Calories Count

Put another nail in the great diet debate. A very well-done study that was published in the February 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine compared 4 different low calorie diets with varying amounts of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The protein in the diets ranged from a low of 15% up to 25%. Carbohydrates ranged from 35% to 65% and fat from 20% to 40%. The results? It just didn't matter! The participants all lost - and regained - the same amount of weight over 2 years.

After the first 6 months on the diets, people on all the diets lost an average of 13 pounds. They began to regain their weight after 1 year. After 2 years, they had kept off an average of 9 pounds.  So while the bottom line may be calories, most people just don't do very well with diets.

But don't be discouraged. These are just averages and you could beat those numbers by figuring out your calories and by making small cuts in those calories.

Here is a good way to estimate how many calories your body needs at its present weight:

Base Calories   =       weight in pounds   X   10
Activity Calories   =   weight in pounds   X   3 for not much physical activity
                                   X   5 for some physical activity
                                   X   8 for lots of physical activity
Base Calories + Activity Calories = Total Calories
If you are older than 50 years, subtract 10% form that total.
 
Then subtract 500 calories to lose an average of one pound a week. You could cut more than that but be sure not to go too low or you'll starve! Most women don't need to go much below 1400 to 1600 calories to lose weight. Men can usually lose weight on no less than 2000 calories a day. The higher you can go and still lose weight, the better.

Let's say you are a 170 pound woman who is inactive and you want to lose weight, here's how your calories would work:
 
 170 x 10 = 1700 calories (let's say she's not very active)
 170 x 3 = 510 calories
 1700 + 510 = 2210 calories - 500 calories = 1710 calories to lose weight

What next?
➢  Keep Track of Your Calories.  Buy a book that lists calories and write down all the foods you eat and the calories so you can cut back to your goal.
➢  Don't Go Too Low. It's a myth that cutting calories permanently lowers your metabolism. But, you don't want to cut calories so low that you feel deprived and then overeat. Lose weight slowly on higher amounts of calories and you'll be able to stick with it a whole lot longer.
➢  Cut Portions. You don't need to give up the foods you love. Eating fewer calories can mean just cutting back on portion sizes a bit. In fact, cutting out the foods you love could be counterproductive and cause weight regain.
➢  Increase Exercise! You can lower your total calories by cutting back on what you eat and exercising more - the more active you are, the less strict you have to be on your calories.
➢  Learn to Balance. It would be unreasonable to expect you to stick to your calorie goal every day. Some days you may go over - that's o.k. Just get back on track the next day. An occasional day over your goal won't set you back very far.
➢  Adjust as Needed! If you are losing weight too fast or too slowly, adjust your calories up or down. Most adult women should not need to cut calories below 1600 to lose weight while most men should not need to cut their calories below 2000 - although there are exceptions. Weekly weight loss can really vary - some weeks you may lose up to 3 or 4 pounds while others, barely one pound. Learn to look at your weight loss over the long term, not on a daily or even weekly basis.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences