Contested Calories

When we started working out daily, with an eye toward going Rim to Rim at Grand Canyon National Park next year, I kept an exercise log that included minutes, miles, and calories burned. I used the calories reported by the treadmill and I was happy.

In January, we added an elliptical to our home gym, to replace the dying, finally dead bicycle. We also added Polar Beat heart monitors, which allowed us to track our heart rate, which in turn helped us see when we needed to push harder and when we needed to let up. But that’s when the trouble started.

You see, the heart rate monitors never showed as many calories burned as the equipment did. At some point, my husband opted to record the monitor’s calories instead of the equipment’s. I soon reluctantly followed suit.

Reluctantly because, at this point, we had also begun using the MyFitnessPal app on our phones to track calorie intake. My 1 pound per week weight loss goal only allowed me 1200 calories a day, which is tough. Impossible – to me anyway. But every calorie burned during exercise was an extra calorie I could consume.

Now, I know. I burn how many calories I burn – it doesn’t matter what either app says, but still. I felt restricted. But I adapted and life went on and I was happy.

Then we ran a 5K a couple of weeks ago. We used our heart rate monitors to track distance, speed, heart rate, calories. (Side note: Thanks to a Samsung Galaxy S4 Android update problem, my phone couldn’t ever sync to GPS so I didn’t get distance and speed – my first attempt to use my monitor for that purpose and I was sorely disappointed. But that’s a different story.)

When I finished the run, I saw that my average heart rate had been up over 160. I hadn’t realized I was pushing that hard. And, glory, glory! I’d burned well over 600 calories! In a half hour workout! Woo-hoo! I rock!

Then my husband deigned to question my calorie burn. He hadn’t burned that many so how could I? I scowled at him. But then I began poking around in the app. There was apparently a personal section that it hadn’t prompted me to fill in, so it was sitting at some default values.

Polar Beat thought I was a bit bigger than I am.

7’9″ tall and 333 pounds, to be exact.

“Think that might report more calories burned than I actually burned?” I asked my husband.

“I would think a 333 pound person getting their heart rate up to 165 for that period of time would most likely burn a lot more calories than you,” he responded.

So I corrected my app’s misunderstanding of my weight and height.

And the next time I exercised, I barely burned 150 calories. But I was tired and unmotivated, maybe it didn’t mean anything.

I’ve been watching it for a week or two now and I can tell you conclusively, someone my size just doesn’t burn very many calories. Which sucks. Because, well, someone my size would sure like to consume more calories than she gets to.

But I’m adjusting and working harder in my workouts and I’m still happy. Being 5’5″ and the healthy weight I’m at is surely better than being as tall as a tree and over 300 pounds, no matter what Polar Beat says.

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