Can Eating Back Exercise Calories Help You Lose Weight?

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When you first begin an exercise and weight loss program, you might find yourself a little overeager – exercising furiously and watching every calorie, strictly adhering to the calorie range given to you by your health care provider or online weight loss site. But the scale doesn’t budge. How can that be? You’re burning more calories than usual. You’re eating properly. What’s wrong?

It may be that your newfound enthusiasm is working against you. Some experts believe that eating back your exercise calories (in essence, increasing your caloric intake to compensate for increased caloric expenditure) is just what you need to jumpstart your weight loss. With all the numbers, calculations, and advice out there, it’s hard to find out what works for you. If you have been trying your current program for several weeks without seeing results, it may be time to shake things up.

First, have you calculated your basal metabolic rate (BMR)? (You can find all the calculators mentioned here online.)This is the number of calories you burn simply by being alive. If you stayed in bed all day, every day, your BMR is the number of calories you burn. But no one stays in bed all day (at least, you shouldn’t!). It’s important that you know this number so that you’re aware of how many calories your body actually burns in a day without exercise. You may find that this number is greater than the daily calorie allowance many Web sites give you in order to lose weight! Some experts will advise you to never eat fewer calories than your BMR.

Once you have calculated your BMR, you should calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) – how many calories you burn by living plus daily exercise — by multiplying your BMR by the appropriate activity level:

  • Sedentary (little to no exercise) — BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days per week) — BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 days per week) — BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise 6-7 days per week) — BMR x 1.725
  • Extremely active (very hard exercise or a very physical job) — BMR x 1.9

Now that you know your TDEE, subtract 20% as your “cut,” or calories you should cut out to lose weight. The resulting number is your daily calorie goal. This number ensures that you are eating enough to fuel your body’s basic functions and daily activity, but gives you enough of a deficit to lose weight at a safe rate.

Try eating at this level for at least three weeks and see if it jumpstarts your weight loss. While it may seem like a large jump in calories than what you’re used to, remember that this calculation takes into account your new activity level and allows you to “eat back” some of your exercise calories. Just as a car needs gas to go, you need food to fuel your body. Of course, you still need to make sure you’re making smart food choices. You can’t outexercise a bad diet!

So get calculating, get moving, and get healthy!

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