How Many Calories Do You Need to Burn to Lose One Pound?

When you are weight watching, every calorie counts. You know that consuming fewer calories leads to weight loss, but have you ever wondered exactly how many calories you need to burn to lose one pound of weight?

In this article, we discuss the connection between calories and weight as well as how many calories you have to burn to lose one pound. We also share some tips to reduce your daily calorie intake and meet your weight loss goal.

Why Do Extra Calories Cause Weight Gain?

Calories are the energy in our food. These calories are present in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, the three main nutrients providing energy to our body for all basic functions. Your caloric intake from all these sources is converted to physical energy for meeting your body’s energy expenditure needs. If your body does not use much energy, the extra calories get stored as fat in your body.

To reduce body fat, it is crucial to create a calorie deficit in your body. You create this deficit by following a low-calorie diet, increasing your physical activity level, or doing both. A low-calorie diet ensures your body gets fewer calories than it uses, while workouts burn the extra calories and maintain the caloric deficit.

Calories to Burn for Losing a Pound

If you are burning off as many calories as you eat, you will maintain your weight, but to lose weight you need to burn off more calories than you eat. (Just as you eat more calories to safely gain weight.)

Since one pound of body weight is equal to 3,500 calories, you’ll need to burn 3,500 more calories than you eat to lose one pound.

This 3,500-calorie rule became popular when Max Wishnofsky, a Brooklyn-based doctor, published a paper stating this number as the caloric equivalent of a pound of weight. To lose a pound of weight within a week you’ll need to create a deficit of 500 calories per day, meaning you’ll have to burn 500 more calories than you eat.

However, this rate of weight loss cannot be sustained over longer periods because your basal metabolic rate (BMR) changes as you lose weight. Basal metabolic rate is the number of calories needed to keep your body functioning at rest. Some studies highlight how the changing rate of metabolism affects your weight loss efforts in the long term.

Even though watching your calorie intake can be useful, it’s important to remember that calories in does not necessarily equal calories out. This concept is too simple, and the way the body processes food and how it burns calories is far more complex,” says Brittany Ford, Registered Holistic Nutritionist. 

When you lose weight, your body spends fewer calories to keep functioning, so your BMR reduces. Simply put, you need less energy to fuel a 180-pound person than a 200-pound person. To compensate for the reduced BMR, your calorie deficit should be increased to more than 500 per day.

Tips to Reduce Caloric Intake

Weight maintenance and management boil down to keeping your calories in control. Calorie counting is necessary to ensure you burn more calories than you eat. Fewer calories mean a lesser likelihood of putting on weight, so here we share some tips to keep the extra calories at bay.

Cut Down on High-Calorie Foods

Small changes to our daily diet can play a big role in a healthy weight loss program. When counting your calories, start with cutting down on high-calorie foods such as pizza, ice cream, and whole milk. Instead, opt for low-calorie substitutes such as a cauliflower pizza crust, frozen yogurt, and skim milk.

Try to avoid foods with empty calories, such as soda, candies, and chips. Anything loaded with sugar, fat, and oil is called an empty-calorie food because it doesn’t carry any nutritional value, but it’s high in calories. We suggest packing healthy snacks for work and on-the-go to avoid easy-to-grab, unhealthy fast foods.

Control Your Portions

When we dine out or have our favorite food at home, we often tend to overeat. This increase in food intake can lead to a significant amount of weight gain. To keep a check on our weight, it’s better to control portion sizes.

Dish up slightly less food than you think you’ll be able to eat. If you are still hungry, finish your meal with some fruits or vegetables. The water and fiber content in these foods makes you feel full.

Before eating any packaged food, check the nutrition labels on the box. It gives you an idea about the calories per serving. With this information, calculate how much you should eat to maintain your daily deficit of calories.

Another effective way to control your portion sizes is to eat from small plates. We usually fill our plates when we serve ourselves, so having a smaller plate ensures we don’t take more food than we can eat. When you take home restaurant leftovers, avoid eating directly from the box because it doesn’t give you a sense of how much you are eating. Instead, serve yourself on your regular plate so you don’t end up overeating.

Use a Calorie Calculator

Find an online calculator on any health and fitness website, or download an app for your smartphone. Calorie calculators are a helpful tool in your weight loss program. A calorie calculator estimates the number of calories you need based on your age, height, weight, and activity level.

Once you know the calories you need, calculate the number of calories to burn daily so you reach your ideal weight. For example, an average adult man weighing about 154 pounds needs 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. If he eats 2,000 calories per day, he should burn 2,500 calories daily to lose a pound of weight in a week.

Increase the Level of Physical Activity

To sustain your weight loss efforts, gradually increase your level of physical activity. More activity helps you burn more calories, increasing the calorie deficit in your body. Gradually increasing your daily caloric deficit helps you lose weight consistently. For example, if you exercise using a jump rope for 35 minutes, you will burn 300 calories. To burn more calories, increase the duration to 45 or 50 minutes.

