New Feature: Calorie Ranges Based on Fitness Tracking

By , SparkPeople Blogger
UPDATE 7/15/13: All members can now switch between either calorie calculation option at any time. Here is a link that will help you determine which option is right for you and how to tell which setting is currently active for you.

UPDATE 7/15/13: Today we launched this change as optional for all new and existing members. You can switch between either calorie option at any time using your Account Preferences page. We'll update this blog with more information on those details in the coming days. But for those asking, YES, it is now optional!

UPDATE 7/12/13: We hear you! We are currently working on changes to make this new feature OPTIONAL for all current and future members. With this change (coming soon), ALL members will have the option to turn this feature on or off at any time! Stay tuned. We will update everyone as soon as that goes into effect.

This morning (7/10/13), we launched a much-requested change to  your Fitness and Nutrition Trackers that may interest a large percentage of our members, especially those with active jobs or lifestyles—and people currently in weight-maintenance mode. 
Until now, our Fitness and Nutrition Trackers didn't really communicate with each other. Your daily calorie range assumed you were generally sedentary, and even if you tracked exercise, your Nutrition Tracker didn't take all of those calories burned into account when creating your calorie range. SparkPeople believes so much in the power of even small amounts of consistent exercise that we decided to do more to integrate fitness into our calorie equation. Now we have updated how the Trackers "talk" to one another so that your calorie range will automatically adjust (increase) on the days that you track exercise (calories burned)—IF you adjust your settings to allow for this communication (details on that below).

If you don't want this change, there's nothing you need to do. If you are interested in learning more or putting this new feature into action, keep reading. (Note that all new members who create SparkPeople accounts after today (7/10/13) will be in this program by default and cannot switch out of it.
For existing members, switching to this new method of tracking is completely optional. However, if you do make the switch, you will not be able to switch back later. Here's how to do it. (We suggest that you read through this post thoroughly to understand how it works before editing your settings.)

From your Start Page, click on the "Account/Email Preferences" link in the top left corner.  

Scroll midway down the page until you see the box labeled "Make Your Calorie Goal Based On Fitness Tracking." Click the orange button that says "Switch to Our New Calorie Calculation."

When the page asks you if you are sure, click "Yes I Am Sure."

The next page asks you to tell us what your daily activity level is like. Please note that this is NOT asking whether or how much you exercise, but how you spend the bulk of your days. This will help us create a daily calorie range that is more accurate for you before we factor exercise into the equation. T
If you have an activity tracking device (such as the Fitbit or the BodyMedia armband) synced with your SparkPeople account, select that option for optimal accuracy. Note: While these devices track all calories burned in a day, including your basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn even while sitting still), they only report activity-related calories burned (walking, exercising, etc.) to SparkPeople.
Click "Save Your Changes."
This will return you to your Start Page, and you may notice that your daily calorie goal has changed. (These changes will show up on your Nutrition Tracker as well.) For some people, the calorie goal will be lower than normal since it's no longer assuming that you exercise. For others, the calorie range may be higher, especially if you selected that you have a very active job.  
Now, when you track your fitness (or sync your fitness device) during the day, you'll see your calorie range change to compensate for the calories you have burned. It will increase as you burn additional calories by working out. If you don't work out, then simply eat within the daily calorie range you see on your account. Note that if your workouts vary day to day, your calorie range will vary along with them. The program is set up to allow you to eat more on days that you exercise but still reach your weight-loss or weight-management goals.

