Reducing the number of calories you eat per day can be an effective weight loss method (
However, figuring out exactly how many calories you should be eating can be tricky, as it often depends on a variety of factors, including your age, sex, size, and activity level, among others.
The number of calories you should eat per day depends on numerous factors, including your age, sex, height, current weight, activity level, and metabolic health, among several others.
When trying to lose weight, a general rule of thumb is to reduce your calorie intake to 500 fewer calories than your body needs to maintain your current weight. Doing so can help you lose about 1 pound (0.45 kg) of body weight per week (
However, it’s important to ensure that you’re eating enough calories to provide your body with the nutrients it needs, even if you’re trying to lose weight.
For example, many fad diets recommend restricting your calorie intake to around 1,000–1,200 calories per day, which is not enough for most healthy adults.
Cutting your calorie intake too drastically can not only cause several serious side effects but also increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies and result in metabolic changes that make long-term weight maintenance difficult (
Here’s a closer look at how many calories you should eat, based on recommendations from the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (7).
Calorie needs for women can depend on their age, size, and activity level.
Most women between the ages of 19–30 require 2,000–2,400 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Women between the ages of 31–59 have slightly lower energy needs. Generally, women in this age group should aim to consume 1,800–2,200 calories per day to maintain their body weight.
Women over age 60 generally require even fewer calories and typically need to consume around 1,600–2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight (7).
Keep in mind that the exact number of calories that you need may fall on the high or low end of this range, depending on how active you are, along with your height, weight, and health status.
As is the case for women, calorie needs for men can range based on a variety of factors.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans estimates that men between the ages of 19–30 should consume approximately 2,400–3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Energy needs decrease as you get older. In fact, men between the ages of 31–59 need about 2,200–3,000 calories per day to maintain their weight (7).
Meanwhile, men who are over 60 generally require 2,000–2,600 calories per day to maintain their weight.
Men who are very active or have certain health conditions may require a higher number of calories. The number of calories that you need can also vary within this range based on your height and weight.
Children have widely varying calorie needs based on their age, size, and activity level.
Energy needs for children and teens vary based on their sex and age. A 3-year-old child might need only 1,200 calories, but a teenager can require closer to 3,000 calories (7).
However, keep in mind that there’s typically no need to count calories for growing children and teens.
In fact, cutting a child’s calorie intake can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies, slow growth, and foster an unhealthy relationship with food or an eating disorder (
Instead of counting calories, it’s best to focus on encouraging healthy, nutrient-dense foods, cooking more meals and snacks at home, and promoting regular physical activity for kids and teens.
Simply put, a calorie is a unit that measures energy. Calories are usually used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages.
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns each day. Conversely, to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you expend (
Keep in mind that while the “calories in, calories out” concept of weight loss may seem simple, many factors contribute to weight loss or the inability to lose weight, including medical diagnoses, hormonal changes, genetics, age, and more (
Developing a healthy diet and lifestyle plan that will help you lose weight and keep it off in the long term requires much more than determining your current calorie needs and then eating fewer calories on a daily basis (
Although decreasing the number of calories you consume can be effective for weight loss, cutting calories without considering which foods you eat is not a sustainable way to lose weight.
For example, choosing more nutrient-dense foods — think whole grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits — will benefit your health more than opting for nutrient-poor ones like soda, donuts, and candy.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended to make a few other changes to your diet and lifestyle, which can help you maintain a calorie deficit in the long run without feeling hungry or deprived.
Here are 5 simple strategies that may help you lose weight.
1. Eat more protein
When it comes to losing weight, protein is incredibly important.
Therefore, if you want to achieve long-lasting, sustainable weight loss, consider increasing your protein intake by adding foods like eggs, meat, poultry, tofu, nuts, seeds, or legumes to your diet.
Increasing your protein intake can help you stay satisfied and consume fewer calories. This may help you lose weight and keep it off.
2. Limit sugary drinks
Another relatively easy change you can make is to limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas, fruit juices, chocolate milk, and other beverages with added sugar.
