Just how many calories you need in a day varies with your gender, age, weight and activity level, with the most common number being 2,000 calories. Because it's the most common, the FDA uses 2,000 calories as a base to determine daily values of various nutrients (that’s why 2,000 calories is also the reference number used on the Nutrition Facts Panel on packaged foods). If you want to lose weight rather than maintain a healthy weight, that number will change. So what does a 2,000-calorie diet look like? And is it the best calorie goal for you and your needs? Start by estimating your daily calorie goal and see what you get on a well-balanced 2,000-calorie-a-day diet (or check out the 1,200 and 1,500 calorie versions).
This simple calculation will give you a daily calorie goal that can help you estimate how many calories you need to maintain your current weight or lose a healthy 1 to 2 pounds per week. Most people will lose weight following a 1,500 calorie diet.
1. To estimate how many calories you need each day to stay at the weight you are right now, multiply your current weight by 12.
2. To lose 1 pound/week: Cut 500 calories/day
3. To lose 2 pounds/week: Cut 1,000 calories/day
Say your current weight is 190 pounds:
1. To maintain your current weight: 190 lbs. x 12 = 2,280 calories
2. To lose 1 pound/week: 2,280 calories – 500 calories = 1,780 calories
3. To lose 2 pounds/week: 2,280 calories – 1000 calories = 1,280 calories
This formula is used in many clinical weight-loss trials and assumes the person using the equation is sedentary. If you're an active person, you may find you need more calories than what you calculated to feel satisfied during the day. The best gauge for whether you're at the right level is how satisfied you feel (you shouldn't be hungry all day!) and, if weight loss is a goal, whether you're actually losing weight. If you're losing weight on 1,900 calories a day and you feel great, stick with that. The calculation is just a suggested starting point. As you lose weight, you may want to run the calorie-target calculation again, since your calorie needs will have changed.
For healthy weight loss, we don't advise losing more than 2 pounds per week. If you calculate a daily calorie goal that's less than 1,200, set your calorie goal at 1,200 calories. Below that, it's hard to meet your nutrient needs—or to feel satisfied enough to stick with a plan.
Some original reporting by Nicci Micco, M.S.
When you're trying to eat better or lose weight, sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to eat. Following a meal plan that's designed by a registered dietitian is a great place to start. Here's what a sample day looks like at 2,000 calories. Give this healthy day of eating a try and don't miss our other healthy 2,000-calories meal plans, like this Mediterranean-style meal plan or this healthy meal plan for diabetes.
For breakfast, choose something between 400 and 450 calories.
Scrambled Eggs with Vegetables (338 calories)
1 medium banana (105 calories)
1 cup green tea (2 calories)
TOTAL: 445 calories
Aim to keep snacks around 150 to 200 calories. Try these easy snack ideas.
1 medium apple, sliced (95 calories)
1 Tbsp. nut butter mixed with a pinch of cinnamon (98 calories)
TOTAL: 193 calories
Aim to make lunch 450 to 500 calories. Try some of these great lunch ideas for work.
Mediterranean Lettuce Wraps (498 calories)
TOTAL: 498 calories
Use your afternoon snack to fill out the rest of the day's calories.
1 cup cucumber slices (16 calories)
1/4 cup Garlic Hummus (151 calories)
TOTAL: 167 calories
Aim for dinner to be between 550 and 650 calories. Browse these healthy dinners recipes to find some you want to try.
TOTAL: 636 calories
Enjoy a (naturally) sweet treat to end the day, like this easy "nice" cream made from frozen fruit.
3/4 cup Strawberry-Mango Nice Cream (70 calories)
TOTAL: 70 calories