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If you’ve got your calorie calculator at the ready, here’s how to keep it real.

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Figure out how many calories you actually need
Figure out how many calories you actually need
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If you’re looking for scientifically proven ways to start losing weight right now, your first order of business is to answer the question: How many calories should I eat to lose weight?

“A good guideline is 2,000 calories per day for adults,” says Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. But the best way to get an accurate picture of how many calories you need to maintain or lose weight is to plug your numbers into a Basal Metabolic Rate calculator.

“You enter your height, weight, gender, and age, and based on these four variables, the calculator will tell you what your daily calorie burn is,” he says. This number refers to how many calories you burn by doing absolutely nothing for 24 hours—and represents the minimal amount of energy (i.e. calories) you need in order to function.

To answer your question, “how many calories should I eat to lose weight?” estimate how many calories you burn with exercise and add it on, then subtract 500 calories from the total number to determine how many calories you need to cut out to start shedding pounds.

Joy L. Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, the founder of Nourish Snacks and the health and nutrition expert on the US version of the The Today Show, makes it even easier: “I recommend trying to stay within a calorie range versus landing on a specific number,” says the New York City-based nutritionist and author of several books including From Junk Food to Joy Food.

“For most women trying to lose weight, I’d suggest 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day,” she says. “For men, between 1,600 and 2,000 calories would be their target range.”

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