Monday, May 11, 2009

All Calories Are Not Equal

One of the first things I usually have to tell my clients is that all calories are not equal. More often than not, I hear, "Well I knew I was going to go out and have a glass of wine so I skipped my fruit servings for the day." Or, "I wanted to splurge on pizza and cake for dinner so I skipped my lunch." Are they still having the right amount of calories throughout the day? Maybe. Are they losing weight? Probably not.

So why not? We hear all the time that weight loss is a simple matter of calories in, calories out. If you want to lose weight, you just have to expend more calories throughout the day than you take in. So by that logic, you could eat wine and candy bars every day as long as you limit your intake to 1200 calories (or whatever calorie level you are at). Then go to the gym and run on the treadmill for a while. Weight loss problems solved.

Yet if it's as simple as that, most of my clients wouldn't have to come to me in the first place. There's a misconception, I think, that everyone who is overweight eats too much. Actually, a lot of my clients don't eat very much at all. It's just that what they do eat has very little nutritional value. When they start eating on my weight-loss plan, they realize they're eating more than they ever have. Sometimes people tell me it's too much food! (In my head, I usually think, too much food!? There's no such thing in my world!) Yet suddenly, they're eating more than ever and the number on the scale starts creeping down.

Why? Because a candy bar does not a piece of fruit make. Nor does a glass of wine. They're both nice to have occasionally, but fruit is great for you every day. And who doesn't enjoy a ripe, juicy piece of fruit? When I cut up a pear or have a big apple, I love to think about all the good nutrients I'm putting into my body. Call me a nutrition nerd, but I often run to my computer and google whatever food I'm having to see what the nutritional information is. Did you know that pears are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, copper, and vitamin K? Can't say that about a candy bar, can you?

So here's my suggestion. You already know my formula. Each day I try to eat:

5 starches
5 proteins
3+ non-starchy vegetables
3 dairy servings
2 fats
2 fruits

So keep track, and if you find yourself hungry, ask yourself what you haven't eaten today. If it's mid-afternoon and you're in a slump and want to munch, check out your list. Haven't eaten any fruit today? Go grab a banana. Haven't had any vegetables yet? Get some baby carrots. Only had one dairy serving for the day? Get a low fat mozzarella stick or some delicious fat free Greek yogurt. Skimping on the protein? Have a couple of slices of turkey. If you still feel like you're going to die if you don't get a candy bar after that, then go ahead and eat it. But at least you'll know that you put something good into your body first. And your body will thank you for it later.

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