Why You’re Burning Fewer Calories Than You Think

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Why You’re Burning Fewer Calories Than You Think

Weight management comes down to simple math: calories in minus calories out. But if you’re keeping track of your diet and exercise and still missing your goals, you might be getting some parts of the equation wrong.

We tend to overestimate how many calories we’ve burned and underestimate how much we’ve consumed, making it difficult to hit those weight-loss goals. And even when you’re carefully tracking your meals and activity, you may be expending less energy than you think.

Check out these six reasons your calorie burn might be smaller than you’ve estimated:

1. YOU’RE OVERESTIMATING YOUR WEEKLY BURN

It’s important not to approach every day thinking you can indulge with your food because you’ve put in a big, calorie-torching workout — or assume every gym day will yield a big calorie deficit. An hour of strength training could end up burning around 200–300 calories, compared with about 500 calories burned during a long run. It could be helpful to think of your daily calorie burn as a weekly average. Going into the week, it’s a good idea to know what workouts you’ll do and factor those calorie burns into your eating plan.  

2. YOUR EXERCISE EQUIPMENT MIGHT BE LYING

You hop on that treadmill, elliptical or cycling machine and watch the “calories” number tick up. Before you celebrate with a cheeseburger, remember these machines are often inaccurate, especially if you don’t input your weight before you start the workout. Everyone burns calories at a different rate depending on weight, heart rate and form, which means your favorite exercise machine may tell you you’re burning way more calories than you really are.


READ MORE > 3 KEYS FOR WEIGHT LOSS YOU NEED TO KNOW NOW


3. YOU’RE AN ACTIVE COUCH POTATO

Sure, you had a great hourlong workout this morning, but your intense cardio session can’t offset the effects of sitting all day at work. Find ways to incorporate standing or walking into other parts of your daily routine beyond your workout. Send emails from a standing desk, watch your TV shows while cleaning instead of from the couch, or make your next meeting a walking one.

4. YOU’RE DOUBLE DIPPING

If you log your workouts or sync your activity tracker with MyFitnessPal, it will add your calorie burn from exercise to your total daily calorie allotment. But if you also have your activity level set to “active” to account for your weekly workouts, the app is already factoring in those daily sweat sessions. To better assess your calorie burn in the gym, adjust your MyFitnessPal settings to “sedentary” and factor in the calories burned during exercise to that baseline. (Check out some of the discussion on this topic in the MyFitnessPal community forums.)

5. YOU’RE GETTING BETTER AT WORKING OUT

As you get in better shape and adapt to your training, your body will burn fewer calories in the gym. That’s a credit to you because it takes less effort to do the same workout when your body becomes more efficient. Keep track of the workout routines you’re doing, and increase intensity or distance every few weeks to continue progressing.

6. YOU’VE LOST WEIGHT

This is similar to the previous point. When you drop pounds, your smaller body takes less energy to move around. Everything from doing dishes to running a marathon burns fewer calories. This is a great sign of progress, but it also means you may need to increase your estimated calories burned per day or adjust your calorie intake to continue losing weight.

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  • Pamom

    Sorry. It’s not calories in calories out with some women their hormones can be off. It’s not as simple as just calories in and calories out and resent research has proven that. Disappointed in this article!!

    • Adam Jensen

      It’s still calories in vs calories out. It’s not some ground breaking research that hormones affect metabolism. Ever heard of a thyroid? That’s one of many hormone secreting organs we habe! Even if hormones are actively reducing your metabolic state, doesn’t change the fact that you can still lose weight if you consume less calories than you burn. Yes it does suck, but that’s life son

      • Carla

        You are such as Wise A** , Not to mention Disrespectful and Annoying..I pray that you do not have Children young or Adults with your Mentality. This is the pathetic world that we now live in and wonder why so many horrible things are happening by people EXACTLY like you.

        • Adam Jensen

          You’re the one resorting to ad hominem. Usually when someone does that it means they have no clue what to say and its a defensive mechanism to protect their ego. You pray that someone with A high IQ doesn’t have children? First of all, the fact that you pray just shows your IQ is below 100. Secondly, you should pray that people like me do have kids to prevent people like you from mucking up the gene pool with absolute ignorance and stupidity.

          Now that I’ve replied to your idiotic tangent. Feel free to respond with something intellectual regarding my original post about the relevant topic. Otherwise stop spamming about your hurt feelings, take that baggage to your therapist

    • robinbishop34

      “It’s not calories in calories out …”

      On the contrary. Everyone that is alive, regardless of any conditions –imaginary or otherwise– has a TDEE number. Eat below that number to lose; eat above that number to gain; eat exactly that number to maintain.

    • Calorie Carl

      Ummm, it is calories in, calories out. Don’t be dumb.

    • Nicola

      What you are trying to say is your “calories out” is less than the norm but at the end of the day, it is still calories in, calories out. You just happen to have a lower “out” than others.

  • SuzyB52

    I’m also disappointed in this article; however, I find many of the articles on this and other online publications superficial in their treatment of whatever the subject matter is. Articles such as this one paint with a broad brush, and in this case, contain no “disclaimer” or qualifying statements to the effect that each person’s situation is different. For example, people with certain medical/health conditions have challenges to weight management that a healthier person may not. And the older we get, the more difficult it is to lose weight, or even to maintain our healthy weight of our younger years even when no diet or activity level changes have occurred. Age, hormones, thyroid levels, diabetes, various autoimmune diseases, and so many other factors affect one’s ability to lose or maintain healthy weight, even when the calories consumed each day do not exceed the calories expended.
    I’d like to see some well-researched, erudite articles for people over 60 who are dealing with aging bodies and the onslaught of age-related illnesses, regarding how those factors (and others) affect our weight loss efforts. (FYI, for almost two months I’ve been tracking every morsel that I consume to follow a 1200-1300 calorie/day diet; I weigh and measure everything I eat or drink; I am careful to stay away from added sugar and select foods that have low-glycemic levels; I choose only whole grains and other complex carbohydrates; I eat fish/seafood and poultry more than red meat and don’t touch fatty pork; I eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables–primarily spinach/kale/cabbage/broccoli; I exercise regularly, combining both cardio and strength exercises; I’m on my feet most of the time that I’m awake–yet I haven’t lost a pound. It’s discouraging, to say the least.)

    • Jennie

      So, some people can defy the laws of physics and expend more energy than they take in. Maybe they photosynthesize.

    • Adam Jensen

      Reduce your calories then, genius

      • Beth DiPaolo

        Actually, if she reduces further it may be counter productive. Id’ be a bit more mindful in your communication.

        • Adam Jensen

          I’d be more mindful with your awful bioscience advice

    • Beth DiPaolo

      Hi Suzy, I admire you for all you’re doing. Don’t give up. I’m not sure of your age, as I’m 52 and find losing weight to be more challenging as I’ve aged. I thought I’d share something that has helped me, the low carb approach. I was disgusted with the weight I put on, ignoring my health. I travel a lot for work so was eating way more than normal and not exercising. Since I cut out all sugar, no bread, pasta, rice, potato I’ve lost 22 pounds. I recommend you try just protein and vegies for awhile and see if that helps. It has helped me not be hungry and mindful. I will start incorporating berries and some other fruits low in glycemic index soon. Keep the faith!

    • Mrs Room

      SuzyB52 It sounds like you are eating Healthy and your body will thank you for it. Measure your success in other ways, less colds, more energy, just plain old feeling good! I have read that breaking old habits and establishing new ones takes at least three months, don’t stop, don’t give up! You are doing great! It’s true these articles are very general. I have a friend in her sixties who must take steroids, she has dietitians, nutritionists and doctors monitoring her entire Life! But she gets shorter,(bone loss) and rounder every year. You sound like a really smart person, you know each of us is unique and wonderful, you know you are treating your body right, and that should never be discouraging. Keep up the good work.

  • fh

    The woman on the erg needs some help with her technique

    • Andrew K Duffy

      Amen! Why are her hands at chest level while her legs are bent at that angle?

  • Jwkinge

    If you think weight loss is as simple as Calories in vs. Calories out it tells me that you have never lost or had to lose weight. Our bodies react and store calories differently if we are in taking sugar vs. protein. If your profession is dealing in weight loss I suggest you try to lose 15 pounds. Then tell me if you still believe in the “Calories in vs. Calories out” theory.

    • 240phil

      Thank you.
      Trust me, those of us with more than a couple of pounds to loose can attest to just how flawed the “calories in vs calories out” thinking really is.