Calories in Versus Calories Out: The Crux of Weight Loss

Calories in Versus Calories Out: The Crux of Weight Loss

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Knowing how many calories you’re eating versus how many you’re burning as energy often seems like a mystery. Feeling like you’re in the dark is one reason it can be hard to maintain a healthy body weight. If we don’t understand it, how can we teach our children to live at a healthy weight?

The truth is, reaching and staying a healthy weight doesn’t have to be hard. With the right tools, you can maintain, lose or gain weight as you need to.

Know Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

A good place to start is to learn your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories you burn just by living and breathing. It’s different for every person and depends on your age, height, current weight and gender. There are a lot of websites that can help you determine your BMR. Keep in mind, every site will add a disclaimer that the measurement isn’t 100 percent accurate. Despite their varying accuracy, they are a great place to start.

Add Exercise to Burn Calories

Once you have an idea about your basal metabolic rate, calculate the number of calories you burn from your daily walking and exercise. It’s easy to do with all the fitness tracking devices currently on the market. If you use one, you have a good idea of how many calories you burn each day. Add your burned calories to your BMR to find your daily calorie budget. To lose weight, eat fewer calories than your daily budget. Eat the same number to maintain your weight, or eat more calories to gain weight. It’s as simple as that, right? Almost.

Keep a Food Diary

A great way to monitor your calories and nutrients is by keeping a food diary. You can find many online with mobile device apps that sync. It takes a little effort to enter what you eat each day into a food diary, but it doesn’t take long before it feels natural as you begin to understand what and how much you should eat.

Eat Fewer Carbohydrates

The Atkin’s diet got so much attention when people lost dramatic amounts of weight by cutting and counting their net carbohydrate intake. It helped people understand that many of us were eating too many carbohydrates. Keep in mind, net carbohydrates equal carbohydrates minus fiber. Complex carbohydrates give us long-lasting fuel. When people get more fuel than they can use, our bodies store it as fat. Olympic athletes and marathon runners need and use a lot of fuel, so eating plates full of pasta makes sense for them. For the average person, though, it’s a poor dietary choice because it takes so much energy to burn complex carbohydrate calories that we don’t use on a daily basis.

Choose Nutrient-Rich Calories

It’s important to understand the kind of calories you’re taking in because not all calories are equal. Calories become energy, and everyone transforms calories into energy differently. The transformation is determined by a combination of genetics, lifestyle and eating habits. If your body consumes more carbohydrates, your body will turn to carbohydrates to get energy. If you eat more protein than fat or carbohydrates, your body will turn to protein to make energy. The same goes for fat.

Make sure the foods you eat are rich in vitamins and minerals. If you eat too much pizza and not enough salad, you can develop a vitamin deficiency. A balanced diet can include all kinds of foods (even pizza), but in the right portions. The quality of calories you consume is as important as the number of calories you eat.

What are your goals for enjoying a healthier, happier life? Check out other great content for tips to help.

Sources: What Is Basal Metabolic Rate,   Healthline, 2018; Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate,   2021; Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour,   Mayo Clinic, 2019; Why Keep a Food Diary Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, 2019; Low-carb Diet: Can It Help You Lose Weight?,   Mayo Clinic, 2020; Tips for Choosing a Nutrient-Rich Diet,   Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2021. 

Originally published 10/18/2016; Revised 2021

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