Updated: August 26, 2017

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Each day we all burn many calories a day to keep the body running which is the result of numerous processes. All of this is referred to as our metabolism. This can vary considerably based on gender, height and weight, activity levels and age. Much more details about this topic is covered in the Weight Loss 101 chapter. Here we are highlighting how to calculate your likely daily calorie burn as well as what calorie intake is needed to lose weight. There will be some simple and easy calculators below to do this. Additionally, the more direct methods of metabolism testing will be listed.

The calculators are a good tool but they are not perfect. Keep in mind that the resulting number is a credible estimation but an estimation nonetheless. It will give you a good starting point. Keep two things in mind if you feel that you are ingesting the target calorie intake and not losing weight. First, it is very likely that you are missing 25 to 50% of how much you are actually eating. This typically happens due to unconscious aspects (i.e., not doing this deliberately) and due to not having accurate measurement of the amount of food eaten. To help with the former you can set up automatic cues or reminders to track everything and for the latter challenge a digital food scale can be a great tool. The second thing to consider if you seem to be hitting you intake goal but not losing weight is to do one or two week food experiment. This experiment entails ONLY eating foods that are easily quantifiable when it comes to calorie content. This will be you will likely be eating foods that are packaged so that the serving size is stated, the calories are given for the serving, and you can easily know how many servings you ate. The goal of doing this is to get a very accurate account of calorie intake and to likely show that if a certain amount of calories are ACCURATELY recorded then weight loss will happen. The evidence is overwhelming that ingesting a calorie intake that elicits a calorie deficit will always lead to weight loss. There are NO “broken metabolisms” or “starvation modes” that will inhibit weight loss. The number that elicits a deficit will vary based on individual aspects (see previous) which are taken into account in the calculators. To be clear, for many people this means a relatively low number of calories must be ingested to lose weight (BTW, this is one of the reasons losing weight is difficult). However, it is definitely NOT zero and is likely 1,200 to 1,800 calories to consistently lose about one lb of bodyfat per week.

The following is an example “experiment” week. The calorie intake for each day is about 1,200 calories. This amount was chosen due to the fact that this amount is very likely to elicit at least one pound of fat loss in a week for most people. However, based on your specific requirements, adjust the goal intake. We would suggest, for this one or two week trial, to set an intake that should lead to AT LEAST one pound of fat loss per week and 2 pounds may be a better target for the short time frame. The reason is to clearly see that weight loss will happen which should help to improve the hope and self-efficacy that is need to continue working on eating behavior that will allow weight loss to continue to happen.

Here is an example week (some caveats and clarifications; remember to adjust amounts to your needs and to know that you can make many changes to the food choices, your specific food choices can vary from the example so play close attention to the calorie content of your foods, the goal is to have a very accurate quantity and therefore calorie content, also the meal frequency can vary widely as well, as you can see we have the example set with 3 meals, but feel free to move this up or down, all that matters is the goal intake of calories is met, and many of foods are likely to be considered to be on the higher end of the scale of “processed”, yes, but there is no quality evidence that eating such foods will cause any harm nor will they inhibit weight loss, and again, this is just for a short time and not recommended for long term use at high quantities, but 10-20% of the diet coming from highly processed foods is unlikely to cause poor health and for many people have some of these foods and having a more flexible mindset about foods will help in the short-term and more importantly in the long-term and finally we did focus on getting a good amount of protein per meal, which meals 20 or more grams, preferably 30 grams as getting about this much of this macronutrient is likely to help reduce hunger as well as other health benefits)


  • MEAL 1: 2 whole eggs (155 cal), 2 pieces of toast (200 cal), MEAL 2: SMART ONE spicy peanut chicken and broccoli frozen meal (250 cal), blueberry LARA bar (200 cal), MEAL 3: Healthy Choice Power Bowl Korean inspired beef frozen meal (290 cal), 1 tbs peanut butter (94 cal) and as much celery as wanted (15 cal)
  • a daily total of 1,205 calories


  • MEAL 1: protein shake (1 42 gram scoop of whey protein, 170 cal) and 1 Peanut Butter Chocolate LARA bar (200 cal) MEAL 2: Protein bar (Power Bar Protein plus, 350 cal) and 1 fruit cup (Del Monte in water, 40 cal), MEAL 3:  1 can soup (Amy’s Minestrone, 180 cal), 1 can tuna (tuna in water, 179 cal) with 1 tbs mayo (90 cal) and 1 large cucumber (45 cal)
  • a daily total of 1,254 calories


