Measuring Calorie Expenditure with a BodyMedia

 know I’ve been M.I.A. for a long time, but I’m back because I have something really interesting to talk about: my BodyMedia!

What’s a BodyMedia?

A BodyMedia is a on-body device that tracks your footsteps, heartrate, sleeping patterns, and daily calorie expenditure, and then uploads them to an online dashboard for you to easily view and track.

It looks like a wristwatch worn on your upper left arm, but in fact it’s a sophisticated device that constantly captures data on your movement, skin temperature, and energy expenditure, then uses this information to determine your caloric burn. It’s more sophisticated than a pedometer or heart rate monitor because neither of those can accurately measure calorie expenditure–this does. Of all the products out there, this is the most accurate, with no guesswork or estimation on your part. You can learn more at the BodyMedia website.

Why Use A BodyMedia?

The BodyMedia produces so much data that I haven’t had time to explore all of it’s potential uses, but for now I’m going to focus on calorie tracking. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, chances are at some point you’ve thought about calories. Too many people obsess over counting and measuring and tracking every bite of food in order to hit some magic calorie goal without ever stopping to consider whether this is the right amount for their body and weight loss goals. Or they spend hours surfing the web and reading articles and crunching numbers trying to figure out how many calories they just burned at the gym and how many miles they need to run to “burn off” last night’s dinner. Or they get hung up on hitting the right number of “net calories” *cough everyone on tumblr cough*, a concept that is inherently meaningless.

None of this makes sense, and none of this is the right way to think about food, exercise, and weight loss. It doesn’t make sense to pull a calorie goal out of thin air without first considering your calorie expenditure. It doesn’t make sense to meticulously track your exercise calories when they’re really just a rough estimate. And it doesn’t make sense to fixate on the calories you burn in an hour at the gym without thinking about the calories you burn during the other 23.

Calories aren’t just something that you burn off running on the treadmill; they’re units of energy that your body uses constantly to survive. Your body doesn’t just shut off when you’re not formally exercising; it’s burning calories constantly as your working, studying, eating, sleeping, and otherwise going through the motions of daily life. This is why trying to eat back your “exercise calories” to hit 1200 “net calories” is so silly: your body doesn’t differentiate between “exercise calories” and any other calories–all that matters is that your intake is less than your output.

Problem is, how do you know your calorie output? A magazine article can’t tell you. An online calculator can’t tell you. And the computer screen on the elliptical sure as heck can’t tell you. These estimates are a good place to start, and they’re certainly better than pulling a number out of thin air. But if you’re going to let your life revolve around those numbers, then you should at least make sure they’re the right numbers, right?

And that’s where the BodyMedia comes in. It eliminates the calculations and estimations and guesswork by giving you an accurate picture of your daily calorie expenditure. It tells you more about your own body than a doctor, trainer, or one-size-fits-all formula ever could. If your goal is to lose weight, it will enable you to calculate exactly how much you need to eat to reach your weight loss goals, allowing you to avoid sabotaging yourself by eating too much or too little. Moreover, you will be able to see the impact that different exercises, activities, and eating styles have on your body both at the time and throughout the day, helping you to find the lifestyle that is best for YOU.

Why I’m Using A BodyMedia

I get asked this all the time at work when my coworkers or tables see my BodyMedia! Right now I’m just using it to gather data and learn more about my body. I’m not actively trying to lose weight in the sense that I’m tracking or limiting my calorie intake–I’m just curious about my calorie expenditure. Specifically I’m interested in how weight-lifting impacts calorie expenditure in the short-term (how much does it increase calorie burn on a daily basis) as well as the long-term (can it permanently increase your metabolism?) I’m also curious about how much I’m burning at work waiting tables.

My BodyMedia Data

First here’s some background on me: I’m 22 years old, 5’8, and about 150 lbs. For the past month, I’ve been lifting heavy weights for 30-75 minutes 4-5x/week. I also have a very active job waiting tables 30-40 hours/week, and am usually fairly active when I’m not at work (biking, housework, running errands etc). Based on BMR calculations, my BMR should be around 1520 calories, meaning that my calorie expenditure should be about 2600 – 2900 assuming a high activity level. I’d estimate I eat about 3000 calories per day, but that’s just a guess since I don’t currently track calories.

