What are calories?

Calories are a measurement of energy. One calorie by definition, is the energy or heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water one degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). In other words, a calorie is a unit of energy. We use calories to measure the amount of energy stored in food. Different nutrients have different amounts of energy. One gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, one gram of protein has 4 calories, one gram of fat has nine calories, and fiber has no calories. We need calories to survive. Too many calories though, and we gain weight. Most women require 1500-2000 calories a day to maintain their weight. Most men require 2000-2500 calories a day to maintain their weight. If you have more muscle, you burn more calories a day. On the other hand, if you have more body fat you burn less. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. The more activity you do during the day, the higher your daily calories requirements are to maintain your weight. Walking 1 extra mile a day (2000 steps) burns 100 calories. One pound of fat equals 3500 calories. Therefore to lose one pound of  weight, you must eat 3500 calories less than your body requires over a period of time. For example, if your body requires 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight, and you eat only 1900 calories a day you will lose about 1 pound a month and 12 pounds over a year. If you eat 100 calories less and walk an extra mile every day (2000 steps) which equals 100 calories, you will lose 2 pounds over a month or 24 pounds over a year. Losing weight is not rocket science. The goal should be to eat foods that fill you up for less calories – foods that are not calorie dense. Exercise also helps with weight loss. Be careful though, if you exercise more but also increase your caloric intake, your weight may not decrease. This is a common mistake many people make. Many people are frustrated that they are unable to lose weight. This is usually caused by unknowingly eating too many calories or not burning enough off. If you are frustrated, start paying attention to the calories of the foods you eat. Be very careful of serving sizes! Keep a diary for a short period of time if this helps. Losing weight and keeping it off does not have to be complicated. We will be discussing the calorie density of food in future posts. This concept will be critical to helping you lose weight and keeping it off.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead is critical to avoid wrecking your healthy lifestyle by sudden moments of temptation. If you get hungry at home and a big jar of candy or cookies is steering you in the face, keeping to your diet becomes quite difficult. If you get hungry and are at the mall, you may be tempted to eat one of those gooey chocolate chip cookies which you can seem to smell throughout the entire mall. Those large soft pretzels always seem to be calling my name! Furthermore, if you are on a road trip and get hungry you may be tempted by a snack at a convenience store such as chips or candy. The key is to plan ahead. At home, make sure you have healthy low calorie snacks ready to eat. Have fruit and vegetables cut up and ready to eat. Get rid of all junk food snacks. Do not even have them in your house, or you will be tempted! If you are going to be out, make sure you have snacks with you. Apples, oranges, bananas, and carrots are easy to carry along. Bring a small bag of nuts to munch on. You do not want to be in a situation where you are famished and then make bad food choices that you later regret. It can get difficult on the road when you are traveling. It is possible to eat healthy on the road, but it make take some extra time and effort. Look for grocery stores or markets that carry healthier choices. With computers and cell phones, it is now easy to find healthier options that are convenient. Look for restaurants that have healthier choices. Avoid fast food restaurants. When traveling, pack snacks to bring along with you. Long car trips can make you hungry – avoid mindlessly eating processed carbs such as chips, pretzels and cookies. Traveling through airports can also be difficult, especially when you are short on time and there are so many convenient fast food restaurants on the way to your gate. Again, plan ahead. Either bring food with you or look for healthy alternatives. Look for maps of the terminals to help find healthier options. Do not give in to temptation. Going out to the mall or traveling do not have to result in poor dietary choices. Plan ahead. Eat ahead of time. If your stomach is already filled, you will be  less likely to make bad choices. Do not wreck all your hard work by a quick momentary lapse of discretion. The calories in those gooey cookies and large soft pretzels add up quickly!

