The Step-By-Step Guide To Losing Weight With MyFitnessPal

Welcome to my free course on how to lose weight using MyFitnessPal. My hope is that this course will give you a foundation for your weight loss education. To make navigation easier I’ve added a clickable table of contents at the top. Clicking on any of the links will take you to that section. However if you are a beginner I highly recommend reading the entire thing from start to finish. Let’s jump into it. 

What exactly is weight loss?
Calculate Your TEE
How To Track Your Calories
So what should you eat?
Exercise
Conclusion

What exactly is weight loss?

To better understand how to lose weight, it’s good to get a basic understanding of what exactly weight loss is.

Humans, as well as all living things, need a certain amount of energy in order to live. We get this energy from food. The amount of energy that a food produces is measured in calories. Therefore we each need a certain amount of calories in order to function.

We need calories to do three things:

Live

That is, to maintain basic life functions such as breathing.

Digest food

Digesting food requires energy

Perform physical activity

To walk, pick things up, move.

The energy used to accomplish the three activities above make up what is known as Total Energy Expenditure, (herein referred to as the abbreviation TEE). Hint: Memorize what TEE is and burn it in your brain. You’ll be seeing this term often.

In order to function, each of us needs to eat enough calories to meet our TEE. The number of calories varies from person to person. Some people need to eat more calories to meet TEE while others need less.

Food gives us energy. Whenever we eat something, one of two things will happen to that energy.

The energy will be used right then

or

The energy will be stored

Can you guess what the storage form of this energy is called? Fat.

So, how do we know whether the food we eat is going to be used or if it is going to be stored as fat?

To answer that question, it’s important to understand the definition of an energy surplus, an energy deficit and an energy balance.  Let’s take a look at each one separately.

Energy Surplus

If a person has eaten enough calories to meet their TEE , and they continue to eat, then that person will have an energy surplus.

For example. Let’s say that in order for Joe to meet his TEE, he needs to eat 2000 calories each day. If he eats 2500 calories, then he is in an energy surplus by 500 calories.

Energy Deficit

If a person has not eaten enough calories to meet their TEE, then that person has an energy deficit

For example, if the same Joe eats a total of 1700 calories for the day, he will have an energy deficit of 300 calories.

Energy Balance

If a person has eaten enough calories to meet TEE but no more, then that person is in an energy balance.

Now that you know what these three terms are, let’s answer the question “how do we know whether the food we eat is going to be used or if it is going to be stored as fat?”

If a person is in an energy surplus, the extra calories will be stored as fat. If a person in an energy deficit, all their calories will be used, and none will be stored as fat.

Let’s again use Joe as an example. Joe needs 2000 calories a day to meet TEE. If Joe eats 2500 calories for the day, then Joe has an energy surplus, and the extra 500 calories will be stored as fat.

If Joe eats 1800 calories for the day, then he is in an energy deficit, and all 1800 of those calories will used. None of those calories will be stored as fat.

Now that we’ve got all that straightened out, we can start to really understand how a person loses weight and how a person gains weight.

If a person is consistently in an energy surplus they will gain weight. If a person is consistently in an energy deficit, they will lose weight.

And that my friends is weight loss and weight gain broken down into its most basic form.

So now you know how to lose weight. That’s the end of the course. Good luck!

But seriously, that is the basic formula of how anyone can truly lose weight. Be in an energy deficit every day.

Putting this all into practice however is a little more involved. Where does one begin?

Calculate Your TEE

The first step is to calculate what your daily TEE should be. The easiest way to do this is to create a free account on My Fitness Pal, which is the main tool you will be using to lose weight. Once you create an account, you can use their tool to determine your TEE.

Let’s walk you through signing up for a new My Fitness Pal account. Just follow the steps below.

1. Go to www.myfitnesspal.com and click either the “sign up with Facebook” to sign in with your facebook account or “sign up with email” to create a new account without using your facebook account.

2. Choose a username and enter it. This needs to be unique because most common names are already in use. So for example instead of joe use joe4321.

3. Enter your email address and choose a password. Uncheck the “Receive our free newsletter with diet tips, recipes and more?” if you do not want receive their newsletter, then click the “continue” button. (see image 1 below)

signup

4. On the next screen you will determine your current TEE (See Image below). Put in your current weight. For now, keep your goal weight the same as your current weight. We will come back and adjust this later. Right now I just want you to get an idea of what your TEE currently is. Continue filling out height, gender, date of birth, country and zip code.

sign up 2

Under “How would you describe your normal daily activities?” just choose “sedentary” for now. Again we will change this later if need be. Leave  “How many times a week do you plan on exercising?” blank for right now. Choose “calories” if you are in the United States or any other country that uses calories. If you live in another country that does not use calories, you can choose “Kilojoules”.

