Knowing your actual calorie intake and calorie burn will help you better understand and appreciate the impact of both. Unfortunately, most people overestimate the calories they burn when exercising and underestimate the calories they consume when eating and drinking. This is clearly not helpful. How can we fix this? The practice of estimating calories used and consumed can help inform improved lifestyle choices. Let us get started.

First: Determine the approximate number of Calories burned each day using the chart below. The Calorie consumption for each category is provided for persons of 20 / 50 / 80 years of age.

Individual age, weight, metabolism, musculature, degree of exercise strain, and more can lead to wide variations in calorie consumption. The table above is approximate for most people. Use one (or more for comparison) online calorie calculators to determine a more accurate personal estimate.

Second: Determine how much you consume:  Get in the practice of asking yourself “how many calories are in this?”  Get smarter fast by becoming familiar with the following common examples:

To quickly find the Calorie content for other food items, input “calories in a/an _____” to Google search.

Third: Determine your daily Calorie Difference = Calories Used – Calories Consumed

A positive number suggests a weight-loss impact; a negative number suggests a weight gain impact. Calculate and record your calorie count every day for 30 days. At the end of this period, reflect on what you have learned about your diet.

Some notes:

  • An important reminder: All calories are not equal in nutritional value. So, a key question should be: “How much nutrition (i.e., benefit) am I getting from the calories I have consumed?”
  • Exercise machines provide notoriously high calorie burn estimates. Wrist borne appliances (e.g., Fitbit) provide more accurate calorie burn information. 
  • An illustrative example: A 180 lb. man of 40 years of age needs to walk briskly for an hour to burn off the calories from a single slice of pizza OR 30 potato chips.