If you’re trying to lose weight, you might think there’s a magical number of calories you need to eat each day to get that number on the scale to move. While that’s partially true—technically, consuming 500 calories less each day translates to roughly one pound lost per week—your daily calorie count is highly individualized and depends on a variety of factors like height, age, how active you are, stress levels, and underlying health conditions.
Table of Contents
So how many calories should you eat on average?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average women should aim to consume between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, and the average man 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. But the recommended calorie ranges for women who are sedentary versus women who are more active differ greatly. For instance, women who are over 50 and active should aim for 1,800 to 2,200 calories daily.
However, it’s important to note that while you should be mindful of how many calories you’re consuming, don’t let it rule your life, says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, a nutrition consultant in New York City.
Gans believes that when it comes to losing weight, it’s more effective to learn what types of foods you should be getting those calories from, how much of them you should have, and when you should be noshing in order to healthfully lose weight.
“I don’t even discuss calories with my clients because I don’t want them to focus on a number. Instead, I want them to focus on how to build a healthy plate because if you do it the right way, your calorie count will be where it should be naturally,” says Gans.
But if you really want to keep track and get advice on how to shed pounds healthily, consider downloading one of these weight-loss apps, or try these calorie counters: MyFitnessPal, Calorie Control Council, Control My Weight, or Fat Secret.
That said, being mindful of your calorie intake begins with evaluating your meals. Follow these meal prepping tips from Gans to help shed unwanted pound and ensure you’re getting the right nutrients.
Revamp your dinnertime routine
“I like to start with dinner because it’s the easiest meal to change,” says Gans. Make it a habit to start each meal by eating a mixed greens salad with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing—all those raw veggies will start filling you up off the bat so you don’t feel the urge to eat as much of your main meal.
The next step is reorganize your plate: 1/2 should be filled with vegetables, 1/4 with a lean protein, and 1/4 a carb or starch. Then, take a closer look at the details of that plate. Opt for a lean protein, like chicken or fish, on most days of the week and eat red meat sparingly, and be sure to choose preparation methods like grilling or baking over unhealthier ones like frying or drenching in breading or batter. Pick a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa, or healthful starches like sweet potato.
Finally, adjust what time you eat dinner based on the seasons. During the summertime, the sun sets a lot later, so you may naturally find yourself going to bed a bit later. That means if you eat dinner too early, you might get the urge for some late-night snacking, which can hike that calorie count back up. “Just moving dinnertime a little bit later can help prevent that late-night snack from becoming a habit,” says Gans.
Make breakfast a priority for calories
Whoever coined the phrase, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was on to something. “Anecdotally, people who eat breakfast are more likely to make better food choices throughout the day. They started out on the right foot, so they often want to continue that way all day,” says Gans.
Choose a meal that contains protein and fiber, which will keep you full until lunch. Some good options are eggs with whole-grain toast, oatmeal, yogurt, or a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal. If you’re a coffee person, be mindful of your add-ins by limiting sugar and/or sweeteners and fatty cream. Instead, choose low-fat milk or an unsweetened nut milk of your choice. Boost the flavor of your java with vanilla or almond extract and some warming spices, like ground cinnamon. Check out these healthy Starbucks drinks if you’re ordering on the go.
Don’t forget to enjoy lunch
Everyone knows how important it is to eat breakfast and dinner, but lunch often takes the backseat. Most people are either eating their lunch in front of their computer or skipping the meal entirely due to busy schedules. But taking time to sit down and eat your lunch is crucial to your weight-loss goals. It not only keeps your blood sugar levels stabilized throughout the day, but it also helps you avoid overeating at dinnertime.
Salads are always a great lunch choice, but just because you’re digging into a big bowl of greens doesn’t mean any topping goes. “Salads you order out are often too big, so you want to be sure your salad is built appropriately when it comes to the ingredients,” says Gans. Rules to remember:
- Don’t double up on fat or the protein. Choose a small portion of nuts, cheese, or avocado—not all three—and either a lean meat, like grilled chicken, or hard-boiled eggs, but not both.
- Load up on veggies. Feel free to pile on as many raw veggies as you’d like. They’re filled with fiber to keep you full, and they’re low in calories, so you’ll naturally be cutting back.
- Have salad dressing on the side. This gives you control over how much you use, which you don’t have when most lunch places will pour it in and mix it up for you. Many salad dressings, especially the creamy ones, can be fat-laden, sodium-saturated calorie bombs.
Curb your snacking
It’s perfectly OK to snack, but aim to keep it under 200 calories. Otherwise your snack becomes an extra mini meal, which translates into excess calories, says Gans. Pro tip: Try packing healthy options like nuts, a piece of fruit, veggie sticks, or a cup of yogurt or cottage cheese, for the office so you’ll be less tempted to raid the vending machine.
Mind your beverages
Staying hydrated with water or sparkling water is key, since dehydration can often masquerade as hunger, causing you to eat more than you should. Avoid sugary drinks and try to stick to no more than one alcoholic beverage a day, says Gans. The mixers in cocktails tend to be loaded with sugar, which can rack up your daily calorie count.