Counting Macros

Eat More to Lose Weight: How Many Calories You Should Be Eating

eat more to lose more weight

In this article, I’ll explain why many people must eat more to lose weight and how many calories you should be eating for weight loss that’s safe and sustainable.

One of the most common comments or concerns of those starting to count macros or flexible dieting is about the amount of calories or macros they are expected to eat.

Here’s one such comment:

I’m 24, 175 cm (5″10), 224 lbs. I am fairly active (I workout 4-5 times a week) and your calculator puts me at 2033 calories a day, 154c, 227p, and 56f. I just think 2033 calories is fairly excessive and I’ve been on diets all my life and have never passed the 1300 calorie range as I am considered overweight.

It can seem really strange to eat so many calories when you’ve been told all your life that the only way to lose weight is to follow a low-calorie diet.

But, for many, eating more is actually the key to losing more. Here’s why.

Why You Must Eat More to Lose Weight

In the above example, this woman was accustomed to eating 1300 calories. She would probably burn about 400 calories at the gym, which would only leave her 900 calories to fuel her bodily processes and general movement on exercise days.

According to our calculator, her sedentary calories are 2218 just to maintain her current weight. Therefore on exercise days, she is putting her body in a 1318 calorie deficit.

Our basic understanding of weight loss principles would say, “wow, she should be at her target weight in no time!” but, the body doesn’t quite work that way, unfortunately.

Your body is a very complex machine and its goal is survival, even at the cellular level.

So what’s the body to do when it needs 2218 calories, but you are only giving it 900?

Starvation Mode

A few days of drastic calorie deficit are fine and cause no changes, but for those that consistently eat at dangerously low calorie amounts the body switches into a conservation state or what some people call starvation mode.1

Our bodies are very clever and we still don’t yet fully understand all of the ways it can survive when placed in stressful situations.

This explains why some people who have been stranded at sea can survive for months on practically nothing. The body begins to slow down the metabolism in an effort to maintain homeostasis in light of a drastic calorie deficit.

A similar thing happens for extreme dieters. The body slows things down, slows the burning of fat, and actually begins to breakdown muscle tissue for energy especially if the dieter is also engaged in weight training.

Don't risk starvation mode by eating too little

Muscle Catabolism

Muscle Catabolism is simply when your muscles are broken down by the body and used as fuel for other parts of your body.

Drastic calorie deficits can cause this as well as not eating enough protein. Your body can break down one muscle group to build and repair the group you just worked out and then vice-versa later in the week when you work out the other muscle group.

One study showed that instead of fat loss occurring and then muscle loss during starvation, they both can happen in parallel to each other.2,3

To prevent this from happening a dieter must eat enough calories and enough protein to prevent this from occurring.4 Dieters want extra energy to come from their fat reserves, not their muscles or they’re defeating the purpose.

Healthy muscle tissue is the key to a healthy metabolic rate. If your muscle tissue is suffering then so will your metabolic rate. Keep that muscle tissue strong by feeding it what it needs to thrive. This isn’t just protein either, your muscles actually run on carbs!

How Many Calories You Should Eat to Lose Weight

There isn’t a generic amount of calories you should eat to lose weight but it’s a unique amount just like you are.

Unless a dieter is morbidly obese and under the direct care of a physician, he/she should never have a calorie deficit of more than 400-500 calories or 20% less than their TDEE calories with the calories burned during exercise factored in.5  

Calculate how many calories your should eat for safe and sustainable weight loss using my calculator.  This takes into account your age, stats, and activity level.

For those that are already pretty lean, but just have 5 pounds to lose, calorie deficits can be even smaller.

So, make sure you are eating enough to support your bodily processes and the growth and activity of your muscles, but not too much that your body won’t burn a small amount of its fat reserves each day to make up for the slight deficit you are in.

