Food labels typically include the phrase “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.” The FDA uses the 2,000-calorie reference value as a general guideline, not as a hard rule. But what would happen if you actually followed these guidelines? The answer depends on what your current diet looks like.
Different people have different nutritional needs depending on their age, activity levels, and overall health. For example, some athletes consume 5,000 or 6,000 calories per day and still look lean. Years ago, former competitive swimmer Michael Phelps ate 8,000 to 10,000 calories per day to keep up with his training routine (per USA Today). Energy requirements may also increase during pregnancy or when you’re stressed.
A 2,000-calorie diet can lead to weight loss or weight gain, depending on the factors listed above. What matters most is where those calories come from, notes Harvard Medical School. It’s one thing to eat 2,000 calories worth of fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and meat or fatty fish, and another thing to fill up on cookies and chips.
You may lose weight after switching to a 2,000-calorie diet
Most Americans consume over 3,600 calories per day, according to Insider. If that applies to you, then you’ll most likely lose weight after cutting calories. The Mayo Clinic says that 1 pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. Although other experts disagree with this figure, you can still use it as a reference point (per the American Institute for Cancer Research).
Let’s say you normally eat 3,600 calories a day. If you switch to a 2,000-calorie diet, you’ll create an energy deficit of 1,600 calories per day or 11,200 calories per week. That means you could lose about 3 pounds in seven days or 12 pounds per month. Again, these numbers are not set in stone. Your age, activity level, body composition, eating habits, and metabolic rate all come into play.
For example, athletes and active individuals typically burn more calories at rest compared to the average person. Regular exercise builds lean mass, which in turn can speed up your metabolism. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat and therefore requires more energy to sustain itself, explains the University of New Mexico.
A 2,000-calorie diet could also lead to weight gain
The FDA recommends around 2,200 calories per day for moderately active women aged 21 to 25 years and 2,000 calories for those aged 26 to 50 years. Moderately active men aged 21 to 26 years need 2,800 calories per day, while those aged 26 to 50 years should aim for about 2,600 calories. Yet, many people go on crash diets that provide fewer than 1,200 calories per day.
If you’ve been in a caloric deficit for months, you might gain weight after switching to a 2,000-calorie diet. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think of it as a way to “reset” your metabolism. Fitness models and other athletes usually increase their energy intake after dieting for long periods. This approach allows them to prevent metabolic slowdown and keep up with the demands of exercise (via Precision Nutrition).
When you eat too few calories, your body becomes more efficient at storing energy. As a result, your metabolic rate decreases, and the pounds start to add up. The same can happen during prolonged periods of calorie restriction, explains personal trainer Craig Weller (via Precision Nutrition). Crash diets may also lead to muscle loss, which can further affect your metabolism.
You may feel healthier and more energized after eating 2,000 calories a day
Extreme diets can lead to fatigue, tiredness, dehydration, and digestive problems, notes Reader’s Digest. Plus, they deprive your body of essential nutrients. For example, crash diets often limit meat and dairy foods, which are the primary sources of vitamin B12. Low levels of this nutrient may cause heart palpitations, lightheadedness, muscle weakness, depression, and other adverse effects (per WebMD).
“Women should not consume less than 1,200 calories a day,” psychologist Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., told Shape. She warns that severe calorie restriction may result in heart problems, gallstones, and low energy, among other issues. “Calories fuel the body. We need them, just as we should enjoy the foods that provide them,” explains Dr. John Foreyt (via Shape). A diet that provides 2,000 calories a day might be exactly what you need to regain your energy. It all comes down to what you eat.
Consider your activity level, too. If you hit the gym regularly or play sports, you’ll likely need more than 2,000 calories per day. Fill up on whole foods to nourish your body and get steady energy throughout the day. Most importantly, limit empty calories. Soda, candy, potato chips, bagels, and other processed foods or beverages have little or no nutritional value. Whole foods, on the other hand, are chock-full of protein, complex carbs, good fats, and micronutrients that support your health.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA’s Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).
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