Calories: What are They and How Many Should I Eat?

There's no denying that we all want to live happy and healthy lives. We would all love to spring out of bed in the morning and go about our days with energy and vitality, though it can be hard to understand all that the health industry tells us regarding diet and exercise tips. For those looking to get healthy and lose weight, then one of the best things that you can do is understand your calorie needs and how to create a weight loss program with this understanding.

Many people all over the globe have heard the word "calories"- but most people still don't understand what this actually means. Our food labels tell us how many calories they have, as well as workouts telling us how many calories they burn, but if we don't know what a calorie is, it seems that this is little help to our weight loss journey.

To make sense of what a calorie is, and how we can start using all of the information about calories that is available to us in our diets, below we have given you some information to simplify this process.

What Exactly is a Calorie?

In the most basic terms, a calorie is the name for a unit of energy. It refers to the energy that we consume through the food we eat and the liquids we drink. In reference to 'burning' calories, this means the energy that we use through activity (physical AND mental).

In more complex terms, there are two different types of calories (small and large), though for the sake of simplicity, we will reference the main unit used in food packaging, and in research and popular media. So long as you use the same calorie reference for food and energy expenditure when calculating your own needs (later in this article) then it doesn't matter which type you reference.

Why do We Need Calories?

We need the energy to survive, and as calorie just means 'energy', then it is apparent that calories are vital for us to thrive and live. We need this energy for our entire body to function - our cells, organs, and brain. We need this energy to walk, breathe, talk, and think. Our energy (calories) comes from what we consume in food and drink, and this energy is burned through our body, in how it functions, and in any physical activity we do.

If we consume the right amount of calories that our body needs each day, then we are supporting our body to function. If our calories are too low, then our energy needs aren't being met. If we consume too many calories, then this is where health complications such as obesity occur.

How Many Calories do I Need?

So given that we know we need calories to survive and live a healthy life, how can we regulate the amount that we are consuming so we are fitting our needs, without consuming an excessive amount? It is vital to know here that everyone is different. The number of calories you need compared to the person next to you may be vastly different. The number of calories that is right for you depends on your weight, height, age, gender, and activity level.

There are rough daily averages that are used as a guideline for people, though it is important to be aware that this number is only a guide. Health authorities generally state that for a woman, 2200 to 2500 is a baseline. For men, around 2700 is suggested. Though if we were to take into account that everybody needs a different amount as each person's body genetics and lifestyle is different, these guidelines are not enough.

There are two different calculations you can use for your calorie needs. First, the BMR (base metabolic rate), which is the number of calories that your body needs to function purely without any additional physical movement. This means what your body burns through its organs functioning (if you were to stay in bed all day). It is the base of what your bodies organs need to survive. Second, the daily requirement calculation, which is the BMR plus the energy that you expend during the day. If you are a very active person, then your daily required calorie intake will be quite a bit more than your BMR.

How Many Calories We Need to Survive: BMR

This is the number you need to 'exist' without any extra activity. This calculation takes into account your age, sex, weight, and height. There are many online calculators you can use to find your BMR.

How Many Calories We Need to Thrive: Daily Requirement or TEE (total energy expenditure)

This is where you add the energy that you expend each day (through regular everyday movement and additional workouts) to your BMR. Again, online calculators can give you this amount. Below we have listed some of the recommended calculators to use.

There are a vast amount of online resources to assist in calculating your needs, as well as calculating different total daily amounts if you have goals for gaining, maintaining, or losing weight. Here are some of the best, most reliable online calculators.

The calorie-calculator gives in-depth results for you to consider if you want to gain, maintain, or lose weight. The different calorie daily amounts are based on a range of factors and take into account your energy expenditure.

The Calorie King Calculator is a simple tool for calculating different amounts to lose, maintain, and gain weight. Again, it takes into account a range of lifestyle factors.

How Many Calories Should I Consume to Lose Weight?

Obesity is one of the largest health concerns for people around the globe - especially in western countries, such as the U.S. Not only does obesity bring challenges for everyday life in physically moving the body, but other illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and bone and joint problems are all related. It is apparent that now more than ever, everyone should have access to the information and resources they need to know how to reduce their risk of obesity and maintain a healthy weight.

