If your body weight has not changed for several months, you are in caloric balance. If you need to gain or lose weight, you’ll need to balance your diet and activity level to achieve your goal. To see how many calories you should have in a day to achieve and maintain your recommended weight, see the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015–2020external icon.
To learn how many calories you are taking in, write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day. By writing down what you eat and drink, you become more aware of what you are consuming. Also, begin writing down your physical activity each day and the length of time you do it.
Here are simple paper and pencil tools to assist you:
Recommended Physical Activity Levels
For adults, 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity is recommended every week (about 22 minutes each day or 50 minutes 3 times per week). This needs to include moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking and muscle-strengthening exercise 2 or more days a week. The strengthening exercises should work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
Increase the intensity or the amount of time that you are physically active to improve health benefits and control body weight.
Encourage children and teenagers to be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day, or almost every day.
For more detail, see How much physical activity do you need?
Each person may have different needs for calories and exercise. A healthy lifestyle requires balancing foods you eat, beverages you drink, adequate sleep, stress management, and the amount of activity in your daily routine. Counting calories all the time is not necessary, but in the beginning, it may help determine how many calories are in the foods and drinks you consume regularly. A test of balance is whether you are gaining, maintaining, or losing weight.
Top of Page
Questions and Answers about Calories
Q: I’ve heard it is more important to worry about carbohydrates than calories. Is this true?
A: By focusing only on carbohydrates, you can still eat too many calories. Also, if you reduce the variety of foods in your diet, you could exclude vital nutrients and not be able to stay on the diet over time.
Q: Does it matter how many calories I eat as long as I’m maintaining an active lifestyle?
A: While physical activity is a vital part of weight control, so is controlling the number of calories you eat. If you take in more calories than you use, you will still gain weight.
Q. What other factors besides diet and behavior contribute to overweight and obesity?
A: Environment and genetic factors may add to causes of overweight and obesity. For more information, see Other Factors in Weight Gain.