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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Net Calories Confusion

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This post may only make sense if you are familiar with the LoseIt app.  
If you are familiar with LoseIt, be sure to look at this app on your phone while reading this post.

In weight loss, I am a BIG believer in logging calories for food and exercise.  This is why I love the LoseIt app.  I feel like a broken record when I talk about this way to log, but have I mentioned how amazing it is?!?!

You would think that logging this way would be pretty straight forward, but the whole "net calories" thing can be kind of confusing.  I hope to help alleviate some of this confusion by answering some frequently asked questions.  Let's hope I don't send you into a deeper state of confusion...

What are net calories?

Net Calories = calories consumed (food/drink) - calories burned (exercise)

For example, I consumed 1434 calories today and exercised 303 calories (1434-303=1131 net calories).

What is the difference between net calories and budgeted calories?

Budgeted calories are how many calories LoseIt recommends in order to lose weight.  Net calories are how many calories you actually consumed minus the calories you burned exercising.

For example:

My budgeted calories:  1224
My net calories = 1131 (because I ate 1434 calories and burned 303)

Should I eat my burned (exercise) calories?

If you log your exercise you are welcome to eat the extra calories you've earned but do not have to.

Just be sure that your net calories do not exceed your budgeted calories.

For example, today my net calories were 1131.  Even though I ate 1434 calories, I am still under my budgeted calories because I burned 303 calories exercising.

If my net calories are equal to my budgeted calories, will I still lose weight?

Yes, you should still lose weight if your net calories and budgeted calories are the same.

When you input your goals, LoseIt already figured a deficit.  So your listed budgeted calories already subtracted the calories needed in order to lose weight.  

For example, my budgeted calories are 1224 to lose weight.  I already know the amount of calories my body needs to maintain weight (around 1500), so LoseIt already made these calculations for weight loss.  If I eat my exercise calories, I am still at a deficit because LoseIt already subtracted the calories I needed to lose weight.    

These calculations are based on age, height, weight, and goals.  

(If you are still reading I am impressed.)

Will I lose weight faster if my net calories are less than my budgeted calories?

Yes, but be sure to never eat less than 1200 budgeted calories.  

For example, if I ate my budgeted 1224 calories and burned 500 calories, my net calories would be 724.  You are not in starvation mode if you eat at least 1200 calories, but you will be hungry.  Try not to go under 500 net calories for weight loss.  If your daily net calories are above your budgeted calories, you will gain weight.

In other words, (on the LoseIt program) when you exercise you should be able to eat more.  Even if you are trying to lose weight!  But if you choose not to eat your exercise calories, you will lose weight faster. But let me caution you, eating fewer than 1200 net calories is very difficult and you will feel hungry.

For me, it is almost impossible to only eat my budgeted calories on exercise days.  I end up very hungry.  So I usually end up eating at least half of my exercise calories.

On the show Biggest Loser or Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, the rule of thumb is to consume 1500 budgeted calories or less regardless of the amount of exercise.  This is also the recommendation of the American Dietetic Association, the Goldstandard for all things nutrition, disease prevention, and weight loss with years of scientific research.  You can trust their recommendations.  I was educated through them through doctored professors and scientific facts in my four years of education and Bachelors degree (just had to add this in case of skepticism...haha).

(If you are still reading I am VERY impressed.)

When you say to never go below 1200 calories, does this mean budgeted or net? 

I mean budgeted.  Going below 1200 net calories is still considered nutritious and adequate, but going below 1200 budgeted calories is not sufficient.

When budgeted caloric intake falls below 1200  (for women) and 1500 (for men), the body reacts as if it is starving and tries to conserve energy.  It will lower your metabolism, conserve calories and fat, and you will not burn calories as quickly.  This is what is called "starvation mode."  It is also extremely difficult to follow a balanced diet and obtain the nutrients that are needed by the body to stay strong, energetic and prevent disease.  This is why it is never recommended consume less than 1200 or 1500 calories when trying to lose weight (fat).

(If you are still reading, I am shocked.)

 Should I stay within the 500-1200 net calorie range on days that I do not exercise?

No.  You need to eat at least 1200 budgeted calories.  The LoseIt app will tell you how many calories you have eaten under the column FOOD.  On the days you do not exercise, do not go above your budgeted calories, and do not go below 1200 net calories

For example, I don't exercise on Sundays.  So I should consume at least 1200 calories, but not go over my budgeted 1224 calories.  My net calories should be at least 1200 calories.

Bottom Line:  

On EXERCISE days:  Your net caloric daily goal should be between 500 and your budgeted calories for weight loss.  Do not eat less than 1200 food calories or more than budgeted calories.

For example, my net caloric daily goal:  500-1224 calories

On NON-EXERCISE days:  Your net caloric daily goal should be between 1200 and your budgeted calories for weight loss.  Do not eat less than 1200 food calories or more than budgeted calories.    

For example, my net caloric daily goal:  1200-1224 calories. (24 calories makes all the difference...haha!)

Holy Cow, all this budgeted and net calories talk makes me hungry!  Who knows if I actually cleared anything up.  Let me know if you need more clarification and I can do my best to find an answer that actually makes sense.


Anonymous said...

Best decription I have read! Crystal clear now! Thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes! This was the simplest, easiest, CLEAREST explanation I've read on this topic! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This helped so much!! Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Finally a post that actually answers the question of calories consumed vs net calories!

Anonymous said...

I do not use the Loselt program, but this was a very good explanation of calories consumed total( budget) vs. net. Thank you.

Lauren Moore said...

I use and this made perfect sense! Thank you! It's simple and obvious to understand once it was clearly explained. I've always been confused deciphering if I had to eat back burned calories to make the net calories match the goal. I'm so relieved to see I can net lower without worrying about starvation mode... but I also understand the hunger will hit hard! Thank you for being so clear!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Always had trouble with this!

