The Energy Times Diet
You've tried every weight-loss program under the sun.
If the phrase "yo-yo dieter" was listed in the dictionary, your picture would appear after it.
You're so frustrated, you don't know where to turn. Well, search no more.
Learn how to safely drop pounds with the Energy Times Diet.
The first time you tried to lose weight, you went on the cottage-cheese-and-celery-sticks quickie diet. By the end of two weeks, you were ready to gnaw off your left arm. You dove into a quart of ice cream instead and eventually gained 10 extra pounds.
The second time you counted points and bought a food scale. But the whole thing reminded you too much of high-school science lab (you hated lab), so that was out. You did lose 20 pounds, though.
The third time you carefully balanced your carbs, fats and proteins. You were really good about it, too, passing up anything—including Aunt Clara’s never-say-diet cheesecake—that interfered with your exquisitely designed regimen. But then you went on vacation and decided you deserved a break from all that calculating. So you ate…and ate…and ate…for a full six months after the vacation ended. Whoops.
Then, 30 pounds heavier and more determined than ever, you swept every crumb of carbohydrate out of your kitchen. And that worked for a while (at least you could have sugarless cheesecake). But as with every other diet, you started to cheat: a bag of chips, bread with your dressing-soaked salad. And now you can feel your clothes getting tighter—again.
Don’t feel bad. You are but one soldier in a vast weight-loss army, slogging along through various diet valleys and coming out pretty much unchanged or even slightly heavier than before. Actually, none of those diets you tried are bad in and of themselves, with the exception of the first one (face it, how long can anyone realistically subsist on cottage cheese and celery?). The truth is that any diet works if you stick with it. But sticking with it is always the problem: Eating should be a pleasure, not a demonstration of how well you can operate a Palm Pilot.
To help you cut through the dietary clutter, Energy Times has decided to weigh in with its own weight-loss plan. It is (drum roll, please): EAT LESS, EXERCISE MORE
Okay, so that isn’t the most original thought in the world. But doesn’t it make sense? The one thing all those other plans have in common is that people who “go on a diet,” no matter what idea the diet is based on, tend to automatically cut their food consumption and up their exercise. But then they slack off; as they do, intake increases and movement decreases—and the bathroom scale reverts to enemy status.
While “eat less, exercise more” is as simple a plan as you’re going to find, it does help to understand some of its underlying principles—and we don’t even have to write a book. (If cutting food and increasing exercise doesn’t work you should go for a checkup: A number of medical conditions, most notably low thyroid function, can interfere with weight loss.)
The food you eat is used for two things. First, your body needs fuel for your daily activities, including the stuff you don’t even think of: respiration, circulation, brain function and the rest. The amount of energy you expend on these activities is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR); total energy expended equals BMR plus movement (exercise) energy plus the energy consumed by digestion itself.
Food intake that goes beyond your need for fuel provides a ready energy reserve in the form of fat. Before you groan “why?” remember that excess energy has been at a premium throughout most of human history—the ancient world didn’t have a donut shop or coffeehouse on every corner, and starvation was a real threat. Being able to carry your own energy around with you was actually a good (and envied) thing.
The fuel value of food is calibrated in calories. If you take in more calories than you expend, your fat stores and weight both increase. The excess food energy simply has no place else to go.
“Ah-ha,” you exclaim, “that means the most important thing is to reduce my weight.” Wrong. What you really want to reduce is your percentage of body fat, to somewhere between 10% and 20% for men and 20% to 30% for women; this should result in weight reduction as well. (You can measure body fat either by using a special fat-measuring weight scale, or by visiting your doctor or a health club for a painless test; while none of these tests are completely accurate, they will give you a good idea of where you’re at.)
A pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories, so if on a daily basis you burn 500 more calories than you take in you should lose a pound a week: 500 x 7 = 3,500. Keep in mind that your shape is also important; fat around your middle is more harmful to health than that which adorns your hips and thighs.
One way to estimate your body fat is to measure your body mass index (BMI). Based on a ratio of weight to height, BMI is calculated using a special chart (to find the chart, click on the “obesity” link at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines or call the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Maryland at 301-592-8573). Normal-weight BMIs fall between 18.5 and 24.9 and overweight between 25.0 and 29.9; obesity starts at 30.
To maintain your current status, keep your calorie intake in line with your activity level:
• If you are sedentary (less than 30 minutes of daily exercise): 1,600-1,800 calories for women, 2,000-2,400 for men
• If you are moderately active (30-60 minutes of moderate daily exercise): 1,800-2,400 for women, 2,400-2,600 calories for men
• If you are active (60 minutes or more of moderate exercise daily): 2,000-2,400 calories for women, 2,600-3,000 for men
It stands to reason that to lose weight, you should take in fewer calories than what’s listed. Don’t want to fiddle with the math? Just figure that if you cut your regular food intake your BMI, body fat percentage and weight will all fall, even without measuring every calorie you put in your mouth.
