Calories & Weight Goals: How It Works with MyNetDiary

Good news! You can stop guessing at how many calories you need to control your weight. When you guess at what you need, you are more likely to consume too few or too many calories, thereby preventing you from meeting your goal. That is frustrating and erodes confidence. Instead, use MyNetDiary's web and/or mobile apps (Android, iPhone, iPod, and iPad) to help you plan calories intake and burning so that you meet your weight goal safely and effectively.

Tip: Creating an account allows you to access all MyNetDiary supported devices with your login information!

MyNetDiary uses equations and nutrient goals that are evidence-based and published by the Institute of Medicine (Dietary Reference Intakes). Unlike most trackers, MyNetDiary has powerful flexibility built in - you can choose how you want the system to estimate calories. With this flexibility comes decision-making, so you might find you want to tweak how the systems works for you over time. This includes not only calories, but for nutrients as well. For instance, as calories goals change, so will the macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein) that make up those calories.

MyNetDiary gives you the option of setting your own calories and nutrient goals or calculating the goals for you. The default is to allow MyNetDiary to calculate the goals for you based upon your personal data. The most streamlined goal setting tool is the AutoPilot feature available with the Maximum subscription. This allows automatic updating of target calories when your current body weight, target date, target weight, weekly rate of weight loss, activity level, and/or exercise plan is changed. Free and Pro mobile app members also benefit from MyNetDiary's goal setting but it is not automatic - you simply need to click a "reset" button to update target calories and nutrients. Before diving into the details of calories goal setting, let us first take a look at the basics of calories and weight control.

Weight Control Basics

Body weight will go up, down, or stay the same depending upon how many calories you consume compared to how many calories you expend. A standard model that most trackers use, including MyNetDiary, is that one pound (0.45 kg) of body weight is equivalent to 3500 calories. That is, net calories will determine whether or not you lose, gain, or maintain your weight. It is very much like money in a checking account.

Calories IN − Calories OUT = Calories NET

Calories IN Calories OUT Calories NET
Food, drinks, supplements Basal metabolism +
Thermic effect of food (digestion, absorption, metabolism, and storage) +
Physical activity
Negative NET = deficit = weight loss
Positive NET = surplus = weight gain
Zero NET = balance = weight maintenance

This simple equation helps us think about what we can change in order to lose, gain, or maintain weight. If you want to lose weight, then how will you create the calories deficit? Do you prefer to eat fewer calories, burn more calories from physical activity, or better yet, do a little of both? The choice is yours.

    To summarize:
  • If you consume fewer calories than you expend, then you will lose weight. That is, a caloric deficit causes weight loss.
  • If you consume more calories than you expend, then you will gain weight. That is, a caloric surplus causes weight gain.
  • If you consume the same amount of calories that you expend, then you will maintain your weight. That is, a caloric balance results in weight maintenance.

Basal Metabolism

Basal metabolism, or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), is a major component of our total energy expenditure. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, BMR is the "energy needed to sustain metabolic activities of cells and tissues, plus the energy needed to maintain blood circulation, respiration, and gastrointestinal and renal function, while awake, in a fasting state and resting comfortably (i.e. the basal cost of living)."

Your BMR is about 30% LOWER than your maintenance calories for sedentary living. Consider your BMR calories your rock bottom intake level. Please reconsider goals that force you to eat less than your BMR calories. To give users flexibility in goal setting, MyNetDiary will allow a target calories goal to dip below one's BMR calories - that is, it follows your lead. So you have to think about whether or not your goals are sound. To help you decide upon a healthy Target Weight, please read my blog post from 12/14/10, "Setting a Healthy Target Weight". If your doctor or dietitian has recommended a restricted diet for medical reasons, then follow their recommendation.

Long term calories intake far below your BMR level could cause excessive loss of lean body mass (e.g. muscle) as you lose weight. Although you cannot avoid loss of lean body mass or depression of BMR entirely during weight loss, you can at least minimize that loss. Regular exercise (especially weight resistance or weight training) combined with food intake that at least meets your BMR calories will help you preserve lean body mass while losing weight.

You can view your BMR calories in MyNetDiary on the web by clicking "My Basic Personal Data" link in Plan tab, or in the Details tab under "Measurements", or in your mobile app under My Plan.

How MyNetDiary Calculates Calories

Maintenance Calories

MyNetDiary uses your age, sex, height, weight, and general activity level to calculate the estimated number of calories required to maintain your current body weight, using equations published by the Institute of Medicine (Dietary Reference Intakes). Your maintenance calories are labeled Weight Maintenance Cals (click "My Basic Personal Data" link in Plan tab on the web or tap My Plan in mobile apps). Use "sedentary" as your baseline activity level to avoid overestimating daily maintenance calories. The most common error new members make is setting their activity level too high. You will have a chance to account for exercise calories burned in your exercise log.