So is this change right for you? We want to lay out both sides so you can make the best decision.
This Approach May Be Better For...
  • This approach should provide a more accurate calorie range for people who are completely sedentary (and do not exercise at all), people who have very active jobs, people who are in "weight maintenance" mode, and people who exercise at high levels.
  • This approach is designed to give a more accurate calorie range for people using fitness tracking devices that are synced with SparkPeople. Now your recommended calorie range is based on exactly how active you really are according to your device.
  • You'll know exactly how much you can eat on days that you exercise and on days that you don't—no more guessing. This is especially true for people who have occasional "very active" days, such as endurance athletes who do one very long workout session per week.
  • Some people may find this approach to be motivational—a reason to commit to exercise and to track your workouts on the Fitness Tracker. In our experience, we often see that people who are doing even small amounts of consistent exercise are more likely to feel better and see more positive improvements.
  • For people who exercise, this approach will allow you to eat more calories--at least on the days you work out. A lot of people feel better and perform better when their daily caloric deficit isn't so large.
This Approach May Not Be Good For...
  • This approach could be "triggering" for individuals who may struggle with disordered eating or exercise tendencies. For those people, we do not recommend this approach (nor do we advocate tracking calories eaten or burned in general).
  • This approach means your calorie range will change somewhat (or substantially) day to day or throughout the day based on how much you exercised and when you tracked that exercise. You will not know how many calories you could eat each day until you track your fitness for that day. Some people may find an inconsistent calorie range difficult to adhere to, but others might like the variety.
  • This approach will affect both the lower and upper end of your daily calorie range. Before exercise, your range might be 1,200-1,500 calories for the day. After working out and burning 300 calories, for example, both numbers would increase (your range would change to 1,500-1,800 calories). If you ate at what was previously the lower end of your range, your tracker and nutrition reports will show that you actually "under-ate" calories for the day.
  • For many people, exercise is an opportunity to increase your daily caloric deficit (calories in vs. calories out) for better weight-loss. Eating back all of the calories you burn could affect your results. You may need to experiment a little to find the "sweet spot" in your adjusted range that still works for you. Our experts do not necessarily advocate the approach or philosophy of eating back every calorie you burn if your goal is weight loss; but eating in the middle of your exercise-adjusted range, however, is still a good, balanced approach.
TIPS for People Considering or Switching to This Approach
  • Pre-Plan. You may want to log your planned exercise earlier in the day to better know what your daily calorie range will be—even if you don't plan to work out until later in the day. If you normally log your food and fitness for previous days, that tactic will not work as well with this new approach and may end up showing that you under-ate.
  • Try a Test. Once you switch to the new approach, you cannot switch back. New members (after 7/9/13) will not have an option to use the old method. If you're simply curious about how it works, you could consider opening a new account under a different username just to test it out. If you like it, go back to using your old account and switch your settings using the steps above.
  • Syncing Activity Trackers. If you switch to this approach and then later purchase and sync an activity tracker (such as the Fitbit), your program settings will automatically adjust to calculate your daily calorie range based on the reports it receives from your synced device—not from any fitness tracking you do. Related, you should not track additional fitness activities or calories burned if you have a synced fitness device as this will affect your daily calorie range and make it inaccurate.
  • Food & Fitness Tracker App Users. If you make the switch to the new system, your app should update as well to reflect this setting.
We realize that some members will be very excited about this change and others may not be interested. That's why it's optional for all of our existing members to choose the approach that is right for them. Note that at this time, if you do make the switch, you cannot switch back to the old method.
We welcome your feedback and questions in the comments below and will do our best to update this post to answer additional questions as they arise.


