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How Calories Work by Julia Layton

For years now, calories have been all the rage, people are counting them & cutting them & you'd be hard-pressed to find something at the supermarket that doesn't list its calories per serving somewhere on the package.

But have you ever wondered what exactly a calorie is?



What is a Calorie?
A calorie is a unit of energy. We tend to associate calories with food, but they apply to anything containing energy. e.g., a gallon (about 4 liters) of gasoline contains about 31,000,000 calories.

Specifically, a calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). One calorie is equal to 4.184 joules, a common unit of energy used in the physical sciences.

Most of us think of calories in relation to food, as in "This can of soda has 200 calories." It turns out that the calories on a food package are actually kilocalories (1,000 calories = 1 kilocalorie).

The word is sometimes capitalized to show the difference, but usually not. A food calorie contains 4,184 joules. A can of soda containing 200 food calories contains 200,000 regular calories, or 200 kilocalories. A gallon of gasoline contains 31,000 kilocalories.

The same applies to exercise, when a fitness chart says you burn about 100 calories for every mile you jog, it means 100 kilocalories. From now on, when we say "calorie," we mean "kilocalorie."

What Calories Do
Human beings need energy to survive -- to breathe, move, pump blood -- & they acquire this energy from food.
The number of calories in a food is a measure of how much potential energy that food possesses.

Foods are a compilation of these 3 building blocks. So if you know how many carbohydrates, fats & proteins are in any given food, you know how many calories, or how much energy, that food contains.

If we look at the nutritional label on the back of a packet of maple & brown sugar oatmeal, we find that it has 160 calories.

This means that if we were to pour this oatmeal into a dish, set the oatmeal on fire & get it to burn completely (which is actually pretty tricky), the reaction would produce 160 kilocalories (remember: food calories are kilocalories) -- enough energy to raise the temperature of 160 kilograms of water 1 degree Celsius.

If we look closer at the nutritional label, we see that our oatmeal has 2 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein & 32 grams of carbohydrates, producing a total of 162 calories (apparently, food manufacturers like to round down).

Of these 162 calories, 18 come from fat (9 cal x 2 g), 16 come from protein (4 cal x 4 g) & 128 come from carbohydrates (4 cal x 32 g).

  1. Our bodies "burn" the calories in the oatmeal through metabolic processes....
  2. by which enzymes break the carbohydrates into glucose & other sugars
  3. the fats into glycerol & fatty acids 
  4. the proteins into amino acids (see How Food Works for details).

These molecules are then transported through the bloodstream to the cells, where they are either absorbed for immediate use or sent on to the final stage of metabolism in which they are reacted with oxygen to release their stored energy.

Click here for a simplified diagram of these metabolic processes.

Calories, Fat & Exercise
So what happens if you take in more or fewer calories than your body burns?
You either gain or lose fat, respectively. An accumulation of 3,500 extra calories is stored by your body as 1 pound of fat, fat is the body's way of saving energy for a rainy day.
If, on the other hand, you burn 3,500 more calories than you eat, whether by exercising more or eating less, your body converts 1 pound of its stored fat into energy to make up for the deficit.

One thing about exercise is that it raises your metabolic rate not only while you're huffing & puffing on the treadmill. Your metabolism takes a while to return to its normal pace. It continues to function at a higher level; your body burns an increased number of calories for about 2 hours after you've stopped exercising.

Lots of people wonder if it matters where their calories come from. At its most basic, if we eat exactly the number of calories that we burn & if we're only talking about weight, the answer is no, a calorie is a calorie.

A protein calorie is no different from a fat calorie, they're simply units of energy. As long as you burn what you eat, you'll maintain your weight & as long as you burn more than you eat, you'll lose weight.

But if we're talking nutrition, it definitely matters where those calories originate. Carbohydrates & proteins are healthier sources of calories than fats.

Although our bodies do need a certain amount of fat to function properly, an adequate supply of fat allows your body to absorb the vitamins you ingest, an excess of fat can have serious health consequences.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends that a maximum of 30% of our daily calories come from fat. So, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, that's a maximum of 600 calories from fat, or 67 grams of fat, per day.

However, many doctors & nutritionists now set the maximum number of fat calories at 25% of our daily caloric intake. That's 56 grams of fat per day for a 2,000 calorie diet.

