Changing Your Energy Balance to Help Lose Weight

Woman weighing herself on a scale
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Life is all about achieving balance, right? Well, not if you're trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, if you reach an energy balance then you will not lose weight. A perfectly balanced energy equation helps you to maintain your weight. A positive energy balance creates weight gain. If you want to slim down, you need to create an energy deficit or a negative energy balance.

What Is Energy Balance?

Energy balance is the difference between your energy input—or the number of calories that you put into your body—and your energy output, or the number of calories you burn each day

Some people refer to the energy balance equation as the "calories in, calories out" equation. You should calculate your energy balance if you want to lose weight. This equation provides a starting point for your entire weight loss program.

Energy balance equation: calories in (energy input) - calories out (energy output) 

Impact on Weight Loss

Once you have your energy balance figured out, take a look at the result. You'll have either a positive energy balance, a negative energy balance, or a perfect balance.

  • Perfect Balance: If you end up with a 0 at the end of your energy equation, you've found a perfect energy balance. In this state, you won't gain or lose weight. Perfect energy balance is for people who are in the weight maintenance stage of their weight loss journey.
  • Positive Energy Balance: If you end up with a positive number, you've achieved the right balance for weight gain. For some people, like pregnant women, growing children, weightlifters who are trying to bulk up, or anyone who might be interested in gaining weight, this is a healthy state.
  • Negative Energy Balance:  If you end up with a negative number, you've found the energy imbalance necessary for weight loss. This imbalance is also called an energy deficit. It means that you've tipped the scales to slim down. For best results you want a negative energy balance of 500-1000 calories per day to lose 1-2 pounds per week.

If losing weight is your goal and your energy equation was either balanced or positive, don't worry. If you found that your balance was negative, but the total falls short of the -500 calorie goal, that's okay too. There are three different ways to change your number and lose weight successfully.


There are only three ways to change your energy balance. In short, you have to either reduce your caloric intake, increase your energy output, or combine the two options to achieve the calorie deficit needed for weight loss. The right method for you depends on your health history, your lifestyle, and your personal preferences.

Reduce Your Calorie Intake

If you can't exercise or if you absolutely hate to exercise, you can reduce your caloric intake by 500 to 1000 calories per day to lose weight. Once the weight is gone, however, people who choose this option may have a hard time keeping the weight off. 

As you slim down, your metabolism changes. That means that your energy output number decreases and you have to decrease your energy input even more to reach energy balance.

In short, you have to eat less. For many people, eating less is not reasonable or sustainable for the long-term.

Increase Your Physical Activity

You can also change your energy balance by exercising more. But burning an extra 500 to 1000 calories every day with a workout is very difficult. For most people, it would require an intense exercise session that lasts 45 minutes or more. And you'd need to do it every day. Even fit, athletic exercisers need easy workout days or days off to recover and refuel. 

Unless you are in a job that involves regular physical movement, this option may not be the most reasonable and it may put you at risk for injury.

More Activity and Diet Changes

Making small adjustments to both your caloric intake and your physical activity is generally recommended as the most reasonable and sustainable method of weight loss. 

Using this method, you can burn a few hundred extra calories with a workout and cut back calories by eliminating dessert or high-calorie snacks to reach your goal.

It is also the best way to maintain your weight after you've slimmed down. 

Energy Balance Example 

To lose one pound per week, experts generally recommend an energy deficit of 3500 calories per week. If you choose the combined method to change your energy balance, you can play around with the numbers to see what works best. Here's an example:

Dieter: Roger

  • Calories consumed each day: 2500
  • Calories burned each day: 2200

2500 (energy input) - 2200 (energy output) = 300 calories

Roger has a positive energy balance of 300 calories. In this state, he will gain weight. To lose weight, he needs a negative balance of roughly 500 calories per day or 3500 calories per week. 

To reach his goal, Roger chooses to make modest changes to his diet to decrease his caloric intake by 500 calories per day. Then, he will add physical activity to burn more calories. His goal is to burn an extra 300 calories by walking or biking to work. On the weekends, he'll hike to burn 300 calories per day.

Updated Energy Balance Plan for Roger

  • Calories consumed each day: 2000
  • Calories burned each day: 2500

2000 (energy input) - 2500 (energy output) = -500 calories

With a negative energy balance of 500 calories per day, Roger will have a total calorie deficit of 3500 calories per week and will lose roughly one pound per week on this plan.

A Word From Verywell

When you first begin to use the energy balance equation to lose weight, be patient. It takes a week or two to adjust your numbers and see results. And there are many factors that affect your daily energy balance that can make the weight loss process more complicated. But the energy balance equation is the basis of every weight loss plan and diet.

The more you use it and understand it, the more likely you are to lose weight and keep the weight off for good.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.