Your Fast Track To Weight Loss Success

Looking to drop some holiday weight?   You’re not alone.  This time of year marks the largest amount of people trying to shed those extra pounds that have crept on over the holiday season.    One of the easiest and most effective ways to begin is to simply track what you eat.  A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicated that those who maintained a daily food log lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records at all.  Keeping a food journal seems to have a big impact on the amount of food consumed as people are much less likely to overeat when they commit to recording their intake.

To assist Americans in their effort to lose weight and make healthier choices, the USDA has developed a completely free online tool that provides a quick way to track your foods and physical activities.  The program is called SuperTracker and it complements the already released MyPlate nutritional education program.

Whereas MyPlate was developed to help Americans put together appropriately balanced meals based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the new SuperTracker takes the concept one step further by offering users an opportunity to track their dietary intake and physical activity while providing feedback and analysis via reports to bring you closer to your goals. 

Once you begin tracking food intake, you’ll not only see what you’re eating but gain insight as well into the relationship between what you eat, when you eat, and how it relates to your weight loss.  Sometimes when we make New Year’s resolutions, we build a process that is so demanding we are doomed to fail.  Keeping your weight loss efforts simple by monitoring what you eat and gaining an understanding of the role of food in your life, you will lose the weight not with a short term diet but with an effective lifestyle change.

To Snack or Not To Snack…That Isn’t The Question

The great snack debate is one that has embattled many of so-called “dieters” for decades.  It’s roots were planted at a time when doctors offered advice to their patients who wanted to shed a few pounds that sounded something like this, “If you want to lose weight, you need to cut out all your snacks in-between meals.”  This may have worked well at a time where most people sat down to three regular meals each day, possibly around a family table (think Ozzie and Harriet) to consume their food.  However, by today’s standard, it’s a rarity when a family has a single meal together, let alone three!  Family members always seem to be going in different directions with their schedules, and most tend to grab food on the run.  And often times what we grab isn’t what we would consider a meal, but rather a snack to hold us over until our next meal.   

New research released last week from the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting indicated that what we consider as snacks (including what we drink between meals), comprises more than 25 percent of our total calorie intake every day.  On average, this equals about 580 extra and usually unaccounted for calories each day.

Most people would probably say at this point, “So what?  500 or so extra calories isn’t that much and besides if I’m really concerned about it, I’ll just do a few more minutes on the treadmill and burn it off in no time.”  To test this theory, let’s apply a little math:

500 extra calories a day (above what you use) = 3,500 extra calories a week

Based on metabolic equations- 3,500 extra calories a week = 1 pound of weight gain/week or 52 pounds of potential weight gain each year!

Now you’re convinced that the extra few minutes on the treadmill everyday will take care of those pesky calories.  The average 150 pound person would have to be on that treadmill 1 full hour extra each day to burn off approximately 450 calories-not even reaching the target of 500.  Most already have difficulties finding a few minutes to sit down to a healthy meal- who realistically will make the commitment to an extra hour or more of exercise?

It’s All About Choice

Asking people to stop eating snacks and begin sitting down to 3 meals a day at home is unrealistic.  The issue isn’t whether or not to partake in snacking, but rather look at making some smart choices that will work to stretch your calorie budget over the course of the day.  Moral of the story…choose wisely.  If you are among the many that find yourself eating on the run, opt for getting the most nutritional bang for your buck.  Choose grilled over fried, fresh over processed, and if weight control is one of your goals-make every effort to include low calorie/high fiber options like fruits, veggies, and whole grain products like oatmeal, popcorn, or whole wheat crackers.  The extra fiber will help keep you fuller longer thus making it less likely you’ll be tempted to grab another snack before your next meal.  Plus, it may also help prevent you from becoming overly hungry which can prove disastrous on a weight loss plan.

Beverage Calories

Make every attempt to avoid drinking your calories.  The calories we get from beverages can really pack a 1-2 punch.  They not only add up and contribute to our overall intake each day, but sweet beverages can spike blood sugar levels and often leave us hungrier in the end as those levels quickly take a dive in an attempt to return to normal.

Size Does Matter

Lastly and probably the most important, portion control.  Our best defense to guard against unwanted weight gain is to keep our portions in check.  A couple weeks ago, I covered information about the new USDA MyPlate educational materials.  One of the major objectives of this program is to help people understand appropriate portion sizes.  Because at the end of the day, all calories not used by the body regardless of whether they come from carbohydrates, protein or fat, will result in potential weight gain.

Move Over Food Pyramid: It’s Time To “Plate Up” Some New Education Tools.

 

Over the last 20 years, the food pyramid has served as a major nutritional icon.  On June 2, 2011, First Lady, Michelle Obama along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled in a press release the latest tool to aid in the battle of obesity, MyPlate (ChooseMyPlate.gov). 

MyPlate, the new symbol of appropriately balanced meals, will replace the iconic Food Pyramid.  The new graphics are designed to be consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released in January this year.

The basic messages contained in the new guidelines are as follows:

Balance Calories

• Enjoy your food, but in smaller amounts

• Avoid oversized meals

Foods to Increase

• Aim for half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) dairy products.

• Make at least half your grains the whole variety

Foods to Reduce

• Note the sodium (salt) in various foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and  choose those with lower numbers.

• Aim for drinking water as opposed to sugary beverages.

The idea of using a plate to help educate individuals on appropriate portion sizes is not a new concept.  The truth is that dietitians and nutritionists have been using education tools very similar to these new graphics for years with many of their clients.  The reason being is that a plate is something that everyone can relate to as it’s considerably less abstract than the food pyramids of the past.  It’s also quite adaptable so that no matter what kind of diet a person follows, the graphic can be utilized to illustrate portions in relation to the various food groups.

A major downfall of this new graphic has to do with the fact that it lacks the incorporation of exercise represented in the former Food Pyramid icon.  The figure climbing the side of the pyramid symbolized the need for physical activity as a part of a healthy lifestyle.

 

Just as the new icon shows the importance of balance in your meals, we also need to balance a healthy lifestyle with the incorporation of physical activity. 

It’s my hope that as this new campaign rolls out over the next several months, the importance of physical activity for weight management, improved health and ultimately disease prevention will be emphasized either through the initiatives set forth in the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign or through additional education tools that support the new MyPlate program.