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Weight Loss

Back to Basics: Counting Calories

Despite all the diet strategies out there, weight management still comes down to the calories you take in versus those you burn off. Fad diets may promise you that avoiding carbs or eating a mountain of grapefruit is the secret to weight loss, but it’s really all about calories.

CALORIES: FUEL FOR YOUR BODY

Calories are the energy in food. Your body has a constant demand for energy and uses the calories from food to keep functioning. Energy from calories fuels your every action, from fidgeting to marathon running.

Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the types of nutrients that contain calories and are the main energy sources for your body. The amount of energy in each varies. Proteins and carbohydrates have about 4 calories a gram, and fats have about 9 calories a gram. Alcohol also is a source of calories, providing about 7 calories a gram.

Regardless of where they come from, the calories you eat are either converted to physical energy or stored within your body as fat. These stored calories will remain in your body as fat unless you use them up, either by reducing calorie intake so that your body must draw on reserves for energy, or by increasing physical activity so that you burn more calories.

TIPPING THE SCALE: CUTTING CALORIES

Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound. So if you cut 500 calories from your typical diet each day, you’d lose about 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). It isn’t quite this simple, however, and you usually lose a combination of fat, lean tissue and water. Also, because of changes that occur in the body as a result of weight loss, you may need to decrease calories further to continue weight loss.

CUTTING CALORIES

Still, cutting calories doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as simple as:

Skipping high-calorie, low-nutrition items

Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options

Reducing portion sizes

Here’s a closer look.
Skipping one or two high-calorie items is a good place to start when cutting calories. For example, you could skip your morning latte, soda at lunch or that bowl of ice cream you always have after dinner. Think about what you eat and drink each day and identify items you could cut out. If you think that skipping your indulgence will leave you with a craving, try a low-calorie substitution.

Instead of a 250-calorie, 16 oz. flavored latte, try black coffee (0 calories).

Skip a cup of chocolate ice cream, 285 calories, and try 1 ½ cups of strawberries for 70 calories.

Pass on the 16-oz, 200-calorie lemon-lime soda in favor of 16 ounces of sparkling water (0 calories).

Swapping high-calorie foods for lower calorie options

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