Health & Wellness

7 reasons you may be burning less calories than you think

Tracking calories, feeling good, but not seeing any weight loss? The problem could be that you’re burning a lot less calories than you think.

Here are a few common mistakes people make when they think they're doing everything right, but not losing as many pounds as they'd like.

1. You overestimate how many calories a workout burns.

If you sign up for a fitness class that claims to burn 800 calories or an hour, or even provides a calorie burn total for you — it could be completely wrong.

Huh? It's because the amount of energy exerted in the class varies from person to person. Are you punching your fists as hard as the instructor in the kickboxing class, do you weigh the same amount as her and how fast are your feet going? These questions need to be answered for an accurate calorie burn count.

Unless you’re wearing a heart-rate monitor, it may be misleading to make a blanket statement about the number of calories you’re burning in a 45-60-minute workout class.

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Kayla Itsines 7-minute workout

Play Video - 3:02

Kayla Itsines 7-minute workout

Play Video - 3:02

2. You think that the cardio machines are always right.

As a certified personal trainer, I’ve heard this from my clients time and time again: “But the elliptical machine says I burned 500 calories in an hour, even though I felt like I could’ve fallen asleep!”

These machines are programmed to give estimates as to how many calories you’re actually burning. They typically don’t know anything about you: your body size, weight, body fat or exertion level. Many machines only account for how fast you're going, so they provide an inaccurate estimate of how many calories you’re burning.

3. You swear by your calorie counter app.

When you’re tracking your food in these apps, Lisa De Fazio, a registered dietitian, suggested that most people do not accurately measure or estimate portions, so their daily caloric intake is often actually more than what they list on a food-tracking app.

“For example eating 1/2 cup rice versus 1 cup of rice or 1 tablespoon dressing versus 3 tablespoons, all make a big difference in daily caloric intake. These calories add up!” she explained.

Another registered dietitian, Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, said that she tells her clients to only trust calorie-tracking apps for pre-packaged items.

"Everything else is totally subjective. For example, take an apple. Is it a small, medium or large apple? Every app will give you a different calorie count," she noted.

4. You spend most of your day sitting.

When you’re burning a ton of calories in a grueling workout, but then sitting at your desk all day or lounging on the weekends, you’re not burning many calories beyond your workout.

If you label yourself as “extremely active” in health apps, they can wrongly assume that you're not sitting all day. As a result, they'll overestimate the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day.

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Sitting all day? Try these small changes to improve your health

Play Video - 4:12

Sitting all day? Try these small changes to improve your health

Play Video - 4:12

5. You never switch things up.

If you’ve been doing the same weight-loss program that’s focused on the same workouts and the same restricted calorie diet, your body can tell. When your body gets used to a certain type of exercise, the amount of calories you burned initially aren’t necessarily the same amount that you’re burning after doing that routine 25 times.

To prevent this from happening, try to change up your workouts every couple of weeks. Mix in cardio with high-intensity routines, try cycling classes or take a speed walk. Keep things new and exciting!

6. Your pre- and post-workout snacks are caloric catastrophes.

When you’re reaching for a snack, whether it’s for energy before a workout or post-workout recovery, there are a few things to consider. According to De Fazio, you should think about the type of workout and its intensity, as well as the length of the workout before deciding what kind of snack to eat.

“Typically carbohydrates like a banana or a 150-calorie protein bar is ideal before an hour workout," she said. As for a post-workout snack, De Fazio suggested a protein smoothie or an apple with peanut butter. If you’re working out longer and harder, such as going on a long-distance run or bike ride, that’s when a higher-calorie snack would be appropriate.

Green Banana Smoothie Bowl
Green banana smoothie bowl
Maya Visnyei
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7. You’ve already lost weight.

Once you’ve lost weight, your body needs less calories to do everyday activities and therefore less calories to lose more weight.

“When someone is overweight it is like a healthy weight person carrying 50- or 100-pound weights and going through daily activities. The extra weight puts stress on the body and uses more calories to do everything, from housework to grocery shopping to driving,” De Fazio said.

While counting calories isn’t always the most accurate or even always the best way to lose weight, it can be a helpful benchmark to determine where to start in order to reach your goals. Getting a good baseline to know how many calories a day you should burn and consume in order to hit your weight-loss goals is very helpful, but it’s important to remember that other factors such as stress, sleep and other lifestyle issues play an important role in overall health.

Stephanie Mansour is a lifestyle and weight-loss coach for women. Join her weight-loss challenge here!

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