What People Eat – From 500 to 50,000 Calories Per Day

Calories per day

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Calories are a scientific measure of how much energy is in the foods and drinks we consume. Most modern diets are calorie obsessed, but we can be quite wrong about the number of calories we eat, and the amount we need. Caloric intake can look quite dramatic when compared to other factors. For example, when you are on a 200-calorie diet, did you know that you eat as much as a cat does in a day? Cats are much smaller animals that have less energy requirements. A human, on the other hand, will not survive for long eating just 200 calories.

Understanding Calories

The number of calories a person need depends on various factors such as age, gender, height, current weight and lifestyle. Certain hormonal issues, as well as side effects from medications, can have a bearing on calorie intake as well. An 18-year-old female runner, in theory, will require more calories to stay healthy than an 18-year-old female programmer who spends most hours staying seated. A taller man will require more calories to survive than a shorter man.

The average human male aged between 19 and 30 years requires a daily caloric intake of 2,400kcal per day to remain healthy. The average women aged between 19 and 30 years requires 2,000kcal a day. To maintain a healthy weight, you must burn equivalent amounts of calories you eat through physical activity. Living a sedentary lifestyle without a change to eating habits can lead to excessive weight. Living a highly active lifestyle without increasing calorie intake accordingly will lead to extreme loss of weight. Both situations are unhealthy.

The Calories We Need and the Calories We Eat

We should ideally eat between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day unless height or weight is outside the average range. Do people actually eat as much as they need? According to heath data, the average American eats 3,770 calories per day. Surprising or not, it is far above the recommended daily calorie intake for both sexes. In fact, this is more calories than what elite marathoners and NASA astronauts need per day. Pro marathoners are recommended to eat 3,400 calories per day, while NASA astronauts consume 3,500 calories to survive in space.

We do not always eat the number of calories we actually need. The average American consumes a shocking amount of calories from processed food, which has resulted in an obesity epidemic. There are also people who follow fad diets that may not provide healthy amounts of calories. A fruitarian who eats 20 bananas a day consumes 2,700 calories, which can be excessive for a significant number of people. This is roughly the amount Rob Rhinehart, CEO of the liquid food company Soylent, consumes each day with his product.

Dieting and Calories

Dieting is a way some people choose to lose weight. Dieters reduce their calorie intake, sometimes in dramatic fashion. A 5”2’ tall dieter on a fast day consumes only 500 calories. That’s slightly above what a cat eats per day. Being on such an extreme diet would cause massive loss of lean muscle mass. This is technically losing weight, but is not the healthiest way to lose weight.

Pop megastar Madonna, when she was on a diet, consumed about 800 calories per day, according to tabloid reports. That’s about as many calories as a large dog breed, like a Dalmatian or a husky, eats per day.

1,200 is the recommended number of calories for a toddler around 2 years of age. It’s also the amount of calories kids are allowed in weight loss camp. Taekwondo fighters limit themselves to 1,500 calories per day to lose weight to fit into a competition-level weight category. It’s also the same amount of calories those imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp were authorized to have. Men, however, are recommended to eat at least 1,800 calories per day to stay healthy.

Low Calorie Intake

Dieting is not the only reason people end up consuming fewer calories. Some are considered calorie restrictors, who are people forced to restrict the number of calories they consume due to medical reasons. Psychological conditions can also contribute to low calorie intake. A patient suffering from anorexia nervosa consumes about 700 calories per day, which is barely enough to survive.

Economic and political conditions also affect calorie intake of large groups of people. War refugees in UN camps in Eastern Chad only get to eat 850 calories per day, which is only a little more than an anorexic person. The standard UN mandated refugee ration, however, is 1,700 calories per day. Sometimes this number is met, but as with Eastern Chad, it’s not always met.

The average person in Eritrea, a poor African country, only gets to eat 1,590 calories per day. This calorie amount may change between seasons and social classes. 1,600 calories a day is what a factory worker in Cambodia gets to eat with their salary. Cambodia, as you may know, is a severely impoverished country and this is actually a good number compared to what unemployed people eat.

Extreme Calorie Intake

As surprising as it may seem to learn that people can survive on a measly 500 calories per day, there are also people who consume well over double the recommended calorie amount and still survive. It’s mostly athletes who tend to take up extreme diets. Spanish bullfighters, for example, get mean by eating over 4,000 calories per day. Arnold Schwarzenegger, back when he was bodybuilding, ate 5,000 calories per day. So did the teen bodybuilding champion Daveon Hill. It has been speculated that if Batman were real, he would too require about 5,000 calories per day to save Gotham city.

Over consuming calories is nothing new. It’s believed that medieval aristocrats ate as much as 4,500 calories per day, much more than the modern average American. Medieval monks ate even more, around 5,500 calories per day. For people who are supposed to be praying to eat as much as Arnie when he was training to become Mr. Universe could not have been very healthy.

In the past, Roman soldiers are believed to have consumed as many as 6,000 calories per day. In modern terms, this is the same number of calories Hugh Jackman consumed during his training routine to become the Wolverine. The ultrarunner Dean Karnazess needs an equivalent number of calories to stay in his best shape.

Massive Bengal tigers eat 6,500 calories per day. Compare that to Emma Dalton, a professional eater, and Tour de France cyclists, who eat roughly the same amount. Robert F. Scott, the famed Antarctic explorer, ate 8,500 calories to survive in the cold.

Sumo wrestlers and Mt Everest climbers eat an astonishing 10,000 calories per day. Even more shockingly, Elvis Presley, during his final days, ate a whopping 11,000 calories. Michael Phelps eats even more. To stay in shape, the famous Olympic swimmer requires 12,000 calories per day.

A more extreme recorded calorie consumer was strongman Robert Oberst, who ate 20,000 calories per day, or as much as a horse. Susan Eman, better known as the “world’s biggest bride” ate 30,000 calories per day to earn that title. The most extreme case of calorie consumption goes to Casey Viator, whom, when he was part of the Colorado Experiment, had to eat 39,000 calories per day. But that is not nearly as much as what an elephant eats per day, which is a jaw-dropping 50,000 calories. No human has ever come close to eating that much, so far.


Last updated on August 13, 2017

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