6/9/15 - Weight Loss Challenge: Week 2 - Reduce those calories

In the first installment of the Weight Loss Challenge, we discussed the basics of how weight is gained or lost from a scientific standpoint. In this write up, I'm going to discuss some very simple steps to reducing the overall calories consumed. The standard American diet is filled with empty calories and excess calories.

The easiest modification for many people is the removal of calories from beverages. As an example, a can of Coke or Pepsi has 140-150 calories per can (12 oz). For those that drink a single can a day with lunch or dinner, that adds up to roughly 1000 calories a week. Assuming no other changes, that's an extra pound a month. Starbucks as an example, can be laden with more calories than most people realize. My personal favorite drink, the White Chocolate Mocha, has a fairly high 400 calories in a Grande serving. As can be seen, removing these small things, specifically liquid calories, can slowly add up to fairly easy weight loss.

Excess calories can come in many forms, but one often overlooked culprit is sauces, toppings, dips and spreads. When dipping chicken finger in ranch, each tablespoon adds roughly 75 calories. An extra tablespoon of mayo on a sandwich adds almost 100 calories. Adding just a single tablespoon of olive oil drizzled on a salad adds about 120 calories to the meal. In so many cases, the small amount of food used in these applications appears on the surface to be minimal when it comes to calories, but the truth is, they can quickly add up and negate the otherwise low calorie choices. The solution to this is to either careful monitor the use of these toppings and dressings, or to choose options with a lower calorie count. Mustard (9 calories/tbsp) instead of mayonnaise or italian dressing (35 calories/tbsp) instead of ranch are two reasonable substitutions.

Another simple step towards reducing calories is to eat smaller portions in general. The Small Plate Movement, which is backed by research from Indiana University (summary article) is a weight loss recommendation to simply use smaller dishes for meals. The basics are that many people will eat what is on their plate, and therefore with smaller plates, less food can be served in a single sitting. This doesn't reduce the impact of getting seconds and thirds, but for those that are content with a single plate of food, the minor differences can have a cumulative impact over time.

Smaller portions is quite a bit easier when eating at home, but when dining out can be out of the hands of the consumer. For example, the Roasted Salmon Quinoa Bowl from BJ's Brewhouse is 1040 calories, over half of a typical suggested daily calorie intake. At Chili's, the Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken is listed at 720 calories. One other example, an 8oz steak, house salad, baked potato and apple sauce from Texas Road Roadhouse comes to 888 calories.

On the surface, each of these offerings appear to be healthy, salads, chicken and fish, etc. But the quantity and dressings provided send the numbers higher and higher. A simple solution to counter act this is to either split a meal with a friend or family member when dining out, or to request a to go box with your food. As soon as the food is served, split it in half, placing half of the meal into the to go container for lunch/dinner on a following day.

One danger in reducing calories is to make a choice at the supermarket solely because of a "Zero Calories", "Reduced Sugar", or "Low Fat" label. I'll go into more detail next week regarding processed foods, but it is my recommendation to make decisions based on the food provided instead of the marketing language put on the packaging.

In summary, reducing calories can be as simple as eating fewer bites of a loaded baked potato at dinner, or one less sugary drink during the day. Reducing the size of one's plate is a helpful tactic in decreasing portion size and recognizing the caloric content of sauces and dips and adjusting accordingly can help decrease overall consumption as well. Instead of making major lifestyle adjustments at one time, taking these smaller, incremental steps towards lowering caloric intake can add up to big losses.

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness trainer, nutritionist, scientist or weight loss guru. I have spent quite a bit of time over the last roughly 10 years researching weight loss for my own knowledge and to help my family stay healthy. All information provided has been helpful for me, but carries no guarantees. I am willing to discuss at length any topics mentioned and would love to be proven wrong in order to better myself and my knowledge.
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