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The Weight Loss Formula – Understand Your Own

As weight loss surgery patients or career dieters, we know the formula for losing weight:
Eat fewer calories + burn more calories (exercise and activity) = Weight Loss!

Exercise is one way we try to burn more calories.  We go to the gym, pick up some free weights and think we’ll see the numbers on the scale move down.  Unfortunately, as many of us know from personal experience, it doesn’t always work that way.  This can be very frustrating.  We are doing all this exercise and activity so why aren’t we losing weight??  In this period of frustration, we can throw in the towel, waive the white flag and give up.  Don’t!

Exercise and activity can be a complicated process.  There are a number of things that can affect how many calories each of us burn.  Empower yourself by knowing what those are will assist you to set realistic goals, get the most from your workouts and, most importantly, not be frustrated and give up your exercise and activity habits.


That is a question I’m asked many, many and even more times than that!!  Many of us use an activity calculator to find out how many calories you’re burning.  An activity calculator uses your body weight, the activity and duration of time to reflect the number of calories you burn.  Are they accurate?  Are you getting the entire picture by using the calculator.  No, not really.  There are a few other things you need to consider when it comes to exercise/activity and your weight loss.

1. Net Calories compared to Gross Calories: Most calculators use activity, duration of your workout and your weight to determine an estimate of calories burned, also known as gross calories burned. What we forget to factor in are the calories we would’ve burned if we weren’t exercising, also known as the net calories burned. If you walked in place, on your treadmill or even lifted handweights during a time you normally watch TV, you’re still burning more calories than you were, but you need to subtract the calories you would’ve burned while watching TV in order to get a more accurate calculation.

It may seem like a small difference, after all you may burn more than 150 calories walking in place and only about 47 calories watching TV. This difference becomes important, however, when you’re trying to predict weight loss. Those 47 calories, if unaccounted for, can add up to fewer pounds lost.

If you’re tracking calories burned with exercise, you’ll get a more accurate number by subtracting the calories you would’ve burned if you weren’t working out. For example, if you burned 200 calories while walking for 20 minutes and would’ve burned 50 calories if you sat at the computer during that time, your net calories burned would be 150.

We all have a Resting Metabolic Rate.  It is the rate of calories we burn just by breathing, sleeping, digestion and essentially the minimal life functions that are necessary to keep us alive.  You can go to your local health center to check on how you can obtain this wellness test.  With my height, weight and other factors individual to me, my RMR that was taken by this test and the machine was 1,350.

The RMR was done by a machine that I breathed into.  They clipped off my nose so I couldn’t breathe out of my nose.  Then I breathed into a machine through my mouth.  It was for a few minutes so it wasn’t the most horrible test I’ve had to take!!  It was worth it.  I now know that my basic resting metabolic rate is 1,350.  What I do for there as far as adding to it by calories and decreasing it from my exercise and activity is up to me.  The test was only $45.

2. Exercise Intensity: You probably know that taking a leisurely stroll won’t burn as many calories as, say, running a mile as fast as you can. The intensity of your exercise and activity play a big part in how many calories you’re burning. Some calculators on the cardio machines you find in gyms or even home exercise equipment will include your pace, resistance and percentage of incline.  Be aware that the accuracy of these calculators can range from excellent to somewhat off base in accuracy.

To test your intensity, use the talk test or singing test.  While you’re exercising, you should be able to talk or sing but you should be exerting yourself enough that you wouldn’t want to or feel like talking or singing.

3. The Type of Workouts You Do: While any exercise is good for the body, some activities are more efficient in burning calories than others.  Some of the more “calorie bang for your exercise time and energy” are activities that are considered weight-beating.  Weight-bearing activities are running, aerobics, walking, and weight-lifting.  These activities burn more calories because gravity requires your body to work harder.  Note the difference in walking a flat track versus walking up a hill.  That is an example of gravity at work!

Non-weight-bearing activities such as swimming have their advantages. They’re less stressful on the joints and you can often do them longer, which could make up the difference in calories burned with weight-bearing activities. However, cross-training with impact activities, if you’re able to do that, will not only work your body in different ways, it also helps build stronger bones and connective tissue.

4. Challenge Your Body’s Efficiency: You probably never thought that being good at an activity would mean burning fewer calories, but that’s exactly what happens when you exercise consistently. Think about the first time you tried a treadmill or some other cardio machine. You probably felt awkward, holding onto the rails and worrying you might fall off. Over time, the movement became so natural, you didn’t have to think about it anymore. As your body became more efficient, you need to mix it up.  Challenge your body with different workouts, different speeds, intensity or a mix.

5. Exercise Compensation: Something else we don’t consider is how exercise or this additional activity can impact your day.  If you do a challenging workout and then take a nap or skip an evening walk with your family, something different than what you normally do, you’re burning fewer calories. Exercise can also increase your appetite, causing you to eat more calories which can also sabotage your weight loss goals.  Be aware of these opposite effects of exercising.

Keep food and activity journal to get an idea of a normal day for you. Resting more or eating more are things we often do without being aware. Keeping a simple log of your activities will help you make sure you’re getting the same amount of activity, even with your workouts. If you’re exhausted after every workout, that may be a sign you’re overdoing it. You don’t want to totally deplete yourself causing you to have less energy, requiring you to take a nap or eat more for energy.  You want to keep a little gas in your tank after most of your workouts.

6. Body Mass Changes and Adjustments: Another irony with weight loss is that, the heavier you are, the more calories you’ll burn with exercise. For example, a 200-lb pound person can burn about 400 calories during 30 minutes of stairclimbing, while a 125-lb person burns about 250 calories doing the same thing. As you lose weight, your body expends less energy to move your body around, which means you’ll lose weight more slowly. My clients complain as they lose weight that their loss slows down.  As you get closer to your ideal goal weight, losing the last few pounds can be so challenging.  Keep in mind the total picture of what exercise does for you.  Yes, you lose weight but you are also changing your body mass, toning and compacting your body into a smaller size and tighter.

As you know, losing weight is a good thing, even if it means the weight loss slows down over time.  As you lose weight and get closer to your goal, you will need to reconsider your total calories you consume along with how many calories you’re expending by your exercise level and intensity along with frequency.  Adjusting your number as you get lower can help you to stay focused and motiviated.

7. Genetics and Gender: While we control many of the factors involved with weight loss, there are some things we have no control over.  Our genetics and gender.  Our genes often determine resting metabolic rate, muscle fiber types and genetic responses to different foods, all of which can affect our ability to burn calories and lose weight.

Gender can also affect weight loss. Women usually have more body fat than men and their bodies respond differently to exercise, which can change the rate of weight loss.  I can do the exact same thing in what I eat and my exercise and my husband will surpass me easily.

It can be frustrating when you start exercising and don’t see the results you’re expecting. You may start wondering: “What am I doing wrong?” or “Why bother?”  Knowing there are other factors involved can help you be more realistic and, perhaps, encourage changes to your workouts to get more out of your program. If you’re distracted and discouraged by calculations that don’t seem to add up, remember that they’re only numbers. They don’t reflect the results you enjoy in your life such as feeling better physically and mentally, higher self-esteem, having more energy or simply having a better day-to-day life.

Remember, this healthy lifestyle journey along with the habits we practice every single day pay off now and also in our future as we get older.  Eating healthfully and adopting an active lifestyle are the gifts that keep on giving to you!

Believe In Yourself,
Cathy, CLC
Certified Life Coach, Weight Loss Surgery Coach
Back On Track Facilitator

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