Here are some calorie & fat contents that may surprise you:

Food Serving Size Calories Fat Grams
Canola oil
1 cup
Peanut butter
1 cup
Cheddar cheese
1 cup
1 cup
Chocolate syrup
1 cup
1 cup
1 can


Cover Story 6/16/03
The Science of Slimming
Getting rid of all those unwanted pounds is as simple as calories in, calories out. It's also as mysterious & complex as the workings of the human mind

By Amanda Spake
On a rainy Wednesday night in the meeting room at the United Methodist Church in rural Friendship, Md., some 70 people line up through the aisles of folding tables & chairs. They're waiting to be weighed. This is the weekly moment of truth, the place where these dieters will learn, officially, if all their hard work, the food diaries, the exercise, the "behavior controls," have paid off.

The scales are precise to a tenth of a pound.

Welcome to Weight Watchers. Group leader Darleen Bedard, 41, is an attractive woman w/big earrings, bright clothes & spiky blond hair. She weighed 221 pounds 4 years ago but has dropped 1/3 of that.

Recent medical research shows that, compared w/solo dieters, Weight Watchers lose more weight & more than 1/2 maintain the loss for 2 years.

Leaders like Bedard are one reason why, she's part role model, part counselor, part cheerleader. Tonight she's discussing every dieter's summer Waterloo: beach food.

"What is the hardest thing to handle at the beach?" Bedard asks the crowd.

"Funnel cakes!" a woman shouts.

"OK. So how do you plan to handle the funnel cakes?" Bedard responds.

"You follow someone w/a funnel cake & lick their crumbs," the woman answers.

In a rush to tackle obesity, the nation's No. 1 public-health problem, researchers are for the first time applying the tools of science to popular programs like Weight Watchers, hoping to offer serious guidance to legions of dieters looking to get leaner & healthier.

Obesity researchers now find their proposals welcomed by health funders who, just 5 years ago, believed that only smoking warranted serious attention (related story).

Besides Weight Watchers, there are studies underway on Internet counseling, various popular diets & social & psychological strategies used by "successful losers" to maintain weight loss.

It's about time. Americans spent about $40 billion last year on weight-loss products, programs & diet aids (related story). Federal surveys show that 29% of men & nearly 44% of women are trying to lose weight on any given day.

Indeed, losing weight is so important that according to a recent survey, 88% of dieters said they would forfeit a job promotion, retirement w/full pay, or a dream house if they could simply reach & maintain their target weight.

Unhappily, the mere desire to be thinner is not enough. Statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention show that America has never been fatter:

  • 64% of Americans are now overweight
  • 31 % are obese (defined as a body-mass index of 30 or above, or about 20% over a healthy weight)

Yearly medical spending on obesity has reached $92.6 billion, about half financed by Medicare & Medicaid. But often the greatest costs are personal.

Jeffrey Schwimmer, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of California-San Diego, found that severely obese children, who often become severely obese adults, were 5 times more likely to report an impaired quality of life than healthy kids.

In fact, their quality of life was comparable to that of children w/cancer.

"Obesity is now arguably the most important cause of adult morbidity & mortality," says Schwimmer.

So what constitutes a "successful" weight loss? "The old concept of an "ideal weight" is losing credibility," says Yale psychology Prof. Kelly Brownell.

"We know that modest weight loss can produce impressive health benefits."  i.e., studies of weight-related illnesses show that a loss of just 7% of body weight, if it is maintained, reduces the incidence of diabetes by 58%.

And losing 10 pounds lowers blood pressure in people who are borderline hypertensive.

Reducing the national waistline requires a major shift in thinking about weight control. Gone are the days when weight control was instinctual, when food was scarce & humans had to be active just to survive.

"We're never going to go back to an environment where we don't have to worry about weight," says James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado. "We're not going to give up our cars & our remotes. And we have all these biological mechanisms relating to appetite & hunger that encourage eating."

As a result, says Hill, "we have to use our brains to restrict those instincts." This requires a conscious commitment to controlling eating & increasing physical activity.

And here's the really hard part: it's not for a week, but for a lifetime. Americans are only beginning to accept this new paradigm.

Though most want to lose weight, only 1 in 5 is actually eating fewer calories & exercising for 30 minutes or more each day. "Essentially," Hill adds, "we have to teach people to override their biological instincts w/their cognitive abilities."

Kenny Roberts & his best friend, Rick Marks, are learning to make the best of the new realities. Roberts, 42 & Marks, 43, grew up together in Oxon Hill, Md. They also grew out together.

In early 2002, Kenny weighed 340 pounds & Rick was at 292. "Just trying to bend over to tie my shoes was a life-threatening experience," Marks remembers. When his doctor suggested he lose weight, Marks asked "How?" He got no answer.

Fewer than 1/2 of obese adults report that their physicians even advise them to lose weight. And in a survey of overweight women, more than 75% said their doctors, like Marks's physician, helped them only a "slight amount" or "not at all" w/weight control.

