A Healthy 2,000-Calorie Diet Plan for Any Weight Goal

Try to get 2.5 cups of veggies per day, whether you want to gain or lose weight.
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For some people, a 2,000-calorie diet is just enough to maintain or even lose some weight. But the number of calories you need every day will depend on many factors — like your age, height, metabolism, genetics and level of physical activity.


For example, a 2,000-calorie diet may be enough for someone assigned male at birth (AMAB) to maintain or lose weight. But if you're an older adult or are assigned female at birth (AFAB), 2,000 calories may be enough if you're aiming for healthy weight gain.

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No matter your weight goals, one of the keys is getting your 2,000 calories from nutritious foods.

Here, we'll learn if you can healthily gain weight on 2,000 calories, what foods to focus on and some meal ideas.

First, Who Needs 2,000 Calories?

The 2,000-calorie diet has been the standard recommendation in the U.S. for the average adult to be healthy since the 1990s. It was created to help put generalized percentages of daily values (DV) of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates onto food labels, per Houston Methodist.


But 2,000 calories is often too generalized of a recommendation. Not everyone needs 2,000 calories per day; some people may need more or less depending on many factors.

For example, if you're an active person (i.e., you exercise consistently) or you're wanting to ‌gain‌ weight, you may need to eat ‌more‌ than 2,000 calories per day, especially if your goal is to gain muscle. Or if you're less active, you may need less than 2,000 to maintain your current weight.


For some loose guidance on how many calories you need, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has averages for adults who are moderately active. (Note: These are ranges for both people AMAB and AFAB, but could vary greatly depending on your individual needs):

Calories Needs for Moderately Active Adults Ages 19 to 75


Calories per Day

19 - 25

2,200 - 2,800

26 - 45

2,000 - 2,600

46 - 50

2,000 - 2,400

51 - 65

1,800 - 2,400

66 - 75

1,800 - 2,200

Source(s): Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025

And remember these are just estimates: Other factors like physical activity level, diet, height, weight and health goals (like weight loss) will also contribute to how many calories you should eat per day, per the Cleveland Clinic.


Here's a breakdown if you're wondering if you'll maintain, lose weight or gain weight on 2,000 calories:


1. To Maintain Weight

Per the dietary guidelines, the average moderately active adult age 26 to 50 might need 2,000 calories per day in order to maintain their weight. If they're over 50, though, they may need a little less.


But keep in mind that this number may vary if you exercise less or more on a weekly basis, or if you have difficulty keeping weight on.


Check out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Estimated Daily Calorie Needs table for a more specific estimate of how many calories you should eat every day, or calculate it yourself with a calorie needs equation.

2. To Lose Weight

If you're younger than 51, eating 2,000 calories a day may contribute to weight loss, especially if you exercise regularly. That's because creating a calorie deficit — where you burn more calories than you take in — can help you lose weight, per the Cleveland Clinic.


At one point, it was believed that if you create a daily deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day, you would lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week. But in reality, the amount of weight lost per week is different for everyone, depending on all sorts of factors, per the Mayo Clinic.

That said, a 2,000-calorie diet plan may fall into this deficit range depending on your calorie needs.



Besides your diet plan, regular exercise is also a key component of creating a calorie deficit. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, whether or not your goal is weight loss.

3. To Gain Weight

For some people, 2,000 calories may not be enough to put on weight or grow new muscle. Again, this ultimately depends on your baseline calorie needs though, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Plus, if you have a medical condition that causes you to lose weight — like hyperthyroidism or inflammatory bowel disease — you might need a specialized diet that's higher than 2,000 calories to help you gain weight, per the Mayo Clinic.

Ultimately, 2,000 calories may cause some people to gain, some to maintain and some to lose weight, depending on other factors like your lifestyle or genetics.


Foods to Eat on a 2,000-Calorie Plan

Whether you're following a 2,000-calorie meal plan to lose weight, gain weight or maintain your current size, it's important to emphasize nutritious whole foods and eat a certain amount of each food group, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This includes:

1. Fibrous Fruits and Vegetables

According to the USDA, try to get 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of veggies in your daily diet.

