Breakdown of Base Metabolic Rate, Total Daily Expenditure & The Weight Loss Teeter Totter

By Derek

This is the Blog post #2 for a series of blogs written by our guest blogger, Pandora Williams. She runs Marathons, became a Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, Motivational Speaker and Lost 260 pounds ALL after bariatric surgery! Now she is dedicated to helping pre and post operative bariatric patients find a healthy balance in life to reach and maintain weight loss goals while battling obesity. If you missed her first introductory post Read it HERE! You’re bound to be inspired!


Imagine Yourself As A Car

When I start trying to explain total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and base metabolic rate (BMR) to my clients for the first time, I like to start with the analogy of a car. I’m going to use the same analogy with my readers today.

I want you to imagine that your body is car and that all the things that you put into your body are the fuel, or gasoline that makes your car go.

Selecting what goes in your automobile isn’t always black and white. Sometimes we pick the cheapest fuel possible due to cost and value, and other times we pick fuel based on the performance level we want to get out of it, and in turn, spend a little more money on the fuel. Sometimes, we do things like adding performance enhancing additives.

One of the first questions my clients usually ask is:

“How much fuel should I put in the tank?”

The best way to know how much physical fuel your body needs is to know your base metabolic rate (BMR). Just about any fitness professional or doctor can help you establish a pretty close estimate of your BMR and a good idea of how many calories you should fuel your body with every day.

Breakdown of Base Metabolic Rate

There are several ways of estimating your base metabolic rate. In the gyms we use thermal scales that calculate it for us. There are formulas that can estimate your base metabolic rate based on height, weight, age and your estimated activity level. The most accurate way to calculate your BMR is to have a professional administer a V02Max test. You can usually find a facility, college or sports medicine doctor in your area that can preform this test for you.

Some people are instantly soured on the idea of calculating BMR and TDEE because the whole concept of doing so often leads to one of the most basic scientific concepts of weight loss: counting calories.

Nobody likes to count calories! Really.

Most people find that it is a pretty cumbersome thing to do. Sometimes in weight loss it can even start to feel like calories are the devil. Let’s clarify what a calorie is for a moment – it’s not food, and it’s not an evil little character chasing you around the living room trying to get you to count it. It’s a unit of energy measurement.

When we look at the nutritional label on food it’s telling us exactly how much energy we are putting into our body by consuming it. Studies have shown that people who keep track of the energy they consume each day are 85% more successful at weight loss.

That’s where your base metabolic rate comes in!

It’s a number, that is measured in calories, that determine how much fuel your body expends each day by just existing. By existing, I mean that if you were to lay in bed completely unmoving and all you were doing is breathing in and breathing out, your organs are functioning, they are doing their thing, your eyes are blinking…believe it or not this is your body expending energy! This is your BMR!

Now you throw in daily tasks or exercise and your body would expend even more energy to perform that work. How much fuel you put in your body is about more than just your base metabolic rate. You need to take in energy that is equivalent to your goals. This is where your total daily energy expenditure comes into play.

So those of us who are combating obesity might want to ask ourselves where we are in our weight loss journey.

If you are trying to lose weight you want to aim for big caloric deficits. A caloric deficit means that we are trying to expend more calories than we are taking in. If your goal is to lose weight, you should be fueling your body with a maximum of 90% of your BMR and creating additional caloric deficits or larger total daily energy expenditures through activity and exercise.

If you are trying to maintain your weight, guess what, you want the amount of calories you burn to be in balance with the amount you take in. You want to be fueling your body with 100% of your base metabolic rate and additional fuel that is appropriate to your activity level.

I call this the weight loss teeter-totter

Breakdown of Base Metabolic Rate

The amount of energy that you put into your body is going to determine which way your teeter totter goes and whether or not it stays in balance.

To clarify, I am not saying that calories-in and calories-out are the only defining factor to weight loss. There are lots of other factors that contribute to weight loss, or lack thereof: the amount of water you are drinking, how hydrated your cells are, the amount of sleep that you are getting and whether or not your body is rested, the amount of stress you are under and how your body produces stress hormones, the amount of physical activity you are preforming, the types and quality of energy you select and how your body responds to it.

