Stupid Question Alert: "Eat back your calories"

I have a question that I've seen a lot of discussion about but no real answers to: What does it mean to eat back your calories?

Yesterday, I had 1930 as a goal. I ate 2460 of food that more or less covered macros and micros. I earned 753 from my Fitbit Charge HR, so I closed out the day 223 under. My exercise consists of walking primarily, but I'm starting to add in Zumba and elliptical. Would I be eating my calories only if I ate the full 1930+753=2683? Should I shoot for zero delta between goal+exercise, or is this a case of close enough is good enough?

Replies

  • PaytraB
    PaytraB Posts: 2,360 Member
    It depends a bit on where you got the number of calories you burned. MFP is considered to be high in the number of calories burned for an activity. Therefore, you may not have burned 753 calories. Many people eat back between 50% and 75% of the calories they burn just to be on the safe side.

    In general, you should be getting close to your calorie goal but you won't reach it exactly and you should strive to be under it. There will be days when you have a few hundred calories left over. That's okay. There will be days when you may go over a bit. That's okay, too, if it's only occasionally.

    If you aren't hungry, have met your macros and have some calories left over and don't want a treat, you've done well for the day. Enjoy your success.
  • hearthwood
    hearthwood Posts: 794 Member
    edited July 2015
    A good rule of thumb is to never eat back more than 1/2 calories burned. The reason--MFP--electronic devices and machines have a real history of overestimating calories burned, which means you could easily be overeating your workouts, and actually gain weight.
  • juliet3455
    juliet3455 Posts: 3,015 Member
    edited July 2015
    @PaytraB Its not a stupid question but has been asked and answered hundreds of times.
    Personally I have used the 50% rule with fairly good results.
    The link below takes you to a Blog with what I consider to be a good source of information.

    https://blog.myfitnesspal.com/ask-the-dietitian-should-i-eat-back-my-exercise-calories/

    Try this link to the search function where you can put in your question and come up with a large listing of posts/information.
    http://community.myfitnesspal.com/en/search?adv=&search=Eat+back+your+calories&title=&author=&cat=all&tags=&discussion_d=1&comment_c=1&group_group=1&within=1+day&date=
  • yarwell
    yarwell Posts: 10,478 Member
    Achieving zero calories remaining means you have hit the calorie deficit goal set by MFP. "Eating back" maintains the same deficit when you exercise as when you don't, providing the logged calories are accurate.

    As your BMR is probably +/- 160 calories from the prediction I would say anything within 200 calories either side of goal is close enough but obviously you don't want to be the same side of goal all the time or you've just changed the goal.
  • editorgrrl
    editorgrrl Posts: 7,060 Member
    Connect your accounts at http://www.myfitnesspal.com/fitbit

    Set your goal to .5 lb. for every 25 lbs. you're overweight: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/account/change_goals_guided

    Enable negative calorie adjustments: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/account/diary_settings

    Ignore your Fitbit calorie goal and follow MFP's, eating back your adjustments. No need to log any step-based activity—your Fitbit is tracking it for you. Log non-step exercise (like swimming or biking) either in Fitbit or in MFP—never both. Exercise logged in MFP overwrites your Fitbit burn during that time.

    You can learn more in the Fitbit Users group: http://community.myfitnesspal.com/en/group/1290-fitbit-users
  • 6502programmer
    6502programmer Posts: 518 Member
    editorgrrl wrote: »
    Connect your accounts at http://www.myfitnesspal.com/fitbit

    Set your goal to .5 lb. for every 25 lbs. you're overweight: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/account/change_goals_guided

    Enable negative calorie adjustments: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/account/diary_settings

    Ignore your Fitbit calorie goal and follow MFP's, eating back your adjustments. No need to log any step-based activity—your Fitbit is tracking it for you. Log non-step exercise (like swimming or biking) either in Fitbit or in MFP—never both. Exercise logged in MFP overwrites your Fitbit burn during that time.

