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Weight Control 101

On Tuesday, September 16, 2008 by Registered Dietitian

One factor determines your weight …calories.

Controlling your weight comes down to one thing - managing calories.  Your body is a complex machine that requires fuel to run your metabolism and perform all movement. Calories from the food and beverages you consume provide this fuel. If you burn all the fuel you take in, your weight will remain stable. If you end up with excess fuel that isn’t burned, it will be stored as body fat and your weight will increase. Similarly, if you burn more fuel than you take in, you’ll lose weight – it’s that simple. By managing the calories you take in and the calories you burn, you can successfully control your weight.

So why have the majority of adults become overweight or obese in recent decades? Taking in more fuel than the body burns mostly as a result of lifestyle changes. Manual labor is now performed by machines and computers. Very few calories are burned during our daily routine because work, transportation, recreation and entertainment are mostly sedentary. People eat out more frequently and enticing food is offered everywhere in large quantities, day or night. Because humans have a natural tendency to preserve energy and eat even when we’re not hungry, modern lifestyle easily leads to unburned fuel and unwanted weight gain.


Beware of the creeping waistline

Experts predict nine out of ten people will be overweight or obese at some point in their lifetime.   However, most people don’t realize they’re becoming overweight because it happens fairly slowly. The average yearly weight gain among adults is one to three pounds.  This means most people are off by only 20 to 30 calories a day.  Small changes such as skipping those last few bites or taking 200-300 extra steps per day will keep you trim and away from weight loss diets. But keep in mind as you get older, you’re likely to burn fewer calories because your daily routine changes.  Because of this, you’ll have to become aware of the calories you take in and how much (or how little) you move.  And to keep your weight in check, you’ll need to get on the scale or measure your waistline more than once a year.


Boost your calorie IQ

One of the most effective weight control tools is tracking what you eat. An old fashioned pen and paper work just fine but online trackers also offer support and feedback. After a week or so, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn and your calorie IQ will get a huge boost. Those who consistently track what they eat lose more weight and are more successful at keeping the weight off.  Doing so will help you decide where to cut back – skip a regular 20 ounce soda and save 250 calories, switch from whole milk to skim milk and save 50 calories a cup, go for regular coffee instead of a regular blended drink and save 300 calories. If you’d rather reduce the portions of the foods you currently eat, that is a good option. Remember, small changes tend to be the most effective because they withstand the test of time. 


Check your surroundings

Scientific studies reveal that your surroundings influence the amount we eat.  The bigger the portions, the more you’ll eat. If you see or smell tempting foods, you’re likely to eat them. If you’re in a social setting, at a buffet or drinking alcohol, you’ll probably eat more. If you watch TV while you eat, you’ll overeat. So control your environment by limiting portion sizes, keeping tempting foods out of sight (and out of mind) and game planning before social events. For instance, you may decide to eat or exercise before the party.  In any case, be conscious of your environment otherwise you’ll take in more calories without even noticing it.


Step up your activity level

Every calorie you consume or have stored on your body can be burned through activity. If weight control is the goal, step up your activity level. Start by determining how active you are by using a pedometer to measure the steps you take. Gradually increase your daily steps any way you can – short walks, more chores, pacing while watching TV or talking on the phone and of course, climbing stairs at every opportunity. If you prefer the gym, that’s fine too as long as you’re burning more calories by working harder or adding to your regular workouts. Keep in mind that the more active you are, the more fuel your body burns. This means you can speed up your weight loss efforts or choose to eat more. For current physical activity guidelines, click here.


Monitor your progress and adjust

Monitor your progress at least once a week by weighing in or taking your circumference measurements. For accuracy purposes, it’s best to check your weight at the same time of day with the same clothing. Also, consider weighing in mid week because weight fluctuations tend to occur after a weekend of dining out or indulging. Because weight can fluctuate on any given day, judge your progress over time. If your results aren’t moving in the right direction after any two to three week period, you’ll need to adjust. Reduce the calories you take in or increase movement until you make progress.


