The Other Side of the Equation

During my recent four-month forced hiatus from running, I kept track of calories using a couple of popular calorie counters: Fitday and, later, MyPlate. According to my daily average intake, I should have lost 1.8 pounds a week.

Instead, I gained five pounds.

Part of the problem was something I wrote about last month: I vastly underestimated my recorded portions and serving sizes. But I also fell for miscalculations on how much I burned exercising.

Basically, you cannot trust the accuracy of calorie estimates generated by machines, which tend to provide far more generous numbers than you’ve actually earned.

Exercise machine manufacturers want you to believe you’re burning more than you might be so you’ll stick with their product. Calorie counters take your word on weight, age and especially effort. Your number is aggregated with others, from fat to fit, to come up with an average. But we all move mass differently and everything from proper form to a spicy burrito breakfast can impact metabolism and calorie loss.

Here’s an interesting excerpt from "How Many Calories Does an Elliptical Machine Burn?"

A study conducted by Barry University tested 26 men and women as they exercised on an elliptical trainer and found that the manufacturer's estimate of calories burned was too high for all participants. The study also noted that the participants had very different rates of calorie burn because of differences in fitness level, gender and body composition. Martica Heaner, an exercise physiologist, estimates that most exercise machines may overestimate calories burned by as much as 10 to 30%, so only use them as a general guideline.

In my research, I've found other sites and programs that repeat that same statistic. So, what I’ve begun to do is ignore how many calories a machine or computer says I burned in a workout. Instead, I focus on staying within a specific calorie range. And, guess what, I’m starting to lose weight again.

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