Roberts, like Marks, suffered from a variety of health complaints:

  • difficulty breathing
  • numbness in his hands
  • dizziness

His epiphany came one day in his office when he couldn't speak & his entire left side went numb:

"It scared the bejeezus out of me."

Always overweight, Roberts was teased as a child & became the brunt of family jokes as an adult. When a friend took him to a Weight Watchers meeting, he says, "I hid in back & didn't say a word." But he kept going & in a month, lost about 10 pounds. When Marks saw him, he told his friend, "Sign me up."

Now Weight Watchers is their "boys' night out." After each meeting, they adjourn to a local bar & eatery for their one splurge of the week.

 "This is really the highlight of my week," says Roberts. Without realizing it, the men had hit on a strategy researchers now know dramatically improves success: diet w/a friend.

In one program, participants who joined with friends lost 33%  more weight in 10 months than those who tried to go it alone & 66% (compared w/24% of the solo dieters) kept the pounds off.

One new tool to reduce diet isolation is E-mail behavioral counseling. When combined w/an Internet tutorial, dieters corresponding w/a psychologist via E-mail lost twice as much weight as those dieting alone.

Ego boost. Marks & Roberts have each lost more than 85 pounds over 18 months. For Roberts, the shocking aspect to weight loss has been his increased confidence & self-esteem. "If you had told me I could feel this way about myself & it would cost me $100,000," he says, "I would have found a way to make the payments."

Scientists & health officials have long believed that the key to reversing obesity was education, offering the public information about healthy food choices. Most government programs aimed at weight control are based on this principle. "But in my mind," says Yale's Brownell, "the most important thing in weight loss is motivation."

Brownell believes that the national obsession w/thinness, along w/medicine's fixation on weight charts & body-mass index, has hindered, not helped, weight-control efforts. "One major way of undermining motivation," he says, "is to expect more than you can accomplish."

Recent studies of dieters' expectations underscore his point. Women seeking obesity treatment said that their goal weight was about 32% less than their current weight, close to an "ideal" weight based on standard height/weight charts.

But most obesity programs, offering even the best in nutritional education & behavioral counseling, achieve only about a 10% loss w/in 6 months. What's more, the women in this study said that even a 25% loss in 6 months was "one I would not be happy with," & a 17% loss was "one that I could not view as successful in any way."

As a result, many disappointed dieters feel they've failed & give up, only to regain the weight they've lost. Says Brownell: "Our challenge is to help people be happy w/a modest weight loss & maintain it over time."

No one knows how important realistic expectations are better than LaVonnia "Bonnie" Johnson. In 1992, Johnson was a single mother of 3, living in the projects in Washington, D.C. Her former husband had just died of AIDS. She'd landed a job in the city government, but to make ends meet, she also worked weekends in a hospital emergency room.

One day a doctor took her aside & said: "Bonnie, you're only 38 & you weigh 230 pounds. You're not going to see your kids graduate from high school unless you do something about your weight right now."

Like many others, she had lost weight but regained it. An ad for a fitness club caught her eye, so she joined. Her kids & work schedule made exercise a challenge, but she found motivation in an unlikely source: pop icon Tina Turner.

"She appeared on the cover of Essence magazine," Johnson says. "I looked at that cover & there she was. She'd been abused by Ike. She'd had trouble w/her kids. And she had legs to die for."

Johnson taped the picture to her computer at her office & headed out every day to swim, walk on the treadmill & bike. Progress was slow & she wanted to quit. Then, a trainer suggested she take a step aerobics class.

At first, she was so self-conscious she clung to the back wall. "But I kept thinking about the trainer saying I needed to push myself. So I moved to the front so I could see myself in the mirror."

Next, she eliminated fast foods & much of the sugar & fat from her diet. She also reduced portion sizes & started lifting weights & walking everywhere. She has now lost 65 pounds, but it has taken her 11 years. At 165 pounds, Johnson isn't thin, but she is fit.

She works out twice a day, doesn't drink caffeine & allows herself beer or wine only on weekends & special occasions. (Studies show that wine, especially, is associated w/eating more.) Now that she has maintained her reduced weight for 5 years, she is among the 3,000 "successful losers" who make up the National Weight Control Registry, the largest collection of weight-loss success stories in the world .

(click here for success stories).

Using data drawn from the registry, scientists hope to identify how to achieve long-term weight control. "Virtually all of the people in the registry had tried to lose weight before, often many times & had either regained it or failed to lose," says Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University & a registry founder.

