How to Calculate Calories for Weight Loss

crop kid weighing on scale

The secret to losing weight consistently and keeping it off isn’t some crazy diet or magic pill. It’s actually much simpler than that. If you know how many calories you are using throughout the day, you can determine how many you should consume to burn more than you take in. This article will show you exactly how to calculate calories for weight loss and how to maintain the weight that you want.

The key to weight loss has nothing to do with the newest diet. They do work for the most part, but not for the reason you might think. The key to weight loss is always keeping calorie intake lower than calorie expenditure. Keto does this by decreasing calories from carbs. Intermittent fasting does this by decreasing the amount of time you have to intake calories. They all work in the same way.

Before you jump to “what about insulin sensitivity/hormones/other fringe benefit of _______ diet” please remember that the key to health is always a well rounded diet. With the exception of very specific personal dietary restrictions such as diabetes or allergies.

The real trick is finding something that is sustainable for you long term. What can you stick to? For most people this means eating the foods they want, just in the quantities that keep them under their caloric needs.

This is where math class comes in. Don’t panic yet though. I have an easy answer for you!


Before jumping in, here are some terms that you will see a lot when looking into calorie consumption.


A calorie is a measurement, just like a teaspoon or an inch. Calories are the amount of energy released when your body breaks down (digests and absorbs) food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body.

Maintenance Calories

Maintenance calories are precisely the number of calories your body needs to support energy expenditure.

How Many Calories a Day do I Burn?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average adult woman expends roughly 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, and the average adult man uses 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

However, this varies from person to person. It is affected by many different factors including activity level, metabolism, and more. Some people lose weight at 2,000 and some require 1,500 or less.

Calorie Calculator

If you are looking for a good estimate of how many calories you burn use this calorie calculator. Although it won’t be 100% accurate, it will give you a good starting point.

Calculate Calories to Maintain

Don’t reach for a calculator! I am going to show you an easy calculation to find it for yourself, but there is an easier way still. Just click the button below!

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

This calorie calculator will do tell you about what your calorie intake should be. Just without all the math on your part.

To calculate calories for weight loss without a calorie calculator, you will first want to find out how many calories it takes to maintain your current weight. Take your current weight and multiply that number by:

  • 13 if you don’t exercise at all
  • 15 if you exercise a few times per week
  • 18 if you exercise 5 or more days per week

This will tell you about what your calorie intake would need to maintain your current weight with as much exercise as you are currently doing. Remember, be honest with yourself here or the calculation will not be as accurate. This won’t give you your true Basal Metabolic Rate but it is a good starting point. (Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy expended while at rest in a neutrally temperate environment, and in a post-absorptive state).

For example: if you weigh 165 pounds and exercise three times per week, then you would multiply 165 by 15. This would mean it takes a total of about 2,475 calories to maintain your current weight.

Calculate Calories for Weight Loss

Take the number you found for maintenance calories and reduce it. To lose about a pound per week you will want to reduce that number by 500. So in the example above, we would take 2,475 calories and reduce that by 500. Giving us a total of 1,975 calories to lose about one pound per week for that individual.

You can also reduce it by 1,000 to lose about two pounds per week.

You may also like How To Calculate Macros to Lose Weight Fast

plus size woman using measuring tape on belly- how to calculate calories for weight loss
Photo by Andres Ayrton on

How Many Calories Should I be Eating to Lose Weight?

The number you came up with above is a good place to start. However, you may need to raise or lower that number as you track over time. This is so individual. The important thing is that you don’t choose a number that can’t be maintained at least long enough to reach your specific goal. You may find it is easier to stick to a higher caloric goal and get slower weight loss. You may also find that you have no problem sticking to a lower caloric intake. Just make sure you are not eating so little that your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs to stay healthy.

How to Actually Reduce Calories

The three ways to create calorie deficits are:

  1. You can consume fewer calories per day
  2. You can burn off more calories per day with exercise
  3. A combination of the two- probably the healthiest method

It’s important to not fixate on daily calorie intakes as this can lead to the development of an eating disorder. The estimated number of calories should be seen as a recommendation, not a way of life. Look for simple ways to track calorie intake that don’t stress you out.

Need a better way to track calorie intake? Try this free app! It has a built in calorie deficit calculator that lets you choose your own weight loss goal.

Calculate Calorie Intake

To find your daily calorie intake you can either track your food throughout the day on pen and paper OR you can use a food tracking app. I recommend the app as it is much easier to use.

You can learn more about the Cronometer food tracking app here.

Why Not More?

Most experts agree that losing more than 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy level of weight loss. Anything more and you could be damaging your body.

The calories you consume in a day should not dip below 1,200 for women and 1,800 for men. Anything less and you are robbing your body of vital nutrients. If you aren’t able to achieve weight loss with these numbers- try increasing how much exercise you do during the week. If you feel that you need to lose more than this, consult a doctor to assist you in your weight loss.

Increasing Calorie Expenditure for Weight Loss

Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be intense to burn calories. Your weight loss plan should be maintainable so you can avoid burnout. If you hate lifting, running, or other common exercises for weight loss consider these options:

  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Walking
  • Mowing the Lawn
  • Playing a Sport
  • Casual biking
  • Playing with your kids

You can also use thermogenics to increase calorie burn but remember- as soon as you stop taking it you are no longer burning excess calories. It is better to find an effective weight loss method that is centered around diet or exercise for overall health.

Continued Progress

As you lose weight you will need to calculate calories for weight loss again as your maintenance level of calories will have dropped. Make sure to recalculate or come back to the calorie calculator as your weight goes down as your metabolic rate will change as well.


When you find a weight that you are comfortable at you can just calculate your maintenance level calories and keep your intake there!

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