Planning weight & calories

  • 38 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

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 to plan and track calories so that you meet your weight goal safely and effectively.

Planning weight & calories

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

MyNetDiary calculates your calories requirement with evidence-based equations developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Unlike most trackers, MyNetDiary has powerful flexibility built in - you can choose how you want the system to estimate calories. You can choose to include exercise in your calories goal and not bother logging exercise. You can choose to log exercise or sync from your fitness device, and allow those calories to be included in your calories intake goal. You can choose to use your own calories goal and let MyNetDiary simply bump it up or down depending upon your current and target weight entries. There are other options as well that you will learn about in this article. If you are looking for more information about nutrients and how to set targets, then please read Planning Your Nutrient Needs.

Weight Control Basics

A Calorie is a measure of food energy. Technically, food and exercise calories should use the term kilocalories (kcal) or Calories. However, in the United States, it is common to use the term "calories" for kilocalories.

Body weight will go up, down, or stay the same depending upon how many calories you consume compared to how many calories you burn.

Desired Result What's Needed How It Happens
Weight loss Calories deficit Calories intake is less than calories burned
Weight gain Calories surplus Calories intake is greater than calories burned
Weight maintenance Calories balance Calories intake matches calories burned

Where do calories come from and how do we burn calories? See below for sources of calories intake and burned. Did you know that most of the calories we burn in a day come from our basal metabolism? That is, the calorie cost of simply being alive, even if we are not moving, makes up the majority of the calories we burn. For more information on basal metabolism, please see Appendix A.

Calories Intake Calories Burned
+ Food - Basal metabolism
+ Beverages - Thermic effect of food (digestion, absorption, metabolism, and storage)
+ Supplements - Physical activity


A standard model that most trackers use, including MyNetDiary, is that one pound (0.45 kg) of body weight is equivalent to 3500 calories. In terms of weight control, that means:

  • To lose 1 lb, consume 3500 fewer calories than you burn.
  • To gain 1 lb, consume 3500 more calories than you burn.
  • To maintain weight, consume the same amount of calories you burn.

Understanding that weight change boils down to calories intake versus calories burned helps you make decisions about what you can change in order to lose, gain, or maintain weight. You can lose weight by lowering your calories intake, increasing your calories burned, or by a combination of both. Ideally, do both since physical activity is important for health beyond weight and calories.

Tip: A change in body weight that reflects a change in body fat or muscle takes time. A very rapid and large weight change is typically due to water weight - dehydration or water retention. Weighing yourself in the morning before eating or drinking is one way to reduce weight swings caused by water weight.

How MyNetDiary Calculates Calories

Weight Maintenance Calories

You see this value in Plan section. MyNetDiary uses your age, sex, height, weight, and stated activity level to calculate the estimated number of calories required to maintain your current body weight, using Dietary Reference Intakes published by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. If you plan to log exercise, then set your Activity Level in Plan section to "sedentary" to avoid double-counting exercise calories. If you prefer not to log exercise and you do not plan to sync to a fitness device, then choose the best Activity Level that describes your baseline for every single day of the week.

Daily Food Calorie Budget

You see this value in Plan section. This value is the daily calories intake needed to reach your Target Weight by your Target Date, based upon the information you entered in Plan section. MyNetDiary estimates the daily calories deficit (for weight loss) or surplus (for weight gain) needed to achieve your goal, and then applies that to your Weight Maintenance Calories to calculate your Daily Food Calorie Budget. If you entered an Exercise Plan, then the planned average daily exercise calories will be included in this value. Exercise Plan is a feature found in Plan section and is available with Premium membership. This feature is not the same thing as daily exercise tracking. Daily exercise tracking is available on all apps and to both free and paid memberships. Learn more about Exercise Plan feature in the section below.

While trying to lose weight, Plan section recommends eating less by decreasing Daily Food Calorie Budget when:

Plan section increases Daily Food Calorie Budget to allow eating more and still lose weight as planned when:

Average Food Calorie Budget

You see this value in Plan section. This value is calculated the same way as the Daily Food Calorie Budget except that if you have entered a Calorie Cycling plan, then you see this term and a brief summary of your calorie budget by day of the week. You can learn more about Calorie Cycling in the section below.

Calorie Budget

You see this value on your Dashboard. Calorie Budget is not necessarily the same value as the Daily Food Calorie Budget. Calorie Budget is specific to a particular day and it includes calories burned from your logged exercise (unless you turn off Add Exercise To Calorie Budget in Settings section). Also, if you have an Exercise Plan entered in Plan section, those planned average daily exercise calories are not included in your Calorie Budget. The reason for this is simple - MyNetDiary wants to calculate an accurate Calorie Budget for the day. To do that, your actual calories burned from logged exercise is used instead of the planned average daily exercise calories burned from an Exercise Plan that you may or may not have followed that day.

If your weight loss goal is aggressive (e.g. 2 lbs per week) and your Calorie Budget is very low (e.g. less than 1200 kcal), then keep Add Exercise To Calorie Budget turned on. This will allow your Calorie Budget to increase by the number of exercise calories burned that day, while still keeping you on track for meeting your Target Weight by your Target Date.

