How to Cut Calories for Weight Loss

woman cooking healthy
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Are you trying to cut calories to lose weight? If so, you may be confused by all the numbers you see. It's hard to figure out exactly how many calories to cut to lose weight effectively and keep the pounds off for good. But don't worry. Cutting calories is easier than you might imagine—once you get the facts.

Can I Lose Weight by Cutting Calories Alone?

There are different ways to lose weight, but all of them require that you change your daily calorie balance so that you burn more calories than you consume. Experts call this your energy balance. The simplest way to change your energy balance is to reduce your calorie intake. You can accomplish this by eating smaller portions of food at meals, skipping mindless snacking and high-calorie drinks, or swapping high-calorie foods for lower-calorie ones.

You can also add exercise to increase your calorie deficit and lose weight faster. But be careful. This plan works for some people, but it backfires on others. Exercise is good for your body and should be part of a healthy lifestyle. But exercise can also make you hungrier. If you're already cutting calories to lose weight, the added hunger after exercise can be overwhelming, and it may cause you to quit your weight loss program altogether.

If you already exercise, you may be able to reduce calories and maintain your exercise program to lose weight. But if exercise is not a part of your daily routine, start slowly. First, cut calories to lose weight and then slowly add an easy exercise program to increase your weight loss.

How Many Calories Should I Cut?

Most experts recommend that you cut approximately 500 to 750 calories per day to lose one to two pounds per week. You can use this weight loss calorie goal calculator to figure out how many calories you should eat each day.

In order to meet your goal, you need to keep track of how many calories you eat. It's best to keep a food journal. Your journal can be a simple pen and paper log. Or you can use a smartphone app or website that tracks calories for you. Many activity trackers allow you to count calories within the tracker's online dashboard. Use the method that is easiest for you so that you track your calories consistently.

Can I Cut More Calories to Lose Weight Faster?

If cutting calories can lead to weight loss, you might be tempted to cut as many calories as possible to slim down. Some people even lower their daily food intake to 800 calories or less to lose weight. But extremely low-calorie diets usually don't lead to permanent weight loss for several reasons and can be detrimental to overall health.

First, very low-calorie diets (VLCD) can affect your metabolism, putting your body into "starvation mode." When you eat far less than your body needs, your metabolism slows down to adjust for the lower supply of energy. That means your rate of weight loss slows down, too. You won't gain weight by eating less, but you might lose weight more slowly than if you eat the right number of calories.

Next, very low-calorie diets affect your daily energy level. Why does this matter? Your daily activity level has a big impact on the number of calories you burn every day. If you stay active, you're more likely to see weight loss results. If you're exhausted from eating too little, you won't burn as many calories and weight loss can stall.

Lastly, very low-calorie diets are uncomfortable, unsafe, and difficult to maintain. Without medical supervision, it's unlikely that your body will stay healthy without essential nutrients. And if you get overly hungry from the decreased food intake, you're more likely to binge and possibly even gain weight.

A Word From Verywell

Cutting calories isn't the trendiest method of weight loss. You probably won't see Hollywood celebrities talking about it in magazines or on social media channels. But making moderate adjustments to your daily caloric intake is a time-tested, evidence-based weight-loss method. It is the method that is most recommended by health experts.

Just be careful that you don't cut too many calories and risk your health. Your body needs time to adjust to a new lifestyle and a new eating plan. Take it slowly and make small adjustments to see real weight loss results that last.

Was this page helpful?
2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Turer CB, Palmer BF. Tools for successful weight management in primary care. Am J Med Sci. 2015;350(6):485-97. doi:10.1097/MAJ.0000000000000530

  2. Strychar I. Diet in the management of weight loss. CMAJ. 2006;174(1):56-63. doi:10.1503/cmaj.045037