How do I know how much to eat?

Andres Paniagua
5 min readOct 21, 2020

The thorn in everybody’s side when they start to get healthy is their diet. If you ask people to plan their day filled with food from their favorite restaurants they’d come up with a list faster than you can say “diabetes”. Ask those same people to plan a healthy meal and they’ll get temporary amnesia. It seems like people nowadays have a hard time comprehending what exactly makes up a healthy diet. With all the variety of processed food and the number of restaurants popping up around town it’s no wonder people are giving up meal planning for convenience. It’s easier and cheaper for someone to swing through a drive-thru on the way home from work than cook up a healthy meal. I’m confused on how a salad can cost more than a hamburger.

Gone are the days of families going out once a month for special occasions. People are “too busy” to cook their food at home. Kids eat from the lunch line more than they bring a sacked lunch. It’s no wonder people are packing on the pounds. I’m not just speaking from my high horse. I was once one of those people whose name they knew at the drive-thru. The bartender any my favorite watering hole would spot me in the parking lot and have my beer ready before my butt hit the barstool. It was easier for me to claim ignorance, than educate myself on what a healthy diet was.

The first week I started my health kick, I did what everybody does. I ate salads and chicken breast all day. I wasn’t sure how much or why I wasn’t eating carbohydrates. I didn’t have anyone to give me a primer so my journey to understanding what I needed to eat has been a long and windy one. Change after change, mistake after mistake I have slowly developed an understanding of what and how much I need to eat. Below are some definitions and guidelines that I follow to create a healthy meal plan.

The first thing we need to do is come up with a calorie count for the day. I use a simple formula of:

  1. Fat loss: Bodyweight X 12 to 13 calories
  2. Maintenance: Bodyweight X 15 to 16 calories
  3. Weight gain: Bodyweight X 18 to 19 calories

Once you choose a goal and calculate your calorie intake, you can then calculate your macronutrient intake. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats. Their definitions are:

  • Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. They are ingested in the forms of meats and other animal products. Tofu and other vegetarian options are also good sources of protein.
  • Carbohydrates are an energy source. Fruits, vegetables and grains are all sources of carbohydrates. It is important to take your activity level into consideration when calculating your carb intake. Most people estimate this incorrectly and end up eating too many carbs for their activity level.
  • Fats help regulate your hormones and are another energy source for your body. People often make the same mistake that they do with carbs and estimate this intake too high. It is important to be honest with yourself when calculating fats and choose foods that do not make it difficult to control your intake.

The formula that I use to calculate how much of each macro I need is 40%P/40%C/20%F. So if I weigh 210lbs and want to lose weight my calculation is a follows:

  • 210lbs X 13 = 2730 calories
  • Protein calories: 2730 X 40%= 1092 calories
  • Carbohydrate calories: 2730 X 40% = 1092 calories
  • Fat calories: 2730 X 20% = 546 calories

Now that we have our calories for each macronutrient, we can calculate how many grams of each we need. This is important because when you read labels (this is very important) and look up food online, the information that you need to record is given in grams of (insert macronutrient). Each gram of protein and carbohydrate has 4 calories and each gram of fat has 9 calories. The calculations are as follows:

  • Grams of protein: 1092 calories / 4 = 273 grams
  • Grams of carbohydrates: 1092 calories / 4 = 273 grams
  • Grams of fat: 546 / 9 = 60 grams

If you eat 5 meals per day you can divide each macronutrient by 5 (each meal) and you get your macros per meal. In our case:

  • Protein: 273 / 5 = 54.6 grams
  • Carbs: 273 / 5 = 54.6 grams
  • Fats: 60 / 5 = 12 grams

With this information you can use Google and food labels (and your food scale) to make meals that fit you per meal macro total. It is important to keep track via an app or a notebook of all your food for the day so you can hit your caloric intake for 2 reasons.

  1. Because you want to reach your goal
  2. If you’re dieting, because you don’t want to be hungry.

I’m not here to preach the organic gospel. You can eat Coco Puffs and Del Taco to meet your caloric goals if you want. But keep in mind that you are here to get health information and with that in mind I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t at least mention one time the importance of knowing the quality of your food sources. Making sure you hit your Macros AND your MICROS (vitamins and minerals) are important for overall health. This is why I try to get at least 80% of my food from organic-whole food sources. These are foods that are not processed at all (or as little as possible) and come from responsibly sourced places. You can argue that this will be more expensive but with a little shopping around and budgeting, it can fit into anyone’s budget. And as an added bonus, you’ll be fuller because whole foods have more volume than their processed counterparts.

So with this new found information you can set up your eating plan for whatever goal you want to achieve. It’s not going to be easy but when you look in the mirror and you look the way you want, you’ll be happy that you stuck with your plan.