Follow this guide to figure out how much to eat based on your specific body and goals.
Whether you're trying to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight or even gain weight, you may be wondering how many calories you need to take in each day to meet your goals. While it would be nice if there was just a single number you could aim for (after all, measurable goals are great!), it's not so easy to come up with an exact number.
That's because the number of calories any particular person should eat in a day is influenced by a variety of factors and every person is different. Calorie intake may depend in part on a person's age, gender, current weight, height, body frame, metabolism, health status, activity level and more.
But even if it's hard to offer a blanket recommendation for how many calories you should eat in a day, there are general guidelines you can follow for trying to lose or maintain weight in a healthy manner.
For example, if you are at a weight you want to stay at, keep track of what you eat for a couple of weeks (there are many food tracker apps you can use that will easily calculate this for you) to get an idea of how many calories you typically eat in a day. Although that number will fluctuate slightly from day to day, it will give you a general idea of how many calories you're currently eating while maintaining your weight so you'll have a goal to stick to.
If you are trying to lose weight, many nutrition experts suggest reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories a day compared to what you need to maintain your weight. Doing so will result in a slow and sustainable weight loss of approximately one pound per week.
Although each person has unique needs, there are some general calorie recommendations included in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans based on gender and age. These include:
- Ages 19-30: 2,000 – 2,400 calories/day
- Ages 31-59: 1,800 – 2,200 calories/day
- Ages 60+: 1,600 – 2,000 calories/day
- Ages 19-30: 2,400 – 3,000 calories/day
- Ages 31-59: 2,200 – 2,800 calories/day
- Ages 60+: 2,000 – 2,600 calories/day
It's important not to cut the amount of calories you're consuming by too much when trying to lose weight. This can change your metabolism, making it more difficult to lose weight or keep the weight off over the long term. It can also increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies and set you up for binges, since you're bound to feel hungry on occasion if you're not eating enough.
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Date Last Reviewed: November 17, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RD