"So the same people who are now successful were previously unsuccessful & that's an important message: Keep trying."

Strategies. Successful losers always mention behavioral strategies such as keeping a food journal, weighing often, eating breakfast to reduce late-day hunger & exercising religiously, about 60 to 80 minutes a day.

3 in 4 walk regularly & nearly all eat a low-calorie, low-fat diet, about 24% fat. "Nobody," says Wing, "is maintaining their weight loss w/a diet low in carbohydrates."

Indeed, the great diet debate, Atkins or Ornish or something else, is unhelpful, researchers say. "People have this horse-race mentality," says Brownell. "As if you line all the diets up & ring the bell, one of them will cross the finish line first."

Stanford University professor Christopher Gardner has set up just this sort of head-to-head competition. In a trial with 300 women over 3 years, Gardner is testing the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, the Ornish diet & Brownell's own low-calorie program.

His study will evaluate the number of pounds lost on each, as well as changes in blood pressure, insulin, cholesterol profiles, percentage of body fat, appetite, food preferences & more.

The essential problem w/diets, Gardner says, is that people don't stay on them long. The average weight-loss attempt is 4 weeks for women, 6 for men. "So until you pick something that's going to last all your life," he adds, "you haven't found the `right' diet."

And in the end, there may be no "right" diet. Michael Hamilton, former medical director of the Duke Diet & Fitness Center, the Pritikin Longevity Center & now a researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, says food is not the key to weight control anyway; exercise is.

"And we have to struggle to get enough physical activity nowadays," Hamilton adds. A study released last month by the CDC shows just how great that struggle has become.

About 1/2f of US adults say they walk during their usual daily activities. More than a 1/3 primarily sit. And less than a 1/3 engage in any regular leisure-time physical activity.

"The important research to be done now," says Brownell, "is not to find the best weight-loss diet, but to find the factors that make different weight-control programs work for different people. It doesn't matter what's popular, or what your neighbor did, or what you saw on TV. It matters what works for you."

Common Misconceptions with Low Calorie Foods - By Christina Gopal

Do you often find yourself consuming foods that are advertised as being low in fat, low in calories, low in trans-fats, and low in carbs? If so, does it make you feel like you’re choosing “healthy” foods, foods with nutritional value? Well, unless you can read between the lines, you may in fact not be choosing the right foods at all.

Shocking isn’t it? How can foods that advertise to be low in calories actually not always be nutritious? Here are a few reasons why!

1.Low in fat– may actually contain other ingredients that would compensate for the lower fat content, for example sugar. Just because a food is low in fat, does not mean it is low in calories. Sometimes sugar is added to increase the taste appeal of a product (i.e. some low-fat brands of yogurt). Also, other additives may be included that aren’t very good for you.

TIP: Read the ingredients. If sugar is the first or second ingredient listed, then chances are that there is too much sugar in the product to be considered low in calories.

TIP: Avoid additives and preservatives that are known to increase flavor but are not healthy for you. This includes ingredients such as MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartame/neotame, hydrolyzed proteins, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, caseinates, and artificial fats.

TIP: Is the food something that is made with fat? For example, gummy bears; these candies are purely made of sugar, not fat. Just because it does not contain fat, does not mean that it is good for you, in fact it can be quite the opposite. Be careful -- don’t always be taken in by the claims a product makes. Even though there are laws against wrongful claims, there are always those that are not applicable, which means that these foods are not necessarily a healthy choice.

2. Low in Trans-Fats– although a food may contain little trans-fats (which is excellent), you still want to make sure that the saturated fat content and the cholesterol content are low as well. Saturated fats and high cholesterol products are both types of lipids that we should avoid. They immediately get stored in our blood vessels and cells, which can lead to weight gain and play a contributing role in many heart and blood sugar diseases.

TIP: Read the nutrition facts label. Look for low amounts of trans-fats, saturated fats AND cholesterol.

TIP:Read the ingredients; unhealthy fats may not be clearly stated. Hidden traces of fat can be in ingredients such as coconut oil, palm kernel oil or palm oil, which are all high in saturated fat.

3.Low in Carbs – With the recent diet crazes focusing on decreasing or eliminating carbohydrates in the diet, many food companies advertise this claim to increase sales. But what does this really mean? If you’re drinking beer that is advertised as “low carbs” does that mean this beer is “healthy”? NO. What about a food that may not contain a lot of carbs (such as sour cream), but it may have a high fat content? Low carbs does not mean low calorie content or healthy! In fact, carbohydrates yield less calories per gram than fat.

TIP:There are some foods that are always better to avoid, such as alcoholic beverages, deep fried foods, highly processed foods, and foods with high fat or sugar content.