Target Daily Food Calories

Target Daily Food Cals is the calories goal needed to reach your stated Target Weight by your Target Date, based upon your current personal data. These fields are found in the Plan tab on web or in My Plan section of mobile apps. The system estimates average weight loss (in pounds per week) needed to reach your goal.

If you have Maximum membership and you prefer to set your goal based upon an average weekly rate of weight loss, then instead of entering a Target Date, unselect the checkbox "Autopilot to Target Weight." This allows you access to the Target Weekly Rate. Select your desired weekly rate of weight loss and then turn autopilot back on by clicking the checkbox "Autopilot to Target Weight." The system takes off 500 calories from your estimated maintenance calories per day for every pound per week you wish to lose. The reverse is true for desired weight gain - the system will add 500 calories to your maintenance calories for every pound of weight you wish to gain per week.

    Your Target Daily Food Cals will decrease with:
  • lower Body Weight
  • Target Date closer to the current date
  • higher Target Weekly Rate of weight loss
  • lower Activity Level
  • no Exercise Plan

    Your Target Daily Food Cals will increase with:
  • higher Body Weight
  • Target Date further out than the current date
  • lower Target Weekly Rate of weight loss
  • higher Activity Level
  • Exercise Plan

Exercise Plan

Entering a weekly Exercise Plan will increase your Target Daily Food Cals by the average expected daily calories burned by exercise. An Exercise Plan exists to fine-tune your Target Daily Food Cals. You can enter an Exercise Plan in Plan tab on the web if you have Maximum membership. If you have a mobile app at any membership level, you can enter it under Avg. Daily Exercise Cals in My Plan section.

Having an Exercise Plan is not essential to using MyNetDiary. Many members do not enter an Exercise Plan since they do not want their Target Daily Food Cals to adjust upwards. They still log their daily exercises but the calories burned from exercise is not "eaten up." This works fine for many people - it essentially creates a larger calories deficit than planned, and helps nudge people into meeting their weight loss goals a little more quickly.

If you are active and use MyNetDiary to gain weight, or to ensure you are consuming enough calories to avoid weight loss, then consider entering an Exercise Plan so that your Target Daily Food Cals is adjusted upwards to cover typical exercise. Your Daily Analysis statement (see below) will still give you the daily net calories based upon your actual food intake and exercise each day.

Activity Level

If you account for typical exercise by using a higher baseline activity level, then do not enter an exercise plan with those same activities, and do not log those same activities in your daily exercise log since doing so will double-count those calories. Most adults should use the sedentary activity level since it accounts for activities of daily living (including incidental walking up to about a mile or 2000 steps) and that is what most people do every single day of their lives. You can account for calories burned from exercise in your daily exercise log. For a detailed description of activity levels, please see your Account tab on web or My Plan in your mobile app.

Daily Analysis

Daily Analysis is an incredibly useful summary found in Details tab on web, or in Analysis row in mobile apps. This calories statement displays your daily net calories and summarizes how that compares to the net calories needed that day to continue to meet your stated Target Weight by your Target Date, based upon your current weight.

If you constantly see a recommendation to exercise a lot more than you can reasonably perform by the end of the day, then troubleshoot to see if a goal needs to be adjusted. The most common problem is trying to lose too much weight too fast - you are unable to create a large enough calories deficit to meet your stated goals. In that case, simply move the Target Date further out or decrease the Target Weekly Rate of weight loss.

Note: This calories summary does not use Target Daily Food Cals in its calculations. Instead, it compares your calories intake against the system-calculated maintenance calories. For those of you who have overwritten this field with your own calories goal, be aware that it will not be used in Daily Analysis. Examine this "bottom line" statement even so since it contains valuable information as "Setting Your Own Calories Goal" explains.

Remaining Calories

Remaining Calories is a great, quick check on how many calories you have left compared Target Daily Food Cals. On the web, the calories summary bar is displayed in the top right hand corner of screen when you are in Food, Exercise, or Details tabs. This bar shows how your actual food and exercise calories compare to your goals. This bar uses the Target Daily Food Cals - whether it is an overridden goal that you have customized or MyNetDiary's calculation. If Remaining Calories is a positive number (e.g. 300 calories), then you can still eat 300 more calories that day to meet your Target Daily Food Cals goal. If the Remaining Calories is a negative number (e.g. -150 calories), then you have eaten 150 calories too many compared to your food and exercise goals. You can choose to burn an extra 150 calories from exercise that day to stay exactly on track. In mobile apps, Remaining Calories is termed Food Left in the Meals row. As well, Day Nutrition Summary at the bottom of the Meals screen in mobile apps displays your current intake as well as how much you have left to consume that day.

