A lot of people are kind of concerned about how many calories they should be eating. It’s one of the most-asked questions on the topic of nutrition.
The average person
You may have heard that the average man needs 2500kcal each day, and the average woman needs 2000kcal each day.
Not much of a spectrum there, but we’ll go with it.
Of course, it counts what you eat. 2000kcal doesn’t get you much if you’re living off takeaway pizza. But, I’m not advocating 2000 calories worth of apples, either.
Or that you live without takeaway pizza. What a world.
The 2000/2500 is what is recommended for the average chap or chapette who wants to maintain their ‘healthy’ weight. If you’re an athlete in training, that’s a different kettle of fish.
So, for normal bodily functions like moving and breathing, you use around 2000kcal, so that’s how much you need to eat so you don’t pass out and stuff.
In simple terms, to maintain weight, you need a balance of energy in (food) and energy out (activity).
In order to gain some weight, you need to tip the scales in favour of energy in. So, in general, you need to increase your caloric intake.
Of course, you need to do this in a healthy way, and what that means will be different on an individual level.
In general, though, it probably doesn’t mean you can just eat more cake.
Unless advised otherwise by a health professional, you probably want to increase your calories gradually, giving your body time to adjust. If you’re currently on 1800kcal a day, don’t be like “I’m eating 2500 as of Monday.”
As with gaining weight, you need to be specific. Are you trying to lose body fat? If so, do it gradually (again, unless you’re medically advised otherwise).
For the average healthy person, it’s not a great idea to go from eating 2800kcal a day, right down to 2000. Your body will freak out, and it doesn’t leave you much room to decrease further from there.
Start decreasing your calories by around 100 at a time.
But, OBVIOUSLY, speak to your GP before making any change in your diet. I don’t know what your health status is, and someone will need to tailor advice to your condition.
Calculate your caloric intake
You can use an online tool to find out your daily calorie needs (just Google ‘daily calorie needs calculator’).
You’ll need to know your height and weight, and you’ll be asked about your activity level – take into account what you do on an average day for this; don’t mark yourself down as highly active because of that one time you went for a 6-hour hike.
Again, this does not take into account your existing health and any conditions you may have; it is designed to give you a guideline based on a few stats.
It’s a great idea to track your calories if you’re not sure where to start with this, or what you’re currently eating.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal to monitor your meals honestly for about 2 weeks. After that, work out your average daily intake, then you know whether you’re in the right ball park, or if you need to make adjustments.
Tracking apps can really help you figure out where you’re getting the bulk of your calories from, too.
You might be spot on at 2000kcal (or whatever you need), but the spread of calories between your macro-nutrients (another post coming soon on this) might not be helping you.
Some more very general advice would be to spread your calories roughly evenly throughout the day.
You’ll need to put in a little effort to find what works for you and what your calorie needs look like in terms of meals (again, tracking is the way to go for that one).
I really want to hammer home that you shouldn’t make drastic changes to your caloric intake; you need to do it gradually (unless you’re advised otherwise by a health professional – that may be for a specific medical reason).
Nutrition is a really complicated and individual thing, and there is no one size fits all advice. Calorie intake is just one thing to consider, and certainly not the be all and end all of your diet – so please don’t get obsessed.
Health conditions, pregnancy, fitness goals, body composition, age, lifestyle, hormones, and medication can all influence the amount of energy you need.
Reckon I’ve said it, like, 5 times already, but please take the advice of health professionals before making any change to your diet.
This is a researched article for information and awareness purposes, and should not be used as a substitute for tailored, individual health advice.
Do you track calories? Do you have any nutrition or diet goals? If so, please share them in the comments below.
If you are concerned about the potential for disordered eating, please see links below:
BEAT the eating disorder charity