Calories in, calories out: You've probably heard this when you're thinking about changing your diet or losing weight. Your calories per meal intake is important, but when you're trying to lose weight, a balanced diet that keeps you feeling full should be your goal.
When you're trying to cut your calorie intake, it helps to swap out high calorie foods that don't offer much nutrition. Soda with sugar, ice cream and sugar-sweetened lattes are good examples of these foods.
Calories Per Meal
One way to calculate how many calories you should take in at each meal is to consider the total number of calories you eat each day, and then divide them into the number of meals you eat. A typical adult woman needs 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. The typical man needs 2,000 to 3,000 calories.
For women, this means 533 to 800 calories per meal, if you eat three meals. For a man, this means 667 to 1,000 calories per meal. You may want to eat more at lunch or dinner, but if you have diabetes or you're trying to manage your blood glucose level, evenly spaced meals are best, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Your own needs can vary considerably, depending on your height, weight, activity level and metabolism, the guidelines say. But a good rule of thumb to figure out the calories you need to maintain your current weight is to multiply your weight by 15, according to this Harvard Health calorie calculator.
If you're a 5-foot, 4-inch tall woman and weigh 155 pounds, for example, you'll eat 2,325 calories to keep you at that weight. If you divide that in thirds, you will need 775 calories for each meal. If you eat smaller, more frequent meals, consider what you eat at those meals when trying to calculate your caloric needs.
Read More: 10 Dos and Don'ts for Using a Food Diary
Setting a Calorie Goal
You may be looking at different strategies to cut your calories. You may be thinking, "Will eating a big breakfast help me lose weight?" The answer is, it depends. If you eat a larger breakfast and find that you can cut back on the number of calories you eat in later meals, then yes, you probably will lose weight.
Harvard Health says to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, a safe weight loss rate for many people, you can cut 500 to 1,000 calories per day. That means if you're eating 2,325 calories per day, you'll cut back to 1,325 to 1,825 calories. If your goal is to lose 1 pound a week, that's a little over 600 calories per meal at three meals a day. If your goal is to lose 2 pounds a week, it's about 333 calories per meal.
Another way of approaching weight loss is to build in physical activity. Harvard Health suggests 30 minutes of physical activity per day, and consuming 500 fewer calories, or about 167 fewer calories per meal if you eat three meals a day.
Don't consider dropping below 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman, or 1,500 calories per day if you're a man, however, Harvard Health cautions, unless you're doing this under the supervision of a health professional. You run the risk of not eating enough nutrients if your calorie count drops too low.
Calorie Cutting Strategies
The Mayo Clinic suggests this approach to cutting the number of calories you eat at each meal:
- Skipping high-calorie, low-nutrition items
- Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options
- Reducing portion sizes
Instead of a 250-calorie, 16-ounce flavored latte, for example, the Mayo Clinic suggests consuming a 16-ounce black coffee, which has 4 calories. Substitute 1 cup of chocolate chip ice cream, 285 calories, for 1 1/2 cups of strawberries, 69 calories. Drink sparkling water instead of soda.
Cutting back on portion sizes will help you cut calories at each meal. Put your food on a plate, the Mayo Clinic says, because eating from a package doesn't give you a sense of how much you're eating.
Reducing portion size, eating healthier foods instead of processed foods and a little daily activity will help you go a long way toward your weight loss goals.