It’s no secret that when it comes to weight loss, it really boils down to calories in, calories out. Yes, the quality of your calories matter when it comes to your health, body composition, and metabolism, but speaking from a strictly mathematical perspective, a calorie is a calorie.
You may also already know that 3500 calories equals roughly 1 pound. So if you want to burn 1 pound of fat in a week, you would need to burn 500 calories a day more than what you’re consuming.
But, from here, I find people tend to have a lot of questions, like:
- Is a 500 calories per day deficit a good target?
- Is it okay to have a larger or smaller deficit?
- Will a deficit always result in fat loss?
- How do I know how many calories I’m burning?
The truth is, it’s not the same answer for every individual, because it depends on many factors like your age, height, starting weight, and body fat percentage. I have found calculators online out there that do a pretty good job of giving you a general idea, but they are lacking certain details that could be crucial for your weight loss journey.
That’s why I have set up this free calculator to help you learn how to calculate calories for your weight loss goal.
However, you’ll quickly see this isn’t a simple equation. There’s a lot of info here and it can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. That’s why I’m going to review the calculator with you now so that you understand what all the metrics mean as it applies to your weight loss journey.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
This content is for informational and/or educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Although every effort is put into making sure that all the information is accurate and updated, your reliance on any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk. See full Disclaimer here.
Entering Your Details Into the Calculator
In order for the calculator to work, you’ll need to fill out with some basic information. Let’s go over each of the fields.
Height, Weight, Goal Weight, Age, Gender, Imperial or Metric
These are all self-explanatory. (I would think!)
Pick one of the following:
Sedentary: Choose this if you are sedentary for most of the day.
Lightly Active: Choose this if you have a job where you are on your feet a lot, or are moving a lot throughout the day 1-3 times a week.
Moderately active: Choose this if you are very active or play sports or work out 3-5 times a week
Very active: Choose this if you are physically active most days
Extra active: Choose this if you’re an athlete who trains at least twice a day most days
Select how many days per week you exercise on average.
Note: What you fill in here may update the activity setting above. For example, if you put lightly active but work out 5 days a week, it will change the setting from lightly active to moderately active.
Choose from the drop down one of the following:
Aggressive weight loss or Faster Weight Loss: If you want to lose a lot of weight quickly, choose one of these. (However, I personally don’t recommend you select this option. Losing weight too quickly tends to come back because your daily calorie and exercise requirements aren’t sustainable.)
Weight loss: Choose this to calculate how many calories you would need to lose weight gradually. Selecting this means you will be maintaining a calorie deficit.
Maintain: Once you’ve reached your goal weight, you would choose this to learn what your maintenance calories are. Selecting this means you will be eating the same number of calories as your TDEE.
Lean Gain: You would choose this if you are looking to gain muscle, but not fat. Selecting this means you wouldn’t lose weight and would be eating at a calorie surplus.
Bulk: You would select this if you’re training a lot and looking to put on a lot of muscle, but you’d probably put on some fat too due to the calorie surplus.
If you already know your body fat percentage, you can enter it here. If you don’t know what it is, take your measurements and use this calculator to get a rough estimate.
Using a tape measure, find out how many inches or centimetres your waist at its narrowest point.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure
The default should show “calculate” as “on”. Just leave it as is and don’t enable “simple multiplier” or “custom” below it.
Once you’ve done all that, just hit the pink “Calculate” button near the bottom right.
Understanding Your Results
Once you hit the Calculate button, you’ll be taken to the bottom of the screen to view your results, which looks something like this:
Here’s the fun part! Once you click “calculate” you’ll be taken down to the bottom of the screen where some numbers will have populated. It will look something like this:
But what does it all mean? And how can you use this information to reach your weight loss goals?
Let’s break it down one metric at a time:
This stands for Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the number of calories you burn simply by being alive. For example, automatic, life sustaining functions like breathing and your heart beating all require energy. You would burn this number of calories every day even if you lay in bed all day without moving.
This is the first important number you should pay attention to! TDEE stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. It’s the base number of calories you burn on any given day based on your activity level, age, and weight.
If you plan on losing weight, then you will need to base your calorie deficit on this number.
LBM stands for Lean Body Mass. This is what your weight is after you subtract the fat.
FBM stands for Fat Body Mass. This is how much your total body fat weights.
BMI stands for Body Mass Index. Keep in mind that this number does not reflect your body fat percentage, it is an equation that factors in height and weight only. It gives you a ballpark idea of if you’re a healthy weight or not.
But if you are very muscular, this metric doesn’t give you an accurate picture of your health.
Waist to Height Ratio
Here’s another interesting metric that is also an indicator of health. Your waist dimensions against your height can give you an idea of how fit you are. Take a look at your percentage and see where you land on the chart below.
For both men and women, the target number should be under 50%.
