Calorie Needs for Weight Loss

Last Updated: September 27, 2022
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​​​The Secret to Weight Loss

Weight loss and weight gain are based on a core biological principle; calorie balance. Over time, if the calories you eat and drink match the calories you burn through the day, then your weight will stay the same.
When this balance is interrupted, and the calories you eat/drink EXCEED the calories you burn, then you create an energy overload. Your weight increases and you gain weight!  So how do you reverse this trend?
It might sound simple, but the calories you eat and drink must be LESS than the calories you burn if you want to lose weight. By increasing your calories burned through exercise and decreasing your calorie intake, you can shift the scales and make your body burn stored energy. 

Two things we know about people 

 – people tend to under estimate how much they eat.
 – people tend to over estimate how much physical activity they get.

Playing the Numbers Game for Long Term Success

So how do I know if I am losing or gaining weight on a day to day basis? This is where calories come into the picture. A calorie is a biological unit of energy. Calories measure how much energy is packed into a specific food or how much energy is being stored in our body fat. Did you know that one pound of body fat is equivalent to about 3,500 calories! Let's break that down a bit.

     One half pound of fat is generated a week by eating an extra 250 calories a day.

     500 extra calories a day will create an additional pound of fat. 

     Eating 1,000 extra calories a day will produce 2 pounds of fat within a week. 

The good news is, the opposite is true

     Eliminate 250 – 500 extra calories per day, you'll lose ½ - 1 lb. /week. 

     Eliminate 750 calories to 1,000 calories / day, you'll lose 1.5 – 2 lbs. /week. 

Determining Calorie Needs for Weight Loss

Following the steps below, you can get an estimate of how many calories you should be consuming each day to meet your weight loss goals.
1. Determine your body's estimated daily expenditure External Link  to get an estimate of your daily calorie needs. 
2. From this number, subtract 250-1000 calories per day to determine your daily intake for weight loss. Ex: resting metabolic weight determined from calculator above: 1900 calories/day. Subtract 500 calories to get a daily goal of 1400 calories/day. This would result in 1 pound of weight loss in a week.
3. As a reminder, if you are female, stay at or above 1200 calories and if you are a male stay at or above 1500 calories.  Too low of a calorie intake over a period of time is not only difficult to sustain, but it can lead to extreme fatigue, a compromised immune system, and loss of valuable, calorie burning muscle tissue as your body fights to meet its minimum metabolic demands.
4. Eliminating 200 – 500 or more excess calories in your diet is a great place to start.  Think about your high fat condiments like mayonnaise, regular dressing or butter.
         1 tablespoon mayonnaise ~ 100 calories
         1 tablespoon Ranch dressing ~ 70 calories
         1 tablespoon butter ~ 100 calories
5. Think about beverages with added sugar like sodas, energy drinks, juices and alcohol. It may be as simple as swapping out water with lemon for a regular soda.
6. What do you snack on?  Cookies, chips, sweets? Try carrying healthier, low-calorie snacks with you so you are prepared.
7. Finally, consider your exercise. The goal for weight loss is to burn approximately 2,000 calories a week through physical activity which averages out to be approximately 30 – 60 minutes of moderate aerobic activity / day. It is important to stay active especially as we have learned that physical activity impacts our metabolism. The goal is to move more often and get exercise at least three days a week.  The physical activity recommendations are 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity a week. If engaging in a combination of moderate and vigorous activities, use the two-for-one calculation (one minute of vigorous = two minutes of moderate).

Get SMART and Start the Change Now

As a Military community, we are action-oriented people. Throughout the Fit for Performance – Weight Strategies  you will be asked to set SMART goals to help you move from information on a webpage to information in action! Click here for an overview of setting a SMART goal and use the following questions to guide you as you set a SMART Goal from this topic:
     * How many calories am I consuming each day? How does this compare to my daily expenditure?
     * How many calories should I be consuming each day for weight loss?
     * How many calories am I currently burning from my intentional exercise? How close am I to the 2000 calories/week goal?
Sample SMART goal from this topic: "I will track my calorie intake every day for one week and compare this to my daily estimated needs to determine if I am losing or maintaining weight with my current diet."
"I will track the time I spend exercising and the energy I burn every day for one week and compare this to the goal of 2000 calories/week."
Choose a related article below to learn how to individually tailor your lifestyle for optimal weight loss.