How does this thing work?
August 29, 2011 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Counting calories/exercise: Am I doing this right?

Me: 38, 5'4" 204lb, female. I have been on Weight Watchers for six months and I have lost about 7lbs. In order to get a more accurate hold on the amount of calories I am eating, I have switched in the last few weeks to using the Daily Plate. I was already weighing almost everything I ate and using the online food diary with WW, so this part has not been hard and it is saving me $40 a month as well.

What I am having trouble figuring out is how many calories to eat. According to DP calorie calculator, if I put in my stats and say I want to lose a pound a week and that I am lightly active (desk job), it gives me 1,282 calories a day. I assume this means it is calculating that my daily caloric needs are 1,782 and subtracting 500 calories.

That's fine with me-- I am willing to do what ever it takes to lose the 50lbs I have gained two years ago! Stupid question though, am I correct that if I exercise, I can log it in Daily Plate and then I should eat the number of calories I burned? One thing that confuses me in using the calorie calculators is the part where you have to say if you are completely sedentary, lightly active, etc. I work at a desk all day and enjoy sitting on my ass reading the internets in my free time. But I also walk as much as possible (about 6,000 -10,000 steps a day according to fitbit) and go to the gym 3 times a week. I feel like if I say I am moderately active, eat a higher level of calories, then "eat" my exercise points, I will have counted them twice. Is that wrong?

I would like to have this baseline caloric level of 1,282, and then be encouraged to exercise so I can eat a little more. One thing I didn't like about WW was that we were kind of discouraged from eating our activity points because of all the extra points we get anyway and all the free fruits and veggies. "More exercise = more food" is the kind of thing that will work for me. Still, is that is too low of a baseline? I have high blood sugar and do not lose weight easily, so I do not think it is too low. I am eating high protein, low carbs and am not hungry.

Is anyone successfully using Daily Plate or Spark People in the way I have described?
posted by loveyhowell to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked into It does exactly what you describe. You enter your current weight and a goal weight along with a date by when you want to achieve the goal. It uses that data to tell you exactly how many calories you can eat, and keeps a running total as you enter your foods for the day. When you enter exercise, it adds corresponding calories to the amount you are "allowed" to eat that day. This is the only non-WW website I've ever used that has actually been effective at helping me lose weight.
posted by something something at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

That 1282 sounds a little low to me. I am 5'6 and weigh 40 lbs less than you and I'm supposed to eat 1,628 calories to lose a pound a week. I use the lose it! app and it will calculate the number of calories you need and it will also let you add exercise if you want to exercise and eat a little more.
posted by bananafish at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2011

On preview, the lose it! app does the same thing as
posted by bananafish at 10:24 AM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: . I feel like if I say I am moderately active, eat a higher level of calories, then "eat" my exercise points, I will have counted them twice. Is that wrong?

The way I have understood it is thus: You enter your level of activity EXCLUDING any intentional exercise (ie gym visits, running, weight lifting, yoga ,etc). This gives you your base calorie rate; for you ~1200 calories. Then, you log your food (+ calories) and your exercise (- calories) and eat until you have hit 1200. So, say you burned 300 calories at the gym, you should eat 1500 calories that day to be on track to lose 1lb a week.

As for your walking, if it is incidental to your life, you do it regularly, and figures into your "lightly active" rating, then don't count those calories as ones you can eat again. I hope that makes as much sense written down as it does in my head!
posted by hepta at 10:31 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's the deal. You need to figure an estimate of your "baseline macros." This is your daily calorific intake then broken down into fats, proteins, and carbs (for weight lose, fiber is also important).

By maintaining your baseline your body will stay where it is, it will not take a sharp increase in either direction. An athlete who wanted to gain muscle would turn this up, focusing on protein and carbohydrates for recovery. A weight lose diet will turn this down, you will cut back carbohydrates, still want a fair amount of protein, want to increase fiber, and make sure you're getting healthy fats as well.

The most important part about this, is that your body while it can take sharp spikes in either direction, it will often detect them as something "bad" happening, and you will more easily put it back on. For instance a crash diet is a super spike that makes your body think there is a famine. Your larger goal here should be understanding these numbers a little better and doing something that you can keep doing. A one time diet it just that, when you stop you will go back to where you were. Do something you can live with.

I seriously suggest finding a nutritionist to help you with this, and design some meals that work for you within it. Once your body acclimates and you start to get a handle on the proper nutrition your body needs, you can start mixing and matching and making a regiment that doesn't feel limiting for you. Also to note, if you have a desk job, I may consider trying to bridge the gap between when you usually eat lunch (12) and when you leave work (5-6) for example. That period of time is a long time not to eat. Eatting a snack around 10-11 and eatting lunch around 2-3 will help your body not spike blood sugar.

As you point out about your activity, this is all an estimate. Every human is very different. I would mostly think to yourself "what kind of metabolism do I have?" Is it slow, medium, or fast? Chances are if you're not already skinny you're medium or slow. There is nothing wrong with this. For instance, if there were a famine, the people with the naturally fast metabolism would go first.

