Should you count calories, or not count calories? It seems to be the age-old debate between medical professionals and dietitians. On the one hand, many experts will say that the quality of the food matters more—focusing on a diet full of nutritious whole foods and complex carbohydrates. While others will say that fully understanding the quantity of the food is what helps you to lose weight—focusing on counting calories and macronutrients.
However, there are quite a few experts that say focusing on the quality as well as the quantity of your food is important. And while it’s easy to set a healthy plate and focus on eating nutritious foods, what does this mean in terms of counting calories? How many calories should you be eating to lose weight? (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work)
First, it’s important to calculate your calories based on your basal metabolic rate.
“Each person has a unique metabolism, the rate at which they burn calories,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD from Balance One Supplements. “This number equates to the number of calories they should consume during the day. For most healthy adults this is around 2,000 calories a day.”
Although 2,000 calories a day is an average number for adults, it may be more than what your specific body will need.
“There are a number of common equations typically used, like the Mifflin St Jeor equation, which calculates your body’s calorie needs based on height, weight, age, and gender,” says Rachel Paul PhD, RD from CollegeNutritionist.com. “Most [calorie-counting] apps will use one of these equations. These are fairly accurate, but they’re often used because they’re the quickest and easiest way to get a number. However, they don’t take into account a person’s individual metabolism and genetics.”
So how are you supposed to know what works for your body? Paul recommends finding your specific caloric needs before setting any kind of calorie deficit for weight loss.
“A potentially more accurate way to calculate one’s calorie needs would be to have them eat as they typically do without any modifications for about 7 days. At that point, we would get the average calorie intake for those days,” says Paul.
Tracking a normal eating week can help to determine what your body needs in terms of calories each day. However, Paul points out that people may modify their current eating during the week because they are tracking their intake, which can make it hard to accurately measure. Be honest about the calorie intake you need for a week before creating a calorie deficit.
Once you have found that number, from there you can make a proper calorie deficit. This can be based on your weight loss goals—like how many pounds you want to lose a week.
“I recommend a small calorie deficit (250 calories, to lose around 1/2 pound per week) so that the person creates long-term habit changes, rather than any drastic, crash diet approaches that often include much bigger calorie deficits and are unsustainable,” says Paul.
Best says that even a calorie deficit of 300 to 500 calories per day can be helpful for weight loss. However, Paul does not recommend to any of her clients going underneath 1,200 calories a day.
“If you know your BMR then you can adjust your calorie intake for a short period to create a calorie deficit, which can lead to weight loss,” says Best. “This method should not be a long-term solution to weight loss as it is not sustainable. For weight maintenance, you’ll still need to know what your metabolic rate is and stick to that number daily.”
Tracking your food may not seem easy to do, which is why many nutritionists recommend using an app where searching for foods and tracking them is seamless and simple.
“Using a food and exercise calorie tracker, like MyNetDiary, is a great way to set your calorie target, then monitor your calorie intake and output through activity,” says Brenda Braslow, MS, RD. “If you are not losing, you can lower your daily calorie intake goal or exercise longer or harder to achieve results.”
Paul also recommends the use of an app like Lose It! to her nutrition clients. Lose It! offers a free version of their app to track calories, while the premium version allows you to set other types of goals—like macronutrient intake, and body fat percentage.
Now that you have figured out how many calories to consume in a day, here’s How Many Calories To Burn Every Day, Say Experts.