According to The Calorie Control Council (www.caloriecontrol.org), the average woman, who has a moderate level of physical activity, needs an estimated 2,160 calories each day to maintain her weight. The average man (assuming the same level of physical activity) requires about 2,349 calories. Remember, this is for weight maintenance, not weight loss. Research by the Department of Agriculture tells us that the average American consumes around 2,700 calories per day. Consuming an extra 350 and 540 calories each day is one reason why many folks are deemed overweight.
Most health care professionals recommend gradual weight loss (up to one pound per week) for the best long term results. In order to lose one pound, a person must burn 3,500 calories more than are consumed (500 calories per day over the course of a week). This can be accomplished each day by eliminating 500 calories, burning an additional 500 calories or any combination of the two. For example, one could reduce calories by 300 per day and increase daily activity in order to burn 200 additional calories per day, which adds up to the 500 necessary calories.
This is definitely not rocket science; however, in my experience, most folks grossly under-estimate the amount of calories in the foods they consume and at the same time, over-estimate the amount of calories burned by physical activity.
Let’s start with the caloric value of some common snacks and drinks*:
(1) glazed doughnut: 350 calories
(1) plain 3 oz. bagel with cream cheese: 450 calories
(1) bacon, egg & cheese biscuit sandwich: 430 calories
(1) 12 oz. (tall) blended mocha cappuccino drink: 208 calories
(2) pancakes with butter & syrup: 520 calories
(1) 12 oz. can of cola: 150 calories
(1) 12 oz. serving of whole milk: 220 calories
(1) 12 oz. energy drink: 160 calories
(1) 12 oz. bottle of sweetened tea: 129 calories
(3) Pre-packaged chocolate chip cookies: 160 calories
(4) chocolate / vanilla sandwich cookies: 180 calories
(1) average size candy bar: 275 to 450 calories
(12) potato chips: 160 calories
(1) cup of chocolate soft serve ice cream: 300 calories
*Caloric values courtesy of WebMD, Food-o-meter, fitwatch.com, livestrong.com, & calorieking.com
By the way, if you consume mixed drinks, you should be aware of the extremely high caloric value of most cocktails. A study by Forbes revealed the following cocktails as some of the most fattening: Long Island iced tea (780 calories), margarita (740 calories), pina colada (644 calories), gin/vodka & tonic (200 calories).
“Ok, no problem, I’ll just exercise a bit more to burn off those additional calories,” you say. Not so fast, my friend!
Here is a list of the average calories burned for physical activities (assuming a 150 lb. person). For accurate calories burned specific to your body weight, use the free calculator at Healthstatus.com:
30 minutes of high impact aerobics: 238 calories burned
30 minutes of walking (3 mph pace): 148 calories burned
30 minutes of yoga: 297 calories
30 minutes of running (6 mph): 342 calories
30 minutes of vigorous weightlifting: 207 calories
30 minutes of cycling (12 to 14 mph): 297 calories
30 minutes of spinning (moderate): 238 calories
It’s going to take about 30 minutes of walking just to burn off the can of soda you drank with lunch! The better option is to have a bottle of water and eliminate the calories from your diet altogether rather than trying to burn them off every day.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, healthy adults should participate in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activities each week. So, assuming you spend 150 minutes each week running, you will burn 1,710 calories. Remember, we need to subtract or burn off an additional 3,500 calories to lose one pound. This means the other 1,790 calories must come from eliminating calories from your diet (around 255 calories per day).
There is a very small percentage of the population that exercises enough to burn off an additional 3,500 calories each week. A healthy sustainable diet is always going to trump exercise when it comes to weight loss. You simply cannot gain weight from calories you don’t eat! Exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, however you cannot out train bad nutrition.
A Simple Plan
Many people can eliminate more than 500 calories by simply adjusting their typical beverage consumption. For example, if you consume:
Breakfast: medium café latte with whole milk (265 calories)
Lunchtime: 20 oz. bottle of non-diet cola (240 calories)
Dinner: 1 bottle of sweetened lemon iced tea (180 calories)
Assuming no other beverages, you are consuming 685 calories each day without eating any solid food!
By substituting a small café latte with fat free milk (125 calories) for breakfast and drinking water with lemon or seltzer water for lunch and dinner, you can eliminate 560 calories from your diet each day (more than enough to drop one pound per week). Alternatively, you can run for 30 minutes and follow that up with 30 minutes of vigorous weightlifting every day to burn about the same amount of calories. Which seems easier and more doable to you?
Eliminating just one fast food meal per week can also eliminate several hundred calories from your weekly total! A recent article by Jeannine Stein of the L.A. times indicates that more than 34 percent of the people that eat at fast food restaurants order combo meals that average 1,000 calories or more!
Eat a little smarter, don’t drink your calories, exercise a little bit of self discipline and you will be well on your way to shedding some unwanted pounds.