Obviously this is a huge amount of information and there's a TON you can learn about the specifics of it. Programs like weight watchers are intentionally vague because it's so much to handle, and they work for a lot of people for that reason.
posted by straight_razor at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In theory, "excercise more and eat more" makes sense, but do be careful that you don't overestimate the calories you burn exercising. This post explains that 1) It's very hard to accurately estimate how many calories you burn exercising, and 2) The number of calories represents the TOTAL amount you burned exercising, not the EXTRA amount. "For example, an 80-kg woman walking for an hour at 2.5 mph will burn 240 calories, according to the treadmill. But if she had spent that hour lying on the couch, she would have burned 80 calories just to stay alive – so she really only burned an extra 160 calories by exercising. That’s an overestimate of 50 percent!"

And of course exercise has many health benefits even if you don't lose additional weight from it.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: My mom is a Weight Watchers leader and says that she's never had such poor results with her members, and it's all since WW allowed the free fruits.

So if you're eating more than two small servings of fruit daily, you may not lose a lot.
posted by kinetic at 10:54 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In my recent (very successful) weight challenge at my Y, we found that ALL of us women needed more calories than Daily Plate was allotting us. If we ate the amount they gave us (even when we logged our exercise, which is correctly described below as subtracted from your base by the website), we started gaining fat and losing muscle, according to the body fat percentage scale.

As soon as we all ate more, more often (all of it healthy foods like whole grains, low fat proteins, fruit and veg), we all lost weight while gaining muscle.

So my advice to you is to eat Frequently to keep metabolism up. Nutritionists can help, and so can personal trainers that can help you get the most out of your workout time. Good luck, you can do this!
posted by ldthomps at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will also say that I had dismal results once Weight Watchers switched to the new system. I'm vegan, and I think I just eat too many fruits and vegetables to make it work.
posted by something something at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2011

I got a fitbit recently, and it's really interesting - you can log in at any time and it will tell you how many calories you've burned thusfar in a day (just the ones you need to live and breathe as well as extra calories you burn by exercising) and if you put in your food intake, you can see exactly what the deficit is. As long as your food intake is below that of your calorie output, you should lose weight. I like seeing those concrete numbers there. And you can see, oh, I've only walked 4000 steps today, maybe I should get off my heinie and take a walk around the block.

(The fitbit itself is a little device you clip to your bra or waistband and it basically keeps track of your activity.)
posted by pyjammy at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: I have lost 27 lbs since April by using the loseit app in the way that you described. I count myself as sedentary, even though I walk everywhere and I do not ever enter the walking as "exercise" into the equation. Loseit describes the sedentary activity level with the following set of daily activities:

Sleeping - 8 hours
Personal care (dressing, showering) - 1 hour
Eating - 1 hour
Cooking - 1 hour
Sitting (office work, selling produce, tending shop) - 8 hours
Driving car to/from work - 1 hour
General household work - 1 hour
Light leisure activities (watching TV, chatting) - 3 hours

I only do about 30 mins of "general household work" per day, and I don't spend a full hour cooking every day, so I think that the walking sort of evens that out.

I go to the gym at least 3 times per week, and I usually "eat back" most (if not all) of those calories. I often cut my time in the gym in half when I'm entering it (or divide by 3 or 4 if I'm using a machine), just so that I can be sure I am not overestimating the calories burned.

I don't have any other specifications for my food (e.g. not intentionally low carb or low fat or whatever); I just eat whatever seems healthy and fresh, with as many vegetables as I can, and with junk when I really really crave it (as long as it's under the calorie budget). I also eat lots of fruit and have not had a problem with that. I think that nutritiondata, eating well, and loseit have been the best resources for me, and I haven't paid a cent for any of them.

Feel free to message me if you want more details.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 11:00 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've used several of these apps and sites for calorie counting, and I've had some good success. I liked the Daily Burn better than the Daily Plate, fwiw. But they are all pretty much the same.

I think they overestimate how many calories you burn through activity and exercise. And I think you can fall down a rabbit hole by marking normal everyday activities as 'exercise'. Pretty soon you're counting walking around Target and the stairs at the parking garage when that should be just normal life, not an excuse to eat a treat/eat more. You should just focus on eating less.

So I don't think you should do what you're saying if you want to lose weight. Mark yourself as 'sedentary' instead of 'lightly active'. Underestimate how much exercise you're getting, but still get out of the house and go for a walk. Use a different site to keep track of your exercise, if you like the reporting functions.

Obviously, if you were burning serious calories at the gym, this would be different advice. But I see your question as hoping to find a shortcut here, and there is no shortcut. Looking for shortcuts will get you off the path to success.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:39 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your great replies so far- I love MeFi!

I have seen a nutritionist in the past and she recommended a 1,400 calorie diet several years back when I was at about 160, so maybe 1,272 is a little low. I am probably going to have to tinker around with it. Also, I do have a fitbit that I adore, but I like the DP because it seems to have the biggest food database-- it even has HEB generic items listed. Their calculator may be too low, though, and the exercise calories burned may be too high.

