How to Determine Daily Caloric Goals

Strike a balance between being in a caloric deficit and eating enough to keep you satisfied.


By Katie Ringley


Starting off on a weight loss journey, the first thing that you normally think about is the fact that you are going to have to cut your calories. It’s common to just think that you need to eat as little as possible of the healthiest foods and that is going to produce the results that you are after. This is miserable and many times ends in failure, so it’s important to recognize that sustainability in diet is such a huge factor. It’s important not to eat too much so that you remain in a caloric deficit, but it’s also important to eat enough that you’ll be satisfied.

How do you know what will put you in a caloric deficit? That is a great question, and one that I will answer later on. First, you want to think of your metabolism as a furnace. Unless you have provided fuel for that furnace, it is not going to be able to burn. Many times, people are excited that they wake up and aren’t hungry, but hunger is a sign that your metabolism is working well. The same is true for those that are full after a small breakfast. But in the same token, I know hunger is uncomfortable and you want to be able to hit your caloric goal without feeling uncomfortable.

To figure out your caloric intake, there are many studies that have been done to estimate your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories burned when completely at rest. This can be influenced by factors such as illness, previously consumed foods, or stress. The amount of calories needed in a normal day that includes activities such as work, exercise, or eating are more than your basal metabolic rate, and can be calculated using the equations below.

The American Diabetic Association did a study comparing all of the equations used currently to determine caloric needs and the Mifflin St Jeor was shown to be the most accurate.

For men, this equation is:

10 x wt (kg) + 6.25 x ht(cm) - 5 x age(y) + 5

Women have a similar equation as well:

10 x wt (kg) + 6.25 x ht(cm)- 5 x age -161.

It is important when you use these calculations that you take into consideration some individual parameters. Do you have specific medical conditions that require different needs? Have you done tons of fad dieting in the past that has left with a slower metabolism? Or, do you have medical conditions that leave you with a slower metabolism? Taking all of these factors into consideration, if you are not one with a condition worth noting, then the equations above would be a great tool for you.

Once you know that basal metabolic rate, you want to build from there based on your activity level. You want to multiply the number of calories calculated from the Mifflin St Jeor equation by 1 if completely comatose, 1.2 if slightly active, or 1.5 if very active. From there, you have the calories that you will need to maintain weight.

However, most of the time you might be calculating these calories based on goals that you have for yourself whether that be to lose weight or gain weight. You want to optimize the amount of calories that you are eating to put you in a calorie deficit, (if wanting to lose weight) but also high enough that you are conserving your metabolism. For this reason, I recommend that for weight loss, you decrease the total calories that you calculated by 10%. You can do this for a period of time as trial and error, and see where you are at. If you are not losing weight, then this means that you are not quite in a calorie deficit and you may need to go a little lower. You want to be strategic about your weight loss, and not just cut calories. If you are given a plan that is the same for everyone, then you should do a little more research on what you individually need as we are all different.

For the most part, when you calculate caloric needs, your calories are going to be some form of distribution between carbs, fats, and proteins. Carbs are 4kcal/g, protein is 4kcal/g and fats are 9kcal/g and all of these macronutrients combined will equal your total calories for the day.

Finding your caloric intake needs seems complicated, but the simple fact is that weight loss is a matter of energy expenditure and if you are in a state of consuming less calories than your body is burning, then you are going to lose weight.

Katie is a pharmacist from NC. She moved to New York City with her husband and two teacup yorkies for an adventure. After completing her doctorate in pharmacy last May, Katie decided to pursue nutrition coaching. Katie specializes in creating custom macronutrient profiles for clients based on their individual goals. You can find Katie on her blog Katiesfitscript.

Main Photo Credit: Gustavo Frazao/; Second Photo Credit: Syda Productions/