5. Under “what is your goal?” click the drop down arrow and for right now choose “maintain my current weight”. Again we will come back and change this later. Finally click the Save and continue button.

6. The next screen asks you to invite your friends. You can just click the “skip” button at the bottom if you want to skip this part.

7. Lastly you are taken to the screen that shows you what your TEE is (see image 3 below).

sign up 3

You’re TEE is listed in red to the right of “net calories consumed* / Day” (1,910 in the example above). You may be wondering why I had you skip entering your goal weight, how active you are and how much weight you want to lose. Right now I only want you to get an understanding of what TEE is and what your current TEE is.

But of course, you don’t want to stay at your current weight. You want to lose weight. Let’s go to the next step where you will set up My Fitness Pal to help you determine how many calories you should eat each day in order to lose weight. Before that however you may need to know what your weight should be.

If you don’t know what your weight should be, you can use an online calculator to help you determine a ballpark healthy weight based on your height, gender and age. You can use this calculator here:

http://www.calculator.net/ideal-weight-calculator.html

Enter your age, gender and height and click “calculate”. Your results will show at the top. You will notice there are several results. Each result is based on a different formula used to determine ideal weight. A good one to use is the BMI result. The high end of this result is a good place to start, although you may want it to be even lower than this.  As you can see the BMI result has a wide range.

So at this point let’s bring together everything you have learned so far, and apply it to how you are going to lose weight.

In order to lose weight, you are going to consistently eat less calories than your TEE number. By eating less calories than your TEE number each day, you will be in an energy deficit. If you stay in an energy deficit each day, you will lose weight. It’s as simple as that. No pills, no twenty day juice cleanses, no fad diets, no rare berries found deep in the Amazon jungle, no Doctor Oz, no shortcuts, no magic bullets.

So the next question is, how you are going to stay in an energy deficit?

You’ll stay in an energy deficit each day by tracking the calories that you eat.

Tracking Calories

The reason for tracking calories is simple. If you don’t track then you have no idea how many calories you are eating. Nor do you know how many calories are in the various foods you eat. If you don’t know how many calories you are eating, then you don’t know if you are in an energy deficit or an energy surplus.

Tracking your calories means that you will count the calories of everything you eat, thereby staying in the appropriate energy deficit required to lose weight.

Tracking calories is inconvenient. I’m not going to lie. But if you do it you will see results, and it will get easier as time goes on.

Luckily My Fitness Pal has a great tool that makes calorie tracking far easier than if you tried to do it by hand. Let’s go back to My Fitness Pal and get you set up to track calories.

Log into MFP if you are not already. If you still have the last screen open click the “Goals” link at the top of the page. See image below.

goals

 

Next, towards the bottom click the “change goals” button. See image below.

 

change goals

 

Next leave the Guided radio button checked as is and click “continue”. See below.

 

guidedChecked

 

Now we are at the Update Your Diet Profile screen. See image below.

 

UpdateGoals

 

This time enter your current weight and enter the weight you want to get to. Next let’s take a look at what is underneath “How would you describe your normal daily activities?”.

This time choose the option that best describes you, but be honest. It is very easy to overestimate here. Most people are going to be sedentary. This would be the option for people that sit most of the day. An example would be people who have a desk job. If you stand for most of the day choose “Lightly Active”. If you have a job where you stand as well as move most of the day such as a waiter or UPS delivery person, choose “active”. If you have a labor intensive job such as construction or landscaping, choose “very active”.

Again, be honest with yourself about how much you move during the day. From the top to the bottom, each choice will give you more calories that you can eat each day.

Next just leave the part that says “How many times a week do you plan on exercising?” as 0. That part doesn’t serve much of a function. We will get into exercise in a later section.

This brings us to the most important part of this section: “What is your goal?”

MFP let’s you set the program to help you lose up to 2 pounds per week. However you can choose to lose weight more slowly if you want. This is going to be up to you. The more pounds you choose to lose each week, the greater your calorie restriction will be. The less you choose to lose each week, the lower your calorie restriction.

My suggestion is this. If you have a lot of weight to lose –  more than 30 pounds for example – choose the option for losing 2 pounds per week. That will set you on track for losing approximately 8 pounds per month. If you want to lose less choose the option to lose just one pound per week. Obviously if you choose to lose one pound per week the weight will come off much more slowly.

Choose how much you want to lose each week, then click the “Update Profile” button.

On the next screen your daily calorie limit is shown. This is the number of calories you want to stay at or under on a daily basis.

