Many people know the basics when it comes to the types of food and nutrients that are beneficial for their health. Common fruits and vegetables may come to mind, as well as basic healthy eating practices like making a colorful plate when building out your meal and drinking plenty of water with your meals.
What is often confusing, though, is how much food one should consume in a day.
How Many Calories Should I Eat in a Day?
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or simply live a healthy lifestyle, you may wonder how many calories you should eat per day.
Generally speaking, the FDA bases its percent daily intake values on a 2,000-calorie/day diet2. However, you may consume more or less depending on other factors, such as age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. According to the Food and Nutrition Board, you should get 20-35% of your daily calories from fat, 45-65% from carbohydrates, and 10-35% from protein3.
If you’re trying to watch your food intake and how much you eat per day, there are various ways to go about this. The two main practices are calorie counting and mindful eating.
What is Calorie Counting?
Calorie counting is no easy task. The idea behind it typically starts with the goal of changing your body, whether that be losing weight or gaining muscle. By keeping track, or “counting,” exactly how much you consume, you can monitor your intake to ensure you don’t eat more calories than you burn.
However, calorie counting may be harmful to your mental health if you tend to get overly fixated on your body image or run the risk of feeling guilty if you don’t reach your calorie goal. It is also very time-consuming, and in order for it to be beneficial, it requires you to log each food you eat throughout the day.
Even if calories are successfully counted, many people don’t know the ideal number they should consume. The International Food Information Council Foundation reported that although 67% of Americans state they take calories into account when buying food, 90% don’t know how many they really need1. Not knowing how many calories your body needs will undermine your calorie counting from the get-go.
Studies show that when eating big meals or large portions, people often underestimate how many calories they consume1. And being overweight only increases the odds that someone would underestimate their calories, making weight loss goals even harder to achieve.
Research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley found that sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages make up about 25% of the average American’s calorie intake4. The same study states that another 5% is from salty snacks or fruit-flavored drinks, and only 10% is from fruits and vegetables. This shows that even though Americans may be counting calories, they may not be getting the nutrients they need. Calories from alcohol and foods very high in sugar do not benefit your body, which is why it’s important to eat nutrient-rich foods, which will give you more “bang for your buck”1.
If you choose to count your calories, ensure you speak to your healthcare team to find out the exact amount of calories you should eat per day.
Another way to monitor the amount of food you eat per day is to practice mindful eating.
Simply bringing awareness to what and how much you are eating can be another way to determine how much your body needs to consume. Being aware of your eating experiences can help you tune into your body’s hunger and fullness cues and guide you toward your specific needs.
Practicing mindful eating will help support your health, no matter your goals, and develop lifelong healthy eating habits.
After all, bodies are extremely intelligent systems that have evolved over thousands of years to help us operate at our best. We were born with the instinct to eat only when we feel hungry and stop when we are full. However, we often forget how to follow this instinct as we grow up due to notions we’re told about what and how much we should be eating (i.e., the infamous “clean plate club”). When you take the time to listen for when you are hungry and when you are full, your body can thrive.
Choosing a food because it is nourishing and delicious will be more pleasing than choosing it for only its calorie amount. For example, if the food you eat contains more fiber, it will keep you feeling full longer, which can help prevent you from mindlessly snacking later in order to fill yourself up. Nutrient-dense food groups like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can also help you feel full for longer and have the added benefit of helping prevent heart disease, cancer, and diabetes4.
How to Practice Mindful Eating
By examining your thoughts, feelings, hunger levels, and any other factors that are impacting the eating process, you can enjoy the experience and get the right amount of food you need to be fulfilled! Here are some helpful tips to begin practicing mindful eating:
- Bring Intention to Meals: When it comes to mealtime, give it the attention it deserves! While it may be difficult on occasion, try to avoid distractions or multitasking. When you can, sit at a table to eat your meal and avoid grazing, eating on the go, or in front of the TV. When you’re able to give attention to your food, it can help you slow down and live in the moment. This promotes proper digestion of the food and allows you to recognize your fullness cues.
- Check in With Yourself: Throughout the day, take moments to check in with your hunger levels. Assessing where your hunger levels are can help you decide how much you need to eat since your portion needs will vary. Frequent self-check-ins can also help reduce overeating at mealtime. The goal is to go into meals comfortably hungry rather than ravenous.
- Slow Down While Eating: Typically, it takes around 20 minutes for the brain to receive the fullness signal from the stomach. Because of this, it is essential to slow down the eating process so that there’s time to recognize your body’s fullness cues. Chewing your food and slowly eating can help avoid overeating.
- Appreciate Your Food: Take the time to appreciate your food. Pay attention to all the flavors, textures, smells, and temperatures you are experiencing. Spending time appreciating your food can help you eat slowly. It also boosts your satisfaction from the meal!
Whether you’re focusing on eating mindfully, counting calories, or both, finding a sustainable way to nourish your body that keeps you physically and mentally healthy is important.
Because each body is different, the amount of nutrients each needs to thrive can be different from person to person. Our at-home DNA test will give you a personalized nutrition analysis that’ll provide detailed genetic-based results. You’ll discover your personal needs for 23 different nutrients, 100+ foods that are best for your genes, your eating and stress predispositions, and any sensitivities to lactose, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol.
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1. Kovacs, Jenny Stamos. “The Dos and Don'ts of Counting Calories.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/features/dos-donts-counting-calories.
2. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-and-materials/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label#nutrients.
3. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium. “- Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D - NCBI Bookshelf.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t5/?report=objectonly.
4. Wolpert, Stuart. “Dieting Does Not Work, UCLA Researchers Report.” UCLA, UCLA, 10 May 2019, newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Dieting-Does-Not-Work-UCLA-Researchers-7832.