How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day To Drop Weight?

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Look at those measurements. That apple is huge.

So you’re asking the question “How many calories should I eat a day?” and you’re expecting a very straight-forward answer without much thought right? Unfortunately, things don’t work like that. Since your body is different than… everyone else in the entire world, calculating how many calories per day involves some calculation and adjustment based on you, personally.

First, we’ll take a look at how you can figure out how many calories your body burns while doing nothing (resting metabolic rate), make a small adjustment depending on how active of a lifestyle you have, and then you can decide how many calories you should consume based on what sort of body you want to end up with.

How Many Calories Do I Burn In A Day?

In order to determine how many calories should I eat to lose weight, you need to determine how many calories your body naturally burns right now. This is your resting metabolic rate. I’ve already written an article answering the question “How many calories do I burn in a day?”, but you can also make use of this calorie-burning calculator that will take some basic body stats and make a fairly close approximation.

BMR Calculator
Weight (lbs):
Height (inches):
Sex :


Consider Your Current Lifestyle Activity Level

That calorie calculator will let you know how efficient your body burns calories all by itself, but you also need to take into account how active your lifestyle is so you can make a minor adjustment and cut out a few more calories.

  • Sedentary
  • Light Activity
  • Moderately Active
  • Very Active
Sedentary Lifestyle

Someone leading a sedentary lifestyle is often referred to as a couch potato. Your job might consist of sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, or doing activities that require very minimal physical actions to complete. When you clock out for the day, you probably go home, fix yourself a meal and then plop down in front of the television until it’s time for bed.

Unfortunately for those sedentary people, with so little physical activities, there’s really no adjustment on your basal metabolic rate, and the only calories you ever burn are the ones you’re not eating. The vast majority of the overweight population lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Light Activity – Moderately Active

For people that lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle, but exercise 1-3 times a week, then you fall into the category of light activity or moderately active. You might spend all day at the office, but a couple times a week, you’ll put in your time to get that stunning physique.

Now, don’t get me wrong. People leading a light to moderately active lifestyle can still reach their weight loss and fitness goals. I did! I spend 8 hours a day in a cubicle and possibly a few more hours recording music on my home desktop, but 3 times a week, I’m in the gym for around an hour, working my muscles hard and burning fat. With this lifestyle, your body averages burning another 100-200 calorie each day.

Very Active

If you work at a construction site, spend all your time walking, lifting, or doing strenuous physical activities, then you have a very active lifestyle and it’ll buy you some more calories that you’re allowed to eat each day. This group gets the biggest calorie adjustment at about 300-500 calories knocked off the total.

Taking into account your basal metabolic rate and your lifestyle adjustment you should arrive at how many calories your body currently burns on a daily basis.This is the amount of calories your metabolism uses when you’re just sitting around doing nothing.

Know What You Want Your Body To Be

Of course, while you can do all the calculating that you want to determine how many calories your body already burns, this isn’t going to answer how many calories do I need a day does it? It really depends on your own personal fitness goals and what sort of body you want to end up with, so let’s take a look at some of your options…

The Body Builder
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Muscle Milk!

While I often don’t talk about what it takes to get the physique of a body builder, I’ll mention it here. What it really comes down to is eating a lot and lifting often. With this combination, you’ll become big and muscular with veins popping out all over (if that’s what you’re really into.)

It’s not uncommon for body builders to consume about 15 calories per lb of body weight that they already have. So, if you’re trying to gain lots of muscle and you currently weigh about 180 lbs, then how many calories should I eat a day is around 2700 calories each day.

You might be thinking, “Whoa! That’s way more than any nutritionist would advise. Won’t I just get bulky and look fat?” Well, the secret to bulking without putting on a lot of fat is cutting out the carbs. You’re body naturally creates glucose which is a stash of carbs stored in your muscles to use for physical activity and when you don’t eat as many carbs (about 2 g per lb of of body weight should do) your body burns stored fat and glucose to supply the energy you need. Use this eating routine along with a consistent weight-lifting schedule and you can have the body builder look in a few months.

However, when you cut out carbs, you’re really cutting out a large portion of calories as well. If you cut the calories, but keep packing on the lean protein, then you’ll be sure to build muscle while losing stored fat.

The Runway Model
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A model watching her weight...

Now, this subtitle might sound like exactly what you were looking for, but I want you to sit and think about what the body of the last runway model you saw looked like. Was it toned and impressive with an alluring athletic build? No! The typical runway model body is thin, almost sickly without even a hint of muscle tone.

And the road to a runway model is simple. They typically eat less than 1500 calories (watching the carbs again) and increase their progress with lots of a steady state cardio. Steady state cardio involves just jogging or doing some elliptical for a set amount of time, typically a half hour. Try this routine out for a few months and you should see the fat melt away (as well as your muscle tone).

The Fitness Model
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John Barban and his awesome physique.

The fitness model physique is for many, the ideal body. If you’ve seen any slim fitness models in any popular magazines, they all have the same similar traits:

  • V-shaped washboard abs
  • Noticeable muscle tone that doesn’t bulge or look veiny
  • Low body fat percentage

It’s this hybrid of both the body-builder and runway model that creates a visually stunning look that most people just can’t help but stare. Not to mention, when you remain slim but pack on muscle simultaneously your choice of clothes is still wide open as opposed to body-builders that are forced to purchase baggy jeans and XXL-sized t-shirts.

To achieve this sexy fitness model body, you really have to combine the exercise characteristics of a body-builder with the diet of a runway model. For example, John Barban was able to create his ideal body after eating very regimented calories every day for a year while consistently strength-training a few times each week in the gym. You can learn about his exact process in the Adonis Index.

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Mark Berkhan with his amazing low body fat percentage.

Martin Berkhan is another advocate of eating small and training big in order to achieve a muscular and lean body that anyone could appreciate. He’s developed his own system over at leangains.comwhere he talks about how he looks ripped at only 5% body fat.

And Visual Impact Muscle Building is another great source of fitness information to achieve the same results. Rusty Moore, the author, has been promoting the fitness model look through years of top-notch articles and intermittent fasting experience.

How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day?

You need to think about where you want to end up before you can think about how to start. As I’ve stated, there are a few different “routes” you can take to blow up with muscle, slim down to nothing, or achieve a physically fit medium. Mixed with a consistent exercise schedule, you can achieve these results.

I’ve been utilizing a series of intermittent fasting methods that I learned from Eat Stop Eat in order to keep my daily caloric intake down while keeping my energy levels up. And it’s not like it’s difficult to count your calories or anything. Take a look at the label and round it out. It’s simple math, but it’s a valuable tool to lose weight very easily.

P.S. If you're interested in the diet that I use when I want to get particularly lean, it's Eat Stop Eat. It's very progressive, and probably not like anything you've tried before.