Read an Excerpt
The Ultimate Calorie Counter
By Sheila Buff
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 Sheila Buff
All rights reserved.
Are you overweight? You're not alone. Today more than half of all adult Americans weigh at least 20 percent more than their ideal weight, and nearly a quarter of them weigh far more than that.
Would you like to lose weight? You're not alone there either. At any given time, about a quarter of all adult Americans are on a diet. Americans spend $33 billion annually on weight-loss products and services, but despite all that money, the number of overweight people continues to rise.
In today's world of fast-food restaurants, convenience foods, and busy schedules that leave little time for exercise, it's all too easy to become overweight by taking in too many calories and using too few. Reversing the process isn't quite as easy, but it's nowhere near as hard as you might think. In fact, you don't even have to go on a diet to do it. All you have to do is reduce your daily calorie intake by a small amount and increase your daily activity, also by just a small amount each day. When you take in fewer calories than you use — even by a small amount — you lose weight, steadily, safely, and for good.
What you're doing is counting calories, a weight-loss approach that is the simplest and probably most successful method of all. Teaching you how to track your daily calories and cut back on them easily is what this book is all about.
WHAT'S A CALORIE?
If you're going to lose weight the calorie-counting way, a good place to start is by understanding exactly what a calorie is.
A calorie is a unit of energy. To be precise, 1 calorie is the amount of heat (another way of saying energy) it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. So, if you burned a chocolate chip cookie completely and measured the amount of heat it gave off, you could then figure out how many calories the cookie contained. As it turns out, the cookie will give off about 50,000 calories. When dealing with the calories in foods, though, nutritionists make the numbers easier to deal with by giving them in kilocalories. There are 1,000 calories in 1 kilocalorie, so our chocolate chip cookie contains 50 kilocalories (abbreviated Kcal). The kilo part of kilocalories gets dropped when it comes to food labels and the like, so for all practical purposes our chocolate chip cookie is said to contain 50 calories.
By measuring the number of calories in a food, we're actually measuring how much energy that food contains. The foods we eat are made up of three basic components: carbohydrates (starches and sugars), protein, and fat. There are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate and protein, and there are 9 calories in every gram of fat. So, the 50 calories in that chocolate chip cookie come from the sugar and flour (carbohydrates), the eggs and milk (protein), and the vegetable oil (fat) that are in it.
Your body converts the food you eat into energy to keep you alive and moving. More calories mean more energy — but only up to a point. Take in as many calories as you expend, and your body weight will stay the same. Take in more calories than you expend, however, and you will gain weight as your body stores the extra energy as fat. But if you take in fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight as your body burns fat to make up for the missing energy.
To gain 1 extra pound of weight, you have to take in approximately 3,500 more calories than you expend. And to lose 1 pound of weight, you have to expend approximately 3,500 more calories than you take in.
Don't panic — 3,500 calories may sound like an impossibly big number, but it really isn't. To lose a pound in a week, you'll need to expend 500 more calories every day than you take in. That actually gives you a lot of flexibility. You could cut 500 calories from your daily diet, but that probably would mean feeling hungry all week. It's much simpler to cut just 250 calories from your daily intake and increase your activity level by another 250 calories.
As you'll discover from the calorie counter in Chapter 6, it's easy to cut 250 calories from your diet. There are about 250 calories in just two ounces of potato chips, in just one candy bar, or in just three Oreos. As you'll learn in Chapter 3, there are plenty of delicious, low-calorie substitutes for junk-food snacks. And by replacing empty calories in your diet with high-quality ones, you'll be getting better overall nutrition while you lose weight.
It's also easy to increase your activity level by 250 calories. As you'll learn in Chapter 4 on exercise, a 30-minute walk not only burns off about 130 calories, it gives you a lot of other health benefits as well. Sneak in some additional exercise besides your walk — take the stairs instead of the elevator, for example — and you're well on your way to using more calories than you take in. The result is weight loss. It's that simple.
HOW MANY CALORIES DO YOU NEED?
Before you decide how many daily calories you should eliminate from your diet, figure out how many you need to take in. About 66 percent of the calories you eat each day go to keep your body functioning normally. These are the calories that you use to keep your heart beating, your lungs breathing, your digestive system working, and so on. You burn them even when you're sleeping. About 10 percent of the calories you take in go for digesting and metabolizing your food. The rest go toward physical activity — all the moving around you do as a normal part of your daily activities. Most of your leftover calories are stored in your body as fat.