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OK, I tried ihe "new tracker"--I don't like it--BUT I'm stuck with it. I eat at the low end which is 1200 calories so I am cutting about 500 calories a day to lose 1# a week by cutting the calories. So, I liked the old one where on the nutritional page at the bottom it kept track of how many calories I ate and how many I had left. ------ I walk 4-6 miles a day to help me lose "more" weight--so I should lose another at least 1# a week by walking------ I was wanting a tracking that was more interacting with what I was walking but I wasn't expecting this----this is definitely MORE for the person for maintence-----at the bottom of the page now it actually says you have burned X amount of calories-you can eat this amount now!! Not if I want to lose weight by walking-the only weight I will lose will be by the calories I have cut out in the beginning before I walk!!!!!!!! Now I will have to take the calories I HAVE EATEN and subtract from 1200 to know what I have left, SO the 4-6 miles I walk a day will COUNT for something. Report
Thank you so much for thinking about those with disordered eating (where this might not be a good option). This population seems to be overlooked and I appreciated that you have considered this. Report
I hope you actually read these comments. Think about this, above you have listed several very valid reasons why this new system would not work for certain people--YET you have created a system that any new Spark people and those that try to switch to see if it works would have no option out of? Like anything, this method will be helpful to some people and won't work for others. I think maybe you should look at the reasons you wrote above why it won't work and make sure all people can use either system. Report
This is a great change. I'm training for a marathon and I'm always starving on the days that I have huge training runs. Report
So how do we suggest improvements? Is there a specific method or just comment in a post like this? I'm new and I like this calorie in/calorie out feature. After tracking my nutrition for a week I've been frustrated by 2 things: I cannot edit a food after I've added it (such as the amount or meal). the time it takes to add foods to these types of programs is always what has me stop using them. the easier it is the more i use it. It would also make it easier to add to other days but be able to adjust amount or one group ingredient. The second thing is my husband and i are both on spark people. we are having fun competing with spark points but most meals we eat are the same. it would be nice to be able to copy meals from other shared tracking lists.
I've been a member for a long time but I am not getting the option to incorporate my tracked activity entries. Do I have to have the FitBit1? Report
PLEASE don't make this mandatory. (Like the new fitness tracker) It won't work for me - I rarely make my 1200 calorie range and I've maintained my weight for almost a year. What I'm doing now is working...please don't change it by force. Report
I would like to see an opt out optional. Opening a new spark page does not give you the whole picture. I will wait to see if it get updated again. Thanks for all your updates. Report
I wish there would be an option on Nutriton Tracker where you can enter what supplements you take on a daily basis...nowadays many people are taking them for weight loss/health benefits. It would be a popular feature!!!!! Report
This option is not available to me. I would like my fitness and nutrition trackers to interact, as I am lightly active in my daily life. Report
It seemed the new features are already applied automatically into the trackers. You just choose whether to opt out of it. Think they made a typo by saying the fitness trackers 'is not' communicating with the nutrition trackers. Cos when I changed my fitness trackers it affected the nutrition trackers. So yeah, they changed it already for everyone. Report
Thank you, thank you thank you for the update saying that it will be made optional for all members!! I have been working with a behavioral health center to get clients to track their fitness and food because the medicines that most of them have to take cause excessive weight gain and often leads to health problems such as Diabetes. I was afraid that I would have to send them elsewhere because there are also clients with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge/starvation issues. This is such a relief! Report
YOGAMOMOF4 - Mine also says the same! I use a Bodymedia and would like this option;not sure why we aren't seeing the option! Report
Okay, here's some more info about the problem I'm having with this (See my post right before this one): In my preferences, I don't have a box like the one mentioned in the article above that says, "Make your calorie goal based on fitness tracking." That box doesn't exist in my preferences. Instead, I have a box that says, "How my daily calorie range is determined." Inside that box is all the confusing wording that I mentioned in my previous post. :/ Report
I like this idea, but I can't set it to work. On my "change perferences" page, it says it says I have it set NOT to have the two trackers communicating, but the button under it ALSO says to click it if I DON'T want them to communicate. What do I push if I DO want them to communicate? it says:

"Your Fitness Tracker is NOT communicating fitness tracked (calories burned) with your Nutrition Tracker so that your daily calorie range adjusts based on how much you exercise."
But the button under that says:
"Change your settings so that fitness tracking does NOT factor into your calorie range"

???? So it says they are NOT communicating and that fitness tracking doesn't factor into my calorie range, and then the button says I can CHANGE it so that the fitness tracking still does NOT factor into my calorie range. It would appear that clicking the button doesn't change anything!! It's not communicating, and if I click the button, I'll change it to . . . . not communicating. ???