    You can learn more in the Fitbit Users group: http://community.myfitnesspal.com/en/group/1290-fitbit-users

    Thank you! I've seen your posts before and they've been most helpful. I've been following all that advice already, including upping to -1 pound based on being 38 or so away from goal weight. So far, I've been seeing expected results between logging, burn rate, and weight loss, so it's all been pretty accurate. As my exercise adjustment climbs, I was wondering whether to treat it as a gift to be gobbled, a treasure to be squirreled away, or something in between. I think I'll stick with letting the Fitbit monitor overall burn and let MFP tell me how what I'm eating hews to the plan.
  • editorgrrl
    editorgrrl Posts: 7,060 Member
    As my exercise adjustment climbs, I was wondering whether to treat it as a gift to be gobbled, a treasure to be squirreled away, or something in between. I think I'll stick with letting the Fitbit monitor overall burn and let MFP tell me how what I'm eating hews to the plan.

    Your increased adjustments reflect the increased energy necessary to fuel your increased activity.
  • maxxoncst
    maxxoncst Posts: 3 Member
    This topic is almost as volatile and likely to stir up debate and controversy as religion, politics, and gay marriage. Everyone has a position and feels strongly connected to that viewpoint. I don't ever eat back my exercise calories, and the following article helps explain why.

    http://vitals.lifehacker.com/why-tracking-calories-from-exercise-may-sabotage-your-w-1702505447

    Again, some will disagree and others will agree with the viewpoint expressed in this article, but the studies quoted have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not by some quack who obtained an online-nutrition degree in 30 days or less.

    The bottom line is you have to figure out what works best for you, and stick with it. Try doing both: eating back your calories one month and then trying the opposite. What results did you see? How did you feel? Ultimately, that will be the answer to your question. As long as you're consuming enough calories each day to fuel your lifestyle you won't ever "starve" yourself by not eating back your exercise. Best of luck to you!
  • mewilliams11
    mewilliams11 Posts: 139 Member
    I think it's more of a personal preference than any sort of set rule. For me personally, I dont want to eat back my exercise calories. Like others have stated, many sites & devices grossly overestimate how many calories you actually burned, so you could easily get into trouble here & dramatically slow your weight loss.

    When I exercise, I like knowing that the calories that I burned are contributing to my calorie deficit & not just going toward more food that I can eat. With that being said, I think eating back a percentage of your calories burned is ok if you find that you're hungry or if you need them. I know some people use exercise calories for special occasions when they plan to splurge a little. Like the above poster mentioned, play around with it a little & see what works best for you. If you're happy with your rate of weight loss then whatever method you choose is the right one for you. Good luck!
  • editorgrrl
    editorgrrl Posts: 7,060 Member
    Like others have stated, many sites & devices grossly overestimate how many calories you actually burned, so you could easily get into trouble here & dramatically slow your weight loss.

    Food is fuel, and we should all be looking for the maximum number of calories at which we lose weight—never the minimum. I enabled negative calorie adjustments in my diary settings, eat back 100% of my Fitbit calorie adjustments, and lost the weight.

    OP, trust your Fitbit for a few weeks, then reevaluate your progress.
  • 6502programmer
    6502programmer Posts: 518 Member
    maxxoncst wrote: »
    This topic is almost as volatile and likely to stir up debate and controversy as religion, politics, and gay marriage.

    I dunno. The "hate chicken" versus "gun control burritos" one seems far more lively! heh

    I think I understand the gist of the lifehacker piece. People suck at estimating their calories in, and devices suck at estimating calories out. The more you rely on both, the greater the potential error.

    If you exercise just to eat more, you're doing it wrong. If you're at BMR+100 for calories, don't expect to run ten miles every day. Similarly, even if you're meticulous in your tracking of both food and exercise, thinking that it's okay to figure out how many jelly beans you can eat to "get to zero", you're likely to end up in the red. I have yet to feel starved, mostly because I save treats for the end of the day, if I have the room. Even then, I try to end a day 150-300 calories under.
  • atypicalsmith
    atypicalsmith Posts: 2,742 Member
    I think it's more of a personal preference than any sort of set rule. For me personally, I dont want to eat back my exercise calories. Like others have stated, many sites & devices grossly overestimate how many calories you actually burned, so you could easily get into trouble here & dramatically slow your weight loss.

    When I exercise, I like knowing that the calories that I burned are contributing to my calorie deficit & not just going toward more food that I can eat. With that being said, I think eating back a percentage of your calories burned is ok if you find that you're hungry or if you need them. I know some people use exercise calories for special occasions when they plan to splurge a little. Like the above poster mentioned, play around with it a little & see what works best for you. If you're happy with your rate of weight loss then whatever method you choose is the right one for you. Good luck!

