Educators, Dietitians, Nurses, Mental Health & Fitness Professionals
Menu Planning & Recipes

Choosing a Calorie Level
for Weight Loss

Notice: NOV-2014
This chart will be updated so that "expected weight loss values" are fine-tuned to reflect the varying composition of lost weight (FM/LBM ratio) expected with average assumed body composition at various weight levels. This fine-tuning will result mainly in slightly lower expected weight loss for BMIs of 40 and above. 

What is generally recommended is that you choose a calorie target that leads to 1- to 2-pounds of weight loss per week. To be more precise up to 2% of your current weight is considered a safe and healthy rate, so for many people (those with more weight to lose) more than two pounds a week is fine. However, the MINIMUM level not to go below for women is 1,000-calories, and for men is 1,200-calories.

However, I personally think it wiser and smarter to choose a higher calorie intake target that is easier to follow (actually stick to) without feeling like you're starving yourself! For example, an 205-pound female would need to eat just 1,000-calories per day to lose 2-pounds in a week. In my personal experience it's nearly impossible to eat that low (even for a 150- or 140-pound woman who has lower energy needs). Therefor, I would recommend a more doable target of 1,400-calories per day where her expected weight loss would be 1.2-pounds per week. Then, if she also did the recommended level of physical activity (2,000-calories per week) that would add another 0.6-pounds to her loss for a total of 1.8-pounds for the week. That is, in my opinion, a much better approach.

Note that your rate of weight loss slows as you lose weight--smaller bodies have smaller energy needs. So, you will need to continue to adjust your calorie intake target down to maintain the rate of weight loss you prefer.

Here's a chart where you can quickly determine the expected weight loss from different calorie intake targets for men and women. [Enlarge chart]

PLEASE NOTE: In the first week to ten or 14-days of any diet most (60 to 75%) of the "weight" you appear to lose on the scale is actually water (see my article on weight loss plateaus).

Additionally, it's normal to have a 1- to 2-pound fluctuation in daily body weight due to shifts in body water. Daily weights, taken at the same time (usually in the morning after elimination) will give you the best picture of the trend in weight change.