If I click the button, I get this:
"Are you sure you want to change your settings so that fitness tracking does NOT factor into your calorie range? Your calorie goal will likely be lower, but it WILL INCREASE every day when you track your workouts. "

??Whaaa?? So, if I change my settings so that fitness tracking does NOT factor into my calorie range, my calorie goal WILL increase every day when I track my workouts??? Either that doesn't make any sense, or I am completely misunderstanding something. Can anyone help me with this???

What I'm trying to do is make it so that my fitness tracking DOES change my calorie goal. Thanks! Report
This is FANTASTIC. Thank you so much for doing this. Running for 45 min and not seeing my calories change was really difficult - I wasn't getting enough to eat and was crashing hard.

One caveat - when you go into settings and click on the button (which is currently worded like the new feature is already activated) the following message above the "yes make the change" button is confusing. Just go ahead and click it, then check your start page to make sure that "today's calories in and out" has changed to reflect also your fitness. Report
Thank you for this!! I'm a small person, and my daily recommended cals are only 1200 . . . it was very frustrating to work out and still have my recommended cals be only 1200. Now I can actually see my allotted cals go up when I work out. Awesome! Report
This new version needs to be fixed so it adjusts other nutrients up along with calories. Fats, proteins, carbs, all need to increase when calories increase! Otherwise, the reporting features on your nutrition become useless. Report
I'm glad it's an optional change. I hope it stays that way. It really wouldn't work for me - I'm on a restricted carb diet, and I'm disabled to the point that NO exercise is applicable for me. Just daily function is as much as I can manage. Please don't switch to a new version later on! Report
Wish I didn't change very confusing to me like the old way better maybe i just need to give it while to figure it out if i could change back i would Report
There is no way that there will be changes that everyone loves. I personally do not like this idea. Mainly because I struggle as it is with overeating issues. I would eat what I burn if I saw that. I understand some people like the idea but I do not. Just like I do not like how it doesn't seem that the fitness tracker doesn't show what I am burning with my strength training but it has always been this way and I am ok with it. I still love Sparkpeople and I still recommend it to others. Report
I Do Not Like This New Feature. The reason I switched from CalorieKing to SparkPeople was because exercised burned is factored in at Calorie King. Calories burned during exercise is very individual. My iTracker tells me I've burned fewer calories than the SparkPeople tracker; based on that information, this new feature would tell me that I could eat more calories than would actually be true. I'm happy to see that this new feature will be optional for all members. I hope the feature to manually change our calorie range will still remain. Report
I really like the new features. They make both trackers feel more substantial and give a better reflection of what's actually going on in the body. I also really appreciate you adding the ability to make it optional.

