Calculating Your Daily Calorie Needs

Calorie consumption is the most basic concept relevant for weight loss. Weight loss is a numbers game with three ways to elicit body composition changes. We like to think of them as three "player modes":

  1. Burn more calories than you consume to lose weight. (Caloric deficit.)
  2. Consume more than you burn to gain weight. (Caloric surplus.)
  3. Keep calories burned and calories consumed equal to keep your weight the same. (Caloric maintenance.) 

Which category you will fall into, deficit, surplus, or maintenance, will depend entirely on your fitness goal. Chances are if you've found this page it's because you want to lose weight, which means you'll be playing in player-mode-one. Remember, this means you'll need to maintain a caloric deficit.

How can you accurately determine how many calories you need daily to create this deficit? There are a number of different equations designed to give you a calorie target. Many require you to input variables like, weight, height, and age, and then cross your fingers that you don't screw up the order of operations. Before you become increasingly panicked at the thought of doing any sort of math, I want to remind you that I majored in psychology for a reason. (Numbers aren’t my thing either.) Instead of showing you the nitty gritty from these equations, below you’ll find an embedded calculator that will do all the heavy lifting for you. (At least, the 'not fun' heavy lifting.) All that is required from you is to input some basic data about yourself.


↓ Calculate Your Calorie Needs Using The Calculator Below ↓
Calorie Calculator

  1. Select Equation (I recommend the Mifflin-St Jeor)
  2. Specify Male or Female
  3. Enter Your Age
  4. enter Your Height
  5. Enter Your Weight

Under 'show additional info', select "total daily energy expenditure." Choose the closest approximation of your current activity level. The TDEE number that is calculated is your predicted maintenance calorie level.

It's important to remember that the TDEE number this calculator produces is an estimate of the calories required to maintain your current weight. If your aim is fat loss, then you may need to reduce this number by 250-500 calories to create the necessary deficit to lose weight. (By how much you reduce is dependent on how gradually or quickly you want to see change.) My suggestion is to start conservative, then you can tweak the numbers through trial and error as you observe the changes in your weight over time.

Additionally, you should note that this calorie target assumes you're completing the amount of physical activity you specified. If this level of activity should change, then your calorie needs may change too. 

Additionally, I don’t recommend cutting more than 500 calories at any given time. This is usually enough of a deficit to see noticeable weight loss without going to any extreme measures. No individual should drop below 1,200 calories per day for any reason. Diets that require that much restriction ultimately prove counterproductive, and while it may work in the short term you are almost guaranteed to gain every pound back.  

Once you have this calorie estimate, I encourage you to start there and track your progress. If you are meeting your desired calorie goal but aren’t seeing any weight loss, then you can consider reducing your calories by an additional 250-500. However, if you find you are losing weight progressively then there is no reason to adjust this number until your weight loss stalls.