How Many Calories a Day Does Your Body Need?

You're gazing down at the muffin top feeling defeated.  You tell yourself it's "diet time."  A quick hop onto the internet doesn't help much.  There are so many diets out there and the calorie counts range from zero for those detox cleanses up to 2,000 calories per day.  How on earth do you figure out what you need? The only way to truly know is to go through testing, probably at a research lab, to determine you're exact calorie needs per day.  But there is a rule of thumb you can use. I spoke with nutritionist Nicole Cormier to determine the guidelines.  Nicole is a registered dietician who has been working with the obese population for quite some time.  She also uses a device called the BodyGem which can quickly determine your calorie needs.  It's one of the more accurate gadgets out there. "The average for women is 11 calories per pound and for men it's 14 calories per pound," says Nicole.  "But I've seen it go from 4.5 calories to 16 calories per pound." So yes, there's quite a bit of fluctuation; my guess is you already know if you're on the low or high end of the spectrum based on what you already eat and what the scale reads.  Below is a chart for men and women's calorie needs for your basal metabolic rate.  Your BMR is the lowest level of calories you need to burn just to maintain normal bodily functions.  It doesn't include any exercise or daily activities. Step 1:  Find your BMR on the chart below
Weight Women's BMR Men's BMR
100 1100 1400
105 1155 1470
110 1210 1540
115 1265 1610
120 1320 1680
125 1375 1750
130 1430 1820
135 1485 1890
140 1540 1960
145 1595 2030
150 1650 2100
155 1705 2170
160 1760 2240
165 1815 2310
170 1870 2380
175 1925 2450
180 1980 2520
185 2035 2590
190 2090 2660
195 2145 2730
200 2200 2800
205 2255 2870
210 2310 2940
215 2365 3010
220 2420 3080
225 2475 3150
Step 2:  Take the percentage below and multiply that by your BMR number
  • Sedentary: you are a couch potato, 20%
  • Lightly Active: you lightly move around during the day, 30%
  • Moderately Active: you exercise most days of the week for about 30 minutes, 40%
  • Very Active: you strenuously work out most days of the week for more than 30 minutes, 50%
  • Intensely Active: you train as an athlete or have a physically demanding job, 60%
So say you're a moderately active woman who weighs 150 pounds.  Here's the math: 1,650 + (1,650 X 40%) = 2,310 calories per day to maintain weight. How to plot a diet Now for the final stage. Say our woman above wants to lose 10 pounds.  There are two approaches:
  1. Cut 500 calories per day from her diet until she reaches her goal weight, which means she'd diet at 1,810 calories per day; or...
  2. Eat the number of calories appropriate for a woman who weighs 140 pounds, which would be 2,156 calories.
The second method will be more pleasant but will take longer.  However, getting into the habit and mindset of being a 140 pound woman will already be established when you reach your goal weight and you'll have no problems maintaining because it's what you've been doing all along. Just a little side note; as you lose weight or change exercise patterns you'll have to adjust accordingly.  Let me know what you think of this approach.  I was surprised at the number of calories I could eat; it was quite a bit more than I thought. By the way, I did have the BodyGem test that Nicole uses and I came out at 13 calories per pound per day.  So I'm lucky, I almost have the metabolism of a guy. (Thank you Mom and Dad for the DNA!). Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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16 Responses to How Many Calories a Day Does Your Body Need?

  1. Joe Williams May 10, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    The BMR table and calculation is a valuable and informative way of looking at target caloric intake. Thanks for sharing, Lisa. What are your favorite resources for determining the caloric value of foods?

  2. Lisa Johnson May 10, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Thanks Joe :-) I appreciate it, it took a while to put this post together! :-) Lisa

  3. Emily May 10, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Great post Lisa- concise and super helpful!

  4. Lisa Johnson May 10, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    Thanks Emily, it was fun to put together, I learned something too :-)

  5. ladylisa1 May 11, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    I like the article on this. I am gonna do mine right now :)

  6. Debbie @The Hip Hostess May 11, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Great information here. Very helpful! Now I know how much I need to cut to reach my weight loss goal! Thank you much!

  7. Lisa Johnson May 11, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    Thanks Debbie, that’s why I do this blog, to help! :-) L–

  8. Sherry July 17, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    Thanks for doing this! I’ll be forwarding it to all of my clients.

  9. Lisa Johnson July 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    Great Sherry, I’d love to get the word out!

  10. Deb June 11, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    So why does your BMR chart only go up to 225 lbs? Seems to me that an awful lot of overweight men and women weigh more than that, and as you said, one of the issues is finding accurate information.

  11. Peter Rosemann January 10, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Hi, I find your numbers way out of line.
    I am following a Jenny Craig system. I presently weigh 205 and am on a 1500 calorie per day diet. That, according to them, should allow me to drop 2 pounds a week. With your numbers, I can eat 3018 calories and lose the same weight. Something is not right here.

    Last year I started at 236.5 Jan 25th, by Sept 20th, I was down to 178 using their approach. I have to lose some weight because of the holidays.

    Can you get back to me with your thoughts?

    [email protected]

  12. Lisa Johnson January 11, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    Hi Peter, it’s been a while so I re read my post. :-) These numbers are general only and as I said in the post can range by a LOT. The Jenny Craig system works through severe calorie restriction if it’s going for 2 pounds per week and as you experienced has a rebound effect because your metabolism slowed so that when you slacked off for the holidays they came running right back. All of that being said, to get a truly definitive answer you would need to check with a doctor or health clinic and get a body measurement similar to the one talked about in the post. Good luck with your weight loss journey and congrats on all the success you’ve had so far. L–

  13. Hasu June 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    When you say strenuous (50%) what do you mean calorie loss wise? Thanks

  14. Brando September 24, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    I know you have stated that this table is for an average of those that have higher metabolisms or supposedly the average. I am a athletic military male and can tell you that your chart is more closely related to the semi active life of an office working member from the start. To add 20 percent for sedentary is too much. The table is spot on for just about most that already live a normal everyday life plus a short trip to the gym. In fact your 2600 calories for a 190 lb male (me) is what I use for most lifting days with my everyday living. On cardio days I may need just a few more calories to equal that days burn. So the table here would be a better start for overall calories in my opinion. I would suggest starting there and add or subtrac calories as needed. But overall a great article just on the high side in my opinion concerning the table. ~Active athletic 9% body fat male in the air force.

  15. Donna Naumann February 24, 2015 at 7:43 am #

    I love the chart. I tell patients all the time this is not a fictional number. IT IS A real number and using SMART goals will help you get there along with realistic numbers identified to loose. Thanks for you chart, it helps millions. Me included.

  16. Harry April 14, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    Careot nutrition and calorie tracker app for tracking calorie intake to help you .Careot help how do I track my calories, make a food plan, and set a weight … your progress toward that goal based on caloric intake and burn.

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