However, I think it would be even *better* if there was at least one setting between "add ALL the calories you burned through exercise to your range" and "add NONE of the calories your burned through exercise to your range." I would *love* to be able to workout for 400 calories and see my range go up by 200, for instance. Report
Please could you change nutrition tracker to cater for those on low carb diets. In other words please show the fiber content on front page of tracker instead of only at the bottom breakdown. My maintenance is 50g carbs per day. I'm always having to do the maths in subtracting fiber from carbs to get total effective carbs. Report
Thank you so much for making this new feature optional. I've only been a member for a few weeks but I love spark people. However, I had been looking around to see if I could find another nutrition and fitness tracker that would not force me to increase my calories. I have struggled for so many years with my weight and health. I have felt so much better since I started following the diabetes plan and I was terrified that if I were given more calories on days that I work out more that I would fall back into my old habits. Thanks again for making the change optional. Report
I already posted earlier but I love it! Now that I've used it for a few days it's even better than I had hoped. I went on a loooong hike on Saturday, and thanks to the new tracker I was able to eat enough to sustain me through a 1500 calorie workout! (I of course ended up eating less than the new ''allowance,'' but more than I would on a regular day- having that adjusted min/max limit is very helpful for me. And the new tracker also inspired me to get a FitBit Zip to sync with SP. So I'm very happy about this. I think it was a significant improvement. Report
The ability to switch back, we can't do that now, but when can we do that? What is IT's ETA for that functionality? I created my account on the 11th so I am stuck in it, which is not what I want. I have a sticky note on my monitor with the original nutrition ranges on it. But all of my reports are skewed. If flip back isn't a priority can it become one? Or let us flip the reporting between the two. Report
I'm confused. I use an hrm to track activities on like specific workouts. How will this influence my targets? Report
I only joined six days ago so was confused enough already! If I understand this correctly, as I am trying to lose weight right now it is better for me to stay on the old system, as I can plan my meals ahead and choose to eat at the lower or higher end of my recommended calorie intake range depending on whether or not I exercise that day. However, when I reach my goal weight then it will be better for me to change to the new system to maintain a stable weight with a more flexible eating pattern. As I see it, there just can’t be two different recommendations for my daily calorie intake for me to achieve one goal! Now even more confused… Report
I think it's always best to leave options to people here. The new trackers are best for people who want to maintain their weight and people who are already leading active lives. I understand if Sparkpeople want to attract audience beyond the 'weight losing' group. But I don't think it'll work well for us who are in that group. Please provide 2 options for us, Sparkpeople and not simply place the change anyways. Report
I am happy that you are making this entirely optional for everyone. I stopped using the fitness tracker after the last change, I don't like it. As others have said all of the talk about the differential seems to go against what Spark has always advocated.
Nicole and everyone else at SparkPeople, thank you for listening. As an idea, I don't think it's bad-- I just think, after trying it for the last two days, that it needs some tweaking. I love the idea of being able to "eat my exercise calories", but I also want the option to NOT eat them, or only some of them. If the low end of my calorie range stayed the same, regardless of activity, this would be much better. For example, my range before was 1350-1750 or something similar. On days I exercise, I usually burn anywhere between 600 and 1,000 calories. If my range was then 1350-2350, I'd like it a lot more. I could eat slightly above 1750 if I'm hungry [I'm hungrier on days that I swim, but not days that I run], but I wouldn't feel pressured to eat more on days that I'm not hungry. Instead, it's telling me that my range is 2350-2750 which is a LOT to eat when you don't have an increased appetite [and are trying to stick to healthy foods. I mean, sure, I could eat a pint of ice cream to make up those calories but then what's the point?].