Another way of burning more calories is by increasing the intensity of exercise. If you walk at 20 minutes per mile for an hour as your daily workout routine, walk faster at 15 or 16 minutes per mile.

Combine a Balanced Diet with Exercise

Combine a balanced diet with exercise to comfortably meet your daily caloric deficit goal. That way you don’t have to engage in intense workouts or cut down immensely on your diet. It’s a healthy way to lose weight. For example, if you have to achieve a daily deficit of 500 calories, burn 300 calories by exercising and consume 200 fewer calories than your body needs.

Drastically reducing your caloric intake pushes your body into starvation mode, and as a survival mechanism, your body clings on to the energy reserves. This slows your metabolism, affecting your weight loss process. To avoid this, include green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat in your meals. They are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein. These foods also keep you full, so you don’t binge on unhealthy foods like chocolate or chips.

Build Your Muscles

Your body needs energy to build muscle mass, and using energy burns calories, increasing your rate of metabolism. During the weight loss process, you need to ensure you lose body fat and not muscle mass.

To increase muscle growth, include strength training in your workout routine. Lifting weights, doing push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, or leg squats are some examples of strength training. You burn calories and build your lean muscle mass, which in turn improves your metabolism.

You should consume an adequate amount of protein because it helps to build your muscles and also cuts down on your carbohydrates consumption. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends 20 to 30 grams of protein four times a day.

Increasing protein intake reduces the calories from carbohydrates. The carbs we eat convert to glucose and the unused glucose gets stored as glycogen reserves in our body. These glycogen reserves turn into body fat in the long term. If we can avoid accumulating these calories from carbs, we reduce the chances of storing fat in our body.

Don’t Go Overboard

We need calories every day to have proper hormone balancing, organ function, brain capabilities and complete our daily activities efficiently. If we reduce our caloric intake too much, we will not have the energy supply we need for the brain or the body. 

Learning to understand food in a holistic manner and sticking to a nutritional plan that is mostly (80% +) whole-food based and as close to nature as possible is a great long term solution for weight management. 

“When following an idea like this, you naturally are choosing foods rich in nutrients and not too calorically-dense. This approach removes processed and packaged food, helping fuel your body with real food from the earth. Most people who learn to understand food like this are able to maintain their weight without having to severely limit their calories or go on any other diet. Calories do play a part, but they are not the “end all be all,'” says Brittany Ford. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to lose 1 pound a day?

No, it’s not generally considered healthy to lose 1 pound a day. However, your rate of weight loss depends on your body composition. If you have more body fat, you may lose weight more rapidly because you have more to lose. Those who are average or petite take longer to lose weight, but this is normal. If you have a weight loss goal, aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week, or 4-8 pounds per month.

How many calories do you naturally burn in a day?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average adult woman uses about 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, and the average adult man burns 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. These estimates are based on a reference height of 5 feet 4 inches for women and 5 feet 10 inches for men. The reference weight is 126 pounds for women and 154 pounds for men. With age, calorie needs decrease due to reductions in BMR.

How much exercise does it take to lose 1 pound?

Considering you’ve to burn 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound, you should aim to shed 300 calories each day. If you are losing 300 calories each day, then working out for 12 days makes you burn 3,600 calories which is roughly equivalent to a pound of body weight. To burn 300 calories, walk for an hour at the speed of 20 minutes per mile. Keep moving your arms as you walk to burn more calories. Exercising with a jump rope for 35 minutes can also burn 300 calories a day.

Is working out 30 minutes a day enough to lose weight?

Yes, working out for 30 minutes a day can produce similar or even better results than 60 minutes of exercise. According to a 2012 study, those who worked out for 30 minutes lost around 2 pounds more than those who worked out for an hour during a 13-week period. Sometimes, if you work out longer, the exercise is less intense, making you feel more hungry. These factors hinder the efficacy of your workout sessions.

How much weight will I lose if I drop 500 calories a day?

If you cut out  500 calories a day, you are likely to lose a pound of weight in the first 7 days. Since 3,500 calories make up a pound of body weight, a caloric deficit of 500 a day makes you lose a pound in a week. However, this rate of weight loss can’t be sustained because your BMR decreases with your weight. A low BMR slows the speed at which you lose weight.


Many of us have weight loss goals, but it’s crucial to know how to lose weight the healthy way before diving into an exercise and diet program.

Though the 3,500-calorie deficit rule does not result in weight loss right away, it’s a good starting point. If you lose 3 to 4 pounds in the first month of your weight loss program, you will feel encouraged to be consistent with your efforts. Cut your calories, exercise, and reach your goal weight safely.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

James Nguyen, Sleep Expert James Nguyen

James Nguyen is Zoma's resident sleep expert and staff writer. James enjoys learning about the newest technologies in the mattress industry and doing deep dives into the science of sleep. He's tried nearly every gadget and gizmo in an effort to determine which sleep-promoting accessories can truly enhance your shut-eye. Outside of work, James takes his dedication to get healthy sleep seriously, and has even declared himself an "expert napper."

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