I’ve been wearing the BodyMedia since November 9. Shown below are 17 days worth of data (rounded to nearest 10):

During this 17 period, I burned an average of 3290 calories per day. My calorie expenditure ranged from 2430 to 3860 calories. I expended over 3000 calories on 13 out of the 17 days.

My first reaction was, holy shit, no wonder I’m always hungry! This explains why I eat so much! My second reaction was to wonder about the variance from day to day–that’s almost a 1500 difference between the highest and lowest days!

However, this disparity makes sense if you take into account my activity level, particularly the two biggest factors: lifting weights and working. I’ve reproduced the data below using an “L” to indicate days that I lifted, and “W” to indicate days that I worked.

During this 17 day period, I worked 14 days and lifted 10 days. There were 8 days when I lifted and worked, 6 when I worked but didn’t lift, 2 when I lifted but didn’t work, and 1 when I did neither. I summarized the averages for each category below:

  • Worked and lifted (8 days): 3540
  • Worked but didn’t lift (6 days): 3100
  • Lifted but didn’t work (2 days): 3260
  • Didn’t lift or work (1 day): 2430
  • Overall worked vs didn’t work (14 days/3 days): 3350 vs 2980
  • Overall lifted vs didn’t lift (10 days/7 days): 3490 vs 3000


Right now my conclusions are preliminary because I don’t have much data–I just wanted to share what I had now! However, here’s a few of my thoughts right off the bat:

  1. First off all, I’m burning a LOT of calories. Significantly more than you’d expect based on standardized calculations for my age, size, and activity level. It’s a good reminder that estimations are just that–estimations–and the standard 2000 calories/day doesn’t apply to everyone–if you’re young and active you probably can and should be eating more than that.
  2. Lifting makes a difference. I average almost 500 calories more on days that I lift versus days that I don’t (3490 vs 3000). HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean that I necessarily burned 500 calories during that particular hour of lifting–just that lifting increases overall daily burn (the BodyMedia can show the exact calorie burn during a particular time to prove my point, I just haven’t analyzed it that deeply yet).
  3. Also just because I average 3000 calories per day on my days off from lifting doesn’t mean I’d burn 3000 calories anyway if I’d never picked up a weight. Your metabolism depends on your general pattern of activity, not just your day-to-day activity, and I have a feeling that if I took a month off lifting, my baseline would be much lower. I’m not going to do this on purpose, but it might occur naturally, hence my effort to constantly gather data for comparison purposes.
  4. Activity level matters too: an active lifestyle beats hours of cardio. Over these 17 days I averaged 370 calories more on days that I worked (3350 vs 2980). Moreover, when I look at the breakdown of individual days, I can see a big difference–all the days I hit over 3600 calories were ones I worked long, busy shifts and/or was active outside of work (in addition to lifting). Note that none of this is “formal exercise” but it still burns calories.
  5. My metabolism didn’t used to be this fast. In fact, my whole life I thought I had a pretty slow metabolism, based on the fact that I was overweight as a kid despite having normal eating habits. But I believe that you can increase your metabolism by weight lifting and by EATING, and this supports my belief.
  6. On the other hand, I don’t think I’m eating and expending exponentially more calories than the average person–I just think I’m more aware of it. Most people can and do eat more than they realize, but they aren’t really tracking their intake so they just assume they’re eating the “normal” amount you commonly hear thrown about: 1500, 1800, 2000 etc. When people do track calories it’s usually because they’re trying to lose weight, so that number isn’t going to be representative of an average day. And everyone underestimates.
  7. Based on this you can see why low-calorie diets are often doomed to fail. If Joe Schmo thinks he’s eating about 2000 calories a day, since that’s what the cereal box says (seriously, I’m pretty sure this is where I got my idea of a”normal” amount of calories from), then a 1500-calorie weightloss plan sounds reasonable. But in reality, he’s eating more like 3500 calories a day, he just doesn’t know it. So when he goes on a 1500 calorie doctor-approved diet plan, he feels like he’s starving–because he literally is. After a few days he can’t take it anymore and goes on a fast food binge. Or decides dieting is impossible and gives up altogether. Whereas if he had changed his target to 2500 calories he could having stuck to the diet for much longer, steadily losing 2 lbs/week until he hits his goal.

