How Many Calories Should my Exercise Burn After Bariatric Surgery?

Steph Wagner

June 24, 2019

Blog post answering question how many calories should exercise burn after bariatric surgery

Exercise After Bariatric Surgery

How Many Calories Should my Exercise Burn After Bariatric Surgery?


Two member questions

Have you wondered about exercise after bariatric surgery? Once you know you can exercise after your weight loss surgery, do you wonder how many calories you should be burning? What about when you aren’t eating many calories with your new Gastric Sleeve or Gastric Bypass?

It’s always been a confusing equation and weight loss surgery certainly adds another layer of uncertainty. This particular post was inspired by two members questions in my inbox:

If I eat around 1000 calories a day and my workout burns over 350.

Is that good for me?


My FitBit showed I burned 1540 calories.

But I took in 714 calories.

So is this good?


Calories in, calories out – what science has to say

You’ve heard before you have to eat less calories than you burn to lose weight.

That’s because that is the science behind weight loss! On the most basic level you DO need to have a deficit for your body to burn the reserves it has been storing.

More calories in than you burn – your body stores the excess energy for later (weight gain)

Eat the same as you burn – net neutral

Less calories in than you burn – the deficit requires your body use reserves for energy because it is not getting fed as much as it is needing to operate (weight loss)

Why it’s still clear as mud

Yes, calories in and calories out is simple and clear. What is not simple and clear is how individual bodies operate. There are an incredible amount of variables on any given day that will change the ‘simple’ equation.

Textbook equations certainly tell us how this would all work. If one pound equals 3,500 calories you would need to have a deficit of that many calories to lose one pound.

In the second member question, she had a deficit of 826 calories a day. It would be simple for me to tell her “you will lose one pound every 4.24 days” however, anyone who has attempted any sort of weight loss program knows it doesn’t work like that!

Why doesn’t it work like that?

For one, deciphering how many calories our body truly burns is tricky. We utilize equations but truth be told, they are really just a best guess. It would take a RMR (resting metabolic rate) test to really know how many calories a day your body burns at rest. Even then, that number will change as you body changes and you continue to lose weight.

Second, the number on the scale varies. Every cell in your body needs water so depending on if you are well hydrated, dehydrated or somewhere in the large range between you will see a big variance.

My answers to their questions

If I eat 1000 calories a day and burn 350 calories is that good

Truthfully it’s not always so simple to say this many calories versus that many calories. It IS true that if you eat less calories than your body burns, you lose weight.

What’s not clear is exactly how many calories your body burns. For example, if your treadmill says you burned 200 calories it’s really just estimating that number the best it can. Even calculations on how many calories your body burns are just total “best guesses.”

I prefer looking at things more simply than calorie counting. If you eat three meals a day, 70% of each meal from protein, drinking water, keeping an eye on the extras and enjoying workouts…you are treating your body SO well and it will thank you for that by releasing any extra weight it doesn’t need!

Our bodies really have a way of leveling off on their own too. At their preferred pace and at their preferred number. I think goal weights are wonderful but we really only have so much say in the matter. We just do the best we can to eat well, stay active and be honest with ourselves on what is sustainable without living in the gym or the kitchen.


I burned 1540 calories but I took in 714 calories, is this good?

The rest of her question:

So is this good? This is where I get confused. Is this showing my body I did not eat today and cause a starvation process? Or is it, the 826 extra calories burned, are now being burned from stored up calories in my body?

My response:

On the most basic level of science we know that burning more calories than we eat means weight loss. The tricky thing is, our bodies are much more complicated than this. While I do appreciate that calories can give me some information, I don’t use them much as a way to tell how things are going.

For one, how many calories you burned that day is really a best guess. Unless you were hooked up to machines all day, it will not be a very accurate calculation.

Secondly, I like to focus on meal pattern and quality of the food more than the calorie number. If you ate three meals a day, you filled up primarily on protein and some vegetables and your hunger was controlled through the day – you did wonderfully.

Conversely, if you instead skipped breakfast, ate half a sandwich with bread at lunch and ate chicken and rice at dinner – you may have had a low calorie amount but your meal pattern and quality of food were not ideal.

Find out more about what meal plan I recommend when you subscribe to my email list! Free video series “Get the Most Out of Weight Loss Surgery”

Lastly, energy level is another great thing to pay attention to. If you exercised, got in lots of water, ate your three meals of good quality food and you felt great – I wouldn’t worry if you under-ate or had too big of a deficit of calories.

If, however, you felt shaky weak or tired, I would look at if you were getting in enough water or going too long without eating. At the end of the day you have the ‘energy reserves’ on your body (the weight you want to lose) so your body is not starving – it will burn the stored energy it needs to operate.


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