For reference, 12 baby carrots or one large sweet potato counts as a cup equivalent of veggies, and 32 grapes or one large banana counts as a cup equivalent of fruit, per the USDA.

Produce (whether fresh or frozen) is important because it's full of beneficial vitamins, minerals and nutrients like fiber, which can support healthy digestion.

2. Grains

Aim to get 6 ounces of grains each day, per the USDA. For context, a slice of bread or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta each count as 1 ounce equivalent, per the USDA's MyPlate.

Grains, primarily whole grains, are an important source of complex carbohydrates and other nutrients like fiber, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Whole grains could include the following, per the Mayo Clinic:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Popcorn
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-wheat bread, pasta and crackers
  • Wild rice

3. Healthy Fats

Nutritious fats are a significant source of energy and can also help protect your organs and support cell function, according to the American Heart Association.


Some foods with healthy fats include:

  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cottage cheese or plant-based dairy (the USDA recommends 3 cups per day)
  • Avocado
  • Tofu
  • Nuts like pecans and walnuts
  • Nut butters
  • Oils like flaxseed oil (the USDA recommends 27 grams of oil per day, or about 2 tablespoons)
  • Fish like salmon

4. Protein

Protein is an important source of energy and helps support muscle health, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Aim to get 6.5 ounces of protein-rich foods per day, according the USDA, which can include:

  • Lean meats like lean pork chops
  • Poultry like chicken and turkey
  • Fish like salmon and tuna
  • Legumes like lentils and beans
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Soy products like tofu and tempeh

For example, one egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or one cup of cooked beans all count as 1 ounce equivalent, per the USDA.

Foods to Avoid on a 2,000-Calorie Diet Meal Plan

At the same time, it's important to limit the following foods to stay within your 2,000 calories and focus on your overall health, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

Sample Meal Plan for a 2,000-Calorie Diet

While you don't necessarily have to eat three square meals a day, it's common to eat a larger breakfast, lunch and dinner, with two smaller snacks in between.


Whether you're looking to lose, maintain or even gain weight, you can follow this 2,000-calorie, high-protein meal plan, and add or subtract things as needed:

1. Hearty Breakfast

Start your day with a hearty breakfast. You can try:

2. Nutrient-Dense Lunch

Fill your lunches (and all meals, for that matter) with fresh produce, lean protein and healthy fats to reach your weight goals in a healthy, sustainable way.

For lunch, you can try:

3. Filling Dinner

For dinner, try to make it filling with a cup of whole grains like rice, quinoa or whole-wheat pasta, and include plenty of vegetables, which you could roast in the oven with olive oil and herbs. Then, top your meal with about 2.5 ounces of lean protein.

Other suggestions include:

4. Snacks for Healthy Weight Gain

Snacking doesn't have to be complicated. Something convenient like a cheese stick or cup of yogurt can up your calories for the day, especially if you're looking to gain weight.

With most daily calorie goals, the USDA also accounts for something called "discretionary calories," i.e., calories that are left over after you eat your main meals, that you can "spend" however you want — like for snacking.

With a 2,000-calorie diet, you're left with about 267 discretionary calories after the major food groups like fruits, veggies and grains are accounted for, per the USDA.

Some snack ideas include:


While a 2,000-calorie diet may only require two snacks per day, try adding a third if your goal is to gain weight. This can help you get extra calories without feeling too full from large meals.

The Bottom Line

A 2,000-calorie diet plan may be suitable for an older adult trying to maintain or gain weight, but may not be enough for a younger, active person. On the other hand, it could be ‌too‌ much for someone trying to lose weight.

Ultimately, the amount of calories you'll need in order to lose, maintain or gain weight will depend on many factors.

If you're unsure about how many calories to eat per day, talk to your doctor. They can offer suggestions or refer you to a dietitian who can set up a customized meal plan for you.