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How to Determine Your Daily Calorie Needs for Weight Loss

We’ve all heard this before – in order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you take in during a course of the day. Simple, right? Not really. Do you know how many calories you should have in one day? What is the norm? Is it decided by your current weight, or is there a standard calorie consumption for everyone? How many calories should you burn to achieve the ideal two-pounds-a-week weight loss?
These questions can be very overwhelming, and, from personal experience, discouraging. I’ve read one diet book after another encouraging me to have 1,200 calories a day in order to lose weight. But those sources never accounted for my current intake, my weight, or my level of physical activity. To truly understand what your caloric intake should be, and what adjustments you need to make in order to lose weight, these factors must be considered.

Women’s Health Training Guide 2007 provides great advice and a simple calculation to determine your metabolic rate and your calorie needs. So take out your pen and paper, and we’ll walk through this together.

Your Weight (in lbs.) x 11 = Your Basic Caloric Needs (“how much your body burns just by existing)
Example: 150lbs. X 11 = 1650 calories

Your Basic Caloric Need x 1.6 = Resting Metabolic Rate (“rate of calorie burn when you factor in your daily activities”)
Example: 1650 x 1.6 = 2640

Number of minutes of physical activity a week x 8
Example: 90 minutes (of running, walking, cycling) x 8 = 720

  • if you are strength training, add 600 to your answer
  • if you are strength training by doing three sets, add 840
    Example: 720 + 600 = 1320

Divide your total by 7.
Example: 1320/7 = 188.6

Resting Metabolic Rate + Your total from above = Your Daily Calorie Needs
Example: 2640 + 188.6 = 2828.6 calories

Take a good look at that number. That number represents the calories you can consume in one day (considering your current weight and exercise level) and maintain your current weight. Now, I have to add a disclaimer here – these calories account for consumption of healthy foods. This is not your free pass to skip lunch and eat fast food for dinner. It is important that you consider your dietary and health needs when consuming your daily calories. But you know that, right?

If you are perfectly content with your weight, then I am not sure why you are reading this article. I’m just kidding, of course. If you do not wish to lose weight, but to maintain your current weight, you should consumer the amount of calories we’ve calculated. To lose one pound a week, you should subtract 500 from your daily calorie needs; to lose two pounds a week, you should subtract 1000 from your daily calorie needs.

A two-pound weight loss per week should be your goal. Yes, two pounds per week. When I first learned this, I was automatically calculating how long it would take me to lose 40 lbs. that I was convinced I should lose. The timeline was not at all motivating. But consider this. Removing 1000 calories from your daily intake is a big deal. Based on the sample calculation above, that is more than a third of the current daily intake. It is certainly an adjustment, and it will take time and will power to get used to it. Additionally, a weight loss of more than two pounds per week will result in losing more muscle than fat. This is the opposite of what you actually want to achieve. Be mindful of those facts as you develop your exercise and diet regime. And remember: your health is not measured in the number of pounds you weigh.


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