It can be really challenging for some dieters to eat more, especially if they have been doing low-calorie diets for a large portion of their lives. It can also be challenging for people to eat the amount of carbs recommended with flexible dieting especially for those that have had “carbs are bad” drilled into their heads for so long.

It’s time to start eating again and come into a better relationship with food. Slow and steady weight loss is the goal with flexible dieting and this, unlike other diets, is sustainable over the long-term because you are able to eat and not feel deprived.

Here’s a comment from someone who started to eat again.

Thank You so much! I’ve been on it for a week. I meet my macros, but having a hard time getting all the calories in, I’m not eating under 1300 anymore but always end up around 1500 at most – it’s not much difference but my body feels great; I recover much better and I am eating more carbs than before but not yet the 205 recommended. I’m still at 60% this week but next week I’ll amp up to a 70%, my body has already started to change.

Manage Expectations: Safe Weight Loss Takes Time!

I also want to express the importance of managing expectations when doing the flexible diet or any diet. Any diet that is telling you that you should lose more than 1-2 pounds per week isn’t healthy or sustainable and is not teaching you how many calories to eat to lose weight safely.

There are many different body types and most people may never be able to achieve the body that has been Photoshopped on the cover of our fashion or fitness magazines.

For women, nature is actually working against the quest for a low body fat percentage. A woman’s hormones are constantly preparing the woman’s body for childbearing and this means a healthy layer of body fat.6 Just look at the body fat percentage differences among men and women.

body fat percentage

So, focus on getting healthier by eating nutritious food, eating enough food, and being more physically fit because usually only those that get paid to look like ultra-ripped athletes actually have the time and resources it takes to look that way.

In closing, I can’t express the importance of working to change your low calorie and low carb mindset and begin eating again. If you want to break free from a slow metabolism and break the weight loss plateau then you have to give your body enough fuel to leave the launch pad.

Bottom line: Eat more to lose weight!

Accelerate Your Diet and Fitness Goals with My Macro Solution System

Step-by-step self-guided program -or- fully customized personal macros coaching. Feel exhilarated as you conquer your goals!

Macros for Fat Loss
Macros for Muscle Gain

    Scientific References:

  1. Schwartz, M. W., & Seeley, R. J. (1997). Neuroendocrine responses to starvation and weight loss. New England Journal of Medicine, 336(25), 1802-1811.
  2. Owen, O. E., Smalley, K. J., D’Alessio, D. A., Mozzoli, M. A., & Dawson, E. K. (1998). Protein, fat, and carbohydrate requirements during starvation: anaplerosis and cataplerosis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 68(1), 12-34.
  3. Chaston TB, Dixon JB, O’Brien PE. Changes in fat-free mass during significant weight loss: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity (2005). 2007;31(5):743–750.
  4. Tarnopolsky, M. A., MacDougall, J. D., & Atkinson, S. A. (1988). Influence of protein intake and training status on nitrogen balance and lean body mass. Journal of Applied Physiology, 64(1), 187-193.
  5. How to Set a Caloric Deficit for Fat Loss
  6. Price, T. M., O’Brien, S. N., Welter, B. H., George, R., Anandjiwala, J., & Kilgore, M. (1998). Estrogen regulation of adipose tissue lipoprotein lipase—possible mechanism of body fat distribution. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 178(1), 101-107.
  7. Lead image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alfon18/2366993667/
  8. Image 2: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gwendalcentrifugue/8577595400/
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, is an expert macros coach, and the author of The Macro Solution. If you need personal help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see his nutrition & macros coaching options.
Last Updated: June 14, 2021

244 Comments

  1. Tina 1 week ago

    Hello Ted, Great Article !
    First i will like to share my specs

    Female
    Age: 28
    Height: 5ft1 (158cm)
    Weight: 60kg
    My maintenance calories :1960 (katch-macardle formula)
    Body Fat %: 32%
    Muscle mass : 38.2kg
    Activity level : Active (3~5 days weight lifting & 10K steps/daily)

