How Many Calories Do You Need?


Written by Jolyne Babineau

Jolyne has a Master's degree in clinical nutrition. She has a true passion for the field and enjoys doing research on any topics related to dietetics.

As a dietician, I often get asked: “How many calories should a person consume each day?” There is no easy answer to that question. This is because your calorie needs depend on your age; gender; body size; activity level; genetics; and life stage (e.g. pregnant, etc.).

 So what is a calorie? A calorie can be defined as a unit that measures energy, while energy is the capacity to do work. Nutrients that yield energy (or calories) are carbohydrates; fats and proteins. For our body to function properly and be healthy, we need to intake calories from foods and beverages. When we have a balance between the calories that we intake and the energy that we use, we maintain our bodyweight. If we intake less calories than we use this transpires into weight loss and if we intake more calories than we use we then gain weight.


How many calories do we need in a day to maintain our weight?

 There are some formulas that are designed to calculate the estimated energy requirement such as the Harris Benedict formula. These take into account your age; activity level; gender; height and weight. If we take the average we could say that: 

  • Inactive women and older adults should consume 1600-1800 calories;

  • Moderately active women and inactive men need about 2000-2200 calories; and

  • Very active women and active men need about 2600-2800 calories.




It is important to realize that these are only averages. You should really take a look and see what you are eating and what changes could be made for you to become healthier. See my tips below, or consult a registered dietician if you need help making healthy nutritional changes.

I never recommend to any of my clients that they should count calories. I find this too technical and time consuming. On top of that what some people do is that they don’t take into account what are healthy foods. Instead, they will neglect certain food groups in order to consume their favourite foods.

My motto is: “make your calories count”. Eat healthy foods that will supply other important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.


Here are some tips that will help you lead a healthier lifestyle:

  • Follow the food guide it will show you how much servings of each food group you should eat in a day and will tell you what portion sizes are.

  • Eat breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day because it “breaks” the “fast” and jump-starts your metabolism.

  •  Make sure you do not skip a meal. This often leads to bingeing later on in the day.

  •  Eat at least 3 of the 4 basic food groups with every meal. This is what is known as balancing your meals. 

  • Eat small snacks in between meals. It should consist of whatever food group you are lacking. For example, if you know you are not going to eat enough vegetables and fruits, have carrot sticks for a snack.

  • If you are counting calories, I do not recommend that you ever go under 1500 calories because it is too restrictive and often times slows down your metabolism. Try to look at what you are eating and cut out maybe 200 calories plus burn energy by doing physical activity.

  •  Don’t forget to exercise. If you want to lose weight and maintain it, it is important to not only change your eating habits but also get active. This way you will not have to cut as many calories out of your regime.

  •  It doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. Start with small goals that are easy for you to follow. Once you have that goal mastered, include another goal. This will lead you to your ultimate goal.

  •  The slower you lose your weight the more apt you are to maintain it. Remember if you lose 1 pound it is an achievement. Think of 1lb of butter off your body!



Remember, there is no miracle diet.

A lot of diets claim that their regime is the best kept secret ever. In reality, when it comes to loosing weight, the only way to do so is to intake less calories that you use. So if a diet is low carbohydrate, low fat, or any other so called “miracle plan”, it all comes down to cutting calories. They eliminate certain food groups or certain nutrients reducing those calories, which, in turn causes weight-loss.

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