Now it’s time to begin tracking. One thing you are going to need in order to track correctly is a good digital food scale. This one from Amazon or something similar will suffice.

Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale, Elegant Black

Now you are ready to begin. Everytime you eat or drink something (with the exception of water) you are going to enter it into the MFP food tracker. Let me show you how to do that.

Let’s say for breakfast you have two scrambled eggs and two strips of bacon. Watch the video below to see how you would input this into MFP.

Note: If you are having trouble seeing the video , you can increase the resolution to 720 by clicking on the symbol just to the left of the You Tube Logo in the bottom right corner of the video (you have to start playing the video first before this symbol will appear) . Once the resolution is up to 720 you can also watch the video in full screen mode by clicking the symbol just to the right of the you tube logo in the bottom right corner of the video.

Very often the nutrition info for the food in the MFP database is inaccurate. When that happens you will have to look up the nutrition info of what you are eating and create the entry yourself. The video below will walk you through how to do that.

 

 

Entering in Your Own Recipes
There will probably be times when you need to track the calories of a dish that you make. Basically you need to create a new food in MFP,  get the nutritional data for each ingredient and input it into MFP. The video below will take you through how to do that.

 

 

Weighing Food

In order to track properly you’ll need to learn how to weigh your food using a scale. Typical foods that you will weigh include meats and veggies. As mentioned I use the Ozeri Pronto Digital scale. It works well and is not super expensive. I recommend getting a digital scale rather than an analog one as a digital is far more accurate.

The following video will show you how to use a Ozeri digital scale to measure meat and veggies.

 

 

Measuring with Cups and Spoons

Most other foods will be measured with either a cup or a tablespoon, and occasionally with a teaspoon. Most of you are probably familiar with how to measure with these. For those that are not I will cover it briefly.

A cup is a common measure of food. Items commonly measured in cups include rice and milk. To track with MFP you will want to make sure you have one. You can get a measuring cup at most any store or online here:

Onesource 8-Piece Deluxe Stainless Steel Measuring Cup and Measuring Spoon Set

A tablespoon has the abbreviation “tbsp”. Foods often measured in tablespoons include peanut butter and sugar. Measuring spoons usually come in sets and can be bought at most any store. The link I just gave includes a set of measuring spoons along with the measuring cups.

When using a tablespoon to measure, it can be very easy to go overboard, especially with things like peanut butter or almond butter. One tablespoon of peanut butter should look like this:

photo (1)

One tablespoon of peanut butter should not look like this:

photo (2)

Going crazy with the tablespoon will lead you to not track correctly, and not tracking correctly will derail your efforts.

 

Making adjustments to your calorie limit.

It should be noted that the TEE MFP initially gave you is an estimate, and could vary by as much as 20%. Therefore the daily calorie limit MY Fitness Pal comes up with for you is also an estimate. I’ll explain.

If you set your goal in MFP to lose 1 pound per week, MFP takes your TEE, and subtracts it by 500. So if MFP found your TEE to be 2500 calories and you set your goal to lose 1 pound per week, your daily calorie limit would be 2000 calories per day. If you set it to lose 2 pounds per week, MFP takes your TEE and subtracts 1000, or twice what it did when you had it set to lose just one pound per week. In this case your calorie limit would be set to 1500 calories per day.

The calorie limit can be seen in the screen shot below. On the home screen in MFP it is listed above “goal”.

 

calorie limit

 

On my own account, MFP has me at 2120 calories to be at an energy balance. However I eat a bit less than that – more like 1900 calories each day. If I was to eat 2120 calories each day I would probably end up gaining weight. So how do you know if the number given to you by MFP is accurate or not?

The best way to know if you’re number is accurate is to pay attention to your hunger. If MFP has you eating 1700 calories and you feel full and satisfied each day eating only 1400 or 1500, then only eat 1400 or 1500 calories. However If you eat 1700 calories and you still feel hungry, that’s another story. Try as hard as you can to stay under the limit that has been set for you based on your goals. Later on we will discuss the types of foods to eat in order avoid running into the problem of hunger.

If you do find that your calorie limit is not entirely accurate for you, just click on the “goals” link just underneath “my home” and click on the green “change goals” button towards the bottom. Click “continue” and click the drop down menu that says “what is your goal” and choose a more aggressive weight loss speed. Alternately you can go backwards one screen and choose “Custom” on the “Change Your Fitness Goals” screen and click continue. Here you can manually enter your daily calorie restriction. So if MFP had you eating 1700 calories and you felt satisfied after eating just 1500 calories, then you can manually enter 1500 calories here.

