Calculate Your Energy Balance Equation

Learn how to use energy balance to change your body

calculate your energy balance equation
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Most people don’t think of their weight loss journey as a math problem. But in many ways, it is. To lose weight, you need to calculate your energy balance equation, then change the numbers to create weight loss. If you can get your numbers to tilt in the right direction, you’ll slim down and keep the pounds off for good.

What is the Energy Balance Equation?

Energy balance is simply the relationship between your energy input and your energy output.

   The complete energy equation looks like this:

Energy balance  =  energy input – energy output

It doesn't look very complicated, does it?  But you may not have the numbers to do the math. So to figure out your energy balance you need to gather some important information.

How to Calculate Energy Input

We input energy when we eat. The food we consume provides calories. Calories are simply a unit of energy or heat. The food we eat and the drinks we consume provide different amounts of energy. Protein and carbohydrate each provide 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram.

So how do you know your energy input number? Count the number of calories you eat each day. You can do it with a simple downloadable food diary or you can use a popular calorie counting app like CalorieCount. A typical woman may consume anywhere from 1200 to 2500 calories per day. That's a pretty big range. To get the most accurate number for you, track your calories for at least a week.

How to Calculate Energy Output

Energy output happens when your body uses energy.  We often refer to this as "burning” calories. Even when you’re sleeping, your body uses energy to perform basic functions like breathing and circulating blood. The rate at which your body burns calories at rest is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

  BMR makes up roughly 60-75% of the total number of calories you burn each day.

You also expend energy during activities of daily living, like washing dishes or shopping, and of course, through physical exercise. These activities make up about 15-30% of your total calorie burn each day. The last 5-10% of calories are burned through the thermic effect of food, when you eat and digest meals and snacks. 

There are different ways to calculate the number of calories you burn each day.  Many people combine one or two methods to determine the most accurate number. 

Calculate Your Energy Balance Equation 

If your energy input and your energy output are perfectly balanced, you won’t lose weight.  A perfect energy balance creates a stable weight. To change your weight you need to tip the scales so that they are no longer balanced. 

A positive energy balance occurs when your energy input is greater than your energy output. That is, you eat more calories than your body needs. Your body stores excess energy or calories as fat.

  This results in weight gain.

Weight gain = energy input > energy output

Weight loss occurs when you create a negative energy balance.  That is, you burn more calories than you consume.  When this imbalance occurs, your body burns stored energy (fat) in order to function and you lose weight. A negative energy balance is sometimes called a calorie deficit.

Weight loss = energy input < energy output

When you evaluate your own energy balance, it's best to get the numbers as accurate as possible.  Small differences in energy input and energy output can make a big difference in your weight.

Energy Balance Equation Examples

Are you ready to calculate your own energy balance?  Here are two sample equations to use as a guide.

Dieter #1: Megan

Calories consumed each day:  2000

Calories burned each day: 1750

2000 (energy input) - 1750 (energy output) =  250 calories

Megan has a positive energy balance of 250 calories per day.  That doesn't sound like much. But over the course of a week, her estimated balance would be 1750 calories or enough to gain a half pound of weight. 

Dieter #2: Carol

Calories consumed each day: 1800

Calories burned each day: 2050

1800 (energy input) - 2050 (energy output) =  -250 calories

Carol has a negative energy balance of 250 calories.  Over the course of a week, her body will need to burn 1750 calories of stored fat to meet its needs and she will lose roughly one half pound of weight.

The Energy Balance Equation for Weight Loss

So if weight loss is just a simple equation, then why is it so difficult to lose weight? Because there are many factors that affect both your energy input and your energy output. Things like your medical status, age, and mood affect your energy balance equation every day.  Weight loss is a simple equation, but finding the right balance requires a little bit more work.

If you are at the beginning of your weight loss journey, or if you are questioning your current diet and exercise plan, the energy balance equation is a perfect place to start. You don't need to buy fancy tools or invest in an expensive weight loss program. Try to make some changes on your own. Evaluate the factors that affect your caloric intake and caloric output. You have control over some factors (like activity level) and no control over others (age, gender).  Simply change what you can to tilt the scales of your energy balance equation and reach your weight loss goals.

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