How many calories do you need each day to maintain your current weight? That depends a lot on who you are and how active you are, but you can use a simple formula to get a pretty good idea.
Let's start with what nutritionists call your basal metabolism rate (BMR). That's the number of calories you need just to maintain your basic body functions and stay alive. To find your BMR if you're a woman, take your current weight in pounds and multiply it by 10. If you're a man, multiply your current weight by 11. The result is your basal metabolism rate. So, a woman who weighs 145 pounds has a BMR of 1,450 calories a day (145 × 10 = 1,450). A man who weighs 180 pounds has a BMR of 1,980 calories a day (180 × 11 = 1,980).
To figure out how many calories you need each day beyond your BMR, you'll need to estimate how active you are, using a measure called the lifestyle. percentage (L%). This number is found by estimating how active you are as a percentage of your basal metabolism rate. It's less complicated than it sounds. Start by finding the lifestyle percentage that best fits your activity level:
Sedentary (lifestyle with little physical activity): Your L% is 20 percent of your BMR.
Somewhat active: Your L% is 30 percent of your BMR.
Moderately active: Your L% is 40 percent of your BMR.
Very active: Your L% is 50 percent of your BMR.
To determine your daily calorie needs, add your BMR and your lifestyle percentage together.
So, going back to our example, let's assume you're a somewhat active 145-pound woman. Your BMR is 1,450 calories a day, and your lifestyle percentage is 30 percent of that, or an additional 435 calories (1,450 × .30 = 435). Add your BMR and your lifestyle percentage together, and you come up with a daily calorie total of 1,885 (1,450 + 435 = 1,885). That's the number of calories you need each day to maintain yourself at your current level of weight and activity.
As a rough rule of thumb, you can estimate that a moderately active woman needs about 2,000 calories a day and a moderately active man needs about 2,500 calories a day. Eat more calories than that or become less active, and you'll gain weight. Eat more and become less active, and you'll gain weight faster. The opposite is also true. Eat fewer calories or become more active, and you'll lose weight. Eat less and become more active, and you'll lose weight faster.
The combination of reduced calorie intake and increased activity is the true secret of painless, permanent weight loss. When you learn how to count your daily calories and keep them to the right number for you, you'll be able to balance your energy equation and control your weight.
ARE YOU OVERWEIGHT?
Before you start counting calories to lose weight, it's important to have an accurate idea of exactly how overweight you are. That will help you set a realistic goal for weight loss and help you maintain your new weight.
Traditionally, the ideal weight for your height was determined by a table originally compiled by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The table gave weights depending on your frame — light, medium, or heavy. That's a pretty subjective measurement, however, because you can't really know if you have "heavy" bones: Also, the Metropolitan Life table didn't take your age into account. A somewhat better table based on your height, weight, and age comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As shown in Table 1.1, it's a useful tool for giving you a rough idea of what your weight should be.
The weight-for-height chart takes a one-size-fits-all approach that's not very realistic — the range within the normal weight for your height is around 30 pounds. Because the range is so large, the chart doesn't really help you figure out if you're normal weight, overweight, or obese.
A more accurate way to figure out if you're overweight is to measure the amount of body fat you have. Men with more than 25 percent body fat are obese; women with more than 30 percent body fat are obese. Measuring your body fat is a little tricky, however. It takes some special equipment and even then it's not always accurate.
Ever since 1998, doctors have used the simple body weight guidelines issued by the National Institutes of Health. These guidelines are based on your body mass index (BMI). The BMI compares your height to your weight to help figure out the amount of fat you have compared to the amount of muscle, bone, and other tissue in your body. It's a more realistic assessment, because it measures the proportion of your body that is fat and helps you determine exactly how overweight you are.
You can use a fairly complex formula to figure out your BMI, but it's a lot simpler to just look it up in Table 1.2.
Find your height in inches in the left-hand column, then look across to find your weight. Use the BMI numbers at the top of the chart to find your body mass index. If your BMI is between 20 and 24.9, you're at a normal weight for your height. If your BMI is between 25 and 29.9, you're overweight. A BMI of 30 and up means you're obese, and if your BMI is over 40, you are severely obese. (The term "morbidly obese" is sometimes used for people who are so overweight that their weight interferes with basic physical functions such as breathing.)
