Energy Balance: What is it and how can It help you?

If you are watching your weight or just working at staying fit, you will need to get an understanding of energy balance. Whereas we once did little more than count calories as a method for staying fit, we now know there is more to it than this. 

Energy balance takes into consideration many other factors that simple caloric intake. Yes, you can shed pounds by simply reducing calories. But this is not necessarily healthy, and it can be detrimental to your health. Energy balance maintains fitness in the most general sense of the term.

Energy balance is based on sound science. The essence of energy balance is based on balancing and equation: what goes in minus what goes out. It is simple mathematics. In this way, energy balance can offer ways of eating and exercising that is far more healthy and far easier to manage than old-fashioned dieting and counting calories. 

By maintaining energy balance, you can monitor your caloric intake toward a greater goal than simple weight loss. It is true that energy balance adds some features to your daily health regimen. But in the service of being fit, the investment seems minimal.

What you are after with energy balance is a system in which what you consume is offset by what you burn. What is more, energy balance is designed to allow this process to work toward a healthier body. Energy balance goes beyond thin and takes healthy into consideration. 

What Is Energy Balance?

Energy is another way of saying calories. When we talk about energy in this context, what we mean are the calories you take in that produce energy in your body. Energy balance is a matter of balancing the energy in the form of calories you take in against the energy you expend through physical activity. What you eat is energy that goes into your body. What you burn up through physical activity and the basic processes of life is the energy that goes out. 

On a normal day, you burn up a certain number of calories just by living. Breathing, digestion, simple movements like walking around the house—all of this uses a certain amount of energy. People who are more active burn more energy than people who are not. This is simple enough. The difficulty comes when the energy we take in exceeds the energy that goes out. Here is where energy balance becomes important. 

It stands to reason that taking in more energy than you burn will lead to a net gain. This is how we gain weight. If you consume 150 calories more than you use over the course of a month, this will lead to a weight gain of about 5 pounds. Those calories get stored in our body for later use. If you never use them, they are converted into fat. 

Traditional calorie counting only took on the problem from the standpoint of calories/energy in. Exercise tends to see this equation as calories used or energy out. Energy balance takes both of these processes into account and seeks to maintain a healthy balance. 

What this means is that you do not necessarily need to worry about every calorie you consume. You just need to understand that these calories must be offset by fewer calories later or more physical exertion to compensate for the caloric intake. The equation—the balance—is maintained by taking account of the calories taken in against the calories used. The net balance is what you are after. If you need to lose, gain, or maintain, you simply adjust accordingly. 

Why Energy Balance is so important?

In order to maintain stable body weight, the amount of energy we take in must equal the amount we expend. This has to be maintained over a long period of time for healthy body weight and for overall fitness. The balance is energy balance. It is important to focus on this for two reasons. Obesity, including the problem of morbid obesity, has steadily increased over the last several years. It is far easier to maintain stable body weight than it is to reduce obesity after the fact. 

Obesity happens when the amount of energy intake exceeds the level of physical activity that takes energy out of the body. This is the fundamental imbalance. To maintain weight and to maintain health and fitness, it is important to understand and practice the processes that proved energy balance. Making small changes in behavior toward energy balance is easier and healthier than making large changes once the balance has been upset. 

It is important to keep in mind the energy balance is not the same as counting calories to lose weight. Energy balance is a way of living, eating, and exercising, that facilitates a healthy balance of calories against activity that is conducive to overall good health. 

Negative energy balance

An important feature of energy balance is that the balance we maintain can change over time. What this means is that an energy balance that sustains a healthy body weight can tip toward the positive or negative with subtle changes in diet and lifestyle. When this happens, the energy balance changes. 

For example, an obese person maintains and energy balance in the same way that fit person does. The difference is that an obese person will take in the energy necessary to maintain their level of obesity. A healthy person will maintain a balance that sustains a healthy body. Balance does not in itself equal healthy. 

One way in which energy balance can be thrown off is in the form of negative energy balance. Negative energy balance means you are taking in fewer calories than you burn. Negative energy balance is a method for losing weight. It has been especially helpful for people who struggle with obesity. 

Once someone has gained weight to an unhealthy level, maintaining a period of controlled negative energy balance will cause them to lose that excess weight. Energy balance procedures can also readjust the normal energy balance of a person’s body so that the weight stays off once it is shed. 