Your brain doesn’t register liquid calories the same way as it registers solid calories, so they less significantly affect your feelings of hunger and satiety (
The harmful effects of sugar also go far beyond weight gain. In fact, added sugar can contribute to other health issues, including heart disease, liver problems, and type 2 diabetes (
Sugar-sweetened beverages are high in calories and added sugar. Additionally, they affect your hunger and satiety less significantly than solid foods and have been linked to a higher risk of obesity.
3. Drink more water
One simple thing you can do for your health is drink more water.
Adequate hydration is associated with improved brain health and weight management, as well as a reduced kidney stone risk (
When combined with a healthy diet, drinking more water, especially before meals, appears to be helpful if you need to lose weight. Try other unsweetened beverages like coffee, tea, and sparkling water to meet your hydration needs.
Some studies have shown that drinking water may improve your health and help you eat fewer calories by increasing your feelings of fullness.
When you eat fewer calories, your body compensates by saving energy, making you burn fewer calories. As such, long-term calorie restriction can significantly slow your metabolism and lead to a loss of muscle over time.
Resistance-training activities like weightlifting have been shown to prevent muscle loss and stop your metabolism from slowing during long-term calorie restriction (
If you can’t get to a gym, consider doing bodyweight exercises, such as pushups, squats, and situps, at home.
Cardio exercises, such as walking, swimming, or jogging, can also be important — both for increasing weight loss and supporting overall health (
Additionally, exercise has a variety of other benefits that go beyond weight loss, such as increased longevity, enhanced energy levels, improved mental health, and a decreased risk of chronic disease (
Resistance training can help prevent muscle loss and keep your metabolism from slowing when cutting calories. Cardio exercises can also help support other aspects of health.
5. Reduce your intake of refined carbs
The term “refined carbs” refers to grains that have lost their bran and germ, including white bread, pasta, crackers, and white rice. It also includes sugar and other sweeteners.
Refined grains typically lack fiber, which supports weight loss by decreasing your appetite and increasing feelings of fullness (
Eating fewer carbs, including fewer refined carbs, may also promote weight loss by altering levels of specific hormones that regulate your appetite, such as peptide YY (
While a low carb or ketogenic diet definitely isn’t right for everyone, filling your diet with a variety of nutrient-dense, fiber-rich carb sources — such as whole grains, root vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes — and cutting down on refined carbs can be beneficial.
Refined carbs are low in fiber, which can help regulate your appetite and increase feelings of fullness. Choose more complex carbs and nutrient-dense options like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
Although counting calories can be an effective strategy for weight loss, it’s important to remember that there are many other factors to consider when choosing what and how to eat.
Instead of focusing solely on the number of calories found in foods, it’s best to concentrate on following a well-rounded diet that’s rich in a variety of nutritious, whole foods.
This can help ensure that you’re getting the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that your body needs to support weight management and your overall health.
If you do decide to cut calories, you should be careful not to decrease your intake too much, as this could cause several serious side effects, including increased hunger, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and nausea (
Consuming too few calories can also slow your metabolism, making it harder to maintain weight loss in the long term (
Losing weight in a sustainable way also takes time. Fast and quick weight loss strategies shouldn’t be the focus, but rather small and sustainable changes.
Calorie counting also isn’t an exact science. Some days your body will need more calories, while on other days it’ll need fewer calories. Focusing exclusively on numbers and weight can also lead to disordered eating (29).
Cutting calories too much can harm your health and make it harder to maintain weight loss. Instead of focusing only on calories, concentrate on following a well-rounded diet that’s rich in nutritious, whole foods.
Many websites and apps can help you track your calorie intake.
You can try using a calorie counter or tracker for at least a few days to see the amount of calories, carbs, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals you’re actually eating.
This can be an easy and effective way to identify any gaps in your diet and make modifications to ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs.
How many calories you need per day depends on whether you want to maintain, lose, or gain weight, as well as various other factors, such as your sex, age, height, current weight, activity level, and metabolic health.
Although counting the number of calories that you consume can be beneficial for weight management, it’s also important to consider the overall nutritional value of the foods you eat and follow a well-rounded diet.
Making simple dietary and lifestyle changes, including exercising, drinking plenty of water, and increasing your protein intake, can help you lose weight and improve your health.