How Many Calories a Day Can Safely Spur Weight Loss?

The key to losing weight sounds simple — eat less.

Regardless of the diet you follow, dropping the pounds means burning more calories than you eat. That begs the question, how many calories should I eat to lose weight?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, for most people, cutting about 500 calories a day is a good place to start. If you can eat 500 fewer calories every day, you should lose about a pound a week.

Another easy way to figure out how many calories you should eat is to multiply your weight by 15, Harvard Health advises. That number will give you the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. To lose weight, simply cut that number.

But counting calories isn’t enough, says Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.

“Everyone wants a quick fix, but weight loss is not an overnight proposition. We do not gain weight nor will we lose weight quickly,” she said.

“If you want to lose 10 pounds, one important tool is keeping a food diary,” Heller said. Keep track of everything you eat for five to seven days. Then review your food record.

See where you can cut back on sweets, snacks, large portions and alcohol. Let those discoveries help you make a plan for losing weight.

How to cut calories in a healthy way

“Many of us need support and structure to help us on our journey, so programs like Weight Watchers or seeing a registered dietitian may be helpful,” Heller said.

You can lose weight by eating anything as long as you are consuming fewer calories or burning more calories than you were previously.

“But it is far more important to be healthy, not skinny, and to find a sustainable lifestyle,” Heller said.

How to eat healthy?

  • Eat more vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, lettuces, peppers and kale; add legumes such as kidney, pinto, white beans, lentils, split peas and edamame; use whole grains including whole wheat, oats, farro, quinoa and brown rice; and include some daily fruits and nuts, Heller said.
  • Replace high-calorie foods with low-calorie, healthier alternatives. For snacks, give up the flavored tortilla chips for air-popped popcorn or grapes, low-fat cheese sticks, a small apple or 12 almonds.
  • Try to remove one high-calorie food a day from your diet, like that donut at breakfast or dessert at lunch or dinner.
  • Reducing calories includes not drinking them, so drink water, seltzer, diet drinks or black coffee rather than sugar-sweetened sodas. Sodas have about 150 calories, so not drinking two reduces your calorie count by a whopping 300. Not opting for fruit smoothies with their 400 calories is another quick way to lower your calorie count, Heller said.
  • When it comes to mealtime, skipping a second helping is an easy way to cut calories.
  • If you’re cooking, substitute lower-calorie ingredients for high-calorie ones. For example, try plain yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Cut out fried foods, including French fries. Instead of fried chicken or fish, choose grilled, broiled or poached options.
  • Cutting alcohol is another way to reduce calories. Alcohol has no nutritional value, so drinking can add up to 500 calories for some mixed drinks made with syrupy sweeteners, fruit juices, ice cream or heavy cream. If you do drink, choose a 12-ounce light beer (103 calories) or a 5-ounce glass of wine (120 calories).

No fast way to lose weight

Heller says that cutting calories means changing how much and what you eat, and there is no easy way to lose weight and keep it off.

“Do not be seduced by internet or over-the-counter products or programs that make claims for rapid weight loss, fat-burning, or banishing belly fat, or the internet weight-loss sites that sell their proprietary blends of powders, supplements and foods,” she said. “At best, you will be throwing your money away. At worst, you could get very sick.”

A recent study published in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome that reviewed a variety of diet plans found the best way to cut calories is to have an individualized weight-loss plan that you can stick with over the long term.

“Thus, the best diet for weight management is one that can be maintained in the long term,” study author Ju Young Kim, from the department of family medicine at the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital in Korea, said when the research was published. “Health care providers should consult with patients before choosing the optimal diet strategy because successful weight loss and its maintenance depend on the patient’s choices, preferences, and long-term adherence to the diet plan.”

SOURCE: Samantha Heller, nutritionist, NYU Langone Health, New York City