How to choose the right calorie level for your daily meal plans.
Eat With Intention

How to choose the right calorie level for your daily meal plans. How to lose weight with a meal plan

Our menus are simple to follow and designed by EatingWell's nutrition staff with a variety of healthy, delicious recipes, an abundance of whole grains to help you feel full, and healthy amounts of fresh fruits and low-fat dairy foods to make sure you are meeting your basic needs for calcium, protein and other essential nutrients while you are dieting. Our menus come in three calorie levels: 1,200, 1,500 and 1,800, and are rounded out with healthy snacks to keep your diet interesting and help you to feel satisfied.

You're likely to lose weight on any of these plans since shedding pounds is a matter of consuming fewer calories than you expend and most adults eat more than 1800 calories a day. So, how to choose what level is best for you?

One option is to take a simple approach: If you're a relatively small person or someone who doesn't have much weight to lose, shoot for a lower-calorie goal. (The lower you go, the faster you lose-but there's no point in setting up unrealistic expectations if you can't meet them.) If you're a tall person or someone who is carrying quite a few extra pounds, you'll probably do quite well on the higher-calorie plan. If you're not sure, start in the middle, with 1,500 calories, and adjust up or down based on how satisfied you're feeling-physically and about how quickly you're losing weight.

If you want to calculate your goal more precisely, use the following equation: Multiply your weight (in pounds) by 12 and subtract 1,000. Then select the calorie level that's closest to your answer. This will help you to lose about two pounds per week. (Note: If you calculate a number that's less than 1,200 calories, follow the 1,200 calorie plan. Eating less than that, it's hard to meet your daily nutrition requirements.)

Editor's Note

For questions about the daily calorie calculation: This formula is used in many clinical weight loss trials-and, it's true-it assumes that the person using the equation is sedentary. If you're an active person and you're finding that your result (say 1200 calories) is too low, bump it up gradually to one that feels satisfying to you. The point is NOT to starve yourself. Most people will lose weight on a 1500 calorie diet, some on an even higher caloric level. The best gauge for whether you're at the right level is how satisfied you feel (you shouldn't be hungry all day!) and whether you're losing weight. If you're losing weight on 1800 a day and you feel great, stick with that. The calculation is just a suggested starting point.