19 July 2012 Weight Control & Calories – Is Your Target Accurate?

How on earth do calories tracking apps come up with our caloric goals for weight loss, weight maintenance, or weight gain? Equations! All apps use equations that are estimations or approximations of our energy expenditure. Our true total calories burned might be slightly higher or lower than the estimation.

Most trackers start with our height, weight, sex, and age to estimate calories needed to maintain our weight at complete rest. This is likely an equation that estimates our resting metabolic rate (RMR) or basal metabolic rate (BMR). Some trackers might use an equation that estimates our sedentary maintenance calories (they might start with the BMR and then adjust upwards with an activity factor, or they might use the Institute of Medicine's DRI formula for sedentary activity level). If we are not given an option to select an activity level, then the assumption is that we log exercise to account for those calories burned.

Based upon the concept that 1 lb of body weight contains approximately 3500 calories, trackers will take off calories from are maintenance level to help us lose weight, add calories to help us gain weight, or simply recommend our maintenance calories for weight maintenance. Here are the numbers trackers will use for change in weight:

250 calories for 1/2 lb/week weight change

500 calories for 1 lb/week weight change

750 calories for 11/2 lb/week weight change

1000 calories for 2 lbs/week weight change

How MyNetDiary Works

Since most of you reading this post are MyNetDiary members, I want to address a question that I often get asked on the Community Forum: "Why is MyNetDiary's estimation of target calories higher than other trackers?" If used correctly, MyNetDiary should not be showing you a high estimate! The problem is that folks account for their exercise twice by accident.

MyNetDiary gives you a choice as to which approach you wish to take to estimate maintenance calories (and therefore, target calories once the adjustment for weight loss or gain is included). This choice is sometimes misunderstood and can cause a significant source of error in estimating total energy expenditure. Here are the basic two approaches you can use with MyNetDiary:

1. Account for your overall average daily activity level at set-up and do not log exercise. Be sure to read the activity level descriptions before choosing the level – most folks overestimate their true activity level.


2. Use an overall activity level at set-up to include only what reflects your baseline level without any planned exercise – what you do every single day of your life. This is sedentary for most of us. Then log daily exercise that is above and beyond what is already included in your activity level.

This simple distinction is extremely important since we want to be as accurate as possible in estimating total calories expended. There is already a "human bias" to overestimate calories burned so use the more conservative estimate for your activity level.

Which Activity Level is Right for You?

MyNetDiary uses the DRI equations from the Institute of Medicine. The DRIs have activity levels with specific definitions. "Sedentary" is not sitting or lying down all day – it includes activities of daily living such as incidental walking up to about a mile (about 2000 steps), bathing, cooking, sitting, standing, lying down, sleeping, etc. If you use this activity level, then you do not need to log those activities. If you are unsure of how much walking you do, simply wear a pedometer. If you log an average of 2000 steps or less, then welcome to "sedentary" activity level. Many of us who have been tracking on MyNetDiary use "sedentary" as our activity level and then log only planned exercise.

If you do not plan to log exercise at all or if you suspect logging long duration of exercise overestimates your calories burned, then consider using an activity level that includes typical exercise. Just remember to use an activity level that is true for your average daily activity over the course of a typical week – not an activity level that reflects your most active day of the week. Here are some examples of higher activity levels:

Low-active level is about 11-12% higher in calories than sedentary and includes 30-60 minutes of daily moderate exercise. This is also equivalent to walking about 2 miles or 4000 steps every day.

Active level is about 25-27% higher in calories than sedentary and includes 1 – 2 hours of daily moderate exercise. This is equivalent to walking about 7 miles or 14,000 steps every day.

Very active level is about 45-48% higher in calories than sedentary and includes well over 2 hours of daily moderate exercise (or an hour of vigorous exercise AND an hour of moderate exercise). This is equivalent to walking nearly 17 miles or 34,000 steps every day.

What is the Exercise Plan?

If you want MyNetDiary to adjust your target calories upwards to account for expected average daily calories burned (which is helpful to avoid the problem of under-eating calories), then enter an Exercise Plan. You will still have to log actual exercise performed to get the true net calories for the day as well as an estimate of calories remaining. Do NOT log an Exercise Plan if you have chosen to use Approach # 1 - that is, if you are accounting for exercise in your overall activity level.

Good luck and enjoy using MyNetDiary and MyNetDiary Diabetes Tracker!

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
Have questions or comments about this post? Please feel free to comment on MyNetDiary's Community Forum or Facebook page – We would love to hear from you. And consider visiting our new Pinterest page!

Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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