Vicki Maheu said...

My fitness pal uses this method too. So many people on the social forums freak out if you net under 1200. It doesn't matter if you EAT 1800 calories, if your net is less than 1200 they act like you are anorexic.

I've always looked at it like you do, I *can* eat back the exercise calories, but I don't *have to*.

One thing I noticed, you said if you net over your budgeted calories you will gain, that would actually depend how much over. For example, if your budgeted calories gave you a 1000 calorie a day deficit, and your net exceeded your budgeted calories by 200, you wouldn't gain, in fact you would still lose, just not as fast as you would have if you didn't do that. You would still lose though because you would still have an overall deficit of 800 calories.

At any rate, I am glad to see the common sense here about it being okay to net less as long as you are eating sufficiently. If you create a greater deficit through exercise while still feeding your body enough, your metabolism does not slow down as much and go into starvation mode.

NMY said...

Thank you, well said

Anonymous said...

BEST EXPLANATION I HAVE EVER READ!!!! and i have been trying to understand this for about 3 months now. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!

MS09 said...

Yes yes yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm so glad I came across this post! I use My Fitness Pal and it sounds very very similar to your Lose It app! Everything makes PERFECT sense now! Thank you soooo much!

Flo said...

You say never eat less than 1200 budgeted BUT LoseIt has me budgeted for 1145 a day. I know many people who get less than 1200 calories per day budgeted. Are you saying we should eat OVER our budgeted amount on days when we get no exercise? And, yes, I do have days like that.

C said...

I have been using LoseIt successfully but just paid attention to details and noticed the net. Baffling to me but after lots of guessing, speculating and googling, I came across your blog! Yay!! I think I finally understand now. Thank you so very much.
In response to one of the comments about not going below 1200, my LoseIt app had me going under the 1200 as I have lost weight and since I knew that was not healthy, I adjusted my plan and slowed myself down by changing my goal from 1 and 1/2 pound loss to 1 pound loss per week. That adjustment got me back up to 1200 budget per week. Hope that helps and makes sense. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Seriously so helpful!! All the other descriptions were so confusing! Thank you!

Kate G said...

I love you. I have been reading posts all day and still not getting it. This is perfect.

Tom Dickie said...

Great post. This all makes sense now. I have been hitting the bike hard and ending up with -1000 calories on some days and was not quite sure where I should be. This was a big help.

Anonymous said...

Makes so much more sense now I knew I wasn't supposed to eat less than 1200 but wasn't sure if that was net or not. Thanks for the explanation!

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post but thank you! I too use MFP and because of my height, I am one of the reviled 1200 calorie eaters. But I have been eating 1500 and losing soooo slowly. Decided to actually do the 1200 and not eat back exercise calories. Was wondering if it really mattered because I ATE 1200. I never heard of "net" until MFP. I feel really confident about going forward now. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

From inquiring minds who always wanted to know THANK YOU for sharing your expertise and understanding. I still have one more question what about the Basal metabolic rate calories? I know that many times we read ‘estimates’ of what we burn at rest. I actually wear a heart rate monitor to know exactly what I burn during the day. While most estimates tag females at 1,400 BMR cals burned daily, I actually (with the help of the heart rate monitor) only burn around 1,200. My question I guess is, what if we calculate that into the Lose it app- I label mine as a daily total of ‘rest,’ I suppose one could label this as ‘BMR.’ Wouldn’t the goal then be to burn more (exercise + BMR) than you consume to lose weight? I apologize if this is obvious, but the whole ‘net’ thing has confused me for a while. You explained it beautifully. I just want to be sure I am understanding everything. If you get to this to reply, thank you.

Anonymous said...

This article was extremely helpful and great because I use the LoseIt app.

Lisa Nickerson said...

Any advise for someone who has followed this for three weeks to a t and can't seem to lose weight? I actually gain weight! So frustrating. I always eat budget 1200 but usually under net. Maybe once a week I will go over net by no more than 100. I don't have a lot to lose but still I have 10-15 to get rid of. Any ideas???

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. This aticle made it clear that my net calories can be less than budgeted calories and it shouldn't be harmful. I was always scared to have net calories less than 1200.

Bella Rizzotti said...

Excellent break down thanks!!!!!

Nutrition Tracker said...

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Unknown said...

Thank you so very much! Been spinning my wheels and bugging the heck out of my husband to help me make sense of this. Your breakdown was exactly what I needed.👍🏾

Anonymous said...

This makes complete sense! I love the LoseIt! app and try to do 10,000 steps each day between walking, running and elliptical, but I only add exercise that I broke a sweat - in other words I only add the exercise calories in that I burned on a treadmill, or cardio machine, or running outside, etc. I don't add in those that are added all day long with my FitBit. My budgeted are just under 1200 - for a 2# weight loss/week - but when I add exercise, I actually eat around 1450 and I am FULL. So with my net, for example today, my net calories were about 850, right between 500 and my budgeted calories at 1200, so this should work! Fingers crossed :)

Alyson said...

I finally get it!!!!!

April Robbins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April Robbins said...

I use the loseit app, so this was super helpful. Thanks soooo much!!!! 👍👏🎉

Anonymous said...

I use MFP and I finally got it..thanks...but it calculated my allotted calories @ 1660 a day to lose two pounds a week.. should I be concerned now that I'm seeing 1200 being banded about?

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's what I was exploring for, what a data!
present here at this weblog, thanks admin of this web site.

eve4cowboy said...

I agree...I didn't understand why my Fitness pal wanted me to eat more if I exercised.....Was like...isn't the idea to burn more then you eat��