    I just recently came across this concept of reverse dieting and slow metabolism, the reason why only recently is because i got frustrated seeing no difference on my scale (weight, fat body %) while iam active and eat healthy,and that made me curious as to something must be wrong here. I even considered checking my thyroid just in case. So when i came across this aspect “starvation ” it flashed a light because i indeed under ate for the longest i can remember. Due to many online calculator and misconceptions that i should eat 1200~or less kcal to maintain my body weight or lose it. So basically the majority of my life i have been eating 1200~and less(of course i have some overeating days). I just now started learning about TDEE and macros and everything is very overwhelming, since basically i am almost overweight but i look small.
    I really want to go to a normal range of body fat 25% or less, is the approach i am taking now the right one? Meaning i am slowly trying to increase my daily calories to at least 1500 calories daily while i am keeping the weight training to 3~5 days per week.
    I never would have though that eating more might actually help

    Any feedback will be very much appreciated

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 1 week ago

      Hi Tina, Yay! I’m so glad you’re on a healthier path! I think that sounds like a good approach. My only suggestion is to vary your nutrition based on how much energy your body needs. For example, your body needs more on your weight training days than it does on your rest days, so you should be eating more on these days and less on days you’re more sedenatry.

      One other thing, Katch-McArdle is good for those who have a high muscle to body weight ratio but not for those that have a higher body fat percentage. You may want to see what the Mifflin, M. D., St Jeor recommends. This is what my calculator uses as a default.

      Reply
  2. Kelsie Turner 1 week ago

    I love this concept but I’m not sure how it would work for people like me. I am 24 years old, Female, 5’7 and 185 lbs. I have epilepsy and have to take Depakote (drug) twice a day. This controls my seizures but has caused me to gain over 30 lbs of weight. I have read a lot of research on why this happens (as it is the most common side effect of the medication) and they have proposed a lot of reasons why – slows metabolism, revs your appetite, etc. I have been trying to get back into the healthy weight category for 2 years now, and the only thing I have found to work at all is ~1000 cal a day with 60 mins of moderate to high intensity weight/cardio mix everyday. As a budding nutrition major, (you can imagine why I chose this field) I know it’s dangerous to consistently eat below your BMR – mine is estimated around 1600. When I eat 1000 cals, I lose the healthy average of 1-2 pounds a week, but I feel dizzy and weak and crappy, and I know why. When I eat anything more than that, I plateau or gain – but I don’t feel weak. My neurologist says it’s just something I will have to live with as long as I am on Depakote, but no other medications have worked for me so far. My question to that is, is it worse to eat under my BMR, feel sick and lose weight, or just accept being overweight and unhealthy? Im stuck between a rock and a hard place, there’s not much research I can find on solving medication specific weight issues. Do you think this approach could work for people like me?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 1 week ago

      Hi Kelsie, I definitely don’t think you should starve yourself for the sake of a number on the scale and you can be healthy at 185 pounds as long as you’re eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly. Have you considered Keto? I typically don’t recommend it, but the diet was actually developed for people with epilepsy. Perhaps discuss it with your doctor and maybe you can even lower your dosage if you are on an eating regimen like keto.

      Reply
  3. Eleanor Connelly 4 weeks ago

    I thought they had disproved starvation mode now?
    There’s like an explanation of the disproval in Fitter, Leaner, Stronger by Michael Matthews among other materials. I think a lot of the evidence comes from the starvation at the concentration camps ets.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 4 weeks ago

      I’ve read research supporting it and research not supporting it. But, I’ve coached over a 1000 clients and I’ve seen this first hand with many of my clients that were eating too little for too long. Once I got them to start eating more and fueling their bodies properly did the fat start to be metabolized again. It’s a real thing and I’ve helped people through this many many times.