Using recent and frequent items

The more you track, the faster tracking will become, especially if you tend to eat the same things over and over. When you go into MFP to add something that you just ate, you can either choose from recent foods you entered located under the “recent” tab, or you can click on the “frequent” tab to see a list of foods that you enter frequently.

 

Recent Items

Rather than re entering your food again, click one of those tabs. If the food is already under one of these tabs simply put a check by that food item and click the green “add checked” button and that food will be entered into your daily journal.

Understanding Satiety

There is another important word to understand. That word is satiety. Satiety means feeling full. It’s an important word because one of the most important factors in being able to stay within your calorie limit is being able to stay satiated. Right now I want to reveal something extremely important, something that is going to be key in your success. I’m going to put this in bold and italics:

Not all foods satiate the same.

That means some foods are good at keeping you full while others foods are not. To keep you under your calorie limit and ensure your success, you’ll want to eat foods that keep you satiated.

For example, let’s say you decide to have a 1120 calorie pint of ice cream as one of your meals. No problem as long as you stay under your calorie limit right? True. Problem is you could eat that then find yourself hungry again just a time later. At that point you have to eat again to satisfy your hunger, which puts you over your limit for the day.

Compare this to a 1120 calorie meal of scrambled eggs, bacon and grits (grits is a ground corn dish for those of you not from the southern United States). This meal has the same number of calories as the ice cream, but could potentially leave you full for half the day or longer.

Before we get into what foods are better at satiating, let’s first look at the types of foods that don’t satiate.

Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks do not satiate at all. A person can drink a large Coke at McDonald’s, which is a whopping 280 calories and 76 grams of sugar, and not be the slightest bit more full.

The foods that tend to satiate better are those high in protein or high in fiber. Foods high in protein include milk, eggs and meat. Foods high in fiber include apples, oatmeal and broccoli among others.

So What Should You Eat?

Pick any ten health blogs and you are likely to get ten different answers to this question. One might tell you to eat a Paleo diet, another a low carb diet and yet another might tell you to start off with a 30 day juice detox. Some will tell you to eat “clean” while others will say it doesn’t matter. All the conflicting info is enough to make one’s head spin.

Before I chime in with my answer I want to define another important word. That word is sustainable. Here is the definition.

Sustainable – able to last or continue for a long time

So my answer to the above question is this:

When trying to lose weight, eat in way that is sustainable for the long term.

The problem with fad diets like Paleo, low carb, keto and cleanses is that most people eventually give up because they are not sustainable in the long term. They try them for a month or two, lose some weight and eventually realize they either don’t like eating that way or it is too difficult.

There is one weight loss method however that is indisputable, and all the fad diets ultimately follow it. That method is to stay in an energy deficit.

Technically you can eat whatever you want, and as long as your are in an energy deficit you will lose weight.

Technically…

Does that mean you can eat nothing but hot pockets and ramen noodles? Well you could, but you certainly would not get all the nutrients you need.

When it comes to deciding what I should be eating, I look at people who have lived to be very old, and I look at what they eat. I also look at what the healthiest populations in the world eat.

In looking for people who lived to be very old I have to look no further than my grandparents on my father’s side, who both lived to their mid nineties. Up until the last 15 years of their life their diet consisted almost entirely of organic whole foods. Whole foods are foods in their natural state with no added ingredients to improve the taste or increase the shelf life. Examples are fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats without additives and whole grains such as oatmeal. For the majority of their life there diet was mostly vegetarian. About once a week they would have a dish that had meat.  Here is what they ate.

Breakfast was always white bread with butter and coffee. The bread was fresh baked. It was not bread with lots of additives to add taste and extend the shelf life.

For lunch there was usually white rice and black beans. The black beans were freshly cooked and not from a can. Sometimes this was a black bean soup with rice and a hard boiled egg. Other common lunch dishes were “tortas de carne” (corn masa with a bit of ground beef) served with green beans mixed in an egg batter, “papas con chorizo”, (potatoes and sausage) and vegetable soup. It was mostly vegetarian dishes made up of vegetables, white rice, and legumes (black beans). The corn they ate was not GMO (genetically modified) corn. Rather it was natural organic corn.

Dinner was similar to lunch. Sometimes they had “olla de carne”, a thin soup in which they boiled a variety of root vegetables with a few pieces of lean meat and some meat bones. Rice was served on the side if you wanted some in the soup. Corn tortillas were common at both lunch and dinner, but they were always fresh made, without preservatives and additives. There was one exception to their whole organic diet however. It was a condiment called Lizano sauce, which did contain preservatives. But this sauce made up only a small portion of their overall diet.