Also, I've noticed that even when my calories go up [due to exercise], my carb/fat/protein goals do not. It's going to be hard to eat 2350 calories with the same macronutrient parameters of 1350 calories. Report
thank you Nicole for letting us know and thank you Sparkpeople for listening to us and making it optional....I can now recommend Sparkpeople to everyone I see again! Report
UPDATE 7/12/13: We hear you! We are currently working on changes to make this new feature OPTIONAL for all current and future members. With this change (coming soon), ALL members will have the option to turn this feature on or off at any time! Stay tuned. We will update everyone as soon as that goes into effect. Report
Thanks for all the info. Especially for the idea to make a new account under a different user id. Brilliant! It could save some of use a lot of time and effort wasted or not. Again, thank you for the very good info. I just might try it out it can't possibly hurt and I am one of those people that don't let numbers bother me. It is what it is. Report
I think I will wait till I get my flex bit one before switching Report
I jumped right in and changed it yesterday before reading responses here. I wasn't crazy about the start page and then started to kic myself for not letting other people "test drive" it first or setting up a dummy account to compare it with. However, I noticed that how it looks on my start page (the calorie to eat vs. calories logged in through the fitness plan) is different from the nutrition tracker. Personally, I'm hoping that it isn't a glitch because I like being able to compare just the intake with the the intake off-set by exercise. Report
I am going to try it. sounds interesting. I never really use the calorie ranges they suggest only use them for guidance. I know what i need to do to get a calorie deficit and i will do what I have always done. Maybe adjust what i am eating to a lower point so i can actually loose some weight. Thanks for the new tracker. Report
I love this, because it means I'm not accidentally ending below my daily calorie intake after exercise. You're not going to wind up eating too many calories by accident; your caloric intake is based on how much you lose in a day. You're not going to gain weight if you stay within the calorie range. Report
I'm satisfied with the old way myself. Although it increased my calories quite a bit when I decreased my Fitness goals a little. Now that was strange to me and I wonder if it is already using the new program in a way. Mine min range went up 500 cals and it's hard to get those goals but I'm good because sometimes I can reach them and my exercise will be increasing. Thanks for all you do. Report
I would not change over to this new system. Why? One reason is the "calorie deferential" issue where previously SP said that they don't encourage users to eat their calories in higher or lower ranges based on exercise done on that day! Additionally I am an emotional eater and this plan would not help me at all! Thanks for the change but it's not for me :-( Report
I am uncertain whether I'll regret this or not, but I'm going to go ahead and switch to the new system. One of my problems with the current system is that as I exercise more and more, and adjust my fitness settings accordingly, my calorie range has never changed from the lowest possible amount - 1200-1500. And I don't have a sedentary job, either. I was already worried about undereating when it put me at that calorie range, and it bothered me that it never changed along with my activity level - even when it gave me warnings that I was in danger of overexercising. So if the new system isn't working for me, I can always bump it back down manually, because I know exactly what the old system would say - the exact same thing it's been saying for the last 2 months.

See you on the other side...*meep!* Report
I'm not going to make the switch for the same reasons others have already mentioned.

It would be great (especially for new members) to be given the choice to be able to switch back.

I will be setting up an extra account to check it out so as a team leader I will be able to (hopefully) help with any questions that might come up.

Thanks SP for always trying new things and making improvements! Report
Before I joined SparkPeople I was using a site (I paid to use it) that worked in this fashion - as you exercised, you saw your calorie range increase for the day. I reached my goal doing this - so I know this is a reasonable approach. When I first went to SparkPeople, I was not as happy with their approach because it was based on how many calories I THOUGHT I might burn that week. But I've also come to see an advantage that few people have discussed.

I'm one of those people who go for exercise challenges. I want a challenge that makes me push my fitness to another level. This often means my workouts are not consistent from day-to-day. I can have a day when I burn more than 3000 EXERCISE calories because I'm training for a bicycle century (100 miles). I'm not going to do that every day, but I know from experience that if I were to eat substantially more that day, I would be ill. But because it's important that I do eat enough to sustain my energy, I need to eat more every day, even on my recovery days. Sure, I eat less on my recovery days than on my active days, but it's not a mountain/valley approach. So the current SparkPeople calorie range works well in this respect.

Having said that, I will be moving to the new approach since that's what I used to reach my goal weight. Sounds like I need to make sure I have zeroed out my exercise calories on the spark site and just use my fitbit. I think I might wait just a week or so to let the bugs get ironed out :-) Report
I won't be switching. Thank you for letting us have the option but new members won't have a choice, I guess. SP seems to be whipping a lot of changes in place lately. I am not enthused about it all but have too many SP friends to go to another site. I still like SP but whoa, slow down on all this new stuff, already! Report
I wont be changing. I prefer to have the same calorie range each day. I don't think it's right to make the new members use this new system. I think it will hurt the reputation of SP in the long run. Report
Yes Paulobry I am confused by that Quote too.. I do swimming and Pilates classes which I track separate from the fitbit (not wearing it) .. Does this mean they will not be counted?? Confusing
I will wait and see, I caloric range at this time 1240-1680 is high for me, I try to stay at 1300 on most days. I will check back later to see how it goes. Report
I won't be changing. The calorie ranges I have are already slightly higher than what my health care professionals recommend for me. Report
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