I probably should go back into my WW logs and figure out how many calories I was eating then and subtract a little. I did lose weight but it was demoralizingly slow.

aabbbiee - I think you misunderstood. Working out at the gym is definitely a big part of my plan-- I am just trying to figure out what is the appropriate amount of calories to eat since I do work out.
posted by loveyhowell at 11:50 AM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: 1282 is way too low, and is not healthy or sustainable.

Check out the fat2fit radio podcast on itunes... they answer questions like this one all the time, and have tons of information about losing weight in a sensible and sustainable way.
posted by peppermintfreddo at 4:36 PM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: I'm 5'2 and about 20lbs overweight. I am working out with a trainer now, for the extra help and the nutritional counseling. One of the things my trainer mentioned is that you have to slowly decrease your calories from whatever your current intake was (for me around 1600) to about 1200 a day. As mentioned above, this keeps your body from responding to the sudden decrease in calories as if it's in famine mode all of the sudden. Eating calorie light snacks in between meals helps a lot. (I eat raw snap peas, carrots, green beans, etc.). I get to munch, get my veggie intake, and my mouth is happy to crunch away.

I personally was surprised at how easy it is to eat healthy, feel full, feel good and only take in about 1200 calories. Staying away from sugar, including fruit - helps alot. Portion control with high calorie items (hey do you know what a serving of meat looks like in your hand!? Not much! But you are weighing things so you probably do know).

At the end of the day, calories in has to be less than calories out to lose weight. You'd be surprised at how friggin hard you have to work to burn those damn calories. Once you've lost the weight, you can alter your calorie intake to equal what you are burning. Metabolism is our enemy after 30.
posted by getmetoSF at 6:50 PM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: Forgive me for not giving a heavily-detailed answer, but let me say a few pointers here.

-Your period might affect weight loss in terms of water weight you're carrying. This means seemingly sudden weight loss, gain, or stalls may occur from it.
-Eating to essentially 'cancel out' the calories burned from exercise can backfire. You might overestimate the calories you burned when you're a bit more hungry than usual - you might not, it depends. Just saying that it is a possibility.
-In addition to increasing exercise to eat more: keep in mind that when you are in a caloric deficit, recovery from strenuous exercise is also in a deficit. The only reason I mention this is because some people end up doing more work than what is necessary/sensible even if they were not in a caloric deficit. The vibe I'm getting from your post sounds like you aren't very "rawr, extreme, let me get there twice as fast", so over-exertion probably won't be an issue for you, but it's always helpful to be mindful of it.
-I don't know if what I'm about to mention is a "thing" in your diet (as it's common with a large majority of them), but don't worry over "clean" and "dirty" foods. Stressing about eating one-hundred percent "clean" or feeling guilt over a donut will, about 95 percent of the time, lead to a binge. So - enjoy your food and keep a healthy relationship with it while also staying in a deficit.

Good luck.
posted by Evernix at 8:36 PM on August 29, 2011

I lost 60 pounds last year in 3 months and have kept it off. I simply went online to see how many calories I needed to eat at my height and weight to lose 2 pounds a week. Then I got an iphone app an tracked my calories and because I cut out all crap food and I walked 2 tmes a day I was able to do it quite quickly. It is honestly not hard at all.
posted by tarvuz at 12:33 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I seem to be in the minority, but I calculate my calorie intake by using the "loss" formula in reverse.

They say 3500 calories is 1 pound of fat right? And if you eat 500 calories less each day, you'll lose 1 pound of fat per week. If this is true, then the opposite must also be true. Namely, that if you weigh 1 pound less now than you did before, then the number of calories you burned is equal to the number of calories you ate in the interim, plus 3500.

You've been tracking your calorie intake via TheDailyPlate for the last 3 weeks? Are your records complete? If so, add up all the calories you took in over the last 21 days.

Your average daily caloric expenditure = (t + ((w1 - w2) * 3500)) / 21

Where t = the total number of calories you ate over the last 21 days combined.
w1 = your weight 21 days ago
w2 = your weight today

For example, let's say that 21 days ago you weighed 207 lbs, and today you weight 204 lbs. During the last 21 days you ate a total of 27,300 calories. That means that your base caloric intake would be (27,300 + ((207 - 204) * 3500)) / 21 = 1800 calories per day. Knowing that, you can aim to eat 1300 calories per day to continue to lose 1 pound per week.

Algebra FTW!
posted by Vorteks at 4:32 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just thought I would check in to say I have been losing slightly more than a pound a week with 1200 calories. Also, I saw my doctor this week and she said that was an appropriate amount to eat for weight loss, considering I have been having difficulty losing. I have a follow up appointment with her this week because my labs came back with abnormal thyroid- so maybe that is why I have been having so much trouble.

Thanks for all your responses!
posted by loveyhowell at 10:37 PM on September 10, 2011

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