Stay Tuned…

I need to wrap it up for now, but I’ll be back with more posts as I get more data and delve more deeply into the data I have. I hope this was helpful and feel free to get in touch with any questions; I intend to be more active on here from here on out!


Weight Loss Without Cardio

I answered this question on tumblr, and thought I would post my response here because it’s a good question! A lot more content like this on my tumblr if you guys are interested:!

If I only do weight lifting, will I still lose weight? because I really despise cardio.

 Yep! Actually, diet is key to weight loss more so than any form of exercise. Weight lifting is key to maintaining your weight and getting the appearance and body composition that you want. Cardio might be the icing on the cake for some people, but it’s the icing, not the cake if you know what I mean. Most trainers/bodybuilders/fitness professionals that I respect and/or would want to trade bodies with say that you can lose weight and get the body you want with little to no cardio, and I agree. In fact, too much steady-state cardio can actually hinder your goals and make you GAIN weight (interesting article about this here). Personally I only do about 60-120 minutes of cardio TOTAL per week compared to 4 or 5 45-90 minute lifting sessions per week.

That being said, when you say you hate cardio, my guess is that you’re thinking about cardio as the treadmill or the elliptical, but that’s not the only kind that counts! Any form of exercise such as swimming, biking, hiking, rock climbing, yoga, horseback riding, surfing, dancing, etc that gets you moving and raises your heart rate is beneficial for your cardiovascular health, your general fitness (ie you don’t want to be a person who gets winded from climbing a flight of stairs), and your mood and energy levels. After all, “exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t kill people.” 🙂 So the key is just finding a form of exercise that you enjoy. And if you have an active job/lifestyle like working as a waitress or camp counselor, or living in a city where you walk everywhere, you’re probably already getting enough cardio without going to the gym. April atFoods of April does a great breakdown of her daily calorie expenditure as measured by a bodymedia here. I think it deserves it’s own post, but basically you can see that she burns more calories working an 8 hour shift as a nurse but not formally exercising than she does on days where she does traditional cardio but nothing else for the whole day. (BTW the numbers are 2000 on days she works but doesn’t formally exercise, 1700-1750 for days she does just traditional cardio, and 2200-2700 on days she lifts—and she’s only 5’3 and 115lbs! All the more reason why you should lift weights!)

Finally, if you do choose to add gym-type cardio to your routine, the BEST kind is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with short bursts of intense exercise—for example, I’ll do 30-60 second sprints on the treadmill at 10.0-11.0 mph followed by 1.5-2 minutes of walking at 3.5 mph, repeated about 5-8 times. This only takes 15-25 minutes, and you only need to do it 1-2x per week—if you’re doing it right you won’t be able to do it any more than that! But again, you don’t HAVE to do this if you truly can’t stand it! Just pay attention to your diet and keep up the lifting 🙂

Cardio+Dieting vs Lifting+Eating: Can You Tell the Difference?

I made this for my tumblr (you can follow me on tumblr too here!) and it’s a little more tumblr-appropriate, but I thought I’d post it here as well:


Here’s a challenge for you guys! One of these pictures was taken in February 2011, the other was taken in May 2011. 

  • FEBRUARY: I was eating 1000-1200 calories per day and working out 2+ hours daily—a little bit of weightlifting, but mostly just hour upon hour on the elliptical. 
  • MAY: I was lifting weights about 4x/week, doing about 2 hours of cardio per week, as opposed to per day, and eating 2400-2500 calories daily.