TIP:Don’t just buy a food because of the claim on the package; pick it up and read the ingredients and nutrition facts. Think about the food before you make the purchase; is it really good for you?

4. Low in calories– Some foods may not contain many nutrients, and thus not yield many calories. However, some may not offer any real nutrition either. Although these foods may be useful as a snack once in a while, it’s not a good idea to use them as a large part of your diet. A good example of these foods are rice cakes. They are low in fat and calories, but they do not offer any vital benefits such as protein or a good source of vitamins and minerals. Another example is salted (butter-free) popcorn; low in calories, but high in salt...not good for your cardiovascular system. Also, remember that even if a food is low in calories, the calories that it does contain may come directly from things that should be avoided such as fat and sugar (thin chocolate bars, little cookies, mini donuts). Often, because the portion size is so small, the product is advertised as being low in calories, but if you eat too much, the low calorie count goes out the window!

TIP:Try choosing foods that supply your body with nutrients like protein, good carbohydrates, essential fats, vitamins and minerals. Beware of foods that don’t offer any real benefits.

TIP:Read the nutrition facts. Where are the calories (however low they may be) coming from? If the food contains only fat and sugar, then you’re more likely to overeat, thinking that it is low in calories (a guilty pleasure food)...and before you know it, you’ve eaten more calories with no added health benefit.

Overall, it is ok to treat yourself once in a while. But keeping portion size in mind is very important; you don’t want to overdo it. The best way to try and keep a balanced and healthy diet is to:

  • Limit use of added fats and added salt, avoid very processed foods, and decrease consumption of high sugar foods and beverages.
  • Include more whole grains, fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables (canned is fine, but packed in water without added sugar or salt), protein foods that are low in fat (poultry without the skin, meats with little marbling, legumes, lentils, etc.)
  • Create variety in your diet (don’t always eat the same thing, switch it up!)
  • Read labels and ingredients; know what you’re eating!

Enjoy what you’re eating!

Calories: The Good & Bad (7/7/2006)

Making a commitment to have healthier eating habits is a tough one. Knowing how to implement that commitment may be even harder. Where do you start? What should you eat, and which ones should you stay away from? These are all questions you should answer before going out to the grocery store.

We need nutrients to survive. We need vitamins, minerals and calories everyday. There are two types of nutrients. Micronutrients are our vitamins and minerals and macronutrients are where our calories come from. The three types of macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates and proteins.

Many people think that all fats are bad and recently started thinking all carbohydrates are bad too. That leaves us with just protein. If this were the case, our diets wouldn't be very enjoyable. Fortunately not all fats are bad and the same goes for carbohydrates.

With all the negative publicity recently, you might be afraid to eat any carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our main fuel source. Our brain can't use anything else to power itself with and our muscles will work the best on it. Don't deprive yourself of it. Carbohydrates that you should stay away from are simple sugars that are found in candy, sodas and many snacks. Good carbohydrates such as whole wheats and fruits will keep you energized throughout the day and avoid sugar highs and lows.

Fats are also very important. Without fat, our body wouldn't be able to utilize some of the vitamins we consume. Fat is found in our cell walls and make up a big part of hormones. Fats you should avoid are saturated fats that come in meat, milk and dairy products. Every one should consume good (unsaturated fats) that come from plant sources such as nuts and olives.

source: straighthealth.com

Manipulating Calories You Eat

Having high & low calorie days helps with weight control.
By Martica Heaner, M.A., M.Ed., for MSN Health & Fitness

Q: Can you trick your body into a better metabolism by manipulating how you eat - such as alternating a low-calorie day followed by a normal calorie day?

A: Your basal metabolic rate, often referred to as metabolism, is how many calories your body burns at rest. It reflects the amount of energy that all your cells use to keep your body alive.

But boosting your metabolism isn't as simple as many magazine covers would have you believe. Whether you can truly raise your metabolism permanently from different fitness or diet “tricks,” such as lifting weights or eating so-called “fat-burning” foods like hot chilies or grapefruits, is a controversial topic.

Much of the research linking these methods to substantial increases in basal metabolic rate &/or actual weight loss is nonexistent, flawed or inconclusive.

Burning More Calories

Most people try to focus on raising their metabolism so they can burn more calories & lose weight. But what affects your body weight more powerfully than your ‘metabolism’- because you can do something to increase it - is your total energy expenditure, or how many calories you burn all day. Being more active can lead to a big increase in your overall calorie burn & eventually, weight loss.

