to achieve long-lasting results. When not working out or creating content, she can often be found engrossed in books, playing with her cats, or travelling.