If you’re here, it means you want to lose weight (more specifically, lose fat), and you’re ready to figure out how many calories you should eat per day to make that happen as effectively as possible. Awesome.
Before we get to that, here’s a quick recap of what you’ve done so far:
- You learned that in order to lose weight or lose fat, a caloric deficit is the #1 requirement.
- You learned that a “caloric deficit” means eating fewer calories than your body needs, which means you need to be below your calorie maintenance level. (This forces your body to burn your own stored body fat for energy instead, which is a requirement for fat loss.)
- You estimated what your daily calorie maintenance level is. (If you skipped that step, now is the time to go back and do it.)
Now, with your estimated calorie maintenance level in mind, the next obvious step in figuring out how many calories you should eat per day to lose weight is figuring out what size the caloric deficit should be.
Meaning, how many calories below your maintenance level should you be each day to lose weight?
Let’s answer that…
Creating Your Ideal Caloric Deficit
Even though your #1 goal is to lose fat, there are actually 3 goals to keep in mind when creating a caloric deficit:
- Maximizing fat loss.
- Minimizing muscle loss.
- Doing it all in a way that is as doable and sustainable for you as possible.
Knowing this, there are typically 3 different categories of “sizes” that the deficit can be: small, moderate, or large. Each has its own PROS and CONS, but here’s what matters most.
If your deficit is too small, it means you will lose weight/lose fat at the slowest possible rate. If your deficit is too large, it will be extremely hard to sustain (because you’ll be the most hungry and annoyed), workout performance will suffer, and the potential for muscle loss will be at its highest.
I actually explain all of this in more detail right here: Caloric Deficit
But for all of these reasons and more, I (and most experts) most often feel that a moderate caloric deficit is the perfect choice for the majority of the population. It’s just what works best in most cases.
Now, what exactly is a “moderate” deficit, you ask? Here’s what I recommend…
How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day To Lose Weight?
The Ideal Daily Caloric Deficit: 20% below maintenance level per day.
What this means is, whatever your daily calorie maintenance level is, you should be about 20% below it each day. Here’s an example…
- Let’s say some person (male or female) had a daily calorie maintenance level of 2500 calories. They’d first figure out that 20% of 2500 is 500 (2500 x 0.20 = 500). This means they should create a caloric deficit of 500 calories each day. In this example, that would mean eating 2000 calories per day.
So, take the estimated calorie maintenance level you got in the previous step and create your 20% deficit. Did you do it? Good. That’s how many calories you should eat per day to lose weight. Taaadaaa!
Make sure you write it down.
Because this deficit (20% below maintenance) is neither too big nor too small, it will allow you to maximize fat loss, minimize muscle loss, and do it all in a way that is easy for you to manage and sustain both physically and mentally.
That’s pretty much as good as it gets, and that’s precisely why this is the most often recommended caloric deficit for the majority of the population looking to lose weight/lose fat.
Of course, one of the main reasons this deficit is so ideal is that it will cause you to lose weight at the ideal rate of weight loss.
What ideal rate of weight loss, you ask?
The Ideal Rate of Weight Loss
You see, if you have properly created the ideal caloric deficit and are therefore eating your ideal amount of calories per day, it will cause you to lose weight at the ideal rate.
Here now is what that rate should be for the majority of the population:
The Ideal Rate Of Weight Loss: between 0.5 – 2 pounds lost per week.
That range is a bit broad, but that’s because the ideal rate of weight loss will (and should) vary based on how much fat a person has to lose.
Confused? Here’s a chart that narrows that range down a bit…
The Ideal Rate Of Weight Loss Based On How Much Fat You Need To Lose
|Amount Of Fat To Lose||Ideal Rate Of Weight Loss|
|Above Average||2lbs (or more) per week.|
|Average||1-2lbs per week.|
|Below Average||0.5-1lb per week.|
Now let’s break that chart down…
- Someone with an above average amount of fat to lose (say 100lbs, for example) can (and probably should) lose it at a rate of 2lbs (or more) per week, at least for a certain amount of time.
- Someone with a more average amount of fat to lose (say 30lbs, for example) should lose it at a rate of 1-2lbs per week.
- Someone with a below average amount of fat to lose (say 10lbs or less, for example) would be best served to lose it at a rate of 0.5-1 pound per week.
It’s also possible for a person to be in 2 or 3 of the categories shown on the chart above at different stages of their weight loss.
Meaning, a person might start off with a lot of fat to lose at which point they might lose it at a rate of 2lbs or more per week for a while. They’ll then hit a point where that rate slows down a bit to 1-2lbs per week for a while. And then, when they are almost done losing all the fat they needed to lose, it may only happen at a rate of 0.5-1lb per week at that point.
Either way, creating the ideal caloric deficit (20% below maintenance) will always cause weight to be lost at the rate that’s most ideal for you.
Sounds good, right? Now let’s make sure it all works correctly.
How To Guarantee You’re Eating The Right Amount Of Calories Per Day
OK, let’s recap real fast. First, you learned what the ideal caloric deficit is. Then, you used that information to adjust your estimated calorie maintenance level and figure out exactly how many calories you should eat per day to lose weight.
After that, you learned what the ideal rate of weight loss is for you and this new ideal calorie intake of yours.
All that’s left to do now is make sure everything is 100% accurate and guaranteed to work.
Remember in the previous step when I mentioned that there would be a way to double check your daily calorie intake to make sure it was 100% perfect for your goal of losing weight? Well, here it is.
All you need to do is start eating your new ideal amount of calories each day and then just weigh yourself about once per week first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (or, weigh in every morning and take the weekly average) and watch what happens.
Based on what your weight is doing from week to week, here’s what you should do:
- Are you losing weight at the ideal rate? If so, congrats! This means your daily calorie intake is indeed perfect. Keep eating this amount of calories each day and enjoy the awesome fat loss results that are guaranteed to follow.
- Are you gaining weight or just maintaining your current weight? If so, your deficit isn’t big enough (or it just doesn’t exist at all) and therefore needs to be increased. So, just reduce your current daily calorie intake by about 250 calories (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you’d now eat 2250 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks. Based on what happens, come right back here and follow the appropriate instructions.
- Are you losing weight faster than the ideal rate? If so, and it’s been happening for a few weeks consistently, your deficit is likely a little too big and it should probably be decreased. Just add about 250 calories to your current daily calorie intake (so if you were just eating 2500 calories per day, you’d now eat 2750 calories per day) and then monitor what your weight does over the next couple of weeks. Based on what happens, come right back here and follow the appropriate instructions.
Basically, weigh yourself consistently (always first thing in the morning on an empty stomach) and keep track of it somewhere. If you are losing weight at your ideal rate, you’re perfect. If you aren’t, then just adjust your calorie intake up or down in small 250 calorie increments until you are. Simple as that.
What if I reach a “plateau” and I stop losing fat?
Oh, and if you ever reach a point where you were losing weight at the ideal rate for a while but then it stops for a couple of weeks in a row, guess what you should do? Yup, just reduce your current daily calorie intake by about 250 calories and see what happens then.
It honestly is that simple.
And with that, the most important part of your diet is all figured out and ready to go. Good job!
Now that you know how many calories you should eat per day to lose weight/lose fat, it’s time to figure out where those calories will come from.
First up is protein, which is the second most important part of every fat loss diet. Let’s find out why, and how much of it you should eat…
(This article is part of a completely free and amazingly awesome guide to creating the absolute best diet plan possible for your exact goal and preferences. Check out the entire guide here: The Best Diet Plan)