Okay, since I started using an online site to track my calories, I was introduced to the concept of Net Calories.
Total Calories consumed – Exercise Calories Burned = NET calories.
I have dieted a lot in my life. A lot. I have only tracked calories with two of those diets. (Once a long time ago with Weight Watchers…which, yes, is a calorie counting program disguised by a Points System) and once again last year. Neither plan included Net Calories.
This January, I started at The Daily Plate and noticed the Net Calories feature.
Basically, when you track your exercise you eat those calories back. It took me a few weeks to understand the logic behind it. It is highly prone to accuracy errors and I think that is the main reason why it doesn’t work for every one. Also, I think people may be using it incorrectly.
Below is my basic understanding of it. I am fairly certain I have the general idea of how it works.
1: What to do and how it works.
When you calculate your daily Calorie Goal, you need to select your activity level and how much weight you want to (safely!) lose per week. Seriously…unless you are obese – don’t try to lose 5 pounds in one week!
Okay, the important thing here is if you want to ‘eat back’ and track your exercise…pick the correct activity level!
For instance, I get my daughter ready for school, I work at home on the computer, I drive, I do light housekeeping (very light – wash dishes, make a bed, wipe counters, etc.) I do college work, I watch TV, I read, etc. That is my typical day. Boring…yes!
But, on average, my day pretty much falls under the “lightly active” category.
First, the calorie calculator starts with the number of calories burned in a ‘lightly active’ lifestyle on a typical day…let’s say 1800 calories and subtracts a deficit from that. In my case, I want to lose 1 pound a week, so it subtracts 500 from 1800 and gives me 1300 as my Calorie Goal. (I am going to assume everyone understands how consuming fewer calories than your body burns will bring about weight loss.) So, I now know that I can consume 1300 calories and lose 1 pound a week because of that 500 calorie deficit.
Now, there are 3 ways to maintain that deficit:
1: Food Restriction. (Eat 500 calories fewer than 1800/day. i.e. Eat 1300 calories/day.)
2: Exercise. (Eat 1800 calories a day…and exercise off 500 calories)
3: Both. (Ex: Eat 1500 – which is only a 300 deficit – and burn off the extra 200 to make the deficit 500)
So, I start my day and eat 1300. I have my 500 calorie deficit.
Then, I decide to exercise and burn an extra 200 calories.
My NET calories are now 1100.
1300 (total calories consumed) – 200 (exercise calories burned) = 1100 NET.
Another way to look at it is that my deficit is now 700.
500 from the food restriction deficit we made when we ate 1300 calories…and 200 from the exercise we just did.
500+200 = 700 deficit.
One final way to look at it is I no longer just burned 1800 today. I busted out of my Lightly Active lifestyle and I burned 2000 calories.
If I still want a 500 calorie deficit, I now have to eat 1500 calories (2000 – 500 = 1500) instead of 1300 to get my 500 calorie deficit.
So, yep…to do that I have to eat back my 200 exercise calories.
This makes my deficit 500 again.
My NET is now 1300 and the total I consumed for the day is 1500.
1300 (food eaten) – 200(exercise) = 1100 NET + 200 (eat back) = 1300 NET.
1300 TOTAL (food eaten) + 200 (eat back) = 1500 calories TOTAL.
I still have my 500 calorie deficit. I just changed how I got it. Instead of just food restriction, I used a combination of food restriction and exercise to get to a 500 calorie deficit.
This is why people ‘eat back’. If you track it right and use the right activity level, it does
2: What not to do.
Here’s what I think I did wrong in the beginning.
I told the calorie calculator that I was ‘Moderately Active’ and I ate back.
The calorie goal given to me for ‘Moderately Active’ already included my exercise calories.
The calculator started with the number of calories I burn due to an moderately activity level that included my exercise sessions….it was about 2100 calories and then subtracted my deficit (500) to give me a Calorie Goal of 1600 TOTAL. I wasn’t supposed to track exercise and ‘eat back’ because my calorie intake number already included my exercise. The 2100 calories (and thereby the 1600 Calorie Goal) already had those burned exercise calories in there…to track them again would be redundant!
So, the two choices are…choose an activity level for just your day-to-day activities and track exercise separately/’eat back’. Or just choose a higher activity level to account for your exercise and just eat and know that your Calorie Goal will give you a deficit that already includes your exercise calories.
Remember it’s not all exact. The calorie calculator estimates – it doesn’t really know exactly how many calories you are burning. (How helpful it would be if it really did!)
Keep all this in mind as you track your calories.
Which one do I personally do?
I do both. I switch every 3 weeks and do one or the other. When I use the higher activity level, I actually calorie cycle (change the amounts I eat each day, but still end up with the same total by the end of the week.) Also known as ‘calorie shifting’, ‘zig-zag dieting’ or ‘The Wendie Plan’ (for those of you on Weight Watchers.)
When I “eat back”, I track my exercise with my Heart Rate Monitor and eat back most of those calories. I have personal rules about how many exercise calories I actually eat back. I do this mostly to allow room for inaccuracies with counting calories.
I like doing both. It gives me a fresh start every three weeks. I have been successful (so far) with both, so I’ll keep doing it for now.