Belly fat is the bane of many women's existence, and no matter how many crunches you do, you might not be able to get rid of it. If you're hoping to get a bikini-fabulous body, the key is getting rid of fat, which you can do by cutting the number of calories you eat each day or burning extra calories through exercise. Doing both is even better. There's no "right" number of calories for every person who wants to burn belly fat. Instead, you'll have to consider how much weight you want to lose and determine how many calories you need in a day.
Daily Calorie Needs
Although the "average" number of calories a person needs is about 2,000, the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight can be much different. For example, the Mayo Clinic's calorie calculator notes that a 5-foot 4-inch woman who weighs 140 pounds needs around 1,700 calories to maintain her body weight. Generally speaking, the more you weigh, the more calories you need. You can't just lose weight around your belly; instead, you'll have to focus on losing weight throughout your body. To lose weight, you'll have to get rid of 3,500 calories for every pound you want to lose.
Your activity level also plays an important role in how many calories you need. Even if you're not regularly exercising, your activity level could be much different from the activity level of another person who doesn't exercise. If you're on your feet all day, have pets you spend chasing around the house or walk to work or to stores, you'll have a higher activity level and will need more calories. If you spend most of your time sitting, you'll need fewer calories. Boosting your activity level is one simple way to increase the number of calories you burn.
Cutting calories from your diet is one way to eliminate belly fat, though the American Council on Exercise reports that only 5 percent of people who lose weight through diet alone manage to keep it off. To lose a pound a week, you'll need to cut out 500 calories per day -- roughly the equivalent of a cheeseburger and a soda. If you already have a relatively low body weight, however, cutting too many calories could reduce your daily caloric intake to a very low number, which could mean you don't get adequate nutrition. For this reason, combining diet with exercise is a better strategy.
You can eat more if you're burning calories, and your daily caloric needs will increase if you're getting regular exercise. The number of calories you'll burn through exercise depends on your age, health, size and muscle mass, but the Mayo Clinic points out that an hour of high-impact aerobics burns about 533 calories in a 160-pound person. If you did an hour of aerobics every day each week at this weight, you'd lose about a pound a week and still be able to eat an extra 270 calories per week. There's no way to lose weight just around your belly, even if you're only doing exercises that target the stomach. Instead, aerobic exercise can help you burn calories throughout your body and aid in toning your stomach.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.