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Medical Answers About Dieting and Calorie Restriction For Weight Loss

DrSugar Answers: Dieting and Calories

DrSugar is in the house! And she's answering your health related questions.

Dear DrSugar,
I am trying to lose weight by dieting and know I should eat fewer calories than I am burning daily. I am wondering how big the calorie deficit should be to still be safe. I am trying to exercise (using the elliptical) a couple of days of week for at least a half an hour. Also what is the minimum amount of calories I should be eating daily?
Dieting Gal

First of all, I’d like to commend you on your health and fitness goals! Also, I am delighted to answer these questions because they focus on healthy and safe weight loss, which is extremely important. There are a lot of fad diets and exercise regimens out there that, while effective in the short term in terms of quick and noticeable weight loss, may not be healthy or safe. To learn more about tips for safe weight loss, keep reading!

The principle behind weight loss is simple: you either have to burn more or eat less calories. To lose weight, you need to create an energy (or calorie) deficit by eating fewer calories, increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity, or both. Typically, what is recommended as the safest method is a combination of eating fewer calories and burning calories through physical activity. Based on your question, it sounds like you are on the right track in terms of trying to exercise and eat fewer calories.


The American College of Sports Medicine has issued recent guidelines as to how much physical activity is recommended both for weight management and weight loss. For the prevention of weight gain and possible modest weight loss, the ACSM recommends 150 to 250 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity. For greater weight loss, they report that 250 to 300 minutes of exercise a week is likely needed.

Determining a safe daily calorie deficit can be difficult because every person is different when it comes to baseline metabolism, body size and composition, sex, age, and level of physical activity. What is easy to determine, however, is the fact that 3,500 calories equals about one pound of fat. Therefore, you have to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose one pound. For example, if you cut 500 calories from your diet every day, you would lose about one pound a week. Or, if you are physically active, you can eat 250 calories less every day and burn 250 calories per day with your workout. Ideally, according to the Mayo Clinic, you do not want to lose more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, which means a safe calorie deficit would be to burn 500 to 1,000 calories per day through a reduced calorie diet AND exercise.

Determining a safe minimum amount of daily calories can be difficult as well for the same reasons listed above. However, extreme restriction of consumed calories can significantly slow the metabolic rate, and hinder your weight loss goals. The American College of Sports Medicine states that you shouldn’t send signals to your body to conserve calories by detoxing or fasting. They recommend that women should eat at least 1,200 calories per day and men should eat at least 1,800.

Hopefully, your weight loss questions have been answered with the above information. As always, you should consult with your physician before starting any weight loss or exercise program. Also, if concerned with dietary or nutritional aspects of weight loss, consulting with a licensed nutritionist or dietician may be of benefit. Good luck with your continued weight loss!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

Join The Conversation
onlysourcherry onlysourcherry 6 years
yikes! good to know!
Spectra Spectra 6 years
Your net calories need to be at if you're active and burning 500 calories a day in the gym, you need to eat 1700 to not starve.
SaraNoH SaraNoH 6 years
I wish there was a way to figure how many calories your body burns naturally just by functioning.
onlysourcherry onlysourcherry 6 years
So if you are eating 1200 calories a day and you burn 400 some calories when you exercise do you risk going into starvation mode? Do your net calories need to be 1200 or does that matter?
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