FAQs with an RD: How many calories should I eat to lose weight?

That’s a loaded question, but I get this one all the time! The good thing is that when I hear this question, I know that the person asking knows one key thing: weight loss is a simple equation. You must eat fewer calories than you burn in order to see the numbers on the scale decrease.

There are two ways to achieve weight loss. You can eat less or you can burn more. Unfortunately, as simple as the equation is, it’s just not always that easy to shed pounds. However, in order to achieve a goal you must know what the goal is! So get to know the magic number of calories you’re burning daily or your total daily energy expenditure.

I encourage you all to look at a variety of calculators that are available to you online. Your specific calorie goal is going to depend on age, sex and activity level. Free Dieting and ACE offer free tools to calculate your daily calorie intake needs.

Once you figure out that magic number, play around with it. See how many more calories you are allowed by increasing your activity level. To me, exercise is not only therapeutic, beneficial for your health and widely recommended by healthcare professionals … it also lets you EAT MORE. Seriously, play around with the calorie calculator on The Mayo Clinic’s website to see the difference.

Counting calories is not only a great way to lose weight. It’s a great way to keep yourself in check. There are a variety of apps that allow you to easily track the calories you consume throughout the day.

My favorite free app is MyFitnessPal. Another free app is Lose It!, which allows you to set specific weight loss goals and gives you a calorie budget to meet those. Each app has unique features and I think you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to track your daily food intake.

Whether you chose to count calories via an app or by doing the math, remember to be honest with your portions. I tell anyone who wants to start counting calories to lose weight to get out their measuring cups. See what 1 cup of oatmeal looks like, how 2 cups of popcorn fills your usual bowl, and just how small 4 ounces of chicken can appear on a dinner plate. The more knowledgeable you are about portions, the easier it will be to adjust your caloric intake.

Please remember that counting calories isn’t just for those who want to lose weight. It’s also important for those who have a high level of activity. Marathon runners and exercise junkies would benefit from seeing just how many calories they need to consume a day to either maintain weight or build muscle. Fueling your body is so important and I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t benefit from some serious calorie counting for a few days in a row.

I challenge you to download a free app or to get out a pencil and paper and track 3 days of intake and activity. See where you have deficits and where you overindulge. Get out your measuring cups and see just how many portions you’re eating. The more aware you are the more likely you’ll be able to meet your goals!