Tag Archives: weight control

Calories count, but don’t count calories!

When it comes to losing weight, calories count. Thanks to a host of wearable devices and mobile apps, counting calories has never been easier. This matters because losing weight almost always means cutting the calories that you eat and increasing the calories that you burn. This concept of “eat less, move more” is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Modern wearable devices and mobile apps allow you to track your weight, what you eat, and your activity fairly accurately. Many apps can measure the intensity of exercise by using the GPS and accelerometer features of your phone itself or by syncing with a wearable bracelet or belt clip. Some include heart rate to make the estimates even more precise. Using this technology, you can count steps, measure how many miles you walk or run, and estimate how many calories you burn.

Other apps can help you track what you eat. Whether you are counting calories or concerned about the amount of protein you are eating, diet analysis apps can show you what you are really eating. Most require you to enter the foods you eat and the app calculates calories, nutrients, sugar, salt, and water intake based on standard databases. In order to get accurate results, it is important to estimate portion sizes accurately, something that is challenging even for experts. That said, these apps can be useful for tracking what you eat to help you learn about your eating patterns to develop healthier habits or meet specific goals, such as eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Activity trackers and exercise apps are especially popular for improving fitness and promoting weight loss. Both the physical activity that you do throughout the day and dedicated exercise are important for good health, physical fitness, and weight control. This technology can help you know what to do, when to do it, and how much you did at the end of the day.

Even if you aren’t concerned about exactly how many calories your burned in an exercise class or how many steps you took during the day, these devices can help you develop healthier habits. Many people are simply unaware of how sedentary they are during the day or are unrealistic about how intense their workouts really are. For many people, an accurate report of how many steps they took or how many calories they burned is helpful for gauging their success and identifying things they can improve.

While these tools can be helpful, it is important to emphasize the importance of developing healthy habits in order to improve fitness, lose weight, or keep it off. A focus on “micromanaging” steps or calories may cause you to lose sight of the “big picture” changes you want to make. For example, you should strive to be as active as you can throughout the day, even if you have already met your step or calorie goal.

Keep in mind that there are very few people who failed to meet their fitness or weight loss goal because they didn’t have the latest activity tracker or fitness app. Real success comes from making lifestyle changes to incorporate healthy eating and activity habits that you can maintain without constant reminders. While technology can help you make those changes, it does not replace the dedication needed to develop lasting eating and activity habits to promote good health.


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Tomorrow is Healthy Lunch Day. Here’s why it matters and why you should do it every day.

Tomorrow is National Healthy Lunch Day, an event promoted by the American Diabetes Association to raise awareness about the need to make healthy choices at lunchtime. We all know that eating breakfast is an important way to start the day. What we may not appreciate is the role a good lunch plays in promoting good health, from helping with weight control to managing diabetes. A healthy lunch can also affect your focus and attention, helping your performance at work or school.


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A healthy lunch is important for treating and preventing many health problems. Diabetes is a perfect example. Perhaps the most important aspect of managing diabetes is to control blood glucose levels throughout the day. Obviously, eating a meal will raise blood glucose. But eating a meal that is relatively low in carbohydrates, especially sugar [https://drbrianparr.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/sugar-and-your-health/], can provide energy without contributing to a spike in blood glucose. The glycemic index (GI) is a useful tool for selecting foods that have a lower impact on blood glucose. Keep in mind that the amount of carbohydrates you eat is important, too, so focusing only on GI isn’t enough. This is especially important for diabetics who take medications, including insulin, to help manage their diabetes.

The idea that eating lunch promotes weight loss sounds counterintuitive, but it works! Skipping a meal can lead to stronger feelings of hunger later in the day. And if you are hungrier you will likely eat more. So, an appropriate midday meal can help you eat less later in the day. Combined with regular exercise, eating appropriate meals and snacks is an essential aspect of weight loss and weight control.

Eating lunch provides energy and reduces hunger at a time when your breakfast is likely “wearing off.” This may help you feel more energetic and can enhance your attention, focus, and productivity. Of course, what you eat for lunch is as important as when you eat. Lots of sugar can make you feel sluggish, both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, added sugar is a big part of many restaurant meals and convenience foods, so the afternoon slump is a reality for many of us. Limiting sugar in both food and drinks can help you make healthier choices at lunch that can make you feel and work better in the afternoon.

