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!).