  • MEAL 1: 1 cup 1% cottage cheese (163 cal) 2 fruit cups (Del Monte fruit cups in water 80 cal) MEAL 2: one Oatmega protein bar (200 cal), 1 cup Greek Yogurt (100 cal), 2 pieces of dark chocolate (Ghirardelli 72% dark individually wrapped pieces, 120 cal), MEAL 3:  protein shake (1 42 gram scoop of whey protein, 170 cal), one LARA bar (200 cal) and one bag of popcorn (Pop Secret small microwave bag, 100 cal)
  • daily total of  1,133 calories


  • MEAL 1: two Greek yogurts (200 cal), MEAL 2: one pre-made protein shake (EAS 170 cal) and one LARA bar (200 cal), MEAL 3:  one can of salmon (Chicken of the Sea 5.4 ounce can in water, 120 cal), one TBS spicy mustard (10 cal), two pieces of bread (200 cal), 1 oz cheese (one pre-package mozzarella string cheese, 90 cal) and 2 cups applesauce (Tree top no sugar added, plain, 100 cal) with cinnamon sprinkled on top (0 cal)
  • a daily total of 1,090 calories


  • MEAL 1: protein shake pre-made (EAS, 170 cal) and 1 LARA bar (200 cal), MEAL 2: one frozen meal (SMART ONE roasted turkey and veggies, 240 cal) and one string cheese (90 cal), MEAL 3: 1 steam-in-a-bag veggies (Birds Eye steamfresh brown and wild rice with broccoli and carrots, 1 cup cooked, half a bag, 250 cal), 1 can salmon (Chicken of the Sea 5.4 ounce can in water, 120 cal), 1 TBS soy sauce (8 cal), and one ice cream sandwich (Klondike, 100 cal)
  • a daily total of 1,170


  • MEAL 1: one protein bar (Premier Protein, 290 cal), MEAL 2: one can soup (Amy’s chucky vegetable, 160 cal) and two packets of tuna (2 Starkist pouches, buffalo style, 140 cal), MEAL 3: one frozen meal (Healthy Choice crustless chicken pot pie, 300 cal), 1 Greek yogurt (100 calories) and one bag popcorn (Pop Secret small microwave bag, 100 cal)
  • a daily total of 1,090 calories


  • MEAL 1: 2 whole eggs (155 cal) and 1 cinnamon raisin English muffin (140 cal), MEAL 2: one Oatmega protein bar (200 cal) and one pre-made protein drink (EAS Advant Edge, 100 cal), MEAL 3: frozen meal (Healthy Choice kung poa chicken, 280 cal), 1 can of cut green beans (no-salt added, 50 cal), one protein drink (EAS Advant Edge, 100 cal) and one ice cream sandwich (Klondike, 100 cal)
  • a daily total of 1,125 calories

Assessing your likely calorie burn for the day and your calorie intake to lose weight

To find out your estimated BMR (basal metabolic rate) and TDEE (total daily energy expenditure, which is the number to focus on, click on the following image to go the the calculator



The following are the more DIRECT methods of testing your metabolism. The major challenge with these methods is they are often not easily accessible. The most accurate option is going to get your BMR tested. These methods can tell you very precisely what your BMR is and the double label water method can tell you what your TEE is. The following methods are all referred to as indirect calorimetry.

The follow three types of indirect calorimetry are not easily accessible but can be available at some Hospitals and University research centers. These are all considered very accurate methods for determining metabolic rates.

  • Double labeled water – the gold standard for accuracy of BMR and TEE
  • Douglas Bag
  • Whole room calorimetry

The following are a few portable devices that can accurately test BMR and are likely much more accessible for personal testing.

1. The FitMate

  • to learn more about it, go here - INFO
  • to find a place where you can get tested, go to – LOCATIONS

2. The BodyGem

  • to learn more about this device go to – INFO 
  • to locate a testing facility go to – LOCATIONS

Recently a new portable device has come to market that can measure you metabolic rate, it’s called the Breeze. There is at least one study comparing it to a Douglas Bag and it was found to have very similar results. Therefore, it is likely to give a person an accurate measurement of BMR.

3. The Breeze

  • to learn more about this device go to – INFO

Clinics that test metabolic rate:

  • The Cooper Clinic in Dallas, TX, more INFO
  • U Pitt: Neuromuscular Research Lab, more INFO
  • UC Davis, more INFO
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