Here’s How Many Calories You Should Actually Eat To Lose Weight

It's more than you might think.

September 8, 2016
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Counting calories is a time-tested method of losing weight. All you have to do is figure out your calorie level, eat at or close to that level most of the time, and you should lose weight, right?

Well, maybe not. What if you aren’t sure what calorie level you should be aiming for or are worried that you won’t be able to continue to eat that few calories once you get to your goal weight? No worries. I’m going to share an easy way to set your weight-loss calorie level that makes losing weight and moving into maintenance simple.

Why Does Calorie-Counting Work?

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A lot of studies have supported calorie-counting for weight loss. In one, from “The New England Journal of Medicine,” researchers found that the main factor for successful weight loss wasn’t what type of diet the participants followed, but calorie reduction instead. If you consistently eat fewer calories than you need to maintain your higher weight, you will lose weight. Of course, like anything in weight loss, the key word is “consistently.”

Of course, begs the question: How low should you go? WebMD suggests that the number shouldn’t drop below 1,200 calories for women, and 1,500 for men. That’s my recommendation as well.

But should you go that low? The upsides are that you may lose weight faster, and there’s a strict consistency to your calorie-counting. The downsides? It can be hard to get adequate nutrients on so few calories, and cheating is likely because you feel deprived. So if you’re prone to binge eating or cheating on your diet, or you hate feeling deprived, you might want to consider a different way of deciding your calorie intake.

What’s the Trick?

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Here’s what I did when I lost 158 pounds (from 305 to 147). This trick not only helped me lose weight steadily, but it also made moving into weight maintenance painless. Instead of eating as low as I could go (in my case, 1,200 calories), I picked a calorie level that was appropriate for maintenance at the weight I wanted to eventually be.

I used a Basal Metabolic Rate calculator and found out that my BMR at a weight of 147 was 1,366 calories. Then, I multiplied the BMR (the amount of calories I need to survive) by the sedentary activity multiplier of 1.2. Therefore, if I stuck to around 1,600 calories a day, I would lose weight.

And I did.

It takes just a few minutes to plug in your numbers to the calculator and see your results. If you don’t want to use the calculator, multiply your desired weight by 11 (for women) and 12 (for men). That gives you another quick (if not as precise) way to choose a calorie level for weight loss. If you use this method, this is a base number; you can eat a little more depending on your activity level.

Why Does This Work for Maintenance and Weight Loss?

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Eating at a calorie level that works for maintenance at the weight you want to be means you don’t have to tweak your calories as you lose weight.

For instance, sometimes weight-loss pros recommend cutting your current calorie intake by 500 to lose about a pound a week. That will work. But as you lose weight, that 500-calorie deficit will put you into maintenance instead of losing weight, because you weigh less and need fewer calories. So you would need to continually tweak your calorie level to continue losing weight.

Another example of this is Weight Watchers. As you lose weight, the number of points you get to eat each week diminishes.  If you fail to adjust those points downward, you won’t lose weight.

Like any method, there can be downsides. If you are older, have medical conditions that make losing weight hard, or are on medications, you may have to eat at the lowest recommended calorie levels to successfully lose weight.

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