In the mid 70’s some processed foods did make their way into their lives, but on a very small scale. Fresh tortillas were switched with packaged ones for instance. And probably at this time some non organic fruits and vegetables made their way into their diet.

The second thing I look at are the healthiest populations in the world, and I analyze what they eat. I just got finished reading a book called The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. In the book the authors travel to the five places in the world that have the highest number of centenarians (people who have lived to be at least 100 years old) and they analyze their lifestyle, including what they ate. Can you guess what all the centenarians in all five blue zones ate? Organic whole foods, and mostly vegetarian. One of the blue zones is in a place called Nicoya in – guess where? Costa Rica.

Also interesting is that the diet of the centenarians in Nicoya is very similar to what my grandparents ate – rice, black beans, corn tortillas, fruit, eggs, vegetables – all organic.

Is what my grandparents and these centenarians ate proof that an organic whole foods diet will prevent disease and lead to a long healthy life? No, it’s not proof. Such things are difficult to prove without a shadow of a doubt. But the evidence suggests it will.

Still, I don’t follow this way of eating 100%, but I try to follow it as closely as I can. For one, my diet is not anywhere close to being vegetarian. I eat meat, though it’s usually fish or chicken. On occasion I will eat red meat, though far less frequently. My diet is mostly made up of whole foods. By mostly I mean 70 to 80%. The 20 to 30% of non whole foods I eat are mostly condiments and foods I have when I eat out. Why is 100% of my diet not whole foods? For me it would simply be too time consuming to eat a 100% whole foods diet. To do so would mean making everything I eat myself, including condiments. Also I don’t buy all organic food, though after reading this book I’m going to try to make organic food a bigger part of my diet.

Going back to the question of “what should you eat”, my answer is that I would love for you to eat as many whole foods as possible. However I realize many of you are pressed for time and can’t always cook or get to the grocery store for fresh veggies.  In these situations ready to eat food products such as microwave dinners or protein bars will have to suffice.

Reducing Sugar

If I could pick just one food for you to limit, it would be sugar. The biggest problem with sugar is that it has a lot of calories, but no satiating effect. In other words, you can eat a lot of it and ingest a lot of calories but not be any fuller for it.  Do you need to eliminate sugar completely? No not completely. But try to keep it to a minimum – about 5% of your calorie total. An example would be about 90 grams or less for a 2000 calorie limit.

Reducing sugar will be very difficult for people who’ve been accustomed to eating large amounts their entire lives. Here is one strategy for breaking the high sugar addiction:

  • Reduce, don’t eliminate

Trying to quit cold turkey may work for a some people, but a strategy of moderation is far more effective for most. Rather than trying to cut out sugar completely, reduce your sugar intake a little each day until you are consuming 90 grams or less. To give you a quick idea of how much that is, two 12 ounce cans of coke has 80 grams of sugar.

Tracking Sugar

As mentioned sugar has lots of calories but does nothing to satiate. When you manually input foods make sure to input how much sugar the food has. If you can’t find the food in the MFP database or if the nutrition info for the food is incorrect, you can always look on the back of the package, or you can do a Google search for “nutrition food item” where “food item” is the name of the food.

Your total amount of sugar consumption can be found in your food diary by clicking the “food” link at the top of the MFP website. See image below.
Tracking Sugar

Condiments

Tracking condiments along with the food you eat is extremely important. People often get a huge wake up call when they start tracking condiments and see how many calories some of them have. For example, just two tablespoons of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has a whopping 140 calories. Many condiments such as ketchup and barbecue sauce are loaded with sugar. Just one packet of Chick Fil a barbecue sauce has 45 calories (eat four of them and you’ve got 180 calories just from barbecue sauce).

Do you have to quit eating condiments like ranch and ketchup? No, but you do have to track them the same way you track all your food. You’ll likely learn to use them more sparingly once you find out how high in calories some of them are. You can also make use of low calorie condiments such as mustard.

The importance of tracking everything you eat no matter what

Tracking everything you eat will be difficult in the beginning. When you are sitting down to a home cooked meal there will be a tendency to skip it. When tracking gets annoying and the desire to skip arises, just remember that tracking is going to get you where you are trying to go. See it through everyday and as time goes on it will become second nature to you.

Some days you may have the desire to cheat and go over your limit. If you do give in, track it anyway. I cannot stress this enough. Track the days you are within your limit, and if you go over, track those days too. It’s important to visually see the calories you are eating. Knowing how many calories you are eating will help empower you to stay the course.