It is never too late to start taking care of yourself

Many people seem to feel that they are too old to start taking care of themselves. They say, “It is too late.” “It is too hard to change.” “It will not make a difference at my age.” These are all excuses. Many smokers feel that since they have smoked for so long, there is no point in quitting. I have seen many long-term hardcore smokers (40-50 years) who have been able to quit. It was not easy but they were able to do it. And you know what? They found that they started to feel better. They had less shortness breath and better exercise tolerance. Food started to taste better. It clearly was not too late. The same goes for one’s diet and weight. Sally was a feisty 76 year old widow. She was 75 pounds over weight. She was a diabetic and hypertensive on multiple medications. She was chronically tired. It was an effort just to get off the couch. She felt like pill time was another meal due the large handful of medications she was taking. She lived alone and never felt like cooking just for herself. She had multiple aches and pains that made getting out of bed painful. Her arthritis was getting worse. Her PCP told her she might soon need insulin for her diabetes. One day she decided that she had had enough. She did not want to live this way anymore. She started to change her diet. She started to increase the number of fruits and vegetables she ate every day. She stopped eating sweats. She increased the fiber in her diet to help her feel full. She started walking. Initially it was hard. She could only walk for 5 minutes. Soon she could do 10 minutes. Eventually she built up to 30 minutes. Slowly, the weight started to come off. It was slow, but steady. She lost 5 pounds the first month. She slowly started to feel better. She started to have more energy. Her shortness of breath improved. Her mood improved. She continued to watch her calories and her weight slowly continued to decrease. Before she knew it she had lost 25 pounds. Her blood pressure dropped. She was able to come off one of her blood pressure medications. Her blood sugar also dropped. She no longer needed insulin. Her PCP stopped one of her diabetes medications. People started to notice. They started to comment how good she was looking. She was able to get some nicer fitting clothing. She also noticed her aches and pains were improving. Her hips and knees both started to feel much better. Her mood was continuing to improve. She was feeling happy. Her entire life was changing – at age 76! It is never too late. She made a decision to live a new life. She was focused on overall good health. Good health is something we earn, especially as we get older. Making a commitment to maximizing your quality of life as you age is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Start today. Make a commitment to improving your health and your life. It is never too late!

I am unable to exercise. Can I still lose weight?

Many people assume that they cannot lose weight because they are unable to exercise for various reasons such as knee or back pains. The good news is that weight loss is absolutely possible even without exercise. Remember that the key to weight loss is calories in versus calories out. We all have a minimum amount of calories we need to maintain our weight (Our basic metabolic rate or BMR). If you eat more you will gain weight over time, eat less and you will lose weight. Unfortunately, the less active you are, the less daily calories you will require to maintain your weight at a set level. Furthermore, the less muscle mass you have, the less calories you burn sitting around. (This becomes an important issue for many as they get older and become inactive. Muscle seems to turn to fat which is less metabolically active than muscle. This is why muscle building/strengthening exercises are important at any age.) The basic metabolic rate for most people tends to be between 1500 – 2000 calories a day. One pound is equal to 3500 calories. Therefore, to lose a pound you need to eat 3500 calories less or burn them off with exercise. Clearly, it is more difficult to lose weight when not being able to exercise. If your daily calorie requirement is 1800 calories and you consume 1500 calories you will lose 1 pound in almost 2 weeks (3500/300 = about 12 days). This is not fast weight loss, but should result in slow but steady weight loss (about 2 pounds per month – which then equates to almost 25 pounds in a year!) The key is consistency and patience. Unfortunately, most become impatient and give up too soon. As I have discussed in previous posts, one key is to eat foods that are not calorie dense. You do not want to be hungry or you will give up. Eat good sized portions of low calorie dense foods. (Especially fruits and vegetables!) Make sure your foods are nutrient dense. Your goal is is the most nutrition you can get for the least calories. As people do start to lose weight, many see striking improvements in their energy and their aches and pains which then allows them to become more active and speed up the weight loss process. Overall, have a long term weight loss goal and stick to it. Remember, patience and consistency are critical to long term weight loss. Do not get frustrated. The weight will come off. Just keep thinking how much more energy you will have and how much better you will feel in the long term!