Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss

If you are struggling to lose weight, you might be confused by all of the diet plans and options available. No matter what plan you are following, however, you must eat fewer calories than you burn in order to lose weight. The first step in incorporating this change is to determine the recommended caloric intake that your body needs to help support weight loss. Your daily caloric needs are determined by your gender, age, current weight and level of activity. You do not want to cut out too many calories, however, as you could rob your body of the nutrition it needs.

A healthy kale salad. (Image: bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images)

When it comes to weight loss it does not matter if you are eating carbohydrates, proteins or fats. Your results are also not dependent whether you are eating in the morning, midday or evening. Too much of any kind of food, at any time, will lead to weight gain. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you want to lose weight you must count calories. Eating more calories than your body needs will lead to weight gain. Eating the same number of calories that your body burns off will maintain your current weight. To shed extra pounds, you need to eat fewer calories per day than you burn off. There is no magic food or plan.

Basal Metabolic Rate

You can mathematically determine the number of calories your body requires or you can visit any of the references in the Resources section below. They all offer online quizzes to help determine your daily needs. To figure it out yourself, you can use the Harris Benedict equation. This calculates your basal metabolic rate or the amount of calories you need just to survive. If you are male, the formula is 66.5 + (13.75 x kg) + (5.003 x cm) - (6.775 x age). If you are female, the formula is 655.1 + (9.563 x kg) + (1.850 x cm) - (4.676 x age). You then multiply your answer by a number that reflects how active you are. If you are sedentary, use 1.2. If you exercise lightly 1 to 3 days weekly, use 1.375. If you are moderately active, multiply your answer by 1.55. If you exercise hard 6 to 7 days, use 1.725. If your work is physically demanding, multiply by 1.9.

Weight Loss Needs

Once you know your BMR, you need to create a deficit in order to lose weight. Safe weight loss is no more then 1 to 2 pounds per week, unless you are in a physician-supervised program. A pound of body weight is equal to 3,500 calories. In order to lose 1 pound per week, you need a daily deficit of 500 calories. To lose 2 pounds each week, you need to cut out 1,000 calories each day. Subtract either 500 or 1,000 from your answer based on the formula above. As you start to lose weight, you will need to adjust your daily caloric intake. Approximately once per month, recalculate your BMR using your new weight. You can do this more often or less often depending on your results.


The United States Department of Agriculture states that, to help control your caloric intake, you need to be mindful about portion sizes as well. It is easy to underestimate the amount of food and calories you are eating. When you first start your plan, it may be necessary to weigh and measure everything you eat and drink until you are familiar with healthy portion sizes. If you are overestimating portion sizes, you will consume more calories then you think you are, which will interfere with your weight loss goals.

Weight Loss as a Lifestyle

The Mayo Clinic says that weight loss programs should be about changing habits for life. Stay away from fad diets or highly restrictive plans. Not eating enough calories, or restricting certain food groups, can lead to permanent organ damage and even be fatal. They recommend finding a plan that is designed to last the rest of your life. As you follow the plan, you will learn to develop permanent healthy eating habits. This will play a major role in helping you to maintain your weight loss once you reach your goal weight. In addition, exercise is an essential component to a solid weight loss program. This is especially true when trying to maintain your weight.

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