Creating Meals and copying food with Quick Tools

The two videos below will show you some things you can do with the Quick Tools option to speed up your food tracking

 

 

 

Biggest Pitfall

What is one thing that is sure to derail your progress? Tracking incorrectly. Know that the majority of the foods in the MFP database do not have accurate nutrition info. Never assume that a food in the database has the correct amount of calories, fat etc. Always check the nutrition info to make sure that a food has been verified by a lot of people. If you don’t remember how to do that go back through the videos again to review. If the food has not been reviewed by a lot of people or you have any doubt, calculate the nutrition info yourself by looking at the back of the package or by weighing if it is a vegetable or meat. If need be gather the nutrition info yourself and create your own food as demonstrated in the videos.

Exercise

Is exercise necessary to lose weight? The truth is that it is not. Being in an energy deficit is enough in itself to lose weight. But exercise can accelerate your weight loss by increasing your energy deficit even further. Or it can allow you to eat more food while you are in an energy deficit. Let’s look at an example of each one of these points.

Allows you to eat more than your daily limit

Let’s say that your daily calorie limit is 1200. To continue losing weight, you would need to stay under that 1200 calorie limit. But let’s say you want to eat your 1200 calories plus a slice of pizza, which is about 350 calories. If you eat the pizza plus your usual 1200 calories, you are going to be over your daily limit for a total of 1550 calories. At 1550 calories for the day your progress will be stalled.

But what if you swam for 40 minutes at a low to moderate intensity? Since exercise requires energy, that amount of swimming would require anywhere from 250 to 450 calories. Therefore you could eat your usual 1200 calories plus the pizza and still be within your daily limit, thus keeping you on track.

It can accelerate your weight loss

Let’s say Joe’s calorie limit is 1900 calories a day in order to lose 1 pound per week. If Joe burned 500 calories exercising every day, and continued to only eat 1900 calories worth of food, his net intake would be 1400 calories a day, and he would technically lose weight two times faster than if he was not exercising.

That’s how it works in theory. In reality it’s not as simple, mainly because it’s not easy to accurately measure how many calories are burned exercising. Let’s take a look at the most common methods for measuring calories burned from exercise.

Online exercise calculators

There are several online calculators that will tell you the number of calories burned based on data you input such as age, weight and exercise performed. MFP has one of their own. Unfortunately these calculators will only give you a ballpark estimate at best. At worst they could be off by 50%.

Heart Rate Monitors (HRM’s)

Next we have heart rate monitors. Several studies have shown heart rate to accurately measure calories burned [1-2] while others have shown it to be off as much as 50% [3]. Another study found the Polar S410 HRM to overestimate energy expenditure (calories burned) by 24% for women using the treadmill, yet was shown to be accurate for men [8].

While I think HRM’s can give a reasonable estimate of calories burned – certainly a better estimate than an online calculator – they may not be ideal for measuring as accurately as possible. One reason being that heart rate can be influenced by several factors that have nothing to do with exercise intensity. Such factors include external temperature, emotional state, and the type of food eaten prior to exercise.

Physical Activity Monitors

body

BodyMedia Core

Last we have the physical activity monitors. Physical activity monitors use sensors to measure physical activity, and thus calories burned from exercise. Currently the two most popular come from a company called Fitbit and a company called BodyMedia. While there are physical activity monitors from several other companies, the ones from Fitbit and Bodymedia have been tested as the most accurate [4].

One thing to note about these devices is that the degree of accuracy varies depending on the activity being performed. Among common activities, cycling seems to be least accurate while walking or running on the treadmill seems to be most accurate. A 2009 study found BodyMedia’s SenseWear Pro Armband (BodyMedia’s predecessor to its current lineup) to under estimate calories burned while cycling by 25% [5]. Though not precise, this is still a very reasonable estimate. As for the treadmill, studies have found accuracy to range from 20% (with the Fitbit) to as close as 4% (with the BodyMedia) [5-6].  These devices seem to error on the side of underestimating, rather than overestimating.

So between the Fitbit and BodyMedia, which one is the most accurate? In a study done in 2013, the BodyMedia was found to be the most accurate, though the Fitbit was very close behind. From the research I looked at, it appears both devices are capable of measuring calories burned within an accuracy of at least 20% for common exercises such as elliptical and agility (such as aerobics) and as close as 13% for treadmill walking [4].

Currently, BodyMedia has two main products, the BodyMedia Fit Core and the BodyMedia Fit Link. The difference between these is that the Link is a little more expensive and has bluetooth technology, which allows you to connect to your smartphone and track your data in real time. I assume the Core does not give you real time data via your smartphone. I would think you get all this data after your workout is over.

Click here to buy the BodyMedia Link

Click here to buy the BodyMedia Core

Entering your exercise into MFP

MFP will help you track the calories you burn from exercise and incorporate it into your daily limit. The video below will show you how to manually enter in calories burned.

