Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Little Things Add Up or Down on the Scale

It’s the little things that mean a lot. And it turns out that little proverb can be applied to weight control, too.
To keep current on nutrition issues, I recently attended an American Dietetic Association three-day course on adult weight management presented by experts in all areas of the field, including diet counseling, physical activity and clinical assessment.
Back to the little things.
I learned encouraging news that little bouts of exercise — as few as 10 minutes in duration — can add up to significant gains in fitness.
Unfortunately, it’s the little bites eaten here and there above our daily caloric needs that can add up to sizable weight gain over time.
Call it the “creep.” The cumulative effect of small daily errors in energy balance can slowly but surely feed the growth of body fat.
As obesity expert Dr. Robert Kushner of Northwestern University explained: “By consuming just 12 calories more per day, you can gain 2 pounds a year. By eating 125 calories more per day, you can gain more than 12 pounds in a year.”
The sage budget advice to “watch the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” holds true here, too.
On the exercise front, registered dietitian Ruth Ann Carpenter of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, summarized physical activity guidelines for weight maintenance, “Do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week such as walking, biking or gardening. Split it up into at least three days a week with no less than 10-minute bouts at a time.”
If you want more health benefits, you’ll have to do more exercise.
It’s the calories, folks
Bottom line: To prevent weight gain each day, you should walk 2,000 steps and cut 100 calories. (Skip the cheese on the burger and pass on another pat of butter.)
To support weight loss, you should walk at least 10,000 steps and cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day.Putting this knowledge into practice is of course what counts.
And in my case, since the meeting was being held in the expansive Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center in Nashville, I had plenty of opportunities to put my pedometer to work.
Surprisingly, even though I was sitting in meetings with a few breaks, I was able to get in 9,000 steps the first day. (I got lost a lot and wandered through the 9 acres of beautiful indoor gardens with walkways and waterfalls.)
I also munched on fresh fruit snacks offered by the hotel during our seminars and had lots of healthy lunch options.
One day I could go to Stax, the build-your-own-burger place, and pile on the lettuce, tomatoes and pickles on top of a small hamburger or chicken sandwich.
The next day I could get a big green salad topped with grilled salmon at
 Cascades Seafood Restaurant. Cutting calories while enjoying great taste is getting easier thanks to menu alternatives today.
Learning how to make these healthy lifestyle choices in a world that weight-control experts call an “obesigenic environment” is a critical survival skill needed to prevent weight gain and related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
So I’ve taken Kushner’s list of forces that contribute to obesity and given them a healthy makeover.
Fit in a fattening world
Hurried life, always rushing: Walk even faster to burn more calories. Take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Park farther away and walk instead of circling to find the closest parking spot. Make moments of calm count. Savor your foods.
Food available everywhere: This often means more variety, so be selective about what you choose, accept the fact that this won’t be the last time someone offers you cake or cookies, stick to three meals and a snack instead of uncontrolled grazing.
Cooking less: If you don’t know how to cook, take a class or buy a cookbook to learn techniques for easy-to-prepare, lower-calorie recipes. You won’t have bad cooking habits to unlearn.
Eating out more: Whether it’s fast food or fancy, go online to look at the menus ahead of time to help plan healthier choices. Learn to be specific in requests, “May I have extra lemon with my fish?”
Exercise engineered out of our lives: Take the stairs, hide the remote, just say no to robot vacuum cleaners, open the garage door yourself, ditch the drive-through by actually walking into the restaurant.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@

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