Reducing Calorie Input
Cutting portions is one way to cut calorie intake. It’s not always easy to judge portion sizes—who can estimate something like a half-cup by eye? To get around that dilemma, use the following visual guide:
• 3 ounces cooked meat: the size of your palm
• 1/2 cup vegetables or beans: rounded handful
• 1/2 cup cooked pasta or rice: one small ice-cream scoop
• 1 medium piece fresh fruit: the size of a baseball
• 1/4 cup dried fruit: the size of a golf ball
• 1/3 cup nuts: level handful
• 1 ounce cheese: 4 dice
In a supersized world, eating out requires taking a proactive stance on portion control. Request a half order or child’s portion when ordering your entrée, or ask for a doggie bag to be delivered with your meal so you can stow away tomorrow’s lunch before you eat. Beware of the breadbasket; you can bomb down a lot of calories without even being aware that you’re eating. On the other hand, a healthy snack before dinner, such as a handful of nuts, can help keep you from devouring an extra-large portion.
Cutting portions does not mean skipping meals, especially breakfast—not eating all day will only set you up for an all-night binge. Low-sugar granola with low-fat yogurt is both filling and nutritious, as is whole-wheat bread topped with peanut butter. If you have a little more time, try some oatmeal with soymilk, raisins and cinnamon—yum!
The second approach to cutting calories involves eating more filling, nutritious foods and less (not none) of such weight makers as chips, cookies, candy and cake. The good stuff isn’t as calorie dense; that is, it doesn’t have as many calories in a given volume of food. One rule of thumb is to go for foods with more water in them, such as soups, most fruits (bananas are a high-calorie exception), cooked whole grains and, especially, non-starchy vegetables (see page 22). Except for the soup, these foods tend to be rich in fiber, which also helps your stomach say “enough.” (Some supplements may help support healthy weight levels; see page 25.)
If you can’t stop with just one scoop of rocky road ice cream or one slice of peanut butter pie, beware—you’re in the presence of a trigger food, the one you run to after a bad day at the office or a screaming match with your teen. Before you reach, think: Are you physically hungry, or do you just need a stroke or two? If you really need nourishment substitute a healthier snack, such as a piece of fruit. If not, find some way to snap the craving—go for a walk, vent to your journal or your best friend, pet your pet. As the pounds come off and you start liking what you see in the mirror, avoiding trigger foods will get easier.
Increasing Calorie Output
Fewer calories coming in is only half of the weight-loss equation; more calories going out is the other. That means getting enough physical activity to keep the energy stored in the foods you eat from becoming energy stored as fat in your body—or as the old saying goes, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
The federal government now recommends that you get 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity daily, especially if you are currently, or have been, overweight. To find extra time for exercise, keep a log of how you spend your day—you’d be amazed at how many hours stuff like cruising the Internet or watching TV can soak up (how about planting a treadmill in front of the set?). Fortunately, you can meet at least some of that requirement through everyday activities.
Exercise comes in two forms: aerobic and resistance. Aerobic activities, such as walking, jogging, bicycling and running, force the heart and lungs to work harder than normal. This burns fat and improves your fitness level—that is, the amount of exercise you can perform before getting winded. Resistance activities, such as lifting weights or using various exercise machines, increase muscle strength and mass. Since muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells, upping your basic metabolic rate, that’s a good thing. (Remember that since muscle is also heavier than fat, your weight may not go down. Don’t fret—what counts is losing that flab!)
You need to exercise aerobically every day—walking is a great start, especially if you been inactive for a while. Don’t overdo resistance work, though: Since the muscle grows in the rest period after a workout, three times a week is plenty. Trying to play Superman or Wonder Woman in the weight room leaves you liable to injury. Actually, the best way to work with weights is to take at least a lesson or two with a personal trainer, who can help you find the activities that best suit your needs. To find a trainer, ask at your local gym or contact IDEA Health & Fitness Association (www.ideafit.com, 1-800-999-4332).
Take all those diet books with a grain of salt. Weight loss isn’t about trying one hard-to-follow plan after another. It’s about eating less, exercising more—and finding a healthy way of life you can be happy with for a lifetime.
Energy Times wishes to thank Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, for her assistance. Karen is a consultant with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR, www.aicr.org) and a syndicated nutrition columnist.