    I feel the exact same way.
  • lemurcat12
    lemurcat12 Posts: 30,886 Member
    People get confused about this because there are different ways to calculate your calorie deficit.

    For example, once upon a time I did something on WebMD that basically estimated what you were eating and then suggested that you aim at -2 lb/week by reducing calories 500/day and trying to up exercise 500/day. You wouldn't have eaten more on days you exercised, as your goal presumed exercise.

    Similarly, if you use the TDEE method (as I now do), you will figure your overall maintenance (including the exercise you do) and cut calories from that. Once again the goal assumes exercise, so you wouldn't eat it back.

    Many doctors/dieticians will do something similar -- talk to you to understand your activity level and thus likely maintenance and then suggest a starting goal based on that. Once again, it implicitly includes the activity (or is based on an understanding that the activity isn't that significant). (For example, I have maintenance around 1550 if sedentary but also do exercise quite hard, as I'm training for a half ironman triathlon. I would hope a doctor wouldn't say my exercise is irrelevant and I should eat 1050 to lose 1 lb / week or some such, but that's in essence what people who say we should ignore exercise are saying.)

    You can do something similar on MFP. For example, use an "active" level rather than counting back exercise calories (not technically how it's supposed to work but do-able). You also (if someone who can reasonably aim at 2 lb/week) could set it up to lose 1-1.5 lb/week and then treat the exercise as a bonus to hit your 2 lb.

    What I personally think is a bad idea is setting MFP for the max reasonable loss while claiming to be sedentary--2 lbs, of course--and then get your expected 1200 calories and THEN exercise very hard on top of that. Unless your logging is very poor (and if so that should be fixed), that's going to create an overly aggressive and non-sustainable deficit for many or most. It's also going to undermine any benefits from hard exercise and risk losing more muscle than is necessary.

    When I started I was nervous to eat back exercise but quickly learned that I was still losing MORE than MFP predicted despite eating back about 75% or more. As a result it seems that I was logging pretty well. I'd say it's worth trusting yourself and eating back some--again, at least to the extent it's significant--and then adjusting if you don't seem to be getting the results expected (which likely means either the calculator is overstating your maintenance or you are logging poorly).
  • bennettinfinity
    bennettinfinity Posts: 865 Member
    I think the major themes have been covered here, but I would emphasize that every input to your energy balance equation is an estimate. You should be using those numbers as guidelines to get started but then rely more on your personal experience with how those numbers match up with your results.

    Also bear in mind that you're creating a dynamic environment - as you lose weight, the variables change and the deficit that resulted in a loss last month isn't doing anything this month... it's a game of constant change and you need to ready to change with them over time.
  • jkal1979
    jkal1979 Posts: 1,896 Member
    This link does a great job of breaking everything down, explaining all of the terms, and explaining why MFP expects you to eat back your exercise calories.

    https://community.myfitnesspal.com/en/discussion/818082/exercise-calories-again-wtf/p1
  • annaskiski
    annaskiski Posts: 1,212 Member
    I would also like to alert people to another issue with counting exercise calories: the trackers count total calories burned during your exercise time, which includes calories already accounted for in your total daily burn.

    For example: I walked for an hour today. If I punch this into MFP, it tells me I burned 260 calories.
    My old HRM would typically report the same.
    My new HRM however, reports that while I burned 260 total calories, only 168 were actually in addition to my 'resting' calories. (i.e. the calories I would have burned sitting at my desk)

    If you only eat back half your calories, you are closer to eating back only the excess calories you actually burned....
  • loulamb7
    loulamb7 Posts: 801 Member
    So far, I've been seeing expected results between logging, burn rate, and weight loss, so it's all been pretty accurate. As my exercise adjustment climbs, I was wondering whether to treat it as a gift to be gobbled, a treasure to be squirreled away, or something in between. I think I'll stick with letting the Fitbit monitor overall burn and let MFP tell me how what I'm eating hews to the plan.

    The fact that you are achieving expected results indicates that the calculations are accurate for you. So just keep doing what you're doing. As to what to do with the extra calories, it your choice. Eat them all, eat some and save the rest for another day. My goal was to be as close to zero calories left by the end of the week. Best of luck and continued success.