“That afternoon slump you feel may be due to what you ate for lunch.”

A good lunch is especially important for children. In addition to providing energy to support growth and learning, lunch also presents an opportunity to teach children about healthy eating. This is critical since formal nutrition education isn’t part of the curriculum at most schools. Sadly, most school lunch programs provide meals that include too much added sugar and refined carbohydrates, inappropriate for growing and learning kids.

Many adults don’t fare much better with their lunch. For a lot of people, the two key criteria for lunch are that it is quick and convenient. And as we know, quick and convenient foods are rarely considered healthy, so this requires some effort to plan ahead and make careful choices.

What makes a healthy lunch? Pretty much the same recommendations for other meals also apply for lunch: low in added sugar and refined carbohydrates and high in fiber. Your lunch should include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein, all of which are foods that can make you feel full longer. In the end, the effort and planning pay off by making you a healthier you!


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Your metabolism (and how to speed it up)

Many people are interested in speeding up their metabolism in an effort to lose weight. There are drugs, supplements, and even certain foods that are thought to increase metabolism. The effectiveness of many of these things is unproven and some may actually be dangerous. The goal of this article is to explain what the term “metabolism” really means and how it can be changed.

Metabolism refers all of your body’s processes that expend energy, or burn calories. Practically, this is how much carbohydrate, fat, and protein is burned throughout the day to provide energy for your cells. If you expend more energy than you consume in your diet, you will lose weight.

The amount of energy you expend in a day is composed of three main components: your resting metabolic rate (RMR), something called the thermic effect of food (TEF), and the energy you expend in activity.

Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is sometimes called the basal metabolic rate (BMR), but many people refer to it as their “metabolism.” No matter which name is used, it refers to the calories you burn at rest. It represents the energy needed to maintain your essential body functions: heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and normal cellular processes.

The RMR is important because it represents about 60–70% of the total calories a typical person burns in a typical day. Even though RMR is important, you shouldn’t worry about it too much.

First, it is difficult to change. RMR is based mostly on your lean body mass, so the only way to increase it is to gain muscle mass. While this is a good goal, it is challenging to do, especially while you trying to losing weight.

Second, although it does vary among people, it isn’t as different as people like to think. It is easy to think that someone who gains weight has a “slow metabolism” or that someone who is thin must have a “fast metabolism.” In reality, the RMR probably isn’t much different, certainly when you take lean body mass into account. The explanation for the differences in weight among people probably has more to do with what they eat and how active they are.

The thermic effect of food (TEF) represents the energy needed to digest, absorb, and store the nutrients you eat. It accounts for only about 10% of your total energy expenditure and it is practically impossible to change, so you can ignore it.

Activity is the most variable component of energy expenditure and the one you can most readily change. Obviously, it will vary based on how active you are, but for most people it accounts for 20–30% of total energy expenditure.

Activity includes both purposeful movement such as exercise and doing work or tasks that require you to move. Activity also includes non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT, the calories you burn when you move around, but not in a purposeful way. Maintaining your posture when sitting or standing, fidgeting in your chair, or other light movements count as NEAT.

The surest way for you to increase your metabolism is to limit the time you spend sitting, be active as possible at all times, and dedicate time to exercise every day. Doing prolonged aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or exercise classes directly burns calories and including strength training will help increase your muscle mass, which can increase up your RMR.

The bottom line is that speeding up your metabolism requires you to move. So, get up off the couch and go for a walk!

How to win at losing: What to do when your diet ends.

In the past few weeks several community and fitness center-based weight loss programs have ended. Since many diets and exercise programs last 12–15 weeks, this time of year marks the end of many programs. During this time many people have met personal weight loss goals through individual diets and “biggest loser” type programs. (I have written about competition-type weight loss programs in the past here and elsewhere.)

One of these is the Team Lean program at the Y. This year over 1,600 people from the Aiken and Augusta area participated in this 12-week program that included weekly education sessions and weigh-ins, a strong group dynamic, and monitoring to prevent rapid, unhealthy weight loss. The average participant lost almost 10% of their body weight, which is sufficient to promote improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes.

