If you're trying to lose weight, following a meal plan that averages about 1,600 calories a day is a healthy way to do it. Men and more active women may need more calories to feel satisfied, but most people should be able to lose weight at that calorie level, and it's fairly easy to stick to.
Following a 1,600-calorie meal plan will promote slow weight loss but still allow you to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Calories and Quality Both Count
Losing weight requires that you eat less and move more in order to create an energy deficit. Exactly how much you'll lose, and how quickly you'll lose weight depends on how much you're currently eating.
The National Institutes of Health recommends about a 500 to 1,000 calorie deficit per day. If you're currently eating 2,100 calories and you cut back to 1,600 calories a day, you should, in theory, lose about a pound per week because you've created a 3,500 calorie per week deficit.
While creating a calorie deficit is a big part of weight loss, the quality of your diet is also very important for weight loss. A February 2017 review published the journal Cancer Causes & Control reported that a Mediterranean-style diet promotes more weight loss than a diet that's higher in sugar and carbs.
More support for a higher quality diet comes from a May 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism. Researchers found that eating a calorie-controlled diet of ultra-processed foods contributes to weight gain, while the same number of calories in a whole-foods diet contributes to weight loss. That's because whole foods are more filling, so people tend to eat less.
Read more: Recommended Calorie Intake for Weight Loss
Use a Calorie Calculator
Using a calorie calculator will ensure that you're really sticking to a 1,600-calorie meal plan. Calorie calculators not only keep you honest about your calories but also help you to make better choices.
They're especially helpful if you're out at a restaurant because you can search menu items and choose the best option that fits with your 1,600-calorie meal plan.
There are many free calorie calculator apps available such as the MyPlate Calorie Counter. One word of caution about calorie calculator apps is that sometimes the calorie or macronutrient data is user generated, so there may be inaccuracies.
Exercise Speeds Weight Loss
If you're not losing weight fast enough on 1,600 calories a day, add more exercise to create a bigger calorie deficit. Most of the calorie calculator apps will also count your exercise, so you can see the impact it makes on your daily calorie intake.
The more strenuous the exercise is, the more calories you'll burn, but keep in mind any exercise is helpful. Even walking for an hour several times per week can lop off some significant calories at the end of a week.
1,600-Calorie Meal Plan
While you don't have to follow a meal plan for weight loss, some people find it easier, especially in the beginning, to have a plan to guide them. Once you get the hang of it and you learn how many calories are in foods you commonly eat, you can create your own healthy 1,600-calorie meal plan. In the meantime, a 1,600-calorie meal plan might include:
- 2 slices whole-wheat toast
- 1/2 medium avocado
- One egg
- 2 cups mixed salad greens
- 3 ounces chicken breast
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 ounce roasted sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing
- 1 cup sliced vegetables
- 1/4 cup hummus
- 1/4 cup mixed nuts
- 4 ounces grilled salmon
- 2 cups roasted nonstarchy vegetables tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup melon cubes
- Cancer Causes & Control: “Energy Balance and Obesity: What Are the Main Drivers?”
- Cell Metabolism: “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake”
- National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Aim for a Healthy Weight"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: Choosing the Right Exercise