Updated: March 9, 2020
If you’re trying to figure out how many calories a day you need to lose weight or maintain your current weight, you’re not alone. But there’s good news: You don’t need to count every calorie to reach your goals. In fact, when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight, the bottom line is caloric balance.
With so much information in today’s world, losing weight can feel like a complicated puzzle — but it really comes down to this: Take in fewer calories than your body uses every day. Focusing on your diet — and the quality of your food choices — is a great place to start. A healthy, varied diet (that includes lots of veggies!) paired with physical activity could tip the scales in your favor.
Read on to learn more about how you can balance your calorie intake for weight loss and weight maintenance.
Calorie balance 101
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A calorie is a unit of energy supplied by food and beverages. Whether you are consuming carbohydrates, fats, protein or even alcohol, all of them contain calories, although their calorie content can differ (here’s why all calories aren’t created equal). Water, vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that do not contain any calories on their own but are typically found in nutrient-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables.
Picture the calorie balance like an old-fashioned scale. On one side is your total calorie intake (from food and beverages), and on the other side is the number of calories your body uses (for normal body functions and physical activity). When you are in weight loss mode, you’re consuming fewer calories than your body is using. Your body will begin to use stored fat cells for energy, so your weight will likely decrease.1
Calories in = Jenny Craig Menu + other foods/drinks you consume
Calories out = Resting metabolism and physical activity
Your goal, whether it’s to lose weight or to maintain your weight, will determine where you want your caloric balance to be.
If your goal is to...
Your caloric balance should be...
Maintain your weight
Balanced. To maintain your weight, you’ll want to consume roughly the same number of calories that your body is using.
Reduced. To lose weight, you’ll want to consume fewer calories than your body is using. This is also known as a calorie deficit.
In excess. To gain weight, you’ll want to consume more calories than your body is using.
Calories in vs. calories out
To lose weight, you’ll want to consume fewer calories (calories in) than your body uses (calories out). To maintain your weight, you’ll want to consume roughly the same amount of calories that your body uses.
Calorie intake = Your meal plan or Jenny Craig menu + other foods/drinks you consume
Eating well-balanced meals can support your weight loss and weight maintenance goals. To create a healthy meal, fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (think: broccoli, asparagus, spinach), a quarter of your plate with lean protein (like chicken or lean cuts of beef), and the other quarter of your plate with healthy grains (like whole-grain pasta or rice).
If you’re not sure where to start, Jenny Craig provides pre-portioned meals as part of a balanced, reduced-calorie menu. There’s no pesky, time-consuming calorie counting involved.
Calories out = Resting metabolism and physical activity
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Your body is always burning calories because it needs them to function. Everything you do requires calories — breathing, moving, speaking, thinking and even digesting food.
The amount of energy your body burns when you are at rest is called your resting metabolism. It’s determined by your sex, height, weight, age and body composition.2 Not everyone has the same resting metabolism:3
- Someone with more muscle mass will likely have a higher resting metabolic rate, since muscle burns more calories at rest than fat.
- Your resting metabolism may decrease with age due to natural muscle loss.
- As you lose weight, your body typically requires fewer calories for weight maintenance.
Your body also burns calories through physical activity. When combined with a healthy diet, regular exercise can make a big difference when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance.
How to determine your resting metabolic rate
To help determine your ideal calorie balance, start by calculating your resting metabolic rate using your sex, height, weight and age. According to Ace Fitness, you can get an idea of your resting metabolic rate by using this equation:4
Male: 9.99 x weight + 6.25 x height – 4.92 x age + 5
Female: 9.99 x weight + 6.25 x height – 4.92 x age – 161
Note: weight in kilograms, height in centimeters, age in years
This will give you an estimate of how many calories your body burns at rest (without exercise). Factor in your activity level, and now you have an idea of how many calories you might need to lose or maintain your weight in a healthy way. There may be days when you are under a little, and others when you are a little over — that’s OK!
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As a reference, approximately 3,500 calories equals one pound of body weight. So, to lose one pound in a week, you would need to reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories a day (500 calories x 7 days = 3500 calories/week).
If you’re a Jenny Craig member, you don’t have to worry about doing the math, since your weight loss calorie level will be calculated for you. If you follow your weight loss calorie level and boost your physical activity, you may achieve a healthy weight loss of approximately 1-2 pounds per week.
Sticking close to your ideal calorie level while increasing your activity could be what you need to reach your goals. The beauty of this equation is that you can still lose weight while enjoying the foods you love!
Understanding your ideal calorie balance
You can become more aware of your calorie and nutrient intake by tracking the foods you eat and the beverages you drink each day. To monitor your exercise and estimated calorie output, use an online tracker. If you’re following the Jenny Craig program, download our mobile app to keep track of your meals and activity. Be sure to track the type and the duration of your physical activity. These will all help you to create a plan that’s personalized for your calorie needs.
To learn how Jenny Craig can help you find your calorie balance, contact us for a free appointment and get started today!
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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