Weight: More than Just Ins and Outs
Updated: Apr 13
In the pursuit of weight-loss, we tend to oversimplify and believe that eating less and moving more will surely guarantee results. Although there is some basic truth to this belief, many factors influence the equation. In this brief overview, I will define what “calories in” and “calories out” means, as well as some of the factors that can influence these numbers.
“Calories in” are the total calories from the food and fluids you consume in a day. Simply counting calories, though, doesn’t give us a number that we can really use to understand weight gain or loss. Even if you weigh and measure every thing you eat, this number would only be an estimate of your intake. The FDA allows inaccuracies of up to 20% on label calorie counts, and research shows restaurant nutrition information can be off by 100-300 calories per food item. Other variables that impact “calories in” include nutrient absorption, the thermic effect of different foods, and more.
“Calories out” are the total number of calories you expend in a day, also known as the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Calories out include the total calories burned through both your basal metabolic rate (BMR), how much you move in a day (including exercise and other daily movement) and the thermal effect of food.
The BMR refers to the number of calories you would burn completely at rest for 24 hours. These calories are expended to carry out functions essential to survival such as breathing, blood circulation and temperature regulation and may account for up to 70 percent of your TDEE. Your BMR will vary depending on several factors, including age, health status, body size, hormone balance, etc.
The energy you burn during exercise (and for up to 24 hours after exercise) will vary depending on the frequency, intensity, duration and type of exercise you do. In addition, you burn energy doing every day activities such as standing, walking, and fidgeting. The amount of energy you burn during non-exercise specific activities will vary again depending on stress levels, occupation, etc.
Up to 10 percent of total calories expended per day are simply from digesting, absorbing, and distributing nutrients from the food you eat. This percentage will vary depending on the quality of your food choices, frequency and timing of your meals, your GI health, etc.
There are a wide range of recommendations, calculations and tools that promise results by helping you to calculate the number of calories you should consume vs the number of calories you need to burn to achieve weight loss results. Unfortunately, these numbers can be off by as much as 20-30% in young, healthy individuals. As the number of variables increase, the numbers can be off by even more.
Looking beyond the simple calculation of ins and outs, consider working with a healthcare professional trained to help you gain perspective on your unique needs and goals. In understanding the many variables that impact the number on the scale, we can let go of rigid rules and learn to be more in tune with our body, the signals it gives us and how to respond to these signals in healthier ways. Heal your relationship with your body and food to optimize your overall health and well-being.