Setting Your Own Calories Goal

Sometimes members want to use their own calories goal rather than use MyNetDiary's calculated goal. If you have had your energy expenditure measured or have been given a specific goal by your doctor or healthcare provider, then you can use that goal. If you have a Maximum membership, then make sure AutoPilot checkbox is not selected in the Plan tab on the web. Enter your customized calories goal in Target Daily Food Cals in Plan tab on the web or in Customize row at the very bottom of My Plan screen in your mobile app. Be sure to update your current weight using the weight field in Details tab on the web or in Weight row in mobile apps to avoid resetting your customized calories goal. If the system notes a discrepancy in calories between your overwritten value and what the system thinks you should do to meet your goals, there will be text in red just below Target Daily Food Cals (web) and you can choose to follow the recommendation or not. That is, you can always view MyNetDiary's recommended calories goal in the red text below the Target Daily Food Cals field (web) or in the "Recommended" column next to your customized goals in My Plan in mobile apps.

As mentioned earlier, Daily Analysis statement (in Details tab on web or Analysis row in mobile apps) will still analyze your current food intake compared to the system's calculated maintenance calories to arrive at the day's net calories, just as it would if you had chosen not to customize your caloric goal. And this is a good thing. You can view this analysis as a "reality check," which does not use your customized Target Daily Food Cals on purpose. If your actual consumption relative to calories burned misses target here and there, then you might not realize how to "catch up" to achieve your Target Weight by your Target Date. The benefit of Daily Analysis is that it accounts for net caloric balance over time and performs the caloric adjustments for you so that you stay on track for losing weight by your stated Target Date. If you keep missing your plan and do not mentally keep track of the overs and unders while also accounting for your current body weight, achieving your Target Weight becomes even harder.

Tip: With Pro or Maximum membership, your mobile app includes a very nifty toggle from Daily Analysis to Weekly Analysis (see upper right hand corner of screen). This is an excellent way to quickly view your net calories as well as glean tips on what to do next to stay on track. Nutrition Highlights at the bottom of the screen are also very helpful and are reviewed in detail in the article Customizing Your Nutrient Goals.

Tips on Goal Setting

  • If you have a Maximum membership, log into MyNetDiary's website, go to Plan tab, and explore all of the planning options available to you, especially the AutoPilot feature. AutoPilot is a fantastic tool that completely automates your planning process.
  • Choose SEDENTARY activity level since that is most likely to be closest to your true level of baseline activity every single day. Sedentary level includes typical activities of daily living such as cooking, shopping, sitting, standing, and walking short distances throughout the day (up to about a mile or 2000 steps). Account for calories burned by simply logging exercise daily. If you select an activity level higher than sedentary, do not enter an Exercise Plan or log exercises unless they are in addition to the activities already included in the activity level chosen. Be sure to review the activity level descriptions carefully before using an activity level higher than sedentary.
  • Target Daily Food Cals should meet rather than dip below your estimated BMR calories. If your target calories are a lot less than your BMR calories, then consider pushing out your Target Date or decreasing your Target Weekly Rate of weight loss to bump up target calories. Or you can add an Exercise Plan so that the system can account for expected calories burned from exercise (which will increase target calories by average daily expected exercise calories burned).
  • Achieving a high calories deficit (e.g.1000 calories daily deficit to achieve a 2 lb weight loss per week) is difficult for most people to sustain every day for the long term, especially without exercise. Two red flags that indicate your weight loss goal might be too aggressive are: 1) you are constantly hungry and irritable, and 2) Your Daily Analysis statement consistently recommends that you burn a lot more calories from exercise to meet your calories deficit goal.
  • Don't starve yourself to meet an unrealistic weight loss goal. Be smart - set reasonable, attainable goals that allow you to eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and do not cause undue hunger.

Concluding Remarks

  • Weight loss is not a race. Create goals that are achievable and allow for sustainable changes in lifestyle (e.g. eating and exercise).
  • Be open to revising your goals as you learn more about your eating and exercise habits. Use AutoPilot for automatic adjustment of your allowances when your body weight changes.
  • Periodically review your Charts and Reports. Consider refining your goals based upon weight change in relation to your actual intake and exercise data. Use Daily and Weekly analysis as a "reality check".

If you are looking for help with setting nutrient goals (e.g. fat, carbs, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water), then please see the article entitled Customizing Your Nutrient Goals.

If you want more help, please feel free to post questions to me at Ask a Dietitian topic in Community Forum. I look forward to hearing from you!

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

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