Let us look at an example to see how this feature works. Anna is a 55 year old woman who has entered a weight loss goal of 1 lb per week. Her Activity Level is sedentary. Based on the personal data she entered in Plan section, MyNetDiary calculates her Daily Food Calorie Budget to be 1,614 calories.

Here is Anna's Plan:

Anna sees her 1,614 Calorie Budget on Dashboard as well as how many calories she has left after logging her 500 calories breakfast. So far, she has not logged any exercise. This is what she sees:

Next, Anna logs 30 minutes of walking and notices that she burned 225 calories from exercise. When she checks her Calorie Budget on Dashboard, she sees that it has increased by 225 calories - that is, her Calorie Budget is now 1,839 calories. Also, she sees that the number of calories left to consume has also increased by the number of exercise calories.

Anna Clicks on Calorie Budget and gets the calories explanation:


Left is pretty much what it sounds like - how many calories are left to consume. This helps us plan what we would like to eat for our next meal or for the remainder of the day. It accounts for the Calorie Budget, logged food, and logged exercise calories (if you have Add Exercise To Calorie Budget turned on). Left is found on your Dashboard.

Current Weight

When your Current Weight changes, it affects your Weight Maintenance Calories and therefore, your Daily Food Calorie Budget and Calorie Budget. Update your Current Weight at least weekly in Plan section, so that MyNetDiary keeps these values updated. Keeping Current Weight updated is also very important during weight maintenance. It allows MyNetDiary to adjust your calories goals so that you gradually work back to your Target Weight if you happen to gain or lose a little weight.

Tip: If you have Premium membership and follow MyNetDiary's recommended calories, then turn on AutoPilot in Plan section. This will allow MyNetDiary to update your Daily Food Calorie Budget and Calorie Budget automatically when you enter a new Current Weight via Dashboard. Without AutoPilot feature turned on, be sure to enter your Current Weight via Plan section so that your calorie goals are updated when your Current Weight changes.

Target Date

If you are struggling to meet your weight loss goal, then consider moving your Target Date further out. This allows the Weekly Rate of weight loss to drop to a more practical level.

Weekly Rate

If you keep seeing advice in Daily Analysis to burn a lot more calories from exercise to stay on target, then consider decreasing your Weekly Rate of weight loss. Doing this will decrease the daily calories deficit needed to reach your Target Weight. With a lower calories deficit, your calories intake does not have to be as low and/or calories burned from exercise does not have to be so high. For instance, if I aim to lose 2 lb per week, I have to create a 1000 calories deficit every day. This is very hard for most people to do by diet and exercise. But if I change my Weekly Rate to 1 lb of weight loss per week, I only have to create a deficit of 500 calories per day. That is a much more practical and realistic rate of weight loss for most people.

Activity Level

The simplest way to avoid overestimating your Daily Food Calorie Budget (and Calorie Budget) is to set your Activity Level to sedentary in Plan section. Sedentary level accounts for activities of daily living and that is what most people do every single day of their lives. Since sedentary level already includes incidental walking up to about a mile, I would not log 15 minutes of shopping as exercise since it would just overestimate my Calorie Budget.

If you choose to use an Activity Level higher than sedentary, then just be sure to avoid logging exercise that is already included in that level. See descriptions of each Activity Level below (this information is also available in your Plan section).

Exercise Plan

This feature requires MyNetDiary Premium membership. Here is an example of Anna's plan with exercise:
Entering a weekly Exercise Plan (in Plan section) will increase your Daily Food Calorie Budget by the planned average daily exercise calories. However, those planned average daily exercise calories are not included in your Calorie Budget. The reason for this is simple - MyNetDiary wants to calculate an accurate Calorie Budget for the day. To do that, your actual calories burned from logged exercise is used instead of calories coming from an Exercise Plan that you may or may not have followed that day. If you choose to use this feature, then check to make sure that Add Exercise to Calorie Budget in Settings section is still turned on (that is the default).

MyNetDiary adjusts your Calorie Budget on Dashboard by replacing planned average daily exercise calories with actual calories burned from your Exercise log, even if that is zero calories. Here is an example of what a Calorie Budget description looks like when there is an Exercise Plan entered and actual exercise is logged:
To see this explanation, enter Exercise Plan or log some actual exercise, then tap Calorie Budget on Dashboard.
You do not have to use an Exercise Plan. It is a helpful feature for people who tend to undereat their calories - especially very active people.

Calorie Cycling

Calorie Cycling is a feature available with Premium membership. It is a great feature that has a number of uses. First, for those of you who diet by calorie cycling, this feature will support that. It is also useful for those who simply want to plan ahead for big calorie intake days by adjusting the entire week to account for them. For example, if I always go out to brunch to my favorite cafe on Saturdays, then I can set my Saturday calorie goal about 500 calories higher that day, and then let MyNetDiary calculate the calorie intake goals for the remainder of the days of the week. Ideally, I would do this at the start of the week. If I have two expected high intake days, then I set the desired calorie intake for those two days, and then MyNetDiary will distribute the remainder of the calories to keep me on track for meeting my weight goal. I can also enter a lower planned calories intake on days when I know I can't eat very much (e.g. the day before surgery), and MyNetDiary will bump up the calorie goals on other days to keep me on track.