You may have noticed that after you enter calories burned into MFP, your calories remaining number goes up. See image below.

CaloriesUp

This is because MFP has set their tracking system up with the idea that you will “eat back” the calories you burn exercising. In other words, if you burn 300 calories exercising, you will eat an additional 300 calories to make up for it at some point during the day. MFP adds any calories you burn onto the “calories remaining” number.

So let’s say your daily limit is 1500 calories. For breakfast you eat 600 calories and then after breakfast you go to the gym and burn 300 calories. You might think MFP will show you that you only have 900 more calories you can eat that day (1500 – 600 = 900). But MFP will add the 300 calories onto your “calories remaining number”, so it will actually show that you have 1200 more calories remaining for that day (1500 daily limit – 600 calories eaten + 300 calories burned working out = 1200 left for the day).

To some this can be confusing at first. A common reaction is “Isn’t that defeating the whole purpose of working out in the first place?” Not really because you are still technically in an energy deficit. I’ll explain.

Let’s say you have a limit of 1500 calories a day. And let’s say by the time lunch is over, you’ve had 1000 calories, but you also burned 300 calories working out. At this point MFP is going to tell you that you have 800 calories remaining for the day (1500 daily limit – 1000 calories eaten + 300 calories burned).  If you did not do the exercise, it would say you only have 500 calories remaining (1500 daily limit – 1000 calories eaten).

You could technically eat another 800 calories and still be in an energy deficit for the day since you burned 300 calories working out. This is because the 1500 daily limit is an energy deficit to begin with. The 1500 limit is not your TEE. The 1500 limit is your TEE minus either 500 calories ( if you set up MFP to lose one pound per week) or 1000 calories (if you set MFP to lose 2 pounds per week.)

Now for the question of the millenium. Should you eat back the calories you burn exercising? I would say not necessarily.

Let’s look at another scenario. Let’s say your daily limit is 1700 calories. If you burn 300 calories running on the treadmill and eat 1700 calories, then your net intake is 1400 for the day. In this example, I’d say the choice is totally up to you whether you want to eat back the 300 calories. If you are not hungry and you want to lose weight faster, then don’t eat them. If your hunger dictates you need all 1700 calories, then eat all 1700.

Now let’s look at a different scenario. This time you have a daily limit of 1200 calories. By lunch you have had 600 calories and then you burn 400 calories on the elliptical machine.  For dinner you have another 600 calories. This puts your net intake at 800 calories (1200 – the 400 you burned working out). Should you eat back the 400 calories you burned?

Before I answer that let me give a little background info.

The lowest daily calorie limit that MFP will track is 1200 calories. Common thinking at MFP is that a net caloric intake less than 1200 calories is unhealthy. However I’ve seen it reported that for women, going as low as 1000 calories is ok [7].

So going back to the above example, if you are a woman eat back at least 200 of those burned calories to stay on the safe side. If you feel you are hungry and need them all, then eat all 400 back. If you’re a man then eat back all 400 to stay on the safe side.

What about strength training?

Strength training is lifting weights (or using machines or your own body weight)  to increase muscle or maintain existing muscle. While strength training burns calories, it is difficult to measure calories burned from strength training because there are so many different variables involved. The amount of rest and the amount of weight used are just two factors that can affect the number of calories burned.

MFP has a calculator for estimating calories burned during strength training. Unfortunately the calculator is going to be a very rough estimate at best.  To use it click on “exercise” like you did in the video above, then under “strength training” click on “add exercise”. See image.

Strength

In the search box type “strength” and click the green “search” button. Under “matching exercises” click on “strength training (weight lifting, weight training)”. In the “how long” box enter the time you spent strength training, then click “add exercise” to have the burned calories added into MFP. I believe this calculator errs on the side of underestimating calories burned from strength training rather than overestimating.

 

Conclusion

We’ve reached the end of the course. I always say knowledge is power. I hope the knowledge you have gained from this course will help empower you to achieve your goals. What’s next? To keep up with what is going on at Fit 101 be sure to like the Facebook page.

You can like the facebook page here www.facebook.com/fit101org

Best of luck to you.

Carlos

 

References

1. Keytel, LR, JH Goedecke, TD Noakes, H. Hiiloskorpi, R. Laukkanen, L. Van Der Merwe, and EV Lambert. “Prediction of Energy Expenditure from Heart Rate Monitoring during Submaximal Exercise.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Journal of Sports Science, 2005. Web. 29 Aug. 2014.

