how many calories do you need


How Many Calories Do You Need?


Do you know how many calories you need?

If not, this could be a problem because if you eat too much you’ll gain weight. If you eat too little you risk slowing down your metabolism (and this can actually lead to weight gain in the long run too).

In this article I’m going to help you figure out how many calories you need. Originally my plan was to give you a formula you could use to determine your caloric requirements. But I changed my mind.

The problem is that many factors impact on how many calories you need:

  • how active you are
  • your goals (ie. losing weight versus gaining muscle)
  • how lean you are
  • whether you have a history of dieting
  • whether you are currently dieting
  • what stage you are at in your menstrual cycle
  • whether you are sick or injured
  • the type of foods you eat
  • the state of your own unique metabolism.

You can see how it gets complicated quickly. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good formulas out there and I’ve used them before.

But Female Fitness Systems is all about making things easier for you so I’m going to give you an easier way to estimate your caloric requirements.


An Easier Way To Estimate Calories


I rarely use formulas to figure out caloric intake these days because over the years I’ve noticed patterns with women and I can now usually accurately estimate how many calories someone needs without running any calculations.

My approach is:

  1. To start a client on a set amount of calories that I believe will work for her based on my experience; and then
  2.  Adjust when we see how her body responds.

The good news is that I’m going to teach you exactly how to do this for yourself in this article.

In fact, I’ve created this helpful infographic that walks you through calorie counting step-by-step:


how to calculate calories woman



Eat More To Lose Weight


Before we look at how many calories you need, I want you to understand something.

When it comes to lose weight, you probably think less calories is better. But…

one of the biggest mistakes you could be making is not eating enough calories to lose weight.

Another way to put it is that you should eat as much as possible while you are losing weight.

Now don’t get me wrong – if you eat too much you’ll gain weight. But if you don’t eat enough – well, you might gain weight too. Here’s why.

The truth is you’ll lose weight quickly at first on a very low calorie diet. But the metabolic changes that happen in your body when you dramatically reduce your calories and increase your exercise will make it hard to maintain that weight loss. One of the reasons for this is that your metabolism adapts to these extreme measures by slowing down and consequently your weight loss stalls.

If you don’t eat enough you risk:

  • hitting a plateau too soon
  • losing muscle and looking skinny fat
  • slowing down your metabolism
  • losing bone density
  • losing fertility, and
  • decreasing energy and immunity.

If you have good nutritional practices, including eating enough protein, and you weight train, you’ll minimize these negative adaptations. However, the more severely you restrict calories, the more severe the adaptations and the harder it becomes to lose weight and keep it off.

What do I mean by this?


Let’s look at some examples.


Say you lose weight by eating 1200 calories a day, lifting weights 4 or 5 times a week and doing cardio most days. It’s hard to maintain this restrictive approach in the long run. You’ll be hungry, tired and more likely to burn out and give up.

Consider another scenario. What if you implemented a weight loss plan that was more sustainable?

Say you lose weight by eating 1600 calories a day, lifting weights 4 to 5 times a week and walking your dog for light cardio most days. You’ll be more satiated, have less cravings and better energy.

Losing weight on 1600 calories will feel a whole lot better than losing weight on 1200 calories and you’ll be more likely to sustain the changes you’ve made in the long run.

Yes, your weight loss will be slower at first but if I told you that it’s less likely that you will gain it all back, wouldn’t you choose the slow and steady option?

Eating more to lose weight also gives you wiggle room when you hit a plateau. When your weight loss stalls, you’ve got room to drop your calories or add in some more cardio.

If you hit a plateau when you are eating 1200 calories and doing cardio most days, you’ve got no where to go.

So now that you understand why eating more can work in your advantage, let’s look at how to calculate calories.



How To Calculate Calories


I rarely use formulas to figure out caloric intake these days because over the years I’ve noticed patterns with women and I can now usually accurately estimate how many calories someone needs without running any calculations.

Let’s look at how how to calculate calories (now that you know you the benefits of eating more when you are trying to lose weight).

Almost every woman I have worked has been able to lose weight eating between 1500 to 1700 calories a day.

So this is usually my starting point and we adjust up or down based on how you are responding.



The Exceptions:


The Chronic Dieter


If you have a history of dieting and find it hard to lose weight, you may have reduced your caloric needs below 1400 calories because of the metabolic adaptations when you chronically restrict calories and overexercise.



The Athlete/Weight Room Junkie


Some women need more significantly more calories, even when they are losing weight. Sure they can lose weight on 1500 to 1700 but that doesn’t mean they should. Often these women are athletic and/or have more muscle mass than most other females.

For example, I can lose weight eating 2200 calories a day. If I reduce my calories too much, I become an emotional wreck, I can’t get out of bed and my thyroid gets out of whack. But I can lose weight on 2200 calories with much less negative impact on my body so that’s where I start.

Here’s how to figure out what works for you.


Calorie Ranges For Women


In the examples below I’ve given you some clues to help you figure out where you fit. These ranges are based on patterns I’ve noticed working closely with women over the years and helping them find their sweet spot for calories, but that doesn’t mean it will be the same for everyone.

If you are trying to maintain your weight or gain weight, you’ll need more calories. If weight loss is your goal, use the targets below as a starting point and then make sure you read the following section about how to assess whether it’s working.