Can you tell which picture is which?

                                                     *      *     *      *       *

Honestly, I don’t see a difference. As much as I advocate weight-lifting, it didn’t make THAT much of a change in my physique—at least not one that’s readily apparent in clothes after just twelve weeks. I certainly didn’t get bulky! And even now, a year later, I wouldn’t say I look particularly muscular—I don’t think that anyone would pass me on the street and think, “Wow, that girl pumps some iron!” 

The real difference was the changes that it made in my mentality and approach to health, food, and weight loss. Lifting weights enabled me to maintain my weight in a way that was healthier, EASIER, and infinitely more sustainable in the long term. By that May, I was eating more than twice as much, I had more energy, I was happier, and I was no longer terrified that I’d spend the rest of my life desperately trying to avoid gaining the weight back. (Actually, the most significant payoff I got from weight lifting would not be apparent until almost a year later—I wrote about this here—but of course I didn’t know that at the time).

So here’s my point(s):

  1. Lifting heavy weights does not make you bulky. It takes female bodybuilders months if not YEARS of work to “bulk up”, along with specific diets and training programs, professional coaches and trainers, expensive powders and supplements, and sometimes even illegal substances. For the average woman, weight lifting just makes you look thinner and more toned. 
  2. But just because you’re not seeing an immediate increase in muscle doesn’t mean that you’re not changing your body in a positive way. You’re still raising your metabolism and making it easier to lose and maintain weight both now and in the future!
  3. You can eat a lot more than you think to maintain your weight/stay thin. I more than doubled my calories up to ~2500 for maintenance, and I didn’t regain weight—I just stopped losing. I’m pretty sure most people on here find it unfathomable to knowingly choose to eat that much, but I did and you probably can too! (check out my post on Why You Won’t Gain the Weight Back for an explanation). If you’re eating 1300 calories a day to maintain your weight then you’re doing it wrong. 
  4. And you don’t actually need all that cardio. I reduced my cardio by about literally 6-10 hours a week without making any difference. Steady state cardio is not as beneficial as you think, especially when you do so much of it that your body adapts.
  5. Finally, appearances can be misleading. In one of these pictures I was your typical cardio queen who didn’t even know what a squat rack was (funny story: I used to think that guys picked up the 200+ lb squat bars and put them their own backs), in the other I was a girl who could squat 185lbs. You can’t just look at someone and know how they eat, train, or what kind of shape they’re in!

Thanks for playing, and if you’re interested in getting started with weight lifting, I wrote a guide on getting started here!

(Btw, picture on the right is February, picture on the left is May. I look a little rough in the May picture because I just came from a concert, but I wanted to use that one because it’s almost the exact same outfit!)

At Least I Got in an Arm Workout!

Finally made it to the gym around 10:45pm, so at least the day wasn’t a TOTAL wash. Did my standard arm workout:

  • Bench press: 75 lbs: 8×1, 80 lbs: 8×1, 85 lbs: 6×3 (clearly not my best!)
  • Dumbbell flyes: 30 lb dumbbells: 8×5
  • Chest press: 35 lb dumbbells: 8×5
  • Weighted bench dips: 10 lb weight: 8×5
  • Lateral raises: 15lb dumbbells: 8×5
  • Bicep curls: 20 lb dumbbells: 8×5

I’m not sure what was up with my bench press…normally I can rep 85 lbs no problem, do about six reps at 90, and one or two reps at 95lbs, but today I couldn’t even do full sets of 8 at 85lbs. I thought I was just having an off day due my less than ideal eating/drinking/sleeping over the past two days, but every other lift felt great. Plus this marks the first time I’ve been able to do a full 5 sets of 8 with 15lb dumbbells for lateral raises and 20lb dumbbells for bicep curls (up from 10lbs for raises and 15lbs for curls). Which is pretty awesome because it’s taken me a YEAR to get there! If you think about it, going from 15 to 20 lbs is a 33% increase, and 10 to 15 is a 50% increase–that’s a lot! And it’s hard to make that progress when the dumbbells at my gym only come in 5 lb increments. So feeling good about that!

