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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Key to Losing Weight

(I know you're tired of hearing this, but here we go again: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

Assuming you aren't at the weight you want to be, you either want to lose weight or gain weight. I'll attack the first today. And while I've always struggled with gaining rather than losing, the two really do use the same info and techniques; you just put them together a little differently.

Remember how I said the two main guidelines for getting your weight under control were "moderation" and "small changes"? Today I'm going to show you how that works.

The key to losing weight is to make small changes in your daily routine. Why small changes? Because small changes are easier to continue than big changes. We're creatures of habit and we resist any major change in our daily routine. Make a big change, and you may lose a lot of weight but you'll gain it all back when you go back to your normal routine. (Ever heard of "yo-yo dieting"?) Make a small change, an easy change, and it's much easier to keep it up.

Here's the basic "small change" you need to understand to successfully lose weight: One pound equals 3500 calories. To lose one pound a week (that's 13 lbs in 3 months, guys!), you need to eliminate 500 calories a day (3500 calories divided by 7 days). You can eliminate these calories through a combination of diet and exercise. Do you realize that a typical candy bar has 180-250 calories? That's nearly half the calories right there! Add enough exercise to burn the rest of the calories, perhaps using this calculator I mentioned yesterday to figure out how much you need to do, and voilá! There's your 500 calories.

Ok, I can hear the protests. Maybe you don't eat candy bars. I admit that was a neat example, but I wanted you to get a visual picture of how little the change has to be. You don't have to eliminate entire meals or start eating huge salads that don't fill you up to eliminate such a small amount of calories from your diet.

The rest of this post is a basic lesson on how to eat. This info is basic to learning to eat what you want without ruining your body. A healthy diet doesn't have to be a miserable diet. This will give you enough info that you can make some changes "on the fly" and know you're making good choices. I'll go into more detail in future posts.

Most food info you'll get from the "nutrition panel" on food packages is given in grams. One ounce equals just over 28 grams, so you can see we're talking about some small amounts here. You also need to know that the "serving" size they list is rarely what you're actually going to eat. For example, if you drink a 20-oz Pepsi, that's 2 1/2 servings because the serving size is only 8 oz. This info will be at the top of the panel, but most people never read it. If you're trying to get a handle on how many calories you're taking in, you need to match the calories on the panel to what you're actually eating.

There are three "kinds" of calories: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. There's more to calories than just this, but here's the down-and-dirty info you need to learn first: Your nutrition panel tells you about these in grams, and here's how many calories per gram you can expect:
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Again, I'll talk more about these later, but please note that fat grams have more than DOUBLE the calories of protein or carbohydrate grams. Most foods are a mixture of all three, but if you could eat pure protein or pure carbs, you could eat TWICE AS MUCH of them and STILL get less calories than you would get in the same amount of pure fat!

So here's a simple example of how you use this info to start getting control of your calorie intake. Here is the nutritional info for the menu at McDonald's. I'm going to pull a few items for this example:
  • McDouble: 5.3 oz, 390 total calories, 170 fat calories (19 fat grams)
  • Double Cheeseburger: 5.8 oz, 440 total calories, 210 fat calories (23 fat grams)
  • Quarter Pounder: 6 oz, 410 total calories, 170 fat calories (19 fat grams)
  • Quarter w/Cheese: 7 oz, 510 total calories, 230 fat calories (26 fat grams)
  • Premium Grilled Chicken Classic: 8 oz, 420 total calories, 90 fat calories (10 fat grams)
Quick comparisons: The McDouble is basically a Double Cheeseburger, but has 40 less fat calories. (It's 36 if you figure using the fat grams, but don't expect exact numbers; do you really believe McDonald's makes all these McDoubles exactly 5.3 oz?) Getting the McDouble instead of the Double Cheese cuts 50 total calories for roughly the same size burger!

Look at the Quarter Pounder vs. the Quarter w/Cheese... 100 calories difference, 60 of them fat (7 fat grams)! Two identical sandwiches, but one without cheese. But notice that, if you absolutely have to have a cheeseburger, you could get the McDouble; no more fat but 20 less calories. (Also note that the Double Cheeseburger is smaller than the Quarter Pounder, but has more calories and fat.)

But if you don't have to have a hamburger -- granted, that's not an option for some of us -- but if you were willing to go for chicken instead, the Grilled Classic is near the low end of the calorie scale but is BIGGER than any of the others! Why? Largely because it has half the fat. Only two of the hamburgers have fewer total calories, and even then it's not by much. (Bear in mind that not all the chicken sandwiches have less fat. Take a look at the full chart at the McDonald's site and you'll see that you don't automatically get fewer calories just because you eat chicken instead of beef.)

My point? If you cut back on fat, you can actually eat a GREATER volume of food (real food, not fluffy salad) and still get FEWER calories. If you were going to McDonald's today and got the Grilled Chicken Classic instead of the Quarter w/Cheese, and you changed nothing else, you've already sliced nearly 100 calories off your intake for the day... AND you got more food in the process. It's not that you change your eating habits so you can eat more food; I just want you to understand that, once you know what you're doing, you can cut your intake of calories without feeling hungry all the time.

And you don't have to swear off cheeseburgers forever. Today you skipped the cheeseburger; maybe next time you get the cheeseburger but cut calories at another meal. There aren't really any bad foods, just bad eating habits. Add some exercise, and you can do it.

Small changes, people. That's how you lose weight. Once you get the hang of it, it's not hard. I'll give you some more "food tech" tomorrow.


  1. a McDouble ?? Never heard of that one.

  2. It's on the dollar menu. Maybe they don't have it all over the country yet.