How many calories should I burn a day? Your calorie questions, answered by experts.

Tips for eating healthy in the new year

Calories can be confusing — but they don't have to be. From consuming them to burning them, we got expert answers to your most-searched questions about calories and what they mean for our weight and well-being.

First, what is a calorie? This refers to the amount of energy you get from the foods and drinks you consume. You'll see calories listed under the nutrition facts label on products, which can help you make decisions about what you eat

Contrary to what diet culture might teach us, calories aren't inherently "bad" — they're what help fuel our body.

"There's probably a misconception and maybe an obsession over calories," explains Dr. Kevin Cooke, a physician at Aviv Clinics with a background in both internal and family medicine who specializes in patients' dietary and nutrition needs.

Cooke tries to educate his patients on the role of calories and how to be mindful of how many we consume. 

"Most people, especially with our standard American diet — or the 'SAD' diet, as some people call it — we eat way too many calories, and most people just don't know how many calories they actually eat," he says. "Most studies show that we underestimate... how many calories we eat by about 50% per day, which explains the obesity epidemic and the difficulties with weight gain."

How many calories do I burn a day? 

The amount of calories you body uses in a day will differ for each person.

If you want a rough idea, a basal metabolic rate calculator, which takes your height and weight into account, can help.

While it's not an exact science, Cooke says it will give you a good idea about the "average amount of calories you burn per day."

"That's a good step to then take into account what your goals are," he says — whether that's maintaining weight, losing weight or gaining muscle. 

How many calories should I burn a day?

How many calories you "should" burn depends on your goals.

To maintain a healthy body weight, the number of calories you consume should be balanced with the number of calories your body uses. Eating too many calories consistently can lead to being overweight or obese

The FDA's general guideline is 2,000 calories a day, but your personal calorie needs may be higher or lower depending on your: 

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Height
  • Current weight 
  • Physical activity level

To better understand where you stand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate website includes a free quiz that can help determine the best calorie range for you based on the factors above. 

How many calories should I eat to lose weight?

If your goal is to lose weight, this can be achieved by reducing the calories you eat or burning more calories through exercise, or both. Again, the number of calories will differ for each person depending on their individual factors and goals . 

Weight loss, Cooke warns, can sometimes be done in a "very unhealthy way." He advises his patients to follow a nutrition-focused approach. 

"One thing that we really focus on here is getting a lot of your calories from protein intake," he says. "Protein and fiber are going to help you feel full faster, so by nature you'll eat less. And with the increased protein intake, you're going to help fight against muscle loss as you do lose weight."

Calorie density — the idea that some foods are more heavily packed with calories despite their size — is another thing to be mindful of.

For example, a fast food cheeseburger may be small but contain a lot of calories, whereas a plant-based meal might be three times the size but be lower in calories, and keep you fuller longer. The same can be seen with drinks — half a glass of soda is far more calorie dense than a full glass of water, for example. 

What is metabolism and how can you increase it?

Metabolism is the process by which your body breaks down food into energy — and it's frequently (and often misguidedly) blamed for someone's weight gain, according to the Mayo Clinic

"It's true that the rate at which the body breaks down food is linked to weight. But a slow metabolism isn't usually the cause of weight gain," its website notes.

The Cleveland Clinic explains metabolism as a "delicate, very personal, dance between your hormones, behavior and environment." Genetics also play a role.

While it is possible to increase your metabolism to an extent, endocrinologist and obesity specialist Dr. Marcio Griebeler told the Cleveland Clinic it's better to work on changing your "weight set point" rather than focusing on speeding up your metabolism. 

"Your body is fighting to keep your weight as is. But over time, you can change that weight set point," Griebeler explains. 

You can do this by following some straightforward steps, he suggests, including:

  • Eating right: Healthy choices and proper portions are key. 
  • Exercising: Griebeler suggests both aerobic and resistance training. 
  • Reducing stress: The stress hormone cortisol can make it more difficult to lose weight.
  • Sleeping well: Lack of sleep causes cortisol to rise and also impacts your decision-making abilities.

How many calories do you burn walking a mile?

On average, an hour of walking burns about 300 calories, Cooke says, but this is an estimate and will depend on individual factors.

Calories aside, research shows walking is great for great for your health — even if you're not undertaking a whole mile or going a full hour.

Taking an 11-minute brisk walk every day, or walking 75 minutes per week, will lower your risk of stroke, heart disease and a number of cancers, according to a 2023 study from Cambridge University. 

Does sweating burn calories?

"Increasing your temperature in and of itself — like if you just sit in a hot room — probably doesn't burn a lot of calories, it's probably negligible," Cooke says, adding that any weight loss you see immediately from sweating is mostly water weight, so it's temporary. "But by exercising, you're going to increase your body temperature, which will help burn more calories."

That's because the main way that we burn calories — and one of the ways that exercise works — is by increasing your basal temperature, or body temperature at rest, he explains. 

So if you're looking to burn calories, the focus should be less on sweating specifically and more on moving your body and exercising. 


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