Taking Control of Your Energy Balance Part 4

The key to taking control of your energy balance is knowing your caloric maintenance level, which is the number of dietary calories you require each day to maintain your current body fat level. If you want to lose weight, you must take in less than this amount because if you do, your body will have no choice but to access existing fat stores to fill the void. And when it does so to the tune of 3500 calories, you will lose a pound of fat because that is the amount of energy that 16 ounces of fat holds.

The way of life of modern man (not having to hunt for food and eating for many reasons other than to simply satisfy energy balance) has rendered the inherent system we have for determining how many calories to ingest incapable of serving us in that regard. Consequently, without making conscious decisions based on specific calculations, it is very likely that we will ingest more energy than we need. No doubt, this is a major reason why 34 percent of the U.S. population is obese and another 34 percent is overweight.

You can determine your caloric maintenance level by trial and error. For example, if you eat the same amount of calories each day for a few weeks while keeping your activity level constant and find that your bodyweight does not fluctuate, the amount you were taking in would be the magic number. Once you know that number, you can set up a deficit by reducing the amount you’re ingesting and/or increasing the energy you’re using to boost your maintenance level above what you’re taking in. The latter is the preferred method because it carries no risk of reducing your basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy you need to maintain vital body functions.    

Last month, I provided hypothetical scenarios that exemplified how a calorie is a calorie, regardless of from where it comes. The take-home message was that simply restricting your intake to foods that are typically deemed healthy does not ensure you will be operating with your energy balance where it should be. For example, some very nutritious foods are also very dense in calories, which means that even though they might be smart choices when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, they might not be the ideal option if fat loss is your goal. The only way to know for sure is to do the math, which is easier now than ever before. For example, in the United States, a food label revealing the energetic content of any packaged food is required under the provisions of the 1990 Nutritional Labeling and Education Act. The requisite label lists the standard serving size, calories contained within that quantity of the food and macronutrient content (i.e., the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat). Fat is also specified according to its structural classification (i.e., saturated, cholesterol, unsaturated, trans, etc.), which dramatically alters the effect that consuming it will have on your health. Vitamins and minerals including sodium are also listed, as is dietary fiber and the amount of the carbohydrate total that appears as simple sugars.

In addition to food package labeling requirements, there has also been recent legislation that mandates fast-food establishments and chain restaurants to reveal the caloric content of the foods they offer. For example, restaurants in New York that are part of chains with at least 15 establishments doing business nationally must prominently display caloric information on their menus. And in 2012, calorie labeling in restaurants will become law throughout the U.S. as restaurants and retail food establishments with 20 or more locations will be required to list calorie content for their standard items on menus and menu boards. Interestingly, a recent study in the British Medical Journal found that such menu labeling made an average difference of 106 calories in what people ordered at New York fast-food restaurants, although only 15 percent of those surveyed claimed they saw or used the information that was provided.

Food labeling laws make it easy to take control of your energy balance when consuming packaged foods or eating out. Unfortunately, unpackaged foods that you buy in supermarkets, bakeries, convenience stores and food stands do not fall under this jurisdiction. This is not a problem, however, because there are websites you can access that list the energetic content of foods. For example, http://nutritiondata.self.com has an extensive database that provides a nutrition label for just about any food you can imagine and it also offers a variety of means for assessing serving sizes so that you have more flexibility when measuring how much you are going to eat. For example, in addition to finding out that a raw apple with skin has 52 calories per 100 grams, you will learn that an ounce has 15, a cup quartered or chopped has 65 and a cup sliced has 57.  What is more, the typical weight and, therefore, caloric content of an apple that would be considered “extra small,” “small,” “medium,” and “large” is also provided. This is important for circumstances where you are unable to take a precise measurement of the amount of the food you are eating.

This article was originally published in New Living Magazine, which can be accessed on-line at www.newliving.com.






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