After the gym closed at 12, I went to a take-out pizza place which was the only restaurant open and got this grilled chicken salad:

Nothing fancy…just grilled chicken, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, onion, and hot yellow peppers. Plus they gave me lime juice on the side in lieu of dressing. I know iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value and yada yada and it’s rarely my first choice, but that doesn’t stop me from eating it–it’s still just lettuce, not potato chips. Not sure if I’ll end up eating it actually because it’s getting pretty late, but I just wanted to have it on hand incase I was hungry–if I don’t finish it now I’ll have it for lunch tomorrow; probably will add some nuts and maybe more chicken!

But stuff like this is why eating chicken makes my life 50x easier (just started eating chicken in November after 9 years as a seafood-only vegetarian). You can go to pretty much any establishment that sells food whether it’s McDonalds or five star gourmet, and odds are good there will be grilled chicken in some form. I mean, this was a pizza place but I was still able to walk out with a salad, not pizza. A year ago my options would have been just a plain garden salad, aka spending six bucks on approximately 30 calories worth of vegetables with zero protein, or actually getting pizza aka about 700 calories and minimal nutritional value. It’s just so much easier to eat healthier now that I eat chicken again.

Now I’m off to do a load of laundry and clean my room before going to bed…so at least I’ll have gotten SOMETHING besides the gym crossed off my list even though the homework was a no-go. Good thing I don’t have class til 12:30 tomorrow 🙂

“Working In”

I hate HATE HATE when people ask to “work in” at the gym. Especially when we’re using different amounts of weight. I mean, I understand if the gym is PACKED and there’s literally nothing else to do, but when it’s not that crowded I think you should either be flexible and use another machine, or cool your heels and wait your turn.

This happened to me today…I was JUST getting on the 45 degree leg press when an old guy came up and asked how long I had left. I told him I was just getting started, and he asked if he could work in. I was like, “You know what? You can have it,” and I moved over to the (empty) hack squat machine right next to it. I think he felt like an asshole but it honestly didn’t matter to me; I was going to do them both anyway, I just don’t like to share!

Anyway, my workout was:

Leg Workout

  • Squats: 135 lbs: 8 reps x 5 sets
  • Hack squat: 90 lbs added: 8×5
  • 45 degree leg press:180 lbs added: 8×5
  • Straightleg deadlift: 80 lbs: 8×2, 90 lbs: 8×3

Followed by brief stretching.

Now I’m about to shower and go shopping with my friends for Dayglow tomorrow (all our clothes will get covered in paint/destroyed, so we want to buy cheap ones). Then going into DC tonight to catchup with two of my BFFs from high school (we go to different schools, but all within an hour).

Happy Friday!!

Thursday Gym

Arm Workout

  • Bench press- 75 lbs: 8×1, 80 lbs: 8×1, 85 lbs: 8×2, 90 lbs: 6×2, 95 lbs: 2×1
  • Chest press- 35 lb dumbbells: 8×5
  • Dumbbell flies- 30 lb dumbbells: 8×5
  • Weighted bench dips- 10 lb weight: 8×5
  • Barbell curls- 30 lb barbell: 8×3, 40 lb barbell: 8×2
  • Pushups- 15×3
HIIT on the treadmill
  • 2 60-second 10.0mph sprints
  • 2 40-second 10.5mph sprints
  • 2 30-second 11.0mph sprints

(With about 1.5-2 minutes walking at 3.5mph between each sprint, plus warmup and cooldown. Glad I checked that off my list for the week!)

Followed by:

  • 50 minutes on the elliptical
  • Stretching and planks

This leaves:

  • Leg workout
  • 30 minute elliptical session
  • 3mi outdoor run

to hit my exercise goal for the week—not too bad!

(*Weekly goal = lifting 4x, 30 min elliptical 3x, HIIT 1-2x, and 3mi outdoor run)

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