How much calories should I eat and burn to lose fat?

Quick Summary

To lose fat, you need to be in a calorie deficit, meaning you burn more calories than you consume. A sustainable calorie deficit for fat loss is typically 500 calories per day. This would lead to about 1 pound of fat loss per week. The number of calories you should eat depends on your age, gender, activity levels, and other factors. A good starting point is to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) to estimate your maintenance calories. Then subtract 500 calories from your TDEE to determine your target calorie intake for weight loss. You can increase your calorie deficit further by burning extra calories through exercise. Aim for at least 250-500 calories burned through exercise daily. Monitor your rate of weight loss and adjust your calorie intake and exercise as needed over time.

How Many Calories To Eat For Fat Loss

To determine how many calories you should eat to lose fat, you first need to calculate your maintenance calorie needs, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE is the amount of calories your body burns in a day through basic functioning, digestion, and physical activity.

Here are the steps to determine your TDEE:

Step 1: Calculate Your BMR

Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories your body needs to perform basic life-sustaining functions like breathing, heartbeat, brain function, and hormone production. It does not include the calories burned through physical activity.

You can use the Mifflin-St. Jeor formula to calculate your BMR:

For men:
BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5

For women:
BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161

So for example, a 30 year old man who is 180 cm tall and weighs 80 kg would have a BMR of:
10 x 80 kg = 800
6.25 x 180 cm = 1125
5 x 30 years = 150
+ 5
BMR = 1780 calories

Step 2: Factor in Your Activity Level

Your BMR only accounts for your basal calorie needs. Next, you need to factor in the additional calories you burn through daily activities and exercise. This is represented by your activity factor:

– Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
– Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
– Moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
– Very active (hard exercise 6-7 days/week): BMR x 1.725
– Extra active (very hard exercise & physical job): BMR x 1.9

Using the example above with a BMR of 1780 calories:

If lightly active:
1780 x 1.375 = 2445 calories per day

Step 3: Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is your BMR multiplied by your activity factor.

For the example above:
TDEE = BMR x Activity Factor
= 1780 x 1.375
= 2445 calories/day

So this hypothetical 30 year old lightly active man has a TDEE of 2445 calories. This means he needs about 2445 calories per day to maintain his current weight.

Creating a Calorie Deficit for Weight Loss

Now that you know your maintenance calories, you can determine the calorie deficit needed to lose fat.

A common recommendation is to cut 500 calories per day from your TDEE to lose about 1 pound (0.45kg) per week. This equates to a 3500 calorie deficit per week, which is the approximate number of calories in 1 pound of fat.

So using the example above with a TDEE of 2445 calories:

2445 calories (maintenance)
– 500 calorie deficit
= 1945 calories per day to lose 1 lb per week

The 500 calorie daily deficit can be increased to boost fat loss, but should not exceed 1000 calories below your TDEE. Very low calorie diets below 1200 calories per day for women and 1500 for men are not recommended without medical supervision.

You can also increase your deficit through exercise. Adding 250-500 calories of exercise per day can help you lose fat faster while still eating a moderate calorie diet.

Here are some general calorie intake guidelines for fat loss based on a 500 calorie daily deficit:

TDEE Calorie Intake For 1 lb/Week Loss
1500 calories 1000 calories
2000 calories 1500 calories
2500 calories 2000 calories
3000 calories 2500 calories

These are just estimates. Track your rate of weight loss and adjust your calorie intake as needed over time. Those with more weight to lose can sustain a larger deficit, while smaller individuals may need to be closer to maintenance.

Nutrition Tips For Fat Loss

When reducing calories for fat loss, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods with adequate protein. Here are some tips:

– Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables at meals. They provide bulk and nutrients with minimal calories.

– Prioritize lean protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt and protein powder. Protein is satiating and helps retain muscle while losing fat.

– Eat plenty of fiber from vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Fiber promotes fullness.

– Limit added sugar, refined grains and heavily processed foods. These are high in calories but poor in nutrients.

– Stay hydrated by drinking water, unsweetened tea and coffee. Being sufficiently hydrated may help curb overeating.

– Pay attention to portion sizes. Measure portions with a food scale or use your hand as a reference.