The Thermic Effect of Food

Eating does affect your body’s total calorie-burning capacity. In fact, your body’s motor revs up with every meal because you burn calories to break down &d absorb food.

This process, thermogenesis, contributes to about 10% of your overall energy expenditure. Whether you can cause weight loss by eating more is another story.

Are those few extra calories you burn from extra digestion going to outnumber the calories that you eat & lead to weight loss? It’s doubtful. More likely, eating more nutritious foods & eating less junk food & drinking fewer high-calorie drinks will have the biggest effect on your weight.

Balancing Binges

Your idea of manipulating your caloric intake from day to day is right on track. But you probably automatically do this already. The body is very savvy.

For example, if you have a holiday binge on Thanksgiving, you're inclined to eat less the next day or maybe exercise more. If you’ve had a busy day with little time to eat, you may find yourself eating much more than usual the following day.

Also, you’re likely to eat more than on days that you're highly active than on days when you’re sedentary.

One study in the journal Obesity Research found that men & women tend to maintain a consistent diet during the week & pig out on weekends. Subjects consumed 115 calories more each day on Friday, Saturday & Sunday than they did Monday thru Thursday.

Generally, if what you eat corresponds to your daily or weekly energy needs, your weight will stay stable. So, if you burn 2,500 calories a day & eat that same amount, you won’t gain or lose weight.

If you eat slightly more or less, you'll gain or lose. However, this process doesn’t happen overnight; the body adapts to changes in energy intake & expenditure over time.

Imagine this scenario: You slip into a serious eating & drinking binge - consuming an entire chocolate cake & other junk foods so that you take in an extra 10,000 calories that day.

While you might see an upward bump on your scale the next day, it wouldn’t all be from excess fat that you immediately gained. The surge in your weight would stem from the extra fluid & bulk passing thru your digestive system. The extra pounds on the scale wouldn't necessarily become a permanent weight gain unless you continued to eat that much.

The body has ways of adapting to a big influx of calories. After a binge, you probably won’t feel very hungry the next day or even for the next several. You might be more active either consciously or unconsciously. So, the extra few binge-related pounds should naturally fall off.

Of course, people are easily enticed to eat and override the body’s natural tendencies. So if you have a busy social life, you might frequently drink too much alcohol or nibble on too many hors d'oeuvres —and you may see gradual weight gain as a result. If you know there are times when you are going to be having a high-calorie food day, then make sure you eat fewer calories the next meal or the next day, and ramp up your exercise for the next few days.

Caloric Breakdown

  • 1 g Carbohydrates: 4 calories
  • 1 g Protein: 4 calories
  • 1 g Fat: 9 calories

  • Your Caloric Needs
    Just how many calories do our cells need to function well?

    The number is different for every person. You may notice on the nutritional labels of the foods you buy that the "percent daily values" are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, 2,000 calories is a rough average of what a person needs to eat in a day, but your body might need more or less than 2,000 calories.

    Height, weight, gender, age & activity level all affect your caloric needs. There are 3 main factors involved in calculating how many calories your body needs per day:

    • Basal metabolic rate
    • Physical activity
    • Thermic effect of food

    Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body needs to function at rest. This accounts for about 60 - 70% of calories burned in a day & includes the energy required to keep the heart beating, the lungs breathing, the kidneys functioning & the body temperature stabilized.

    In general, men have a higher BMR than women. One of the most accurate methods of estimating your basal metabolic rate is the Harris-Benedict formula:

    • Adult male: 66 + (6.3 x body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

    • Adult female: 655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

    (Note: The first number in the equation for females is, in fact, 655. Strange but true.)

    The second factor in the equation, physical activity, consumes the next highest number of calories. Physical activity includes everything from making your bed to jogging. Walking, lifting, bending & just generally moving around burns calories, but the number of calories you burn in any given activity depends on your body weight.

    Click here for a great table listing the calories expended in various physical activities & for various weights.

    The thermic effect of food is the final addition to the number of calories your body burns. This is the amount of energy your body uses to digest the food you eat, it takes energy to break food down to its basic elements in order to be used by the body.

    To calculate the number of calories you expend in this process, multiply the total number of calories you eat in a day by 0.10, or 10%. If you need some help determining how many calories you eat in a day, check out these sites:

    The total number of calories a body needs in a day is the sum of these 3 calculations. If you only want a rough estimate of your daily caloric needs, you can skip the calculations & click here.

