When you’re trying to eat healthier or lose weight, sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to eat. Following a meal plan that’s designed by a registered dietitian is a great place to start, but first you need to know what your daily calorie goal is.
How to Calculate Your Daily Calorie Goal
According to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most adult females require between 1,600 and 2,000 calories, and adult males between 2,000 and 2,400 calories, per day. Consequently, most people will lose weight following a 1,500- to 1,800-calorie diet. If you want to be even more precise about how many calories you should eat each day to lose weight, this simple calculation will give you a daily calorie goal that can help you lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week.
- To estimate how many calories you need each day to stay at the weight you are right now, multiply your current weight by 12.
- To lose 1 pound/week: Cut 500 calories/day.
- To lose 2 pounds/week: Cut 1,000 calories/day.
If your current weight is 160 pounds and your goal is to lose 1 pound per week:
160 [lbs.] x 12 = 1,920 [calories]
1,920 [calories] – 500 [calories] = 1,420 calories
This formula is used in many clinical weight-loss trials and assumes the person using the equation is sedentary. If you’re an active person, you may find you need more calories than what you calculated to feel satisfied during the day. In that case, you can multiply your weight by 15.
However, the best gauge for whether you’re at the right level is how satisfied you feel—you shouldn’t be hungry all day—and whether you’re losing weight. If you’re losing weight on 1,800 calories a day and you feel great, stick with that. This calculation is just a suggested starting point. As you lose weight, you may want to run the calorie-target calculation again since your calorie needs will have changed. You could also talk with your health care provider or a registered dietitian for a more personalized calorie goal.
For healthy weight loss, we don’t advise losing more than 2 pounds per week. If you calculate a daily calorie goal that’s less than 1,200, set your calorie goal at 1,200 calories. Below that, it’s hard to meet your nutrient needs—or to feel satisfied enough to stick with a plan. Additionally, drastic caloric restrictions, less than 1,200 calories, increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies and health complications.
If you’re unsure, start with a 1,500-calorie meal plan—a calorie level at which most people will lose weight in a healthy way. Here we show what a day’s worth of food looks like on a 1,500-calorie diet. And when you’re ready for more, try our 1,500-Calorie Diet Plan for Weight Loss.
Some original reporting by Nicci Micco, M.S.
For breakfast, choose something between 300 and 350 calories.
TOTAL: 346 calories
Other Breakfast Ideas:
Apple-Cinnamon Quinoa Bowl
Muesli with Raspberries
Strawberry-Ricotta Waffle Sandwich
Aim to keep snacks around 100 calories.
- 1 medium apple, sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon (95 calories)
TOTAL: 95 calories
Aim to make lunch 350 to 400 calories.
TOTAL: 400 calories
Use your afternoon snack to fill out the rest of the day’s calories.
- 1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories)
- 1 medium carrot, cut into sticks (25 calories)
- 1/4 cup hummus (104 calories)
TOTAL: 145 calories
Aim for dinner to be between 425 and 525 calories.
TOTAL: 514 calories
Daily Total: 1,500 calories, 79 g protein, 91 g carbohydrates, 31 g fiber, 100 g fat, 2,026 mg sodium
The Bottom Line
Eating for weight loss doesn’t have to be boring and tasteless—nor should you be constantly hungry. Regardless of what an equation says you should be eating, it’s important to tune into your body and hunger and fullness cues. Avoid seeing weight loss as a means to an end; instead, consider what health habits contribute to weight loss and overall health and gradually make the necessary changes so they become a part of your daily routine.