– Cook at home more often to control ingredients and portions.

– Slow down and chew thoroughly while eating. This promotes fullness with less food.

Following a high protein, fiber-rich, whole food diet can help satisfy hunger while cutting calories for fat loss.

How Many Calories To Burn For Fat Loss

Creating a calorie deficit through diet is typically more impactful for weight loss than exercise alone. However, adding physical activity provides enormous health and fitness benefits.

Aim to burn 250-500 calories per day through exercise. This helps increase your calorie deficit for faster fat loss.

Here are some estimates for calories burned through various exercises:

Exercise Calories burned (for 185 lb / 84 kg person)*
Walking (3.5 mph) 300 calories per 60 minutes
Jogging (5 mph) 475 calories per 60 minutes
Hiking 370 calories per 60 minutes
Swimming (leisurely laps) 300 calories per 60 minutes
Bicycling (12-14 mph) 590 calories per 60 minutes
Weight Lifting (general) 220 calories per 60 minutes

*For a 125 lb (57 kg) person, multiply calories burned by 0.7. For a 205 lb (93 kg) person, multiply calories burned by 1.1.

Aim for a mix of cardio like walking, jogging or biking and strength training using weights, resistance bands or bodyweight exercises. This allows you to maximize fat burning while retaining and building muscle.

Shoot for at least 150-250 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise per week. This roughly equates to 30-60 minutes per day. You can start lower and gradually increase the duration and intensity.

Perform full body strength training 2-3 days per week. Work major muscle groups like legs, hips, back, chest, shoulders and arms. Lift challenging weights that fatigue muscles by the last few repetitions of each set.

By tailoring your exercise program and diet together, you can optimize your rate of fat loss and improve body composition. Adjust your calorie intake and exercise as needed over time based on your progress.

Example Fat Loss Plans

Here are two examples of calorie intake and exercise plans to safely lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week:

Example 1:

– TDEE: 2500 calories
– Daily Calorie Intake For Weight Loss: 2000 calories (500 calorie deficit)
– Exercise:
– 45 min walk (300 calories burned)
– 30 min jog (350 calories burned)
– 60 min weight lifting (220 calories burned)
– Total extra calories burned: 870
– Daily Calorie Deficit From Diet And Exercise: 500 + 870 = 1370 calories
– Expected Weekly Fat Loss: 1.7 lbs

Example 2:

– TDEE: 3000 calories
– Daily Calorie Intake For Weight Loss: 2500 calories (500 calorie deficit)
– Exercise:
– 60 min cycling (450 calories burned)
– 30 min strength training (150 calories burned)
– Total extra calories burned: 600
– Daily Calorie Deficit From Diet And Exercise: 500 + 600 = 1100 calories
– Expected Weekly Fat Loss: 1.25 lbs

These examples create a reasonable daily calorie deficit through a combination of diet and exercise modifications for sustainable fat loss over time.

Tracking Progress

Be sure to track your rate of weight loss, energy levels and other metrics when reducing calories for fat loss. Aim to lose 1-2 pounds maximum per week. Losing weight faster than this can indicate too large of a calorie deficit.

Weigh yourself regularly under consistent conditions, preferably in the morning after using the bathroom. Take weekly body measurements as well. Pictures can also help track visual changes in your body composition.

Adjust your calorie intake and exercise as needed based on your rate of fat loss and how you feel overall. Your caloric needs may decrease as you lose weight. So continuing to monitor your progress and making modifications overtime is key.

Some temporary fluctuations in weight due to changes in water retention and bowel movements are normal. Pay attention to the overall trend in weight over a period of at least several weeks.

Staying patient, consistent and making sustainable diet and lifestyle changes leads to lasting fat loss and better health.


Creating a moderate calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories per day through diet and exercise is an effective strategy to lose fat at a rate of 1-2 pounds per week. Calculate your TDEE to estimate your maintenance calories. Then subtract 500 calories to determine your target intake for fat loss. Increase your deficit through 250-500 calories of cardio and strength training exercise daily. Focus on nutrient-dense whole foods that provide satisfaction. Track your rate of weight loss over time and adjust your calories as needed. Combining a controlled calorie intake with consistent exercise will help you successfully transform your body composition.

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