MFM or Maximum Fat Metabolism is the largest daily calorie deficit you can be in without eating into your muscle. You definitely want to pay attention to this because you don’t want to start losing muscle! Muscle mass is what makes you strong and toned-looking.
It’s a ballpark figure and personally I would take this number with a grain of salt and wouldn’t go with too large a deficit. If you do decide to go with a large calorie deficit, don’t try to maintain it for too long or you could damage your metabolism.
This stands for Minimum Recommended Daily Calories and represents the absolute minimum number of calories per day. Actually, I wish I could tweak this calculation because it is too low for most people. It’s a reference point, but definitely not the number you should target!
I would say the rock bottom minimum for women should be no lower than 1200 but if you’re exercising probably it should be closer to 1600-1800 minimum.
This is what your estimated TDEE is on the days you work out. If you put that you exercise zero days a week, then this box will be blank.
This is what your estimated TDEE is on your rest days. You’ll likely note that it is only a little bit higher than your BMR.
Weeks to Goal
This is the recommended timeline for how long it will take you to reach your goal weight based on how quickly you want to lose weight. Don’t be discouraged if this number looks high. As I mentioned before, gradual weight loss is the road to sustainable weight loss!
This is your target weight.
This is a summary of your fitness based on your BMI. Again, take this with a grain of salt because BMI does not tell you the whole picture. If you’re very muscular, it might tell you you’re overweight when you’re not.
How to Calculate Calories for Your Weight Loss Goal with This Information
We have a lot of data here, but now it’s time to take this information and form a game plan for how to calculate calories for your weight loss goal. Follow these steps:
Determine how many pounds a week you should aim to lose by dividing how many total pounds you want to lose by your “weeks to goal” number.
Example: if you want to lose 40 lbs and the Weeks to Goal number is 39, then 40 lbs divided by 39 weeks is roughly 1 lb per week.
Calculate your total weekly calorie deficit to meet your weekly goal. To do this, multiply 3500 by how many pounds per week you want to lose.
Example, 1 lbs pounds a week x 3500 calories is 3500 calories.
Divide your total weekly calorie deficit by 7 to determine your daily deficit.
Example: 3500 calories divided by 7 days is 500 calories per day.
Subtract your daily deficit from both your “Exercise Calories” box and your “Rest Calories” box, and voila! These are your calorie targets for the days you work out, and the days you rest.
Example: If your Exercise Calories are 2434 and your rest day calories are 1752:
2434 – 500 = 1934 calories on exercise days
1752 – 500 = 1252 calories on rest days
Assess, Plan, and Do!
From here, you can tweak the numbers to fit your lifestyle and form a game plan. For example, if your calorie deficit number seems too difficult to stick to, or is under 1200 calories a day, you will need to increase the amount of physical activity you are getting each week to increase your daily calorie consumption and still remain in a deficit.
If your rest day calories are under 1200 you want to either get more low-impact physical activity on your rest days (like walking) or shave off a few extra calories on your exercise days instead to make up the difference.
Also keep in mind that as you lose weight, these numbers will change. The less you weigh, the fewer calories you need, so come back to this calculator after every 5-10 lbs you lose to get an update on your target calories.
Now all that’s left to do is eat and exercise according to your game plan. To that end, I have a few resources that can help you:
For counting calories
Check out the Cronometer app. It helps you easily log foods so that you can confidently stay within your calorie budget.
I strongly recommend you focus on strength training 2-3 days a week to start. Cardio is good too but try not to make it a secondary form of exercise. This will help you build and maintain muscle mass while losing fat.
If you need help finding a fitness program to do, you have many great options:
- Fitness apps – I have reviewed a ton of them on this site which you can check out here
- Serial Starter Fix – My 28-Day fitness program for beginners designed to help you jump-start a new fitness routine. You can print out the workouts and do them at home with no equipment!
We covered a lot of information today, but this detailed approach on how to calculate calories for your weight loss goal can help you put an effective action plan in place.
Now it’s time to get started! If you need any help along the way, you can always come back and check out my free tips and resources:
- How to Lose Weight Without Cardio
- How to Burn 1000 Calories a Day
- The Best Living Room Workouts
- Free Weight loss Calendar
Happy calorie counting and remember – you’ve got this!
On average, most people will do well on eating at a 500 calorie deficit. So if your TDEE is 2000 calories, you would need to eat 1500 calories a day to lose 1 pound a week. However, you can tweak this based on your individual stats and goals.
You would need to eat at a 1000 calorie deficit per day. So, if your TDEE is 2500 calories a day, you would need to eat 1500 calories per day.
1200 calories is the very minimum a woman should eat on any given day. (Even more for men) How much weight you would lose will depend on TDEE, which is based on your activity level. Keep in mind this is a very low calorie-intake and not sustainable for most people. It’s better to exercise more and eat more.
It depends on how much you have to lose, but 20 lbs is a bit too ambitious for most people. It’s more manageable and sustainable to lose 20 lbs over the course of 3 or 4 months.