The Average Calories to Eat Per Day

Measure Your Daily Caloric Intake to Get the Body You Want

use a smart phone app as a food journal
Use a smartphone app to record calories. Rayes Collection/ Digital Vision/ Getty images

Whether you are planning to lose weight, trying to gain weight, or just trying to maintain your weight, you should know the number of calories you eat every day. Your daily caloric intake plays a big role in whether or not you reach your fitness and diet goals.  Once you know the number you can make adjustments to your energy balance to get the body you want.

The Best Time to Measure Daily Caloric Intake

To find out how many calories you eat every day, you'll need to follow simple steps to maintain a food journal. The process will take one week. Make sure you choose a week when your daily food intake, your daily activity and your daily access to food are typical. Don't do it when you are starting a new exercise program, on vacation, or experiencing any other changes to your daily routine.

If weight loss is your goal, remember to be patient. You're probably anxious to begin your diet so that you can start losing weight. But without this initial step, your diet could fail. And remember that during this process you learn basic skills, like recording and measuring food portions. These skills will make your diet more effective in the long run. So don’t feel like you are wasting time. You are laying the groundwork for weight loss success.

How to Record Your Daily Calories

You can record the calories you eat every day online or on paper. There is no "best" method, but many people find that online services (with handy smartphone apps) are easier because the calories and other nutrients are recorded automatically when you input your food. But the old fashioned paper and pencil method works just as well! Just be sure that you measure and record everything you eat and drink. If you are using the paper and pencil method, use the USDA National Nutrient Database to get nutritional information for each food that you list. Follow these guidelines to get the most accurate recording:

  • Be honest about what you eat. There is absolutely no benefit to underestimating (or overestimating) your caloric intake. There is also no reason to change your diet during this recording phase. If you don't get an accurate recording of everything you typically eat, your daily caloric intake will be wrong and you’ll have trouble when you calculate your energy balance for weight loss or weight gain.
  • Measure portion sizes. Make sure you understand the difference between portion size and serving size. If possible, use a digital scale to get precise measurements of each portion that you consume. It can be a tedious process in the beginning, but it gets easier as time goes on and it becomes habit.
  • Be complete. Don’t just write down the calorie count of each food. Record each macronutrient as well. That means you write down the amount of fat, carbohydrate and protein for each food. Why does this matter? Some people can reduce their total calories if they modify their nutrient intake. For example, some dieters choose to eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates to lose weight without feeling hungry all the time.
  • Record snacks and drinks. Don't forget to write down every snack food and drink that you consume during the day.  Why? Many people consume too many calories from snacks without even realizing it. And drink calories can add up too. In fact, you may be able to lose weight if you simply change what you drink.

How to Calculate Your Daily Calorie Intake

At the end of the week, figure out the total number of calories you consumed each day. Then add all seven days together and divide the number by seven to get an average daily caloric intake. Here’s an example:

  • Monday: 1900 calories
  • Tuesday: 2500 calories
  • Wednesday: 2000 calories
  • Thursday: 2100 calories
  • Friday: 2000 calories
  • Saturday: 2400 calories
  • Sunday: 1800 calories
  • Total calories consumed during the week: 14,700
  • Divided by seven days = 2100 average calories per day

You can do this for each macronutrient as well to find out how many grams of fat, carbohydrate and protein you typically consume each day.

Adjust Your Daily Caloric Intake to Lose Weight

Once you’ve figured out your average daily caloric intake, you can begin to make changes to your diet and activity reach your body weight goal.  If you are trying to lose weight, there are three different ways to change the numbers to slim down.  But a basic rule of thumb is that you need to adjust your daily balance by 3500 calories per week, or 500 calories per day to lose a single pound of weight. Use this calculator to figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating:

If you reach a weight loss plateau, if you gain weight or if your diet isn't working, repeat this process to find your daily calorie intake again. The number of calories you eat every day may have changed and could be the reason that you can't reach your goals.

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