Eat the right amount of calories for you
Everyone has a personal calorie limit. Staying within yours can help you get to or maintain a healthy weight. Reaching a healthier weight is a balancing act. The secret is learning how to balance your "energy in" and "energy out" over the long run. "Energy in" is the calories from foods and beverages you have each day. "Energy out" is the calories you burn for basic body functions and physical activity.
A balancing act: Where is your energy balance?
- Maintaining weight — Your weight will stay the same when the calories you eat and drink equal the calories you burn.
- Losing weight — You will lose weight when the calories you eat and drink are less than the calories you burn.
- Gaining weight — You will gain weight when the calories you eat and drink are greater than the calories you burn.
The current high rates of overweight and obesity in the United States mean that many people are taking in more calories than they burn.
Get started eating the right amount of calories for you:
- Get your personal daily calorie limit. Enter your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level in the Daily Food Plan entry box. If you are not within your healthy weight range, pick the "move toward a healthier weight" option. This option provides 200 to 400 calories less per day than the average calorie needs to maintain your weight. Your Daily Food Plan will include a total calorie limit.
- Keep your calorie limit in mind when deciding what to eat and drink. For example, if your calorie limit is 1,800 calories per day, think about how those calories can be split up among meals, snacks, and beverages over the course of a day. Click here to view sample menus (including one to follow while on a budget). It doesn't have to be the same each day. If you eat a larger lunch, think about eating a smaller meal at dinner.
- Compare food and beverage options and think about how they fit within your calorie limit. For example, a snack with 200 calories may be a better option than another with 500 calories. Use your daily calorie limit to help you decide which foods and drinks to choose.
- For a healthier you, use the Nutrition Facts label to make smart food choices quickly and easily. Check the label of similar products for calories, and choose the food with fewer calories. Be sure to look at the serving size and how many servings you are actually consuming, as well. If you eat twice the serving size, you double the calories. When eating out, calorie information may be available on menus, in a pamphlet, or online. You can also find calorie information about a specific food using Food-a-pedia.
Concerned about being able to eat the right amount of calories? Here are some common "stumbling blocks" and ideas to help you overcome these barriers:
"I don't understand calories."
"Calorie" is just the term used to describe the amount of energy a food or drink provides when you eat it. Carbohydrates, fat, protein, and alcohol all provide energy – and this energy is measured in calories. Think of calories as a measurement unit – like inches, pounds, or gallons. You need energy from foods and drinks to fuel your body – for everything from breathing to physical activity. But if your foods provide more energy than you use, your body stores the rest as fat.
If I use a calorie counter, why do I have to pay attention to my Daily Food Plan?
It's important to consider more than just calories when making food choices. Your Daily Food Plan is designed to provide the nutrients you need while staying within your calorie limits. Use your Daily Food Plan to determine how much you should eat from each of the 5 food groups.
"I don't have time to count calories."
People who are successful at managing their weight have found ways to keep track of how much they eat in a day, even if they don't count every calorie. Most people eat the same general types of food on a regular basis. Take some time up front to compare calorie labels, and over time, you will learn which options are the better choices.
"I have no idea how many calories I am supposed to eat to manage my weight."
Your calorie needs depend on a number of factors including: your height, weight, and physical activity level. You can get your personal daily calorie limit with your Daily Food Plan. Try to stay at (or a little below) this number each day. Taking in more calories (even just 100 calories more each day) can result in gradual weight gain over time.
The calories in your Daily Food Plan are averages. For best results, track your body weight over time. If you are gaining weight, or not losing at all, decrease your calorie intake (or increase your physical activity).