If you're looking to lose weight, you probably already know the importance of counting calories. The calories in the food you're consuming are important, but what about those burned while chewing all that delicious food? How many calories are you burning while chowing down, and do they amount to anything?
Chew on This
There is an oft-cited figure circulating the Internet weight loss boards, supposedly from the highly respected Mayo Clinic, that states the average human burns roughly 11 calories an hour while chewing. There's one big problem with that "fact" though: It's not referenced anywhere on the Mayo Clinic's site itself. Perhaps it's a fluke, but more likely it's because the Mayo Clinic, nor any other major medical organization, has researched and published specific numbers on the calorie burn of individual daily activities. Why? Because individual activities don't give a clear picture of your daily calorie burn.
Does Chewing Count?
It's true that your body burns calories every day in every task you do, but these can be divided into two categories: your resting metabolic expenditure and your physical activity. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is the amount of energy expended for the basic functioning of your body's systems, such as the digestive system, of which mastication (a.k.a., chewing) is a part. So the average physician or weight loss expert would simply count calories burned while chewing as a part of this RMR, not as physical activity.
What is Physical Activity?
The USDA defines physical activity simply as "movement of the body that uses energy," but it notes that "some physical activities are not intense enough to help you" lose weight or improve your overall health. Activities like chewing, grocery shopping and light household chores don't get your heart rate up enough to really burn a significant number of calories. They recommend 30 minutes a day of moderate or vigorous activity, like brisk walking, biking or weight training.
A More Accurate Counting
To really lose weight, you should be keeping track of your average daily calories expenditure and eating fewer calories than your body uses. This isn't as difficult as it sounds: You need to calculate your resting metabolic rate, and then add how many calories you burned that day at moderate or intense activity, like jogging or swimming.
Calories In, Calories Out
Weight loss occurs when our bodies use more calories than we consume. Keep a journal to track how many calories you eat in a day and how many you burn in physical activities. Figure your RMR, which will be roughly the same each day but will change slightly as you lose weight, add to that the calories you burn from physical activities, and subtract the calories you eat or drink.
Remember that tracking calories with 100-percent accuracy is nearly impossible for most people, so a little rounding is OK. Your fast food burrito may claim to be 541 calories, but it's possible that it's closer to 535 or 550. Just like you shouldn't concern yourself with counting everyday calories expenditures, there's no need to fret over exact calories eaten. Keep the big picture in mind when counting calories, and you'll be met with success.