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by Larry

January, 2011

Getting Control of Those Crazy Calories

One of my younger brothers has had a highly successful run lately of losing extra weight, doing it through a combination of walking and dieting. He has for months now been in the habit of walking ten or more miles a day. Yet, when I asked him what was the most important factor in his reducing the pounds, he said it was simple: eating less. He noted that if he did not consume a smaller amount than had been normal before his regimen, the weight would return despite all the distance of his daily constitutionals. A gem of a little book on such matters, Walk Yourself Thin, by David A. Rives, concurs, pointing out that a good walking program turns fat into muscle, so we typically become thinner at the waist and more fit this way, yet do not lose the weight unless our caloric intake goes down at the same time. Darn!

If not through exercise alone, can one with relative ease give up those excess calories that too often turn to fat and add inches to our waists, hips, thighs, chins, etc.? If so, then HOW!? Over the years, a succession of AARP The Magazine articles have focused on the answers to those questions. The latest is "Lose Weight Without Really Trying," by Brian Wansink, pages 38-41, in AARP Magazine's Jan/Feb, 2011 issue. It includes about two dozen techniques from which to choose just a few that seem most effective for each reader and then stick with them. Here, then, both from that article and earlier ones, are my favorite lose calories approaches. If none of them grab you, and you find this is a sore subject, I heartily recommend the current magazine piece.

  1. Drink a lot of water. Aim for at least an extra glass or two a day. Water does many good things, from boosting the effectiveness of the body's natural functioning to keeping us regular to making us feel a bit more full and so a little less inclined to bulk up on snacks or on mealtime helpings.

  2. Get plenty of rest. It sounds a little weird to lie down on the job of weight reduction, but the fact is when we are tired we tend to eat more, especially of junk food. This may lead to temporary energy boosts, to make up for what one lost in shut-eye, but it can also leave a long-term boost in belt size.

  3. Reduce tension. Many snacks are eaten to smother unpleasant emotions. Playing with the dog or kids, cleaning the house, jogging around the block, doing the dishes, exercising in front of the TV, meditating, swimming at the local Y, doing a few minutes of yard and garden chores, practicing yoga, and so forth have better and more genuine benefits without any of the downside of the added calories.

  4. Eat one or two power foods a day, things like peanut butter and apple slice snacks, a little cheese, a portion of avocado, a few nuts, or yogurt. These fill one up better than junk foods and give more energy. Even though they may not be low in calories, they are better for us than other higher caloric foods or drinks and let us go longer afterward before feeling hungry again. The net effect is that when we have them we tend to eat fewer calories on average but still feel satisfied. Besides, they really taste good too!

  5. Use smaller plates or bowls. People in research samples ate significantly fewer calories without feeling deprived if they simply used smaller diameter tableware!

  6. Have no or low calorie beverages, such as ice water, light juices or fruit drinks, tea without sugar or honey, or no fat milk. For most, this can save 100-200 calories a day, possibly enough in itself for us to begin to get control of those crazy calories. For some, this step can mean a saving of hundreds of calories a day. It seems hard to believe, but the average person in the U.S. drinks 600 12-ounce soft drinks a year, almost two a day. Given that over 20% of most soft drinks is sugar, it is no wonder that diabetes is becoming a national epidemic. Each average soft drink adds about 150 calories and half a cup of sugar to our diets. If one is drinking a glass or two of wine or one or a couple beers daily, that alone can add about 100-200 calories, possibly the difference between gaining and losing unwanted pounds.

  7. Keep a food and beverage journal with entries for each thing consumed and the calories it adds. For the average person, this alone may lead to eating about 20% less calories.

  8. Organize ahead one's food and beverage intake. A mistake may happen from time to time, but following a daily meal and drink plan typically lowers the calories consumed.

  9. Make sure you have some fruit and a vegetable in your lunch and supper. It is also recommended that one cover half of one's plate with fruit, veggies, or salad, and not go back for seconds, of course. Such a step has helped many lose 20 pounds in six months without doing anything else!

  10. If eating out, try to go to places that do not serve all-you-can-eat buffets. But if this cannot be easily avoided, once there see if you can order off the menu instead of loading up at the buffet line. A single buffet meal can add 2-3 pounds to one's daily weigh-ins on accurate scales. If eating from the buffet itself, though, it helps if one will look over the items on display ahead of time, before filling one's plate, presumably because one can then select a healthier assortment instead of just adding things impulsively.

  11. When ordering out, ask for a take-home container along with the entrée. Make a habit of taking at least half one's food home. The leftovers can often provide another meal or two, especially if one does not forget rule #9.

  12. To feel at once full, mellow, and ready to concentrate, have some turkey, no fat milk, or a banana.

  13. In addition to a calories consumed log, keep a log of positive exercise routines.

  14. Be part of a virtual or actual weight loss support group. On average, relative to control groups without such peer networks, this helps build one's incentive to take the pounds off and keep them off.

These are but a sampling of great suggestions for reducing caloric intake, the following of which may make dieting if not actually fun nonetheless not the onerous chore many of us fear it may be. They give us good odds for succeeding in this endeavor, and with success can come greater personal satisfaction, higher self-esteem, and even the admiration of others.

In case I sound preachy, the reader should be aware I am just starting my own weight-loss program. Wish me luck. I plan to use some of the above measures along with my own walking regimen, and see if in the process I can master one of my New Year's resolutions by the end of next December.

Excess poundage contributes to America's extremely high costs for healthcare and, on an individual level, leads to heart disease, diabetes, strokes, lost productivity, premature aging, and a host of other downsides. Yet, as the list above shows, there may be ways we can gain control of our unneeded calories instead of their controlling us. It may not be as easy as pie, but getting into good eating habits can make our lives overall a whole lot simpler and of much higher quality.

Along with better health, watching our calories greatly benefits the environment. If we eat less, we have smaller carbon footprints, contribute less pollution to the air and water, produce less organic waste or packaging to be thrown away, and allow more of the planet to grow naturally, offsetting the effects of the added carbon dioxide, methane, or fertilizers that normally accompany the creation of unnecessary foodstuffs.

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