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It’s simple, we are often told: All you have to do to maintain a healthy weight is ensure that the number of calories you ingest stays the same as the number of calories you expend. If you take in more calories, or energy, than you use, you gain weight; if the output is greater than the input, you lose it. But while we’re often conscious of burning calories when we’re working out, 55 to 70 percent of what we eat and drink actually goes toward fueling all the invisible chemical reactions that take place in our body to keep us alive. “We think about metabolism as just being about exercise, but it’s so much more than that,” says Herman Pontzer, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “It’s literally the running total of how busy your cells are throughout the day.” Figuring out your total energy expenditure tells you how many calories you need to stay alive. But it also tells you “how the body is functioning,” Pontzer says. “There is no more direct measure of that than energy expenditure.”

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