Bradley Cooper had to pack on 40 pounds for his role as burly Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in American Sniper—and to do so, he reportedly ate a whopping 8,000 calories a day. (Eight. Thousand. Eight THOUSAND.) It's an amount that seems so immense, we couldn't help but wonder what 8,000 calories actually looks like—so we called on nutritionist Dana James to help us visualize it with a sample meal plan.
The first thing we learned is that while it's certainly not easy to eat this much food quantity-wise, it's actually not that hard calorie-wise—and crazier yet, it doesn't require a boatload of junk food. Broadly speaking, James' plan is rather typical in the scheme of a balanced diet: Breakfast, lunch, and morning and afternoon snacks that consist of healthy ingredients, while dinner and dessert are more of a splurge. "I meet women all the time who unknowingly eat half this much in a day and can't understand why they keep gaining weight," says James, driving home the point that "healthy" is certainly not synonymous with "low calorie." (As a reminder, most adult women need between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day.) Trying to bulk up like Bradley is one thing, but if you're aiming to do just the opposite, take note: Things like nuts, coconut milk, and yogurt parfaits are wholesome on their own…but they also quickly add up. Here's how:
1 cup of granola with ¾ cup of whole milk = 660 calories
Smoothie made with 1cup full fat coconut milk, 2 tbsp coconut oil, 1 avocado, 1 tbsp chia seeds, and 1 scoop whey protein = 1,294 calories
Total = 1,954 calories
Granola tends to be a not-so-secret calorie bomb, and a big bowl of it paired with full fat milk could set you back nearly 700 calories. Meanwhile, a smoothie concocted with omega-heavy ingredients like coconut, avocado, and chia seeds could add up to almost 1,300 calories. Each option would certainly make for a hearty breakfast on its own; together, you've just completed Meal One of the Bradley Cooper Diet.
5 ounces of walnuts = 925 calories
A good rule to follow when chowing down on nuts is to take just one handful, which roughly equates to 1 ounce—a little less than 200 calories. The trick is to stop at just one: Were you to grab five handfuls of walnuts, your morning snack would probably run north of 900 calories.
1.5 servings of Laksa Soup = 2,214 calories
James names Laksa, a hearty Malaysian soup, as a relatively healthy (not to mention delicious) lunch option—the ingredient list includes omega-heavy coconut cream, lots of veggies, rice noodles, and protein-packed shrimp and chicken. It's definitely calorie-rich, though, and this recipe looks so scrumptious, you might go back for a smaller second serving—if so, it'll add up to more than 2,000 calories.
Yogurt bowl with 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt, 1 cup strawberries, ½ cup almonds, 1 tbsp ground flaxseed, and 1 tsp honey = 761 calories
A yogurt parfait makes for a delicious afternoon treat—but fully loading it with fruit and nuts could run it pretty steep in calories.
Burger with cheddar cheese, a multigrain roll, veggies, and sauces = 600 calories
Medium (4.7 oz) serving of fries with ketchup = 497 calories
1 dinner roll with butter = 231 calories
¾ cup roasted green beans = 150 calories
2 glasses of red wine= 250 calories
Total = 1,728 calories
Splurge #1 of the day is a hefty burger with all the fixings: tomato, onion, cheddar cheese, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce, and a decent side of fries (with more ketchup, please). If you snacked on the bread basket while you waited for your order, paired your entrée with a serving of veggies, and also drank a couple of restaurant-sized glasses of vino throughout, you're probably hovering around 1,700 calories—ironically, your lightest meal of the day (though certainly not your healthiest).
Large brownie with a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream = 488 calories
If we're doin' it Bradley-style, we're about ready to fall into a food coma of epic proportions right now—but sometimes (always), dessert still calls. A restaurant-sized brownie topped with a big scoop (about ½ cup) of high quality vanilla ice cream clocks in at just under 500 calories.
DAILY TOTAL: 8,070 calories
That's all, folks. Props to Bradley for doing this on a daily basis, and we can certainly see how he bulked up as a result. But on the flipside, it's also a good reminder that yes, serving size really is everything—even when we're filling up on our favorite healthy ingredients. "Eating 2,000 calories a meal isn't that hard to do," reiterates James. "And you don't have to be eating burgers and fries all day to do it." Clearly!
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Victoria Hoff is the associate editor at ELLE.com, covering everything from fashion to beauty to wellness. She first joined the team as the editorial assistant in 2013. When she isn't working, she spends her days in Brooklyn eating (vegan) tacos, yoga-ing, and curating her collections of healing crystals and mom jeans.
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