How Many Calories Do I Need a Day?

by in Diet Tips, Diets, Kitchen Sink, Sports Nutrition, Weight Gain, Weight Loss June 27, 2008

weightloss.jpgBy Bonnie Pfiester, Fitness Trainer.

The million dollar question: “How many calories should I eat?”

Someone’s caloric allowance varies depending upon a person’s activity, weight and metabolism. One of the best places to start is by looking at the most popular brand name diets. Why do many brand named diets work? Brand name diets work because most of them are based on 1200 to 1500 calories no matter what food combinations they tell you to eat. Just look at these examples:

  • South Beach Diet – 1200-1500 calories
  • Atkins Diet – 1500 calories
  • Sugar Busters – 1300 calories
  • Low-Carb Diet – 1400 calories
  • Jenny Craig – 1200-1500 calories
  • Weight Watchers – 1500 calories
  • Cabbage Soup Diet – 1000-1500 calories
  • The Zone – 1000 – 1500 calories

You basically need to take in fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. The greater the deficit – the greater the weight loss. The question is how fast do you want to lose the weight? A caloric allowance or a brand name diet may seem low, but they give you plenty of room for error. Take into consideration most people miss calories and/or under estimate calories recorded during the journaling process.

If your caloric allowance is too close to your approximate calories burned, you may not be leaving enough room for error and not getting the results you want. It takes a 3500 calorie defecit to lose one pound. That means, if you reduce your calories by 500 calories a day you would lose 1 pound a week…or reduce your caloric intake by 1000 calories a day to lose 2lbs a week.

The average American eats nearly 3790 calories a day. Now, that doesn’t mean the person actually eats 4,000 calories a day – it could mean they eat 2,000 calories a day during the week, and on the weekends they consume enough restaurant meals and drinks to increase the overall average. This is also why American feels like they are living on a diet – most Americans diet during the week and screw it all up on the weekend….creating what I call “the never-ending diet plan”.

I bet you are saying “I know I don’t eat that many calories” and of course you probably don’t. That’s just a national average and you are probably already more aware of what you eat, putting you on the lower end of the average.


The only way to know exactly what you are eating is to journal your food by writing everything you eat down and documenting the number of calories in each item.

Most people’s mistake is they are not consistent. They key to success is dieting 7 days a week so your daily caloric intake for the week averages to be 1200-1500 calories. Just think of it like checks in balances with your bank account. You can save everyday, but all it takes is one bad shopping day to wipe out all your hard work.


Bonnie Pfiester is a Personal Trainer and owner of the health club Longevity Fitness. You can enjoy more of Bonnie’s fitness and beauty articles at .

You are invited to leave your fitness and sports nutrition questions in the comments below for Bonnie to briefly answer or write about in future articles.

  1. Lol, an excellent article with a good example at the last. A diet process should be active 24×7 to get rid of excess pounds. Jotting down the calories of every meal is good process to review. I request people to loose weight in a healthy way…

  2. Great point Bonnie! I love how you hi-lighted the similarities of all the different diets. In my mind they are all the same thing pretty much. Every diet is “hype” accept for calorie counting and whole foods eating.

    Most of the diets are also so strict that most people can’t really follow them for very long. They are great for motivating people to be healthy for a short time and get them interested in changing their eating…but they are still pretty extreme. Especially the cabbage soup diet. I think if the average person just stuck with a 2000 calorie a day diet and exercised 30-60 minutes a day that they wouldn’t need to worry as much about being on a low calorie diet. It is the weekend indulgences that tend to catch up with us though.

  3. Hi Bonnie,

    Great points about how the big name diets work because it all comes down to calories. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Years ago it was all about counting calories, then “someone” said “NO”, you don’t have to count calories. We’ve come full circle and are back to the basics – calories.

  4. Amen to that.

    I take only one single exception, and not to the article itself but to the whole trend of “dieting”.

    If one diets for a while, losses weight and than goes back to the old eating habits, that’s pretty much useless. That person will gain the weight back in no time.
    One has to change the eating habits for good if one wants to keep the weigh off.

    That said – very nicely put. Any of those diets do the same bloody thing – keep the calorie count low. One can just roll her own diet plan 😛

    There’s plenty info on the net on how many calories this or that piece of food has. It’s easy to count and it has to be only an approximate, ballpark figure. +-100 calories at the end of the day don’t make too much difference, everything else taken in consideration.

    Thanks for the great article, as usual.


  5. You are right Rain! I tell everyone all the time – you should only be doing one of two things – Dieting or Maintaining …but NEVER off! People diet and then when they hit there goal, the completely go “off” their diet and basically quit. It’s funny – you’d never do that with your finances. Can you imagine? Pay off all your bills, get your credit score up and then once you got the credit score you wanted and your monthly bills are paid you just quit balancing the checkbook and write as many checks as you want. Ha!

    The key is holding yourself accountable all the time…just like you said – it’s something you have to change for good – it’s a complete lifestyle change. People need to understand we all get burned out, but instead of quiting or going off the diet completely, we can just losen up the reigns for a bit and then get right back on it. I always suggest dieting 4-6 weeks at a time and then going into maintenance for a week (which typically allows for 500-1000 calories extra a day) and then hitting the diet again. Then, once someone’s met their goals they can normally go right into maintenance and increase their calories.

    Everyone needs a break – I know I needed one and now I’m back on again! We all go through it. Thanks for the feedback. I hate the whole “diet” word too!! I just want to live healthy!! 🙂

  6. Bonnie is amazing person and soul and helps so many people on a daily basis! This article is only one of many that shows her vast knowledge and professionalism in what she does dealing with weight issues and fitness. Thank you for sharing this information with us! You are a constant inspiration, Ms. Bonnie! And you’re loved by SO many!

    Doc KC

  7. Dr. KC – you are WAY too kind!! …although I have never had anyone say I had vast knowledge. You know there’s always something to learn. …it almost seems the more you learn the more you realize you still don’t know! All I DO know, is I do love helping people and writing is such a joy for me. Thank you girl for being such a sweetie! 🙂

  8. Great article, you’re so right too… all the diets are essentially the same in that they promote a lower calorie approach. When I really looked at the calories I was consuming, I was suprised! I eat very healthy foods, but too many calories, regardless of where they come from, can make you gain or prevent you from losing.

    Kat’s last blog post..White Walls

  9. Everyone gets that big surprise when they count calories. That’s the best part of counting calories – the lessons you learn during the process. 😉

  10. I am in a weight watcher progam and I want to know how many calories do I need to take in daily.

  11. Most diet programs are based on 1200 calories for women & 1500 for men. The key to weight watchers is to make sure you count any of the “freebie” foods. Another words, if they say you can eat as many fruits and veggies – that could sabotage your diet if you aren’t counting calories. Just think – you could eat a TON of calories in fruits and veggies. Just remember, a calorie is a calorie – no matter how many points it is. That bottom line is our body burns calories, not points or any other gimmick or guideline. Granted, if it’s low in points, it’s probably low in calories, but your body doesn’t burn points so why not compare apples to apples….meaning calories to calories. 🙂

  12. Great point Bonnie! I agree whole heartedly and interestingly enough this is a top Google search string question it seems a lot of folks are confused about.

  13. Don’t get me wrong..I’m not speaking for weight watchers – I’m just referring to mainstream brand-named diets. They are almost always close. 🙂

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