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Weight Loss Myths: Calories In vs. Calories Out

In this week’s blogs, I’m tackling some of the most common weight loss myths that often hold people back from successfully and healthfully reaching their goals.


First up, one of the most dangerous myths I’ve heard from my clients.


Myth: you have to exercise off every calorie you burn.


Throughout my years as a nutritionist and personal trainer, I’ve met many people who believe that they can only “earn” calories through exercise. I recently met a woman who told me that her goal is to burn 1,200 calories before breakfast so she doesn’t feel guilty about eating her daily meals. Another woman told me she tries not to eat dinner on the nights she can’t make it to the gym. And throughout my career, I’ve heard many people say they don’t need to eat breakfast or lunch because they’re just sitting at a desk all day.


The truth is that in order to lose weight, you do have to burn more calories than you eat, but you don’t have to burn them all through exercise. Of all the calories you burn each day, the majority are spent just keeping your body alive and functioning. If you were to lie in bed all day and do nothing, not even use the remote, your body would still use calories to keep your heart pumping, lungs working, circulation going and vital organs functioning. It’s a lot like a car – if it’s turned on, it still burns fuel, even when it’s sitting in park. For most adults, the number of calories burned in ‘couch potato mode’ is at least 1,000 per day.


If you get out of bed and engage in some basic activities (taking a shower, cooking, even eating) the number of calories you burn increases, and if you fit in a workout, it goes up even more.


A 135 pound woman burns about:


55 calories per hour sleeping

60 calories per hour sitting

75 calories per hour waiting in line

90 calories per hour typing or doing light office work

120 calories per hour driving

125 calories per hour cooking

140 calories per hour shopping

(note: just 8 hours of sleeping and 8 hours of sitting adds up to 920 calories burned)


Of course, the calories burned per hour exercising are much greater:

150 per hour doing hatha yoga

300 per hour walking at 4 mph

450 per hour on the elliptical

500 per hour circuit training

600 per hour swimming laps


Bottom line: being more active will help you burn more calories and make it easier for you to create a calorie deficit (e.g. more calories going out than coming in), but you don’t need to starve yourself if you’re not super active, and you certainly don’t need to worry about exercising off every last calorie you eat.


Is this a myth you’ve heard or held? Is the calorie equation needed for weight loss confusing to you? Please share!


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