These are just a few of the other really big ones…

What I am saying is that knowing how your body operates is a big part of knowing how to fuel it.

Which leads to the most asked question…

Clients ask me all the time where their bodies get the energy to perform all the activity and exercise I ask them to do when they are trying to lose weight if they are eating 10% or more less of their base metabolic rate and giving their body less energy than it needs to just exist.

The answer goes back to that analogy of your body being a car and the food that you put in it being the energy that makes your car go. I tell my clients to think of their fat cells as the internal gas stations of their bodies. As we over consume energy, or overfill our tanks, our fat cells expand and store the energy that we do not expend each day. Likewise, the same fat cells (brown adipose fatty tissue) provide that energy to our bodies on days that we consume less energy than we take it.

So when your total daily energy expenditure is higher than the amount of energy you consume each day your fat cells start providing that extra energy and they start shrinking and that results in weight loss.

As a fitness instructor, weight loss coach, runner and someone who has to work hard to keep their own weight loss teeter totter in balance the concept of total daily energy expenditure and a solid understanding of my base metabolic rate is one of what I consider the five keystones to weight loss.

“I love the comparison of my body to a car. Because my body is really my vessel. It gets me where I want to go and allows me to do and experience the things that I crave on an emotional, spiritual and social level.”

I always remind myself that when I put energy in my tank I need to use it. Putting fuel in the car and then not driving it is pretty much the equivalent of a sedentary lifestyle and one of the biggest mistakes I made that lead to me once weighing nearly three times my normal body weight.

I’ve found that making sure my body is properly fueled for my goals is one of the biggest tools I have in my weight loss journey and helps keep me where I want to be in weight maintenance. After losing 260 lbs. I want to make sure that am able to maintain that weight loss. That means making sure I keep my total daily energy intake in harmony with my total daily energy expenditure and making sure that I keep my weight loss teeter totter in balance.

Stay tuned for my next blog that will be about my training for the Disney Half Marathon in Paris and a Guide for how to get started if you’re first starting out. In the meantime please feel free to ask me any questions!

Be back soon,

Do you have any questions for Pandora? Feel free to ask in the comments below!


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  1. Could you write about the “Set Point” theory regarding weight loss? ….Having been an avid bicycle rider riding my bicycle 15-25 miles every day ( 2700 miles in the last 6 months) and counting calories expended and taken in and knowing my BMR I could not get below a certain weight. No matter how much I dieted and exercised. According to calories in vs calories out, I should have lost about 35 pounds in that time.Did not happen… I’ve given up. My daily calorie intake has remained the same and now I’m gaining weight.

    1. Hey! We are actually working on an article about set point theory, great minds think alike! Great job on the cycling, that’s some serious mileage!

      Are you tracking your calories as closely as you can? How long have you been dieting for weight loss? Sometimes a combination of accidental overeating, even if just by a hundred to a couple hundred calories per day is enough to slow weight loss to a halt. Also, if you have been dieting for weight loss for some time now your body may not be expending as many calories as it did prior to starting your diet. The main culprit could be Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). So basically our bodies naturally do things during the day (like fidgeting and other subconscious movements) and after a period of cutting calories our bodies want to become more “efficient” so it cuts these movements out without your knowing. Some studies like this one ( show that our bodies can cause a variance our calorie expenditure by up to 2000 calories per day!

      So, the first thing to do is to make sure that you are eating what you are intending to eat. We really like MyFitness Pal to get as accurate as we possibly can, then if that is as accurate as you can you may need to take a little break from your diet to bring your body back to its pre-diet state of calorie burn. Basically take a week or two eating at your maintenance calories and then go back into your diet. Keep in mind that if you do this you are still “dieting” it’s just a diet to maintain your current weight for a week or two, then you start dieting for weight loss again. Does that make sense? If you have any questions just email Derek at

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