2. Erdogan, Ali, Cem Cetin, Hilmi Karatosun, and Metin Baydar. “Accuracy of the Polar S810iTM Heart Rate Monitor and the Sensewear Pro ArmbandTM to Estimate Energy Expenditure of Indoor Rowing Exercise in Overweight and Obese Individuals.” J Sports Sci Med, 2010. Web. 2014.

3. Katch, Frank I., and Victor L. Katch. “Energy Expenditure During Rest and Physical Activity.” Essentials of Exercise Physiology. By William D. McArdle. 3rd ed. N.p.: n.p., 2006. 271-72. Print.

4. Lee, Jung-Min. “Validity of Consumer-based Physical Activity Monitors and Calibration of Smartphone for Prediction of Physical Activity Energy Expenditure.” N.p., 2013. Web. 2013.

5. Calabró, MA, GJ Welk, and JC Eisenmann. “Validation of the SenseWear Pro Armband Algorithms in Children.” Alidation of the SenseWear Pro Armband… [Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009] – PubMed – NCBI. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Sept. 2009. Web. Aug. 2014.

6. Gusmer, R.J., T.A. Bosch, A.N. Watkins, J.D. Ostrem, and D.R. Dengel. “Comparison of FitBit® Ultra to ActiGraph™ GT1M for Assessment of Physical Activity in Young Adults During Treadmill Walking.” N.p., 2014. Web. Aug. 2014.

7. “Can Taking in Too Few Calories Be Bad for You?” Healthy Eating. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2014. <http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/can-taking-calories-bad-you-2624.html>.

8. Crouter, Scott E., Carolyn Albright, and David R. Bassett. “Accuracy of Polar S410 Heart Rate Monitor to Estimate Energy Cost of Exercise.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36.8 (2004): 1433-439. Web.

 

Comments

    • Carlos says

      Hi Anita. Definitely nothing wrong with fruit in moderation. Fruit has lots of nutrition, but it does have lots of sugar. However if you are tracking it and it fills you up and you are losing the way you want, then I say have at it. For people that are not losing the way they want or have hit a plateah, I’d say try reducing overall sugar (which includes fruit) to about 5% of total calories to see if that helps. So for a person on a 1200 calorie diet for example, they could still have 4 bananas a day, or three apples a day. On a 2000 calorie diet a bit less than twice that. Then I’d replace any fruits that have been taken out with a variety of veggies.

  1. Carol says

    Really enjoyed your article, thank you so much! This article helped put things in perspective and makes it seem doable! I’m looking forward to your next newsletter. Thank you! :-)

    • Carlos says

      And I thank you. Glad to hear it put things in perspective. The newest newsletter just went out a couple days ago. :o)

  2. says

    Hi Carlos,

    Thank you so much – what a wonderfully straight forward sensible approach to such a daunting journey! I am going to pass this on to my sister and see if I can get her to join me in my mission to whittle away my midriff!

    Looking forward to your e-newsletter.

    :-)

    • Carlos says

      Thanks Di! Best of luck to both of you. “Where there’s a will there’s a way” sounds so cliche, but I feel it’s true nonetheless.

  3. mike says

    my net calorie is 1520 but I am burning around 300-500 in exercise and eating less than 1520 will I putting my net calorie at 900 1200 will I lose weight like that or will my metabolism slow down because I am under the 1200?

    • Carlos says

      If your TEE is 1520 and you burn 300-500 exercising, then yes, your net will be at 900 to 1200. Since your a guy if your net is less than 1200 than yes, your metabolism could slow down. Remember though that TEE is an estimate only. It could be higher or lower by 20%. Try sticking to a net 1200 for a couple weeks and see how you do. I imagine you will lose weight at 1200 calories a day.
      If you have a chance read the part underneath “exercise” if you have not already. That may help further answer your question. Good luck.

      • mike says

        so if my net is 1520 and I exercise 300 bringing it down to 1220 I should lose additional ibs, but not slow my metabolism. Thanks for the rapid reply, this app is pretty cool. What about meals before bedtime, any advice? Thanks again.

  4. says

    This was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You made the info. very easy to understand. Great job!

  5. LaToya says

    Carlos, I must tell you that I truly enjoyed this!! I’ve been on MFP for years and never really understood all the ins and outs, but you info has cleared up so much for me. Loved it!! Thank you!

    • Carlos says

      Hello, you are most welcome. The only way I know how to do that is clicking “file” in the top left corner and then clicking “print” and then choosing your printer.

  6. Marie Irvin says

    Thanks for taking the time to carefully and thoughtfully share this information
    It has cleared up many of my questions
    I appreciate your knowledge

  7. Nancy says

    Thank you so much for putting this together! I was definitely using this app completely incorrect and gained! LOL! Now I know. Great guide!