Foodfacts.com observes that the best formula for weight loss is and always has been consuming fewer calories and burning more of them through exercise.
But, keeping track of calorie counts has never been easy. There are charts and graphs and lists of the calorie counts of foods to refer to, but it’s time consuming and often confusing. Even dietitians who analyze diet records admit it’s often a frustrating chore, especially when clients overestimate and underestimate some amounts.
Say you had a glass of wine with dinner? Okay. But, was it in a 16-ounce tumbler? You had a salad with lunch? Great, but was it a few lettuce leaves drowned in ranch dressing or a large bowl of mostly vegetables, lightly dressed?
Dietitians are trained to be diet detectives to help ferret out the truth and teach clients how to better communicate exactly what and how much they’re consuming. That way they can figure out why the client isn’t losing weight and help design a diet that hits the mark with the right number of calories to consume each day.
Calling for help
Research shows that dieters who keep food journals noting what they eat lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. Adding notes on physical activity is critical, too.
But the pages of a journal don’t tell you how many calories in a croissant.
Enter an age of technology-aided dieting. Weight-loss programs available on smart phones, including the iPhone and BlackBerry, make it easier to tabulate calorie intakes and even help plan diet goals. While there are no long-term research studies yet to show how well these apps help shed pounds, weight-loss experts are enthusiastic about these new tools. Losing weight is hard enough; so if keeping track of calories is easier, more accurate and perhaps even more fun using your iPhone, then chances are you will be more successful.
Little things are big things
Apply the little proverb to weight control: Little things mean a lot. Little bouts of exercise — as short as 10 minutes in duration — can add up to significant gains in fitness. Unfortunately, it’s also the little bites eaten here and there above daily caloric needs that can add up to sizable weight gain over time.
Call it the “creep” — the cumulative effect of small daily errors in energy balance that slowly but surely feed the growth of body fat.
As obesity expert Dr. Robert Kushner of Northwestern University explains, “By consuming just 12 calories more per day you can gain two pounds a year. By eating 125 calories more per day you can gain more than 12 pounds in a year.” The sage budget advice to “watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” holds true here, too.
On the exercise front, registered dietitian Ruth Ann Carpenter of the Cooper Institute in Dallas summarizes physical activity guidelines for weight maintenance. “Do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, such as walking, biking or gardening. Split it up into at least three days a week with no less than 10-minute bouts at a time.” If you want more health benefits, you’ll have to do more exercise.
It’s the calories, folks
Bottom line: to prevent weight gain, each day you should walk 2,000 steps and cut 100 calories. (Skip the cheese on the burger and pass on another pat of butter.) To support weight loss, you should walk at least 10,000 steps and cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day.
Learning how to make these healthy lifestyle choices is not easy in a world that weight control experts call an “obesogenic environment.” But it is a critical survival skill needed to prevent weight gain and related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
We’ve taken Dr. Kushner’s list of forces that contribute to obesity and given them healthy makeovers.
Finding fitness in a fattening world
- Hurried life, always rushing: walk even faster to burn more calories, take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, parkfarther away and walk instead of circling to find the closest parking spot. Make moments of calm count. Savor your foods.
- Food available everywhere: this often means more variety, so be more selective about what you choose. Since weight loss apps are mobile, you can keep track of your calorie totals as the day progresses. Think twice before taking a second helping.
- Eating out more: whether it’s a fast-food or fancy place, become familiar with the calorie counts of your favorite foods at restaurants you frequently visit. Weigh-loss apps tap into databases with nutrition information on thousands of foods. Check them.
- Exercise engineered out of our lives: take the stairs, hide the remote, just say “no” to robot vacuum cleaners, open the garage door manually, ditch the drive-thru and walk into the restaurant. Weight-loss apps include extensive lists of the number of calories used during various physical activities. Track your totals so you’ll know how many more stairs to climb before the end of the day.