Using the chart, a woman who is 64 inches tall (5 feet 4 inches) and weighs anywhere between 110 and 145 pounds is within the normal weight range for her height. Ideally, though, she'd want her BMI to be in the 20 to 22 range, or between 116 and 128 pounds. The advantage of the BMI chart is that you can easily see how close you are to being overweight and get a better picture of what a healthier weight range would be for you.
There are some limitations to the BMI chart. If you're very muscular, your BMI may fall into the overweight category, even though you're very fit and healthy. Elderly people who have lost muscle mass and body fat from illness may fall into the healthy category, even though they're actually quite frail and should weigh more. For the average person under age 70, however, the BMI is a good indication of where your weight is compared to the normal range.
YOUR WAIST MEASUREMENT
If you're a woman with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches or a man with a waist measurement of more than 40, you're more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. You can get a more accurate idea of how much more at risk you are from another important measurement of your weight: your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Research has shown that "apples" — people who carry their extra weight around their middles — are more likely to develop health problems associated with overweight. "Pears" — people who carry their extra weight around their thighs and buttocks — are less likely to have health problems from being overweight, although they are more likely to develop arthritis and back problems. Fortunately, apples generally find it easier than pears to lose their extra pounds. Men tend to be apples and women tend to be pears, but that's not a hard-and-fast rule. Women who gain weight after menopause tend to be apple shape.
To figure out your WHR, use a tape measure to find your waist measurement. (Measure around your torso just above your belly button.) Then find your hip measurement. (Measure around the widest part of your rear end.) Divide your waist measurement (the smaller number) by your hip measurement (the larger number). The result is your WHR. If your WHR is less than 1, you're a pear. If your WHR is 1 or more, you're an apple. A woman with a 35-inch waist and 46-inch hips is a pear, because she has a WHR of 0.76 (35 ÷ 46 = 0.76). While pears tend to have fewer of the health problems associated with being overweight, carrying too much weight around is bad for your health no matter where it is.
OVERWEIGHT AND YOUR HEALTH
People who are overweight or obese put their health at very serious risk. If you're 40 percent overweight (your BMI is over 30), you're twice as likely to die prematurely as someone the same age who's normal weight. You're also much more likely to develop life-threatening medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. In fact, 90 percent of the people who have adult-onset diabetes (also called Type 2 or non — insulin — dependent diabetes) are overweight. Complications from diabetes, including heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke, are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Obesity is also associated with higher rates of certain types of cancer. Obese men are more likely than normal-weight men to die from cancer of the colon, rectum, and prostate. Obese women are more likely than normal-weight women to die from cancer of the breast, uterus, cervix, and ovaries.
Some of the other health problems linked to obesity include gallbladder disease and gallstones, osteoarthritis (joint deterioration), and gout. In addition, if you're obese you may develop sleep apnea, or interrupted breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea causes loud snoring and daytime sleepiness and can lead to heart rhythm problems and high blood pressure.
LOSE A LITTLE, GAIN A LOT
The good news about your health is that losing even a small amount of weight — as little as 10 pounds — can lead to a noticeable improvement in how you feel and in your long-term health. If you have high cholesterol, for example, losing 10 pounds could lower your total cholesterol by about 16 percent — an amount that could bring your high cholesterol number back down into the normal range. If you have high blood pressure, every 2 pounds you lose translates into a 2-point drop in both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Losing 10 pounds means your blood pressure might drop about 10 points. That might not put you back in the normal range, but it could mean a reduction in the amount of medication you need to take. In many cases, overweight people with high blood pressure can stop taking medicine for it if they lower their weight by 10 percent. If you weigh 200 pounds, that means losing 20 pounds.
Overweight people are twice as likely to develop adult-onset diabetes as people who are normal weight. The heavier you are, the greater your risk — even being at the high end of the normal weight range nearly triples your diabetes risk compared to people. at the low end.
Studies have shown that nine out of 10 cases of adult-onset diabetes could be prevented by losing weight and exercising more. If you already have diabetes, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight could do a lot to help control your blood sugar level, reduce your need for medication, and lower the chances of long-term diabetes problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, and blindness.
Excerpted from The Ultimate Calorie Counter by Sheila Buff. Copyright © 2002 Sheila Buff. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.