Diet & Nutrition

fresh plated saladDo you remember “The Count” from Sesame Street?  While he’s not my favorite Sesame Street personality, sometimes throughout the day I remind myself of The Count. 

You see, I’m a chronic calorie counter.  Part of that stems from the years of obsessive-compulsive tendencies that accompany an eating disorder.  But a good bit of it comes from being post-menopausal and trying to maintain a healthy weight.

Should you be a calorie counter?

These days, there is a great deal of focus on NOT counting calories and simply eating more healthfully and making better food choices.  While making better choices throughout the day is absolutely necessary, I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. 

Here’s why.

First, what is a calorie anyway?  I think the use of the term calories has become so common, that most of us don’t really stop to consider, what are these little demons and why should I care?

Technically, a calorie is a measure of energy in the same way as a watt, or volt.  Also, in science we talk about the difference in Calorie (with a big C) and calorie (with a small c).  The Calories we see on food labels are in fact kilocalories (big C calories).  What exactly is a Calorie? Technically, a Calorie is the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. 

Now remember, the human body is mostly water.  Maybe you can relate to feeling hot and sweaty during exercise and burning more Calories.  In order to stay alive, we need Calories.  But we only need what we need.  This means we have to balance the Calories we take in through food and beverage with those that we burn through basic metabolism and activity.

When our Caloric intake balances our expenditure – we maintain body weight.  When we expend more Calories than we take in, generally we lose weight. When we take in more Calories than we expend, we tend to gain weight.  There are caveats to this, as many who have struggled with weight loss know.  But truly, we have to keep some general idea of intake versus expenditure in mind. 

Balance is the key.

Most of us understand this general principle.  Where I think many of us get bollixed up is in understanding how hard we have to work to burn Calories.

Here are some VERY GENERAL guidelines to help you with that.

 

Activity Calories Burned*
Walking 100/mile
Running 100/mile
Spinning 400/class
Weight lifting 100/half hour
Hatha Yoga 189/ hour
Swimming (freestyle) 400/hour

 

Now here is the Calorie content of a few food items you may run into from day to day:

 

Small English Muffin w/Butter 235
Pumpkin Spice Latte Grande 380
Red Wine 5 oz. 125
Cheese Pizza 1 slice 275
Spaghetti w/ Marinara 1 cup 185
Cheddar Cheese 1 oz. 113
Boiled Egg 1 large 70
Chicken Breast 5 oz. 236
Pinto Beans (cooked) 1 cup 300
Mixed Greens 1 cup 9
Broccoli 1 cup 30
Kale 1 cup 33
Blueberries 1 cup 85
Avocado ½ 140
Apple 1 medium 95

 

The point of providing these lists is to provide some perspective on the energy balance equation.  You can see from the list above, yes, if you ate a diet consisting mostly of lean protein and vegetables, you can eat fairly freely without worrying about counting Calories.  In general, the healthiest foods are high in nutritional value without a lot of excess calories.

However, what happens for most of us, is that we feel we have done our “workout” or had a long hard day and feel we “can afford” or “deserve” that Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). After all they only come around in the fall right?.

You can see from the small example above that you would have to walk or run almost four miles to burn off a PSL.  If you are a hatha yogi, that is 4 classes!

This blog is coming to you right before the holidays descend upon us.  There will be food galore and lots of seasonal indulgences.  The average American gains 5-7 pounds during the holidays.  Most of us spend the rest of the year trying to get that off.  If we aren’t successful, then we have vacations, and holidays once again and what do we get?  An ever-expanding waistline.

These examples and this blog are intentionally generalized, to simply illustrate the point, that we have to work really hard and long to burn off an occasional treat.  Armed with this information, we can make informed choices about our meals from day to day and our exercise and activity regimen with the idea of staying healthy and maintaining optimum body weight.

Until the next time, I encourage you to become a bit of a “Count” yourself.  Before you indulge in a treat, ask yourself if you can maintain the activity necessary to keep your Calories in balance.

Let me know how it goes!

Be Well,

*p.s.  Weight loss, food choices and calories can be a fairly complex subject. What is presented here is deliberately general.  If you are interested in learning more about this or other wellness-related topics, let me know.  I’m available for wellness talks and would love ideas for future blogs.

p.p.s. If you haven’t read my book, now is a good time to help you get ready for the new year!                       

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