Burning Calories and You-how do you stack up? Calories DO Count. Part 1

You may have heard various and sundry diet and nutrition gurus touting the benefits of a given “diet”-you can eat as much as you want and not gain fat, as long as it is under the full moon, the color red, and you eat standing up. OK, so maybe not that extreme, but the idea that total calories don’t matter if you eat specific foods is around and pervasive. Well, calories do count. There’s no way around the laws of thermodynamics, at least not yet. Quality of food is an important issue as well, don’t get me wrong. But from a strictly energy balance perspective-it’s calories that are king (or queen.) It’s not magic, it’s not difficult, but it does take a bit of attention-at least if you’re interested in improving your health and or the way you look.

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We’ll be looking into the idea of energy balance ie:calories in versus calories out. Today we’ll take a look out the calories you expend-energy output. In Part 2 we’ll take a look at calories in, energy intake, and the ways to track that.

Calories out=energy expenditure=all activity, bodily function, energy required for digestion of food, exercise, cleaning the house, everything. Definition of terms that create your total calorie burn:
RMR=resting metabolic rate-the amount of calories you need to exist without any activity-ie:bedrest
TEA-thermic effect of activity-this, obviously, represents the caloric burn of activity, both exercise and non-exercise acitivty.
NEAT=non exercise activity thermogenesis=general activity like walking the dog, playing with the kids, cleaning the house, fidgeting, general moving around that is not “exercise.” This can have a VERY large impact on your daily caloric burn. It’s the difference between sitting on your butt on the computer or watching TV and moving, just doing something, anything.
TEF-thermic effect of food. Basically the energy expended to digest and assimilate food into usable energy.

Lyle McDonald, a very smart guy, has a great article that goes into more depth regarding all of these terms. You can find it here.

The RMR is the component that we don’t control very much. TEF and TEA we can make changes to. There are many calculators out there which can help you determine your energy expenditure. One that seems to be fairly accurate is the Mifflin equation, and you can find the calculator here. To get an idea of how many calories are burned for specific activities, you can use the calculator at Fitness Partner here. Keep in mind these are all estimates, but good starting points.

If you like to get even more specific, you can use the Bodybugg or GoWearFit devices. These are small devices you wear on your arm that measure motion, heat given off, skin response to stress, and temperature. You may have see the contestants on “The Biggest Loser” wearing them. They are cool little toys, and definitely make you more aware of how much you are, (or are not) burning in a given day. They also give you more individualized information than an equation. I think the most useful application of these is that it truly makes you think about moving more and get the burn higher, and you are super aware of when you are just sitting (oh dang, I’m only burning a calorie a minute here.) Leigh Peele has done a comparison of the two devices which you can find here.

I’ve used the Bodybugg on several different occasions, and I am going to share a few of my observations. I hope this helps you see the impact of how moving, and kind of movement, can impact your calorie burn. Oh-any why does this matter? Because if you burn more, your calorie balance is altered. This can positively impact your weight and your health.

So here we go: I am 35 years old, female, and weighed 127. My RMR has been tested at 1500 calories which also was shown by the Bodybugg. Here’s some examples of calories burned.
-30 minutes moderate intensity steady state cardio-(treadmill walking on an incline)-200 calories
-Sitting at a computer at work-80 calories per hour
-Taking a 20 minute walk outside during my break at work-100 calories (see the difference between sitting an just walking-this was a casual walk, not a power-exercise walk)
-45 minutes of heavy weight training-220 calories

Calorie burn total for this day, which included 45 minutes of weight training and 30 minutes of cardio for structured exercise, was 2350 calories. A day where I was mostly sedentary, sitting at work all day and then going to get my hair cut and colored in the evening (which was more sitting) I burned 1800 calories. Had I just gone for a short walk I could have bumped that burn by a couple hundred calories WITHOUT GOING TO THE GYM! That’s a huge difference in calorie burn. 550 calories is a big difference day to day. Cleaning the house burns a ton of calories. Which reminds me I really need to clean the floor….
Although the structured exercise had a positive impact on my net calorie burn, it wasn’t the main area. Many people are under the impression that an hour at the gym will counteract all the sitting. Guess what-it doesn’t. Getting up and moving during the day can have much bigger impact than we realize. You don’t HAVE to set aside many hours to dedicate to exercise to get in better shape.

I hope this helps shed some light on how you can burn calories, and the importance of general movement. Please let me know what you think in the comments below, or share if you have used the Bodybugg or GoWearFit! I also go into this a bit more in my nutrition guide, which is free and you can sign up below to receive it.
Now-go forth and burn!

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