    For the 4th time today, you've seen your teenager standing searchingly in front of your open refrigerator & you've just finished dinner. What gives?
    Teenage kids often seem insatiable. Why?
    They require many more calories than the child they were several years ago. Teenagers are growing & have to provide fuel for that development.
    Active teens need even more energy sources. Teens, whether female or male, also have an especially high need for calcium & should consume 3 servings of:
    •  milk
    • yogurt
    • natural cheeses
    • soy-beverages w/calcium
    • tofu w/calcium sulfate
    • dark-green leafy vegetables
    • foods w/added calcium, such as breakfast cereals
    • fruit juices
    • soups 
    • puddings

    Teen girls need about 2,200 calories, while teen boys should consume about 2,800 per day. All those calories translate to:

    •  9 to 11 servings from the grains group (bread, cereal, rice & pasta)
    • 5 servings of vegetables
    • 5 servings of fruit
    • 3 servings of milk, yogurt & cheese 
    • 2 or 3 servings from the meat & beans group

    Meeting their calorie requirements is only one problem of feeding a teen. On-the-go kids are often eating fast foods w/ high fat & salt content. Certainly older teens are not eating at home as much as when they were children.

    No longer do you as parent control what goes into their bodies. Educate your teens about making good choices about foods. To be the best athlete or debater, actor or student, they need to give themselves quality fuel. Talk about the number of servings their bodies need for each food group.

    Show them the fat & salt content of comparable foods below & help them choose & balance over a period of several days. Try to encourage a diverse diet & see if they'll experiment w/new foods.

    Ultimately the teen years are a time when kids began to make choices for themselves. Education, your good example & a kitchen-full of healthful alternatives will point your teen in the right direction. If you found yourself driving one or more children to a sports practice this week, you may be interested in a roundtable on "Youth in Sport" sponsored by The Gatorade Sports Science Institute®.

    An impressive array of physicians, Ph.D.'s in family & nutritional sciences and exercise sciences concluded the following:

    1. Young athletes should eat a variety of foods that provide 12-15% of total calories from protein, at least 55% from carbohydrate & up to 30% as fat. The food guide pyramid provides a practical way of meeting these requirements.

    2. The key nutrients needed to assure adequate intake in physically active youths are carbohydrates (including fiber), B6, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc & chromium. A balanced meal plan that does not exclude any food groups will maximize the child's chances of obtaining all the nutrients in amounts needed for growth & training demands.

    3. Fluid intake should be encouraged before, during & after activity & sports to prevent dehydration.

    4. With a balanced diet, dietary supplements are unnecessary.

    Every 10 years, our metabolism slows by 7%. So you either have to increase your workouts every decade by 7% or decrease the number of calories you eat by 7%. It's a fact of life a sad but true physiological change that we simply have to live with.


    But here's the good news: Exercise is your best friend! Exercise will help strengthen your muscles & muscles work miracles on your metabolism.


    That's why it's important to emphasize toning exercises in your workout regimen as you get older. In order to jump-start your metabolism, try moves such as Bun Burners, Triceps Dips, Power Squats and Inner-Thigh Toners & make them staples of your exercise routine.


    You can also boost your bodys caloric burn with interval training alternating bursts of high & low intensity during your workout. Interval training works by surprising your muscle groups, which keeps your body from hitting a fitness and weight-loss plateau.


    Every episode of my shows includes an aerobic interval training section. Extending that portion of the workout by 10 minutes would give you a longer cardio workout & more interval training, which could really work miracles if you do it every day.


    It's also important to really take a look at your eating habits. Remember that eating & exercise go hand in hand. Even if you're doing the smart thing by eating small meals throughout the day instead of 3 big ones, you may not be making the wisest food choices.


    Try making a change. For instance, you could try not eating bread & other starches in the evening & see how that goes. Plus, increase your water intake. I'm a big believer in drinking lots of water, because it helps metabolize fat & flush toxins out of the body.


    As for diet supplements, I wouldn't advocate using them, since many include an ingredient that I'd never take & wouldn't recommend: ephedra, or its herbal derivative, Ma-Huang. Check labels & always talk with your doctor before taking anything.

    The 30 Easiest Ways to Burn More Calories
    The following is adapted from Bargain Beauty Secrets by Diane Irons. Sourcebooks Inc., 2002. Used w/permission.

    Can you lose weight without buying special foods, joining a gym or getting involved in an expensive diet club?

    Yes! By making important lifestyle changes, you'll lose the weight safely & permanently while saving money!

    1. Reach for water before you reach for a snack. It's the cheapest, safest appetite suppressant there is.

    2. Keep the cupboards bare. You'll save both money & temptation. By cutting back on the amount of food choices you have around, there will be less impulse snacking.

    3. Do something inspiring. A cheap incentive is sticking a picture of a dress you'd really love to wear where it'll motivate you. For those with a wild side, get your belly button pierced.