Negative energy balance can lead to serious problems if not properly managed. While you will lose weight with a negative energy balance, the lack of proper balance will eventually cause physiological problems. Negative energy balance can lead to a decline in metabolism, loss of bone mass, reductions in important hormones like thyroid and testosterone. 

Your body will eventually adjust to this even though it is dangerous. All of this will cause a decline in energy, physical performance, and a loss of your sex drive.  

Positive energy balance

When the amount of energy (calories) you take in exceeds the amount of energy you expend, you reach a state of positive energy balance. This is the source of weight gain and the obesity problem. 

Positive energy balance takes on complexity because we do not remain at the same level of energy balance as we gain weight. Positive energy balance changes the way your body responds to the amount of energy you take in. As your intake exceeds your expenditure, your body adjusts to the new level that your body functions with. What this means is that as you gain weight, your metabolism and other energy regulating mechanisms adjust to your body mass. Energy balance becomes a matter of maintaining this level of body fat as opposed to a healthy body. 

Still more, since you will need to eat more to maintain this new level of energy balance, the positive energy balance will continue to move upward. The result is a cycle of gaining weight that is difficult to stop or reverse. 

Even though we have internal controls to maintain our weight and energy balance, consuming excess energy overwhelms these controls and forces our bodies to misrecognized the unhealthy levels of energy intake as normal. This causes a condition in which even a small amount of excess energy intake leads to a gradual weight gain over time. 

Energy Balance and Weight Loss

Following energy balance to lose weight has a little more to it than simply counting calories. We can already see that energy balance takes into consideration many variables. To determine both a diet and level of activity that will influence energy balance to lose weight require some calculations. 

The basic equation is simple. You must balance the number of calories you take in with your daily physical expenditure. To do this you simply count your calories. You can find calorie counters online.

The next part of the equation is the tricky part. You need to calculate the number of calories you will burn in a day. This takes into account the rate you use calories to maintain basic body functions. This is called your basal metabolic rate. You then calculate the number of calories you use to perform basic life functions like get around, doing the dishes, walking to work, etc. Add to all of this your level of exercise. 

In order to lose weight following the process of energy balance, you will need to take in fewer calories than you use. In effect, you must start a program of negative energy balance. 

All of this can get complex. You may be best served by working with a qualified trainer or dietician to determine the best way to proceed with a program of energy balance for weight loss. 

Energy Balance Examples 

It helps to visualize the process of energy balance with some concrete examples. Remember, the equation is simple: calories in versus calories burned equal energy balance. 

For one person, the balance may look like this:

  • Calories consumed per day: 2000
  • Calories burned per day: 1750
  • 2000 (energy input) – 1750 (energy output) = 250 calories

This leaves a net gain of 250 calories. This seems like nothing, but over the course of a week, this comes to 1750 calories. This can equal a half-pound in weight on the body. 

Another example would look like this:

  • Calories consumed per day: 1800
  • Calories burned each day: 2050
  • 1800 (energy input) – 2050 (energy output) = 250 calories

In this example, this person comes to a net loss of 250 calories. This would total 1750 calories that the body would need to burn to make up the difference in a week. This leads to a weight loss of about a half-pound a week. 

As you can see, once you figure out the basic information like BMI and daily caloric expenditures, the calculations become easy and the results are even easier to manage. A distinct advantage of energy balance over simple calorie counts is that it takes account of physical activity. If you take in too many calories in during any given day, you can manage this with your physical activity and burn those calories and still maintain your health. 

Wrapping things up

Energy balance takes the age-old method of counting calories and adds some real science to produce meaningful results. Rather than simply watching and counting every little thing you eat in a day energy balance takes account of your basic physiology and your activity level to offer a way of getting fit and staying fit. 

With the understanding that everyone is different, energy balance methods allow for all the variables that could impact your health and your weight. If you are an extremely active person who wants to maintain your health, energy balance schedules can allow for your caloric demand. 

People who want or need to lose weight will find energy balance methods much more manageable than fad diets outmoded processes of counting calories. By balancing your energy rather than counting only one side of the equation, people who need to manage their weight will find flexibility in their diets and in their activity levels. 

Finally, energy balance is based on sound nutrition and sound science. Rather than creating diets and exercise routines that can become impossible to follow, energy balance allows you the flexibility to eat the things you like, do the kinds of activities you like, and balance them out toward a healthy lifestyle that is conducive to getting fit and staying fit.


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