Health & Medicine

Weight loss by the numbers: Counting calories might not be enough

Landi Cranstoun, M.D., of KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates
Landi Cranstoun, M.D., of KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates

During the past 20 years, obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed. Kentucky has the fifth-highest adult obesity rate in the country, at 34.6 percent, according to a report released in September from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

That adult obesity rate is up, from 21.7 percent in 2000 and 12.7 percent in 1990.

Those who are overweight or obese have a higher weight than what is considered healthy for their height. A body mass index (BMI), or weight-to- height ratio, between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or more indicates obesity.

Extra weight can not only make the activities of daily living more difficult, but it also puts you at increased risk for myriad health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and joint problems.

This is the time of year when many people resolve to shed extra weight, whether that’s 10 pounds, or 100 pounds, or more. The most well-known method to losing weight is counting calories; however, some people find that, despite doing this, they don’t lose the weight they intended and are left wondering why.

Foods you eat are either converted to energy or stored as fat. Stored calories are used up by reducing the number of calories you take in, which forces your body to draw on reserves for energy, or by burning them off through increased exercise. In other words, you have to burn more calories than you eat to lose weight.

However, many people underestimate the amount of calories they are eating, and think a portion is much larger than it actually is. A good gauge is to make a fist — that represents about one serving. On packaged foods, pay attention to both calories and the serving number. A small snack bag may contain two servings, not one, which means twice the calories if you eat the entire bag in one sitting.

Most people also don’t realize that published calorie estimates are just that: estimates. They could be off by as much as 20 percent.

Think about what foods make up your calorie intake. While the 300 calories in a bowl of ice cream may fall within your allotted daily amount, sweets like this are high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. You can substitute a low-calorie option such as strawberries and eat more of them, feel fuller and get better nutrition in the process.

Make sure you also get plenty of raw vegetables. When you find some you like, build your diet around them and focus on getting quality protein.

There is no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to weight loss. Talk to your doctor about a realistic, healthy calorie goal for your lifestyle. Keep a food diary for 30 days and bring it with you to your appointment. This will help your physician troubleshoot areas for improvement and come up with a customized weight loss plan to ensure long-term success.

Landi Cranstoun, M.D., of KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates