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This blog is purely informational and not meant to take the place of individual medical nutrition therapy (MNT). For serious medical conditions, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. 

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Q: I've been working out. Why aren't I losing weight?

diet, exercise, calories, weight loss, working out

A: Physical activity is essential in maintaining a healthy weight and metabolism. ​However, if you are trying to lose weight, reducing calorie intake while maintaining a well-balanced diet is still the primary consideration in weight loss.

These days, it seems many people are laser-focused on limiting carbs, increasing protein or looking for hidden sugars. Counting calories seems to have fallen out of fashion.

Take "Beth," for example. She had been working out with a trainer three days a week. Her exercise included a variety of cardiovascular exercises and resistance training.

Throughout the day, she was eating more protein and vegetables, snacking on nuts, and overall making healthy choices.

However, she still was not seeing the weight loss she desired.

Upon further investigation, it turned out Beth's calorie intake was replacing much of the calories burned during exercise, which was preventing significant weight loss. While she was making healthy choices, she was not burning significantly more calories than she was eating. Since she was getting enough fuel from food, her body did not need to release her fat stores for energy, thus slowing weight loss and fat reduction.

However, Beth did not know how many calories she needed to adequately nourish her body, while still achieving a reduction in weight.

Find out your individual calorie needs for weight loss

There are a variety of ways to set your calorie goal. Some people use an online food tracker like MyFitnessPal, which will calculate your calorie needs based on your height, weight, age, gender, level of physical activity, and weight goals.

Dietitians use formulas like the Mifflin St. Jeor equation to estimate a patient's needs. The equation helps determine what a patient needs to maintain his or her current weight. For weight loss, the dietitian would recommend 500-1000 calories less than that calculation, depending on the patient's needs. Most dietitians caution against reducing calories below 1,200 per day for women, or 1,600 per day for men, unless medically supervised.

In a medical or research setting, a person can have their metabolic rate measured using some pretty fancy equipment like an indirect calorimeter. However, few people get that opportunity.

For the most personalized calculation of your calorie needs, follow these steps:

1. Track your food and calories for one week.

2. After one week of tracking your food, calculate your average daily calories. For example:

Monday: 1,897

Tuesday: 1,563

Wednesday: 1,688

Thursday: 1623

Friday: 2,107

Saturday: 2,232

Sunday: 1,891

Add the total = 13,001

Divide the total by 7 to get the daily average: 1857.3 (Or about 1800-1900 calories per day)

3. Then see if your weight went down, went up or stayed the same.

If you lost about 1 to 2 pounds, continue within that calorie range. It's working!

If your weight stayed the same, set a goal for 500 calories less per day. For example, in this example, the average intake was around 1,800 calories per day. For weight loss, reduce calories to about 1,300 per day.

If your weight went up, look at your food log and identify which foods were adding too many calories. Common culprits include

  • Frequent restaurant meals.

  • Caloric beverages like juice, pop, coffee drinks, or alcoholic beverages.

  • Snacks or sweets between meals or in the evening.

  • Large portions at meals or snacks.

  • High calorie foods like high fat meat, deep fried foods, cheese or other high fat dairy, sweets and snacks.

Once you identify where your extra calories are coming from, decide which changes you are wiling to make, such as

  • Dine at home or pack a lunch more often.

  • Choose lower calorie foods (examples: chicken instead of beef; baked instead of deep fried foods; fruit instead of chips; etc.).

  • Reduce the frequency of snacks, sweets, or high calorie beverages.

  • Reduce portions of meals or high calorie snacks

Keep tracking your calories and making changes until you find the calorie range that works for you.

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