As you saw in the above calculations, you are given an amount that you can stick to in order to maintain your weight. This means you take in the same amount of calories that you burn. If you are looking to lose weight, then you need to create a deficit between the energy you intake and the energy you spend.This means that if you burn more energy than you consume in food and drinks, then you will begin burning your energy not through calories, but through the energy that is stored in your body. How is your energy stored? Through your body fat. So when you decrease your calorie consumption, and start burning more energy than you take in, then this is where weight loss is created.

The first step is to know your daily calorie needs (TEE - not BMR) and then either ramp up more exercise to burn more energy, whilst consuming that same amount or fewer calories than you regularly do if you are already active. An example of this is that if you subtract 300-500 calories from your regular calorie needs, your body starts to burn your stored energy (fat) as you have taken in less energy than it needed.

Tracking your calories that you consume each day, as well as the amount that you burn through physical activity is the way to go here. There are applications that you can use for daily tracking that can be super helpful.

Don't Take it Too Far

It is extremely important to know that if you are looking for long-term, sustainable weight management, then severely limiting calorie intake over a long period of time is very detrimental to your health.

It is true that the fewer calories you consume, the faster you lose weight, but this can not be sustained over a long period of time. There is a point where your body reacts severely to low-calorie intake (especially if it is below your BMR - because this is the rate your organs need to survive). Doctors advise that anything less than 1000 calories per day is very dangerous. This can create issues such as nausea, constipation, fatigue, and diarrhea, as well as interrupt normal organ functions, cardiovascular health, etc.

How to Put this all into Action?


The best way to make weight loss a sustainable, long-standing result is to not set yourself unrealistic goals to meet. If you do not have a short deadline and a limited amount of time to lose that 10 pounds, then you will feel less overwhelmed, and more able to create a routine of exercise and healthy eating that works for your lifestyle. One of the best ways to know what a sustainable, healthy goal for you will be, is consulting a medical professional to determine what your calorie needs are and what a healthy deficit range would be.


If you are using a daily calculator to track calorie intake and expenditure, then be as real and truthful as possible in the process. If you miss out on putting something in that you only 'snacked' on, or don't include things like beverages as well, then you are only hindering your own progress, as the numbers won’t match with the outcome. Many people may want to report consuming fewer calories than they actually did, but the trick here is to be as precise as possible, or to even overshoot the amount you eat just to be sure.


This is where your energy is burnt. If you up your amount of physical activity, then you can create a caloric deficit without having to severely restrict your intake. Cardiovascular health is supported by cardio exercise such as running, walking, swimming, or cycling and will help burn energy. Weighted workouts are especially great, because they increase your metabolism (energy burning) and create muscle mass, which assists in fat burn.


It's not just how much you eat that is important, but specifically what you eat that will be helpful for weight loss. Eating more protein-rich foods can help reduce cravings, reduce long-term weight gain, boost metabolism, and build lean muscle mass - all helpful for healthy weight management.

Eating high fibre foods are also handy as your body will respond with a healthier digestive functioning, to allow your food to run through your system smoothly. Fruits and vegetables are super high in fibre, and will make you feel fuller as eating an abundance of these will satiate your hunger. What's more, they are also a much lower calorie option than meats and processed and packaged foods.

In addition, always be sure to check the label on any packaged foods for serving sizes and calorie amounts. There are also great guides online for calorie amounts in fresh foods, which can help you track and calculate your progress.

Avoid drinking anything but water. Sugary drinks are one of the worst culprits for hindering diets. This will reduce sugar intake, which in turn reduces your insulin response to sugar (which makes your body more susceptible to storing fat). Drinking water in general can make you feel fuller before meals to stop overeating, as well as support your body’s flushing of toxins and reducing water weight and bloating.

Now that you have an understanding of what is meant by the word 'calorie', you are now able to take practical steps on your health journey. The first step is to calculate your BMR and then your daily requirement (TEE). If you consume less than your BMR, then you will cause illness in your body. To create weight loss, you can look at your current TEE and then make changes to your diet and exercise so that you are burning more than this amount. The calculations shown in this article can also give helpful tips on what amount you should aim for each day if you want to create weight loss. Consulting your doctor will also be very beneficial to you when you are creating these lifestyle changes to make sure you really are on the road to a healthier, happier life.