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Calories: How Many Should I Eat?  

Calories are a measurement of how much food energy is available in what you eat. Since every body needs energy, everyone needs to consume calories.

Your Daily Energy Balance

Your daily energy balance is a simple relationship of how much energy (calories) you bring in and how much energy (calories) you spend each day. Energy that is left over is stored in your body like an extra gas can in the trunk of your car... fat.

Energy Consumed = Energy Expended Even Weight
Energy Consumed < Energy Expended Lose Weight
Energy Consumed > Energy Expended  Gain Weight

The key to managing your weight is really managing your daily energy balance.

How Many Calories Do I Need?

People, like cars, come in all shapes and sizes and these differences figure into a body's fuel economy. Factors that influence how many calories you need each day include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Height
  • Muscle Mass
  • Overall Weight
  • Metabolism
  • Activity level
  • Activity intensity

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide a reference point to determine how many calories you should eat each day based on your gender, age and daily aerobic activity.

calorie chart

  • To maintain weight, find the calorie level for your gender, age, and activity level in the blue area
  • To lose 1 lb per week, find the calorie level for your gender, age, and activity level in the green area
  • To lose 2 lbs per week, find the calorie level for your gender, age, and activity level in the yellow area
  • A daily caloric intake of fewer than 1,200 calories is not recommended - gray areas
Meal Plans

1,200 Calorie Meal Plan
1,300 Calorie Meal Plan
1,400 Calorie Meal Plan
1,500 Calorie Meal Plan
1,600 Calorie Meal Plan
1,700 Calorie Meal Plan
1,800 Calorie Meal Plan
1,900 Calorie Meal Plan
2,000 Calorie Meal Plan
2,100 Calorie Meal Plan
2,200 Calorie Meal Plan
2,300 Calorie Meal Plan
2,400 Calorie Meal Plan

For questions about moderate-intensity aerobic activity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, click here. The chart above is a guide for Americans of average weight and height. If you are taller or heavier than average, you likley burn a few more calories than are listed.

Count Calories vs. Count Servings

Looking at the chart above, it is clear how calories and activity are interchangable. The goal is to find a matching caloric and activity lifestyle that you can comfortably maintain.

Your next question might be... How much food is 1,600 calories?

We recommend counting servings because, to us, it seems a lot more natural than counting calories. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends the following servings of the eight basic food groups:

Servings Chart

Example: Number of servings for 1600 calories:

5 servings
3 servings
5 ounces
3 servings
1/2 serving
5 servings
150 calories

Traps To Avoid

The easiest trap to fall into is to think you are eating foods in the "left-hand" columns, when, in fact, you are consuming a lot of calories from the "right-hand" column of "Grease, Sweets, and Cheats." Avoid the traps below to help you succeed:

  • Watch Out for Added fats - Dairy should be non-fat; meats should be 95%+ lean; poultry should be skinless; avoid saturated fats
  • Watch Out for Added Sugars - Added sugars are in many foods, all added sugar needs to be counted as "cheats"
  • What's in Processed Foods - Ingredients and preparation of processed foods mean many of the calories counts as a "cheat"

Below is a sample 1,600 Calorie Meal Plan

1600 Calorie Sample Meal Plan

Tips To Make Your Calories Count

The following tips can help you succeed:

  • Stay Hydrated - Drink a glass of water when you awaken, and keep it up throughout the day. Water can help suppress hunger between meals.
  • Schedule Snacks - Keep your blood sugar up. Don't let more than three hours go by during the day without eating.
  • Strength Training - Build muscle mass to increase your metabolism. Muscle burns more calories, even on rest days.
  • Put Your Stomach To Bed Early - Let your body metabolize what's in your stomach, eat your last meal three hours before bedtime.
  • Cheat Day - Schedule a cheat day once a week if needed. Six days of an energy deficit followed by one big energy excess is better than a perpetual daily energy excess.
  • Keep A Meal Diary - WebMD has a good article of the benefits of keeping a meal diary.

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