Set goals and get support

Set a short term and long term goal and write them down.  In doing so, you make a commitment to yourself which helps propel you into immediate action. Healthy weight loss for most people is half a pound to two pounds per week but the more weight you have to lose, the faster you can lose it. One pound of body fat contains approximately 3,500 calories. Use the table below to determine how many extra calories you’ll have to burn or cut out of your diet each day for different weight loss goals.

Finally, get support from a friend, family member or from our online community. The key to weight control is managing calories, and by staying persistent and consistent you’ll eventually reach your goal.

References

1. Vasan RS, Pencina MJ, Cobain M, Freiberg MS, D'Agostino RB. Estimated risks for developing obesity in the Framingham Heart Study. Ann Intern Med. 2005 Oct 4;143(7):473-80.
2. Williamson DF, Kahn HS, Byers T. The 10-year incidence of obesity and major weight gain in black and white U.S. women aged 35-55. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;53:1515S-1518S.
3. Zhang Q, Wang Y. Trends in the Association between Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in U.S. Adults:1971-2000. Obes Res. 2004;12:1622-32.
4. Hollis JF, Gullion CM, Stevens VJ, Brantley PJ, Appel LJ, Ard JD, Champagne CM, Dalcin A, Erlinger TP, Funk K, Laferriere D, Lin PH, Loria CM, Samuel-Hodge C, Vollmer WM, Svetkey LP, Weight Loss Maintenance Trial Research Group. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. Am J Prev Med. 2008 Aug;35(2):118-26.
5. Kruger J, Blanck HM, Gillespie C. Dietary and physical activity behaviors among adults successful at weight loss maintenance. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2006;3:17.
6. Wansink B, Painter JE, North J. Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obes Res. 2005 Jan;13(1):93-100.
7. Wansink B. Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers. Annu Rev Nutr. 2004;24:455-79. Review.


 

 

 

 

 

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Colin90
Nov 15, 2013, 05:26 AM
I think this is a serious over simplification of an incredibly complex issue. There are a host of contributing factors that will effect appetite and weight gain. Unfortunately, It is not a simple matter of calories in calories out. A far better approach is that of someone who pays attention to types of calories proportionately.
Focus on your macro nutrients first. They're macronutrients because we require them in largest amount so it makes sense to begin there. Lower your carb intake, we don't need anything near the amount the average american eats today. In short, carbs are processed in your body as a sugar and causes your insulin to spike. Insulin tells your body to store fatty acids and prevents you from burning them as energy. It also makes you hungry! So the more carbs you eat, the more your insulin spikes, the more you tell your body to store food for energy (as fat), the hungrier you get for more carbs! Ever wonder what came over you to make you eat that entire bag of potato chips? ...now you know.
Instead of being all OCD about calorie counting, lower your carb intake and up your fat and protein intake, as surprising as that may sound. Of course, these macro nutrients need to come from good, clean sources (grass fed and pasture raised animals, natural, non gmo produce), but by doing this we give the body all the energy resource it needs and we actually train our bodies to burn fat! Counterintuitively, the more healthy dietary fat that we eat, the more fat we lose by way of being better at burning it off.
Now please don't get me wrong, I am not telling you to eat all things fatty. This is by no means your free pass to eat all the McDonald's you want (dear god, please don't consider this to eat McDonald's ever!). I am simply saying that consuming less carbs, consuming more healthy protein and fat will have a drastic effect on your weight loss and energy levels. We still must eat plenty of fibrous fruits and vegetables and I highly recommend supplementation (starter pack: multivitamin, fish oil, vitamin D. boom!). However, as soon as someone says that the way to lose weight is a simple matter of calories eaten vs. calories burned, that's just about the time you should stop listening to that person about weight loss.
Make your life easy, focus on macro nutrients first, take a good multivitamin, exercise, sleep well and stay hydrated! You'll lose the weight. Just make sure you understand that the way to lose weight is not by paying attention to how much you eat, it's by paying attention to what you eat. Unfortunately, if you take the very narrow approach suggested in this article you're setting yourself up for frustration.
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FSBarker
Aug 16, 2011, 11:55 PM
Really appreciate the article. Good information for my second week of working out with a personal trainer and losing weight the right way this time!
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Mar 25, 2009, 11:20 AM
I love knowing exactly how many calories to burn to drop a pound! Go for the numbers! Denise V.
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