Extra calories add up

bell peppers

Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Many people are surprised to find that most of our extra weight comes from eating just a few hundred extra calories — as little as 100 to 300 — each day. Those extra calories add up over time.

How many calories do you really need?

Daily calorie needs depend on your age, height, weight, and activity level. But most people should be getting:

  • women: 1,600 to 2,200 calories
  • men: 2,000 to 3,000 calories

To lose weight, eat about 500 to 1,000 calories less than the recommended daily amount, but don’t go below 1,200 calories per day.

How many calories are you really eating?

Eating in restaurants is a sure way to add more calories to your day than you might realize.

Choose to eat whole, healthy foods at home instead, and you'll save calories every day. Think about these popular restaurant items, and how much fresh food you could eat for the same number of calories. 

Breakfast
Grabbing breakfast on the go? It's easy to run into your corner Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a blueberry scone. But just one scone has 460 calories. That's the same number of calories in 5 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries.

Lunch
Fried and full of fat and sodium, a Panda Express 2 entrée meal with Orange Chicken weighs in at 1,200 calories. Bring your own lunch of a turkey sandwich with a salad and an apple instead to save 700 calories.

Dinner
While many restaurants are adding healthier choices to their menus, most dishes are still packed with calories. The Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta has a whopping 2,700 calories. That's the same number of calories in 6 dinner plates with fish, vegetables, and brown rice at home!

See what these comparisons look like. (PDF)

Calorie-cutting quick tips

  • Choose more fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables and fewer processed, fast, and restaurant food.
  • Cook at home as much as possible. You can control what goes into your food — and what stays out.
  • Find out how many calories are in the foods you eat. Ask for nutritional information at restaurants, and look at the labels on the foods you buy.
  • Keep a food journal (PDF) to record how much you're really eating every day. You might be surprised by how quickly a day's calories add up.
  • Pay attention to serving sizes to be sure you're only eating one portion at a time. 

Reviewed by: Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD, May 2011
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

©2011 Kaiser Permanente

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