Many of us have a hate-hate relationship with calories. If you’ve counted then till the cows came home but lost not one pound, you know what I mean. But here’s how calories can be our friend.
We typically fall into one of three calorie-counting camps: The counter, who tallies every last one of them, the guesstimator, who rounds off, and let’s say the ignorer, who eats “what’s good” for them. All three have pros and cons, and all influence how we lose (or gain) weight.
Counters have a solid sense of calories and fat, cholesterol, sodium, and for those on eating plans, “points,” but when focusing on numbers alone and not nutrients and other values in food, counters can end up making not-so-good choices. Ever substitute an order of fries for a hearty salad because they have about the same calories count? You already know which is better, but if you’re in counting mode, you tell yourself the swap is OK because it’s even – even though you know it’s not. If you’re a counter, you may also feel like a ship without a rudder navigating a restaurant menu or dinner party spread because you have no idea how much salt (or sugar!) went into that pasta dish.
“Guestimating” works because it gives you a general sense of your calorie count. But guestimators can run into trouble when they “round down,” shaving calories here and there. If you round your calories, you may end up consuming more than you think. The only person you’re cheating is yourself.
The Ignorer who pays no attention to calories and focuses on “eating what’s good” is on solid ground with clean, whole foods. But challenges lurk because “what’s good” can be vague, and when stressed or frustrated, what’s good may be a “treat” of something sweet (cake), chewy (candy), salty (pretzels) or crunchy (chips) instead of real, whole foods.
Whether you’re a counter or an estimator or you play it by ear, calories in are calories in. What we need to focus on more is calories out.
Think of it like bad budgeting: in order to lose weight, you must run a deficit: Calories in must be less than calories out. For maintenance, of course, calories in must equal calories out. You can’t cheat your checkbook because the numbers don’t lie. So let’s shift the spotlight to the cals you burn. Here are some estimates for an hour workout for a 200-pound person (see more exercises courtesy of the Mayo Clinic):
Low-impact aerobics: 455
Bicycling (10 mph) 364
Running (5 mph) 755
Walking (3.5 mph) 391
Other ways to zap cals:
Invest in a good pedometer so you’re counting your steps each day. The rule of thumb is 10,000, which equals about 5 miles. If you’re not losing enough, take more steps. Inactive people walk about 3,000 SPD. Don’t be one of them.
Stand when you’re on the phone, reading, or working at your computer. Studies show that sitting for long periods of time is not good for your health and in fact can cancel out all that work at the gym. And too many of us (me included) spend too much of our time glued to our computers, tabs and smartphones. So stand up and even – God forbid – step away. And keep steppin’ for a bit.
Next time you’re inclined to count calories or guestimate or ignore the numbers, base what you eat on the number of calories you’ll burn. Light activity = light breakfast, lunch and dinner. A half-hour of high-impact Zumba plus stretching and walking = heartier dining. Keep counting or guessing or whatever you’ve done, but beware of the downsides, and at the end of the day, make sure to run a deficit. In a week or a month, the losses will add up big time. Want to tailor a diet and exercise combo that works just for you? Book your consultation now.
Have a Healthy Day!