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Calories in, fat out

January 30, 2010 - Kathie Evanoff
We’re still in the early stages of the fitness challenge and although I’m keeping pace with my goal, some of my teammates, and others, are struggling. Why is that?

Here’s my theory and it’s all about reality.

Reality #1: I’m on pace with my numbers because I didn’t set my goal too high. Two pounds a week over the course of the competition. That adds up to 20 pounds, which I think is a realistic goal for anyone. Sure some people out there are losing tons of weight, or at least they did with the first weigh-in. This won’t be the norm every week. It’s easy to lose a lot the first week because much of it is water and other bodily fluids. A gallon of liquid weighs seven pounds. Get rid of all that excess water puffing out your fat cells and it shows up as a big loss on the scales, but those fat cells are still there. Once the water is gone, you have to really get down to work.

Reality #2: It’s all about the numbers. You can count carbs, you can cut out desserts and sweets, and you can bust your butt in the gym working out two to three hours a day, but the truth is, successful weight control is 90 percent diet and only 10 percent exercise. I’m not saying this because I’m trying to get out of working out.

Here are the numbers and it is complicated: It takes 3,600 calories to burn one pound. Calories (actually kilocalories) is the measurement of how much energy it takes our bodies to use up our food. The heavier you are, when you work out, you can burn more calories, of course. You are carrying more weight around, just as though you were lifting heavier weights. Any activity will burn calories. But unless you work out four to six hours every day like the contestants on the TV show, The Biggest Loser, you can’t expect to burn enough calories to really make a big difference in fat loss. You must watch how much you eat. There are no magic pills, fiber cookies or crash diet combinations. It’s all about calories in versus calories out.

Reality #3: This goes with #2 in that it’s still about the numbers. YOU MUST COUNT CALORIES. All successful weight loss programs are based on calories. Even weight watchers, which uses a system of points, is based on calories. When you figure your “point values” you must take into consideration the number of calories as well as the amount of fat and fiber in your calculations. Too much fat (9 calories per gram) will increase the point level in that food. The more fiber in the food, the lower your point level, but even with high fiber food there is a limit. Anything over 6 grams of fiber isn’t counted. Why? Because no matter how much fiber you take in, you still have to watch the calorie intake. Does this make sense?

Remember the old Richard Simmons Deal A Meal diet? You started out with a deck of cards. Each card designated a food group, either carbs, fats or protein. With Deal A Meal, each time you ate something, you put the corresponding cards in an envelope. When you didn’t have any cards left, you were finished eating for the day. Easy peasy. The number of cards you started with each day still added up to the total number of calories you were allowed. How? Because one gram of carbs or protein is four calories. By limiting your servings by using the cards, you were still dealing with calories.

These are all ways to make the calorie counting easier for people who simply didn’t want to take the time to write it all down. Which brings us to…..

Reality #4: You must keep a journal. I know, I know, you think you don’t have time to write down every single thing you eat. Well, you do. You just don’t want to and that’s the problem. You have to embrace the journal, otherwise it won’t work. The good thing is, you don’t have to write it down all day long. Take five minutes in the morning before breakfast and write down what you plan to have for both breakfast and what you plan to have for lunch. Pre-planning is the key. Write it down or log it online. There are plenty of online calorie counting journals and most of them will even look up the foods and do the calculating for you. I like They hve graphs and pie charts to calculate nutritional information. After three weeks of looking up and counting calories, you can pretty much estimate your calorie count without looking up the numbers for each food, but you should still write it down.

#Reality 5: Don’t get me wrong, working out does help, but the bottom line is you can’t just go to the gym for an hour and think you will lose weight without dieting. Working out keeps your metabolism on an even keel throughout your weight loss journey, particularly if, like your meals, you spread it out during the day. A brief walk in the morning, another at lunch time and another after work will do the trick. You only need to walk for 15 minutes at a time. Aerobic exercise helps your heart muscle and weight training helps build muscle. Muscle burns calories faster than fat, which by the way, is why men lose weight faster than women. Pound for pound, their bodies have more muscle than ours. That’s just the way it is.

But here’s the last reality #6: An hour on the treadmill, walking 3 miles per hour, only burns about 300 to 400 calories. This number fluctuates with how much weight you are carrying around. What really stinks is the more weight you lose and the more muscle you build, the more exercise it will take to burn calories. Those numbers, while helpful, aren’t a lot when you are trying to burn 3,600 calories just to lose one pound.

We all burn calories just to function, make our heart beat, make our lungs expand and contract when we breathe, run our circulatory system, etc. If you use 2,000 calories a day just to live but you are eating 3,000 calories a day, the math says you are taking in1,000 more than you need. That’s a weight gain. But if you burn 2,000 a day (and everyone is different), eat 1,500 calories a day and work out to a tune of 400 calories a day, that means you have a 900 calorie a day deficit, which adds up to weight loss. That 900 a day, divided into 3,600 means you will lose one pound every four days. That’s a realistic goal to shoot for.

Remember, no one should try to eat less than 1,200 calories a day. The American Dietetic Association says you can’t get all of the nutrients you need from your food if you go lower than that. But be realistic. If you have 1,245 one day and 1,145 the next, you won’t jeopardize you goal. It all evens out at the end of the week.

I am not a dietician, nor am I a doctor. If you are on any type of medically restricted diet, have medical issues or even think you do, consult your doctor before starting any diet or exercise program.


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