A Loaded Question: How Many Calories to Lose Weight?

One thing we are sure of here at 8fit is that counting calories is not the key to weight loss. Sure, the thought of being able to calculate your way to weight loss sounds nice, but it’s just not realistic. This comes down to a number of factors that contribute to weight loss, think: metabolism, quality of food, daily movement, hormones, hydration, stress-levels and more.

That said, at a very basic level, a calorie deficit will get you one step closer to losing weight. However, there is a healthy way and unhealthy way to do this. To calculate how many calories to lose weight, you must consider your individual factors.

Who are you?

Fear not, we’re not trying to be philosophical here. Instead, when you sign up for 8fit, we ask you a few essential questions centered around your current lifestyle and physical traits. These questions are a starting point that helps establish where you are on your health and fitness journey and how you reach your goals. Here’s why:

  • What’s your main goal? We want to know if you want to lose weight, gain muscle or get fitter. Understanding your goal helps us tailor a plan take you where you want to go.
  • What’s your gender? Gender (and by gender, we’re referring here to your current physiological sex) plays a role in weight loss for few reasons main reasons. The main one is that, men tend to have more muscle mass than women, which burns more calories than body fat. As a result, men will need a slightly higher caloric intake compared to women no matter their end goal.
  • How old are you? As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass and our metabolisms slow down. This impacts our ability to lose weight and keep it off. Sure this isn’t the most accurate measure of your metabolism, but it gives us a general idea.
  • How tall are you? How much do you weigh? Knowing your height and current weight at in the onboarding process helps us calculate a healthy and sustainable weight loss or muscle gain plan. Especially for weight loss, we want to ensure that you’re losing weight at a steady, sustainable rate (no yo-yo dieting here.)
  • Estimate your current body fat: As we say, this one is just an estimation. It gives us a general idea of your fat weight vs. muscle weight. Also as this is hard to do, we’ll give you a few visual references for comparison to make the process easier.
  • What’s your body fat target? This final question when you sign up gives us an idea of how much fat you want to lose and how toned you’d like your body to be. Achieving this result is possible by coupling a healthy meal plan and effective fitness routine, but it’s by no means a guarantee. Remember that so many different factors contribute to you reaching your goal and the 8fit team is here to support you in as many ways as possible.

General recommendations for caloric deficits

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says it best, “Healthy weight loss isn’t just about a ‘diet’ or ‘program.’ It’s about an ongoing lifestyle that includes long-term changes in daily eating and exercise habits.” Research shows that it’s healthy to lose about one or two pounds per week and those who lose weight at this rate tend to be more successful in keeping the weight off long-term compared to individuals following “lose weight quickly” plans.

According to the research in the report, “Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults,” a reasonable timeline for weight loss is to achieve a 10 percent reduction in body weight over a six-month period. In the study, overweight individuals (BMI of 27 to 35) could lose ½ to one pound per week by simply reducing their caloric intake by 300 to 500 calories per day resulting in a 10 percent reduction in six months. For obese individuals (BMI over 35), deficits of 500 to 1,000 calories per day will result in losing one to two pounds per week to hit that six-month goal.

After this initial loss, the study suggests that individuals enter the second phase of weight loss where diet, physical activity, and behavior therapy become more important. Here’s how we tackle these topics at 8fit:

  • Diet: We believe in making healthy eating accessible. The first thing we suggest is that every 8fitter drinks more water and steers clear of sugary drinks and processed snacks. From there, our meal plans allow you to exclude different ingredients (based on allergies or flavor and dietary preferences) and select the number of times you’d like to eat per day. You can also swap out recipes, putting you in the driver’s seat; after all, this is your health we’re talking about.
  • Physical activity: Moving your body is a great way to improve your cardiovascular health and help you get closer to reaching your weight loss goal. Workouts like walking, jogging, dancing or HIIT burn calories. In fact, our favorite HIIT workouts help you burn more calories in a shorter amount of time — sometimes only eight minutes!
  • Behavior therapy: Basically this boils down to shift in behavior and making healthy habits stick. Start simple by swapping one unhealthy habit for a healthier one. After focusing on that one for a week or two, add the next. Some of our favorite habit swaps are:
    • Drink water instead of your morning OJ or afternoon soda
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
    • Park further away or get off public transport one stop early
    • BYO-breakfast or lunch

Wait, so how many calories should I eat to lose weight?

We aren’t giving you a straight answer on purpose because there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this loaded “how many calories to lose weight” question.

There are approximately 3,500 calories in one pound of body fat. This means that if you decrease your daily caloric intake by 500 calories per day,  in theory, you’ll lose one pound of fat per week. But, here’s where you need to be careful: if you’re also adding daily workouts to your routine, you might not want to decrease your daily calories so dramatically as your body needs fuel for when working out and exercise burns calories.

Another thing that matters big time is the quality of the food you consume. For example, if you’re getting all of your calories from sugary cereals, French fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches, your body won’t get the nutrients it needs to function properly. You’ll feel quite tired and you’ll compromise your fitness routine. Instead aim to get calories from protein-rich, fiber-filled whole foods — 510 calories of nutrient-dense salad does not match up with 510 calories of large McDonald’s fries.

How to calculate a caloric deficit

If you’re using the 8fit app, you can rest assured knowing that we calculate all this for you. Your daily meal plan will have a caloric deficit suitable for healthy and sustainable weight loss. If you’re using the free version of the app (without a meal plan), you’ll need to calculate calories on your own, so let’s discuss how.

If you’ve ever taken time to examine a nutrition label, you’ve probably noticed the disclaimer, “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” Factors like your gender, age, activity level, metabolism, and overall health influence your personal caloric needs. According to the USDA, the recommended calorie needs for a 35-year-old woman who is moderately active is 2,000 calories. Let’s say that, currently, this woman weighs 175 pounds and would like to lose weight at a healthy rate of ½ to one pound per week for a 10 percent weight decrease over six months (17.5-pound loss). If her activity level remains the same, she could simply consume about 340 fewer calories per day — 1,600 instead of 2,000.

How we got there:

  • 175 pounds (current weight) * .10 (10 percent loss) = 17.5 pounds
  • 17.5 pounds / 6 (6 months) = 2.9 pounds per month
  • 2.9 pounds * 3,500 calories (the amount in one pound of fat) = 10,150 calories (the deficit needed per month)
  • 10,150 calories / 30 days = 338-calorie deficit per day

The above is by no means the most accurate way to calculate weight loss goals. Nonetheless, we hope this gives you a clear idea of what it takes to lose weight healthily and for the long-term. One thing that’s critical to keep in mind: Weight loss isn’t easy, and each person’s body is unique.

Sign up for 8fit to make weight loss healthier.