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Monday, March 26, 2007

The skinny on getting thin


Energy balance: What is it and why you should care.

It's like deja vu all over again. I keep having this conversation over and over again…with different people, but the same conversation.

Person: "I don't know what it is. I'm eating healthy, you know...I've cut out all of the junk food but I can't seem to lose weight."
Scott: "How much are you eating?"
Person: "Who knows, but I've eaten enough lettuce, I'm about to start sprouting. I’ve even put on a few pounds! Am I cursed?"

Losing weight, or gaining weight, is all a matter of energy balance - Calories In vs. Calories Out. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. The type of food from which those calories originate is irrelevant. There, I said it. You can have your cake and eat it, too...just not all of it. Obviously, if you live on Ho-hos and fried cheese, i.e. very calorie dense foods, it is going to be difficult to eat enough food to be sated and keep the total number of calories consumed at a level that allows you to maintain or lose weight. There is no such thing as a fattening food, only fattening portions.

Harris Benedict Equation

A survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that most Americans (67%) report taking calories into account when making food purchases, but nearly nine out of ten don't know how many calories they need each day. How many calories do you need each day? The Harris Benedict Equation is a formula that you can use to determine how many calories you should be consuming each day to maintain your weight. Exceed that number of calories per day and you will gain weight. Eat fewer calories and you will lose weight. Donna Jaime graciously sent out an email with the equation a few weeks ago, but here it is again:

Cals/day = 66 + (6.23 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Cals/day = 655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) - ( 4.7 x age in years)

Now you have the number of calories needed to stay alive. Next you've got to multiply your calculated calories by an activity level. Be honest. Most people are considered sedentary. If you haven't maintained a certain activity level for more than 6 weeks, you shouldn't count it.

Sedentary (little or no exercise) : Cals/day x 1.2
Lightly active (light exercise/walking 1-3 days/week) : Cals/day x 1.375
Moderately active (exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Cals/day x 1.55
Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/week) : Cals/day x 1.725
Extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job) : Cals/day x 1.9

For the mathematically challenged, here is a link to an online calculator:


3500 calories

What's that got to do with anything? 3500 calories is the number of calories in one pound of fat. For every 3500 calorie deficit created, one pound of fat will be lost. For every 3500 excess calories consumed, one pound of fat will be gained. This is a slight oversimplification, but as a rule of thumb, it is an effective tool in determining and predicting weight loss or gain. Calculate your daily caloric needs using the equation above and subtract 500. If losing weight is a goal, then this number should be your goal number of calories per day. A 500 calorie deficit per day over the course of 1 week (500 cals/day x 7 days) will result in a 3500 calorie deficit per week...translation...you will lose approximately one pound per week. You can create that deficit by eating less or exercising more, but a combination of both is best so that you maintain metabolism-restoring muscle mass and burn mostly fat. I'll discuss this more in upcoming weeks.

"Healthy" foods?

Losing or gaining weight has nothing to do with eating "healthy" or "unhealthy". The purpose of this tip is not to encourage you to eat unhealthy foods, only to illustrate that all foods are fair game and can be eaten in moderation within the context of a healthy diet. In later tips/articles, I'll talk about how to choose healthier foods, but always remember that portions matter most when making choices for the purpose of weight management.

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