      Reply
  4. Alex 2 months ago

    I’m a transgender man and one of the biggest issues I’ve had is weight during my transition. I don’t look over 150 to folks but I’m in the upper 160’s lb wise. I’ve found if I don’t eat enough during the day my body forces me to make up for it later ruining my progress. It’s hard to find a nutrition person though that understands that my body isn’t really male or female at this point in my transition and calories are hard to calculate for

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Hi Alex, I could help dial this in for you. I understand that these calculators and the formulas weren’t created to factor for all the possibilities that exist so sorry about that. See my coaching options in the menu and I’ll get you sorted.

      Reply
  5. Jenifer Davol 2 months ago

    Hi. I’ve been on so many diets and have cut my calories through the past 6 years from 800 to 1600….In th past 6 years I’ve lost weight but gained it back. Weight watchers is my current diet and I lost 20 pounds in 3 months but I’m trying to build muscle too. I do not feel like my body is fueled and therefore I bine eat once a week. I did research and apparently on s macro calculator I’m suppose to be eating 1970 calories per day. I want to start that but I’m in fear bc of everything I’ve done to try losing weight. Going up on my calories is scary. I do eat healthy though. So I intend on doing 40% protein 30% fat & carb. I do weight training 5x a week. And I do cardio 6x a week.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Hi Jenifer, It can be scary to eat more when you’ve been told all your life that you have to starve yourself to lose weight. I suggest you increase slowly. You don’t have to start at 1970. If I were coaching you I’d increase 100 calories every two weeks with evaluation between each jump. You also don’t need 40% protein. That more than your body can use and will just be converted to energy. Carbs are a much more affordable and efficient energy source. Do 30% protein.

      Reply
      • Jenifer Davol 2 months ago

        Ok thank you so much ! So 40% carbs instead? And I’ll see how much calories I eat on the weight watchers to increase

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

          That’s correct and sounds like a plan.

          Reply
  6. Annette Lamb 2 months ago

    Your numbers are fine for young people, but don’t work for post menopausal women. I’m 60 years old and use a calorie tracking system, so I know exactly what I’m eating. I eat 1200 calories per day and ride my exercise bike 1 hour every morning. And, I walk or hike at least 3 days per week. If I eat any more than 1100-1200 calories, I gain weight. Period. This works fine for maintenance, but what about weight loss? If I reduce to 900-1000 calories per day, I don’t lose weight.. but I do feel sluggish and tired. How do I lose weight the 20 pounds I need to lose to get to the “normal” range? Your approach of “more calories” is simply inaccurate. It’s important to add an “age” disclaimer.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Hi Annette, The formulas used in my calculator do adjust for age. I coach post-menopausal women all the time and they do lose weight by eating more. It sounds like you have slowed your metabolism with all the years of low-calorie dieting and exercising. You are a perfect example of who this article is for and about. If you ever want to break this cycle, you’ll have to start eating at levels that are right for your body, activity level and age. I’m here to help if you need it. It can be mentally tough for some women to eat more because they’ve been told otherwise all their lives. But, it is the way out of this vicious cycle.

      Reply
  7. Petr 2 months ago

    Yea it makes sense in terms of physics too. If you do not give enough activation energy for chemical reaction to happen (enzyme function here) it will not work (fat burning). Good example is paper – if you want it to burn you must ignite it first. (Sorry for my english)

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Great point! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  8. Olivia 3 months ago

    Hello! So I have struggled with my weight all my life and I’m 20 and 230 lbs. I am trying to lose the weight but not sure how to do it. Calorie counters tell me to eat 2,400 calories a day to get the weight off. And this is telling me to eat 2,900 something. Is that right? Or should I be eating less? Help!?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 3 months ago

      Hi Olivia, Thanks for reaching out. If you have more than 40 pounds of fat tissue, it will skew the formulas used by calculators. I can calculate everything for you and get your numbers dialed in better. Personalized Macros Coaching

      Reply
  9. Andrew Kissel 3 months ago

    57 year old male. I am on South Beach and have only lost lbs in three weeks. I am 5 ‘6 and
    currently weight 185…I have a muscular build. My target weight is 170. I am eating about 1300 calories a day. I have done this diet before and I was losing 5 lbs or more a week. What am U doing wrong ?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 3 months ago

      Hi Andrew, You are not eating enough. 1300 would be below even your BMR. Not good, my friend. Get your nutrition up to safe levels as I describe in my article. I can help too if you need it.

