Fuzzy Math

Disclaimer

Know your BMI? Few people do. It’s one number that carries so much weight (pun intended). Does your BMI put you with the more than two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese? Suddenly compelled to get on the multibillion dollar industry weight loss bandwagon? Maybe not. No secrets here, you’ve read it before: eat right, exercise, and count calories. But your calorie tracking tendencies may surprise you, and be keeping you from reaching your weight loss goals.

Calories. For many of us, just seeing the word causes a gut-wrenching, core-gnawing reaction. But a necessary evil when it comes to true weight loss efforts. A quick calorie recap: a calorie is a measurement of “energy”. As it relates to food, a calorie is the amount of energy a food provides. An oversimplification, but basic principle for weight loss, is to expend more energy than you consume (i.e. burn more calories than you eat). To put this into perspective, 3500 calories roughly equals one pound of fat.

So how many calories do you really need? Only 12% of people accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume in a day someone their age, height, weight, and physical activity, according to a 2010 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation. We all have different energy requirements, know yours. Based on your energy requirement, now all you have to do is either eat fewer calories or burn more calories to lose weight. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, most of us use some pretty fuzzy math when calculating our calories …

For starters, studies suggest that 50% of us underestimate or underreport calories. And we underestimate big – about 20% fewer calories than what we are really consuming. Why? A few of the top reasons: misjudging serving sizes, not counting liquid calories, and “estimating” consumption instead of actually counting. A few easy fixes: First, read the label carefully. One serving has 100 calories, great! Unless a serving size is a teaspoon. Measure your food to get better calorie counts. Guess-timating will quickly add up to extra calories. And, don’t overlook the number of calories you may be sipping away. Juices, lattes, and – gasp – sodas are loaded with calories. Not all calories are created equal, and many liquid calories are considered “empty calories” as you tend to eat the same amount of food regardless of what beverages you’ve consumed. So how do you keep track of all of this? There’s an app for that, of course. In fact, there are lots of free apps and online resources making it easier than ever (think hand scanner for translating food labels).

In addition to underestimating the number of calories we consume, most of us overestimate the number of calories we burn during exercise (talk about recipe for disaster). Be real about how long and how strenuously you are exercising. Chances are you are not burning as many calories as you think. Use charts, or your new app, to help gauge calories burned (gym machines are often inaccurate). And ditch the “I sweat therefore I deserve” attitude. You just busted it doing cardio to lose weight, not have another cookie. There are mixed studies about exercising making you more hungry but if you are, grab an apple instead (researchers at Pennsylvania State University discovered those who ate apples before a meal consumed 187 fewer calories).

Bottom line, seriously read labels and [honestly] track your consumption and expenditure (read: there are no easy, quick fixes for weight loss). Spend your precious few calories wisely eating more filling foods like veggies and proteins. If the proposition of doing it all yourself is too overwhelming (or you need it made simple), there are many weight loss programs out there that can keep you on track with portions, calories, and filling foods (another blog coming soon). But beware, not all “diet” food is created equal. Again, read the labels. Product advertising has gotten very [cough] creative. Low fat may just mean more sugar.

Keep calm, and count on.

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