This level of weight loss is common among people who participate in individual or group programs. But the real challenge is to maintain that weight loss after the program ends. Many people have successfully met their weight loss goal only to gain the weight back later. In fact, some people do it every year, losing and regaining the same 10 (or 20 or 30) pounds over and over.

Losing weight is challenging, to be sure. But maintaining weight loss can be even more challenging. Many people think that they are finished once their diet or weight loss program ends. The truth is that the end of the diet marks the beginning of the next phase: keeping the weight off. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

There is a practical reason why this happens. In order to lose weight and keep it off people need to learn a whole new lifestyle involving what, when, why, and how they eat as well as daily exercise. These lifestyle changes are difficult to make and can take months or years to fully adopt. In many cases, the weight loss program ends before people make lasting behavior changes and revert to their old habits.

While there are literally hundreds of diets and weight loss programs to choose from, “weight maintenance” programs are far less common. The good news is that following the advice of people who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off can help you maintain your weight loss.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) is a collection of information submitted by individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss. These “successful losers” have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for over five years, with some losing as much as 300 pounds! Best of all, they share the secrets of their success.

It turns out that they lost weight through a variety of diets and programs. Nearly half lost weight on their own and the other the other half followed of some type of program. Regardless, almost all of them increased their physical activity and modified their diet, suggesting that diet and exercise together are important for successful weight loss.

There is also variety in how NWCR members keep the weight off. Most report continuing to maintain a low-calorie, low-fat diet and doing high levels of activity. Almost 80% eat breakfast every day, 75% weigh themselves at least once a week, over 60% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week, and 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.

Many people worry whether they are following the “best” diet or weight loss program. The specific diet may not be as important as what you do when it ends. Notice that the majority of successful losers still control what they eat and nearly all exercise each day. This suggests that going back to the way you ate before you lost weight is unrealistic. And if you aren’t exercising, at least walking, every day already, now is a good time to start.

What is a healthy breakfast?

Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?

Eating a healthy breakfast provides energy to start the day, can reduce hunger to prevent overeating later in the day, and is important for attention and learning, especially in kids.

But what is a healthy breakfast? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

 Unfortunately, there is no specific answer to that question. I think most experts would agree that a good breakfast should include a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and even some fat but be low in added sugar. These broad guidelines suggest that there are many ways to create a healthy breakfast, even if it doesn’t include traditional breakfast foods.

Instead of making a list of all the foods that could be part of a healthy breakfast, I took the opposite approach and made a list of foods that shouldn’t  be part of a healthy breakfast. The idea being that if your breakfast contains these items,  it could likely use some improvements. And if you avoid these foods, your breakfast can’t be all bad.

So, here is my list of foods that almost certainly aren’t part of a healthy breakfast:

1. It has frosting on it.

I think everyone would agree that foods that are frosted are better classified as dessert than breakfast. That said, from donuts to Pop Tarts to breakfast bars, many unhealthy breakfast foods are covered with a layer of frosting.

2. One of the ingredients is marshmallows.

Just like frosting, breakfast foods that contain marshmallows are probably better choices for dessert. Marshmallows are found in cereals, granola bars, an other packaged foods that are almost always high in added sugars beyond the marshmallows.

3. It is topped with whipped cream.

A fruit smoothie can be a healthy breakfast. But a fruit smoothie topped with whipped cream is likely closer to a milkshake as far as sugar and calories are concerned. The same goes for coffee drinks. A mocha-caramel-latte with whipped topping may contain coffee, but it also has far more sugar, fat, and calories than you might expect.

4. It contains chocolate.

Research shows that eating chocolate may have health benefits. But the research involves consuming small amounts of dark chocolate, not chocolate donuts or chocolate-flavored cereal. Again, save the chocolate for dessert.

5. You are eating it in your car.

More specifically, you got the food while you were in your car, which means it likely came from the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant. Fast food is just as poor of a choice for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner.

Of course, this is a work in progress and there are certainly some exceptions. And there is nothing wrong with treating yourself to a chocolate frosted donut once in a while. But if your daily breakfast includes items from this list, you could benefit from a breakfast makeover, and this list should help you avoid many unhealthy choices.