      Reply
  10. Sarah 4 months ago

    Hi – I’m 5’2, 121# and have an overall athletic build. I used to rock climb 4x per week and hike 2x a week, but got sedentary during the day with covid. I recently got really into trail running, running about 15-20 miles per week and doing strength yoga and interval training. I feel strong and muscular but I’ve gained inches around my waist somehow. I want to get cut, so I started tracking macros. I had calculated 1350 cals/day but see this says 1700. Honestly eating 1350 feels like too much. I feel full all the time and overall tired, even though I’m eating healthy foods at the right ratios. Am I supposed to eat even more? Or am I not as active as I think I am since I sit at a computer whenever I’m not running? Am I supposed to gain for a bit before I start to lose the weight with my caloric increase? It’s really frustrating. Around the middle, I look like when I weighed 130 and wasn’t doing anything active. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Sarah 4 months ago

      Oh, 27 years old if that helps

      Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 4 months ago

      Hi Sarah, On days that you are sedentary you should be eating at sedentary levels. Days that you run or do strength training, you need to calculate how many calories those activities burn and add those to your sedentary calculation. It is a bit concerning if on run days you feel like 1350 is a lot of food. You should be really hungry on these days. If you aren’t, it’s a signal that something is going on with your metabolism. Have you had your thyroid levels checked recently?

      Reply
  11. Sheila 4 months ago

    My weight only drops 1/2 of the month.
    It stays steady for 2 weeks and then all of a sudden it’s 3 pounds less the third week and another five pounds less the fourth week. Then, it stagnates for two weeks and repeats itself. Weird. I’m guessing that it’s water retention

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 4 months ago

      Hi Sheila, For most people weight loss is seldom linear. There are ups and downs, peaks and valleys. It’s the overall progress that matters since many things including water weight influence day-to-day trends. That’s why it’s important to keep focused on the big picture and not let a week or two of stagnation make you give up.

      Reply
  12. Natacha 5 months ago

    I was wondering about this.

    I’m a 30 yo woman, 57kgs for 167cm, not eating meat, currently working out only 30min a day with 5kg weights and elastic bands (+ sometimes 30min yoga stretching). Not walking either. Quite sedentary since the covid crisis and lost muscles too. Trying to reach 45min of physical activity per day.
    According to calculations my BMR is 1300-1360 kcal (~1350) and my TDEE is 1350*1.3= 1750kcal.

    I have:
    – Fat: 27-30% (15-17kg). Reco is 21-24% according to internet (13kg if I stay at 57kg, 11kg if I go to 54kg).
    – Visceral fat: 2kg.
    – Lean body mass: 74% (42kg). Reco is 76-79% according to Internet (44kg if I stay at 57kg, 43kg if I go down to 54kg).
    = my LBM is a bit too low and my fat too high (it’s visible).

    I’m first trying to loose weight (i.e. loosing fat without impacting my muscles, then I’ll try to gain more muscles if the gyms reopen), so I created a 500kcal deficit and target 1300kcal with 31% of protein (100g including 30g of vegetal protein powder), 35% lipid (50g), 34% glucid (110g).

