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What is energy balance? 

Energy balance is equaling energy intake (calories) to energy output (physical activity). When energy intake equals energy output, body weight will be maintained. The regulation of energy balance and body weight may also be influenced by various hormones and genetic factors. 

What is the energy balance equation? 

To assess energy balance, compare energy intake to energy output. 

In energy balance, energy intake equals energy output. 

If you maintain equal energy input and output over time, body weight will be maintained. 

Energy intake includes all calories consumed from food and drinks throughout the day. Energy output includes three different components: resting energy expenditure, diet induced energy expenditure, and physical activity energy expenditure. 

Resting energy expenditure and diet induced energy expenditure are the two components of our energy output that we have least control over, as these are the involuntary processes our body uses to survive. However, the physical activity energy expenditure is the most variable portion of our energy output. Therefore, to keep in energy balance, it is important to be mindful of our calorie intake and make an effort to stay physically active. 

What is negative energy balance? 

In negative energy balance, energy intake is less than energy output or energy output is more than energy intake. 

When in negative energy balance, weight loss occurs. This negative balance can be achieved by decreasing energy intake, increasing energy output, or both. 

To decrease energy intake, you need to reduce calorie intake. To do this in a healthy way, it is best to choose foods naturally lower in calories but still high in essential nutrients. Examples of these foods are fruits and vegetables. Aim to make half of your plate at each meal fruits and vegetables. 

To increase energy output, you need to move your body more throughout the day to expend more energy. This could mean going for a run or walk, but it could also mean being more physically active such as gardening, cleaning the house, washing the car, etc. Any type of movement will help increase energy output. 

What is positive energy balance? 

In positive energy balance, energy intake is greater than energy output. 

In positive energy balance, weight is gained. The weight gained may be undesirable fat mass, however, there are other types of weight gain that may be desired. For example, the following individuals are all in positive energy balance: growing children, pregnant and lactating women, and athletes building muscle. 

When aiming to be in a positive energy balance for one of these reasons, it is important to make sure that the energy intake comes from nutritious calories. Eat nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, legumes, and low-fat dairy products. 

If you are in a positive energy balance unintentionally, consider reducing energy intake or increasing energy expenditure. 

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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