Enter, change, or delete your data for this feature in Calorie Cycling area in Plan section. Once a calorie cycling plan is entered, your Daily Food Calorie Budget is renamed Average Food Calorie Budget. You can update or delete your calorie cycling plan at any time and MyNetDiary will adjust your daily calories accordingly. Calorie Cycling is currently available in web and Android applications. It will soon be available for the iPhone app.

Step Bonus

Step Bonus is a feature available with Premium membership, using MyNetDiary's iPhone application. This feature allows you to capture extra calories burned for walking a lot more steps than what is already included in your Activity Level. Turn on Step Bonus in Settings under Apps, Devices, and Services section. Step Bonus is a great way for nurses, mail carriers, and others who are on their feet most of the day to capture extra calories burned from steps above their Activity Level. The benefit of using Step Bonus is that you are less likely to overestimate your Calorie Budget than if you try to account for extra walking by increasing the Activity Level. Step Bonus gives you those extra step calories on a day to day basis whereas a higher activity level increases the Calorie Budget every single day. You can learn more about Step Bonus here. Step Bonus will soon be available to MyNetDiary members who use the Web or Android applications.

Weight Progress

MyNetDiary displays weight progress with graphics, charts, reports, and text. Here is an example of a daily weight loss analysis in MyNetDiary:

Daily Analysis

Daily Analysis is an incredibly useful summary of calories - it tells you if you are in calories deficit or surplus, how many calories were burned from exercise, and how all of that ties together in order to keep you on track to meet your Target Weight.

In addition to showing the bottom line regarding calories, Daily Analysis includes helpful tips regarding intake of nutrients you have chosen to track, using either your customized goal or MyNetDiary's recommended goal.

Tip: If you constantly see a recommendation to burn more calories from exercise to stay on track for weight loss, then think about updating your Plan. The most common problem is trying to lose too much weight too fast. Simply move your Target Date further out or decrease your Weekly Rate of weight loss.

Weekly Analysis

With a Premium membership, you have access to Weekly Analysis - a week's version of the Daily Analysis. Members find this a very useful feature since it includes the week's summary regarding how many days you have tracked, calories summary, and average nutrient intake for selected nutrients. It can be helpful to get a "bird's eye view" of the week rather than just seeing one day at a time.

Weight & Calories Chart

This highly interactive chart shows how your actual body weight responded to your diet and exercise in the past. See your progress, dig into the details to investigate ups and downs or a plateau situation. Jump to your logged data and MyNetDiary's analysis, come back to see the big picture: If needed, read more about Calorie Budget, Daily Analysis and Weight Chart.

Using Your Own Calories Goal

Sometimes members want to use their own calories goal rather than use MyNetDiary's calculations. This might be the case If you have had your energy expenditure measured or have been given a specific goal by your doctor or healthcare provider that you prefer to use.

Plan section allows you to enter your custom Daily Food Calorie Budget.

If you have a Premium membership, then make sure AutoPilot is off in Plan section. If you do not want exercise calories to be included in your Calorie Budget and calories Left calculations, then turn off Add Exercise to Calorie Budget in Settings section.

When you use a customized Daily Food Calorie Budget, you will still see the value rise or fall as you update your Current Weight via Plan section. MyNetDiary calculates and applies the calories deficit or surplus to your customized calories goal in an effort to keep you on track to meet your weight goal. Your macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein) goals will also change along with the change in calories, keeping the existing percentage of calories coming from each macronutrient the same.

Daily Analysis uses MyNetDiary calculations for the daily calories summary. You can view Daily Analysis as a way to compare MyNetDiary's summaries with your own experience. You might even decide to switch from using your customized goal to using MyNetDiary's recommended calories if you think it would better help you meet your weight goal.

Tips on Goal Setting

Concluding Remarks

Most MyNetDiary members are trying to lose weight, so this article emphasizes that goal. However, MyNetDiary is an awesome tool that can help you lose, gain, or maintain your weight. Please feel free to post questions in Community Forum if you need further assistance.

Related Dietitian's Blog Posts

4 Tips for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories
Tips for Losing Weight
Trying to Gain Weight
What's a Realistic Weight Loss Goal

Appendix A: Basal Metabolism

Basal metabolism, or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), is the 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."

Your BMR calories are lower than the calories needed to sustain your current weight given a sedentary or inactive lifestyle. Long term average calories intake far below your BMR level could cause excessive loss of lean body mass (e.g. muscle) and depression of your BMR. However, everyone is a bit different in terms of how low is too low. You can minimize loss of lean body mass during weight loss by including regular weight resistance exercise and consuming enough protein (60 g or higher). Generally, risk is low for adults when their average daily intake is 1200 kcal or more. You can find your BMR calories in Personal Information found in Plan section.

For children and teens, growth, development, and sexual maturation can be stunted with a very low calories intake over time. MyNetDiary should not be used by children or teens for weight loss unless they have guidance on appropriate and safe goal setting.

May 14, 2018

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