    It’s been only 10 days but I don’t see any difference. I don’t feel I’m restricting myself in terms of food, I never ate really more (I was just adding lot of milk chocolate, cookies, sweets, cheese and filled pastas). Should I actually eat more to “wake up” my metabolism, even if I don’t do a lot of exercise and don’t feel hungry ? Should I change the repartition between the macros ? I’m experimenting a bit blindly, this is actually the first time I stop eating “bad things” in parallel of my healthy meals.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 5 months ago

      Hi Natasha, The deduct 500 rule isn’t a great rule for everyone, especially women. I think you should be eating more on days you do your 30-45 minutes of exercise. Have you looked at my macro calculator? It deducts 20% which is a much safer deficit because it takes your stats into consideration. Flexible Dieting Macro Calculator

      Reply
  13. Lauren Todd 5 months ago

    Hey I’m at 117 pounds (dense) and 5 foot 2. I’m trying to reach 110 pounds. at first i lost a few pounds (I started at 122 pounds). I workout 4-6 a week usually cardio or weights. i’ve been having 1200 cals a day. Is that too low and causing me to stop loosing weight? Should I do 1400??

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 5 months ago

      Hi Lauren, yes 1200 is too low on your workout days. Your workout days should be your sedentary weight loss TDEE + your exercise session calorie burn.

      Reply
  14. Hypo girl 5 months ago

    Hi Ted — how do you adjust for people who are hypothyroid. If I eat the recommended 2100 cals a day I will balloon. Rn trying to stay around 1500-1600 and typically feel best on a 30:30:40 type diet, tho I’m not obsessive about it.

    Me = F 5’8”, 165. 150-155 is my ideal weight. I’ve been an athlete all my life so I’m not exactly overweight but these 10-15 lbs have been my nemesis since my hypo diagnosis. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 5 months ago

      Hey there, You first have to make sure your medication is regulated well. If you’re eating in a deficit and not losing weight then you may need to up your dose. Some doctors are satisfied with baseline but baseline may not be enough for you. Talk to your doctor about this. Secondly, make sure you support your exercise with enough nutrition. Try to maintain no more than a 20% deficit on days you exercise.

      Reply
  15. Lorenzo Caldeira 6 months ago

    Hello! I have been on a diet for roughly 4 weeks now. I eat about 1500 calories a day and my tdee is 2100. I am a 16 year old male who weighs 73kg (160lbs) and I am 173cm ( 5’8ft) tall.

    I want to know if I am eating enough calories to lose weight at a healthy pace and how much I can expect to lose?

    I also have another question that if my weight decreases and so does my tdee, will I also have to limit my daily consumption even more if I want to continue my weight loss?

    Thanks for reading

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 6 months ago

      Hi Lorenzo, You aren’t eating enough, my friend. Because you are growing, you also have to factor that into the equation. Don’t go any lower than about 1700 if it’s a rest day. If you exercise, then that needs to be factored in on top of that.

      Reply
  16. Robert Dickson 7 months ago

    Hi on the tdee my maintenance Is saying around 2500 maintenance, I’ve lost weight eating 1600, I’m worried if I up to 2000 a day I will gain weight, I like where I’m at just now but upping my intake makes me worry i will gain weight, would this happen

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 7 months ago

      Hi Robert, If your maintenance TDEE is 2500 then 1600 was a bit too severe of a deficit. At 2000 calories you’ll still be at a 500 calorie deficit so no, you won’t gain weight pending there aren’t any metabolic issues at play.

      Reply
  17. Liberty Newman 9 months ago

    Hi there, My name is Liberty I am 42 yrs old and I have recently decided to join a weight training program. I am 299 lbs and eat between 1000 to 1300 calories a day. I do not have a Thyroid at all and it has been beat into my head that I obviously eat too many calories or bad food that is why i am still over weight. My trainer just brought Calorie deficit to my attention. How can I add Calories in a good way to not gain more weight while trying to get back to what my body truly needs in nutrition?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 9 months ago

      Hi Liberty, Honestly, you really need some expert calculations from a professional such as myself. I would have to adjust for your fat tissue weight and then factor in your exercise and any other lifestyle factors. I assume you’re on thyroid medication? Your trainer did have it right, you have to be eating more than you are. Here’s my coaching page if you’re interested in my services. https://healthyeater.com/personal-coaching

      Reply