    4. Use spices liberally. Ginger, cayenne, jalapeno peppers & Tabasco sauce can boost your fat-burning ability by up to 25%, according to a researcher at Kyoto University in Japan.

    5. Sleep for weight loss. Getting enough sleep does more than keep you from eating for energy. The University of Chicago recently found that a woman's metabolism rises 40% when she gets enough sleep.

    6. Be a smart shopper. Have a list when you go to the supermarket to prevent impulse purchases. For extra exercise, leave your cart at the end of each aisle & carry what you need back to it.

    7. Follow the pros' lead. To get fit fast, models cut out the ABCs -- alcohol, bread & complex carbohydrates.

    8. Beat nighttime cravings. Researchers have found that dark rooms & the darkness of night make us more likely to overeat. Try scheduling your bedtime for an hour earlier. If you have a favorite program that you like to watch at night, tape it. Switch to brighter light bulbs for cheerier surroundings, you'll be happier & less likely to binge.

    9. Always eat breakfast. It fuels you for the day & you'll be less hungry at lunch.

    10. Snack right. A hard candy is only about 20 calories & can last up to 20 minutes. A 400-calorie ice cream cone never lasts more than 10 minutes. Try these tasty treats that are less than 150 calories:

    • 2 Oreo cookies
    • a McDonald's Ice Cream Cone
    • a half cup of Italian Ice
    • a Starbucks Frappuccino Ice Cream Bar
    • Jell-o with whipped cream
    • angel food cake with strawberries
    • a Fudgsicle

    11. Listen to feel-good music when you have the urge to binge. Researchers have found that it activates the same feel-good center of the brain that eating your favorite foods does.

    12. Don't eat unless you've made a place setting.

    13. Drink green tea. A study conducted by the University of Switzerland discovered that drinking green tea increases the number of calories your body burns. Try to drink 3 cups a day.

    14. Concentrate on what you're eating. Keep food out of sight while you're watching TV, reading, studying or answering email

    15. Get out. Try to spend 20 minutes a day sitting outside or taking a walk or, at the very least, sit by a sunny window. Sunlight helps to control food cravings.

    16. Eat healthy at the mall. Order a kid's meal or a salad without heavy dressing. Have a yogurt for a quick pick-me-up.

    17. Get minty fresh. Brush your teeth & tongue with the best-tasting toothpaste you can find. Use mouthwash & breath mints to trick your taste buds.

    18. Watch your portions. Just because you're given a certain portion doesn't mean that amount is what your body needs. Eat only until you're comfortably full. A little left on your plate each day adds up to a long-term decrease in calories.

    19. Give up one bad eating habit. For example, if you eat in front of the TV or in bed, move your meal to the kitchen table.

    20. Don't be too hard on yourself. If you have a diet plan that's too low in calories for your weight & energy level, you'll slow down your metabolism as your body attempts to conserve calories. Don't dip below 1,200 calories or aim for more than a 1 to 2 pound weight loss per week.

    21. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

    22. Dance in your car. While you're stuck in traffic, work your abs. Concentrate on your rib cage, pretend you're an exotic dancer & swirl around. Not only will you see your waist whittle & your abs harden, you'll release lower back tension.

    23. Buy a jump rope. It's great exercise & even more fun if you can remember all the rhymes you jumped to as a kid. You'll get your heart rate up & work the muscles in your upper & lower body, especially the stomach if you contract your abs while jumping.

    24. Work your butt. When you're in the car or standing in line, contract your buttocks for 15 second intervals. Tighten your muscles as you breathe in & then breathe out & release. It not only firms your butt, but relieves stress.

    25. Act goofy. Even if you're too busy for the gym, you can still do cardio. Put on a pair of socks & slide around the house like a skater. You'll burn 150 calories in just 10 minutes.

    26. Get some free weights. It's all you need to start a strength-training regimen.

    27. Take 2 steps at a time when you climb stairs. Skipping a step will force your leg & buttocks muscles to extend & work harder. Plus, this movement releases endorphins that will make you feel great!

    28. Do yard work. Pull weeks, dig holes & rake your lawn. Gardening just 1 hour can burn up to 500 calories.

    29. Rent or buy some exercise videos. It's like having a health club in the privacy of your own room.

    30. Burn calories while doing housework. Do several chores at one time. For instance, make the bed, put laundry in the dryer, run upstairs to fold clean clothes & put them away. When you're making the beds, keep your shoulders back & pretend you have a book on your head. While you're dusting, roll up on the balls of your feet to work your calves.


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