Regularly consume more calories than you burn, and you'll gain weight. Although food labels use a 2,000-calorie diet as the benchmark for average calorie consumption, that amount of calories could prompt weight gain in some sedentary people of small stature. For other people, however, a 2,000-calorie diet provides too few calories and may result in weight loss. Your individual metabolism determines whether 2,000 calories is too many, or too few, or just right for your needs.
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How Weight Gain Happens
Calories are units of energy that you burn to run necessary body functions, such as pumping blood and breathing; to fuel activities, such as showering, cooking dinner and exercising; and to digest food and process its nutrients. If you eat 3,500 calories in excess of what you use, you'll pack on a pound.
The number of calories you need to fuel these functions depends partly on genetics, but also on your size, activity level, age, body composition and gender. A large, muscular, young man who goes to the gym every day may burn 3,000 calories or more daily, while a petite older woman who has a desk job may burn only 1,600 calories daily.
Not Everyone Needs 2,000 Calories a Day
The average man's calorie needs range from 2,200 to 3,200 calories per day, while the average woman's ranges from 1,600 to 2,400 per day. If you fall into the range of burning 1,600 to 1,900 calories per day, eating a 2,000-calorie diet would provide you with 100 to 400 calories in surplus daily. Since 3,500 extra calories produce one pound of fat, this extra intake every day for one week would lead to a gain of 0.2 to 0.8 pounds. An online calculator or dietitian can help you estimate your personal calorie needs.
Once you know your daily calorie needs, a food journal helps you estimate your calorie intake. Many online versions are available that provide the calories as well as nutrient content of thousands of foods. Read food labels and measure portion sizes to make your tally more accurate.
Calories in Food
Food is made up of three major macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Protein and carbohydrates each provide 4 calories per gram, while fats provide 9 calories. Your diet should be divided roughly into 45 to 65 percent from carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent from protein and 20 to 35 percent from fat, according to the Institute of Medicine.
The quality of these nutrients also matters when it comes to managing your weight. Whole grains, starchy vegetables and fruits are preferable carbohydrates -- as opposed to baked goods, snack chips and soda -- because these whole foods contain naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals and fiber, which slows digestion and make you feel full longer.
Lean proteins help you feel satisfied after eating and also help build and maintain bodily tissue, including muscle, without too much saturated fat. Eat only small amounts of saturated fat, found in full-fat dairy foods and fatty meats. Chicken or turkey breast, fish, shellfish, lean steak or pork, soy and beans are quality, low-fat protein sources.
Also avoid trans fats -- manmade fats that increase shelf life of processed foods, but can negatively affect your health. The potentially negative effects are so serious that the Food and Drug Administration is currently phasing trans fat out of the food supply. Unsaturated fats, however, support good health by optimizing vitamin absorption and promoting brain function; they're found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil and avocados.
Increase Your Calorie Burn
Add extra movement to your days to bring up your calorie burn, so you're less likely to gain weight on 2,000 calories per day. Get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio weekly, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days. A 125-pound person burns 120 calories walking at 3.5 mph for 30 minutes; a 155-pound person burns nearly 150 calories. Increase the duration or intensity of the cardio to burn even more calories and accrue greater health benefits.
Add two total-body strength training routines on non-consecutive days. Aim to work every major muscle group with at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions, using a weight that feels challenging by the last couple of efforts. A 30-minute session of strength training burns approximately 90 calories for a 125-pound person and 112 calories for a 155-pound person. It also helps you put on lean muscle mass, which takes more calories for your body to sustain. This boosts your metabolism so you can get closer to burning 2,000 calories on most days.
- USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- Food Politics: Where Did the 2,000 Calorie Diet Idea Come From?
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
- American Council on Exercise: Strength Training 101