1300-1500 Calories

You may fit into this range if you:

  • Have a smaller build
  • Have a history of chronic dieting
  • Find it hard to lose weight and keep it off
  • Have irregular eating habits


1500-1700 Calories

You may fit into this range if you:

  • Have a medium to heavy build
  • Have a bodyfat of 22% or more
  • Are moderately active (ie. you may exercise every day 30-60 minutes)


1700-2100 Calories

You may fit into this range if you:

  • Are leaner and more muscular than most other women
  • Have a dedicated muscle building program and lift weights 4-5 times a week
  • Are very active and/or have an active job
  • Don’t have a history of dieting
  • Don’t have any trouble losing weight


You should reduce your calories as little as possible to lose weight. For example, if you normally eat around 1800 calories per day, reduce them to 1600 and see if you can lose weight at this amount. I like to call this your minimal dose and I’ve written a lot more about it in my free ebook The Ultimate Nutrition Guide For Females.

For even more guidance on calorie counting and finding your minimal dose, get your free ebook below (click the image, enter your email and you’ll be able to download the book). 

free nutrition guide for females



How To Make Adjustments To Your Calories


Once you have figured out how many calories you need, the hard work begins.

You’ll need to consistently eat that amount for a week or two at least to see how your body responds. The best way to do that is to use a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal. Yes it’s a lot of work, but it gets easier and most women find they enjoy using MyFitnessPal because it helps them stay on track and be honest about what they are eating.




So once you are tracking, here’s how to decide if it’s working for you:


1. You are losing 300-500g or about 1lb per week.


If you aim for a weight loss of 300-500g or 1 lb per week (excluding certain times of the month you cyclically gain weight link) you’ll be on the right track. Women are often disappointed when I first suggest this amount to them. I can see by the look in their eyes that they want more.

Truth is, a lot of women lose weight more quickly then that when following a good plan for the first few weeks. But I want you to know that it’s not always going to be like that. At some point your weight loss is going to slow down, and when it does, if you are still losing 300-500g per week, or even 200g per week, that’s ok.

Also, if you are leaner you might not get the big drop in weight at the start that someone who has more weight to lose may experience. 300-500g (or 1lb) per week is often recommended for leaner individuals trying to lose weight because slower weight loss may preserve muscle mass better.

Why isn’t more weight loss better? Remember in the earlier section when I talked about having your minimal dose for losing weight and leaving wiggle room to adjust when you hit a plateau?

Well, if you are losing weight too quickly you may have set your calories lower than you need to and it will make adjusting when you hit a plateau harder. If you are losing weight too quickly, you’ve probably also made some aggressive changes in your diet and exercise that will be hard to maintain in the long run.

Also, at some point your weight loss will slow down and this will impact your motivation. Many women are tempted to give up at this point but if you are prepared for it and mentally able to accept a slower weight loss, then you’ll be less likely to throw it all in.

Don’t set unrealistic standards for yourself. Look for that sweet spot where you are losing about 300-500g per week.

If you aren’t losing weight after 2 weeks of starting your diet, drop your calories by another 200. If you are losing weight too fast (ie. you are too hungry, tired, etc), adjust by eating about 200 more calories more per day.

One thing to note is that when you start a muscle building program, especially if you haven’t lifted weights before, then you may not see the scale drop as you expected. You could be losing fat and building muscle – especially the more of a newbie you are to lifting weights. If that happens, you can also use measurements (especially your waist, hip and thigh circumferences), how clothes fit, the mirror and other people’s compliments as indicators of your progress.

Also don’t expect your weight to drop during those times of the month when you normally gain weight. Learn how to identify the times of the month you gain weight and what to do about them here.


2. You aren’t too hungry and your energy is good.


When you are losing weight, you are bound to feel a bit hungry. But if you can’t stop thinking about food, get light-headed or feel shaky between meals then you aren’t eating enough.

You should be starting to feel like you could eat 3-4 hours after your last meal but you shouldn’t feel as though you are starving.

Signs you aren’t eating enough include:

  • not being able to go 3-4 hours between meals without feeling very hungry
  • having abnormal cravings
  • low energy
  • feeling weak when you train
  • feeling as though you can’t get out of bed in the morning, and
  • being more emotional than normal.


As women we are lucky because our periods are a good indicator of what’s going on with our hormones. If your period gets out of whack and especially if it stops while dieting, you’ve gone too far. I can’t stress enough the importance of stopping any diet at this point and seeking help from a good nutrition coach.


The Quick Summary


You should eat as much as possible to lose weight.

Losing weight while eating more feels better and is more sustainable in the long run.

Try to figure our your minimal dose which means reducing your calories as little as possible to lose weight.

 Once you’ve found the right amount of calories, try to consistently eat that amount for 1-2 weeks to see how your body responds.

If you still can’t lose weight, then reduce your calories by another 200 and see if that works. 300-500g (or 1lb) per week is a good amount of weight loss.

You shouldn’t feel too hungry or tired when you are trying to lose weight. If you do, you probably need more calories.

As I always say, nutrition doesn’t have to be so complicated. Hopefully this blog post simplified things for you. If you need more help, don’t forget to download your free ebook or get in touch with me.


free nutrition guide for females

Everything you want to know about nutrition!

This Guide will take the confusion out of nutrition so you can focus on eating well and looking after yourself. Learn exactly how many calories you need, how big your portion sizes should be and how to find your sweet spot when it comes to losing weight. 

 The ebook is 100% free and can be easily read on your mobile phone.

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