Dieting: Why It's the Calories, Stupid

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When it comes to diets, many wonder which ones are the best-- low carb, low fat, Mediterranean? But the latest findings suggest it doesn't matter and that only calories count.

A recent study by the New England Journals of Medicine surveyed 800 overweight Americans who tried different diets. The group found that "reduced calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss, regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize."

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Medical Reporter Lorie Johnson followed by how you can "Unlock the Secret to Weight-Loss Success."

A person's weight is a balance between calories eaten and calories burned. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Our bodies are designed to operate most efficiently on about 1,500 to 2,500 calories a day, depending on age, gender and exercise.  But in today's society, that's not a lot of calories.

Fattening foods are at our fingertips and it's fairly easy to eat an entire day's worth of calories before noon. For instance, one Big Mac contains more than 500 calories.

Doing the Math

One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories, so to lose one pound of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in. That means if each day you cut 500 calories from what you normally eat, you'd lose a pound a week (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).

For those who think they are eating the right number of calories, but are still struggling with weight, it's important to take a closer look.  We tend to disregard incidental calories, like what we put in our coffee, or the handful of grapes we grab on our way out the door. These calories can add up fast.

To get an accurate count of the number of calories you're consuming, write down the calories of every morsel you put in your mouth.

If you're eating something packaged, it's easy because the calories are right on the container. But if you're having something like coffee creamer, fruit or meat, you'll need to measure your food or weigh it on a kitchen scale, which you can find at any pharmacy or discount store.

Then, look up the calories in a book that lists the calories of most foods. These books are available at any bookstore or discount store.

Nutritionists Weigh In

Some nutritionists disagree with the survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nutrition expert Joy Bauer offers weight loss advice to millions of Americans as a health expert on The Today Show and is the author of several nutrition and weight loss books, including the best-seller, Joy's Life Diet, Four Steps to Thin Forever.

She says calories are paramount, but a successful diet is more complicated than just counting calories.

"Calories count most. You can lose weight eating two Big Macs a day because if you create a deficit. The weight will come off," Bauer said.

She warned, however, that it's the type of calories you take in that will determine the success of a diet.

"Is it going stabilize your blood sugars so you feel fuller and you can stay with the program," she asked. "Also the type of food that you're fueling your body with, it's got to be healthy for your overall health."

The Importance of Blood Sugar

A level blood sugar is important because when you have low blood sugar, you binge. A good way to prevent getting low blood sugar is to eat small amounts of lean protein every few hours, like yogurt, a handful of nuts, cheese or a hard-boiled egg.

Another way to prevent binging is to refrain from eating or drinking artificial sweeteners. Even though they have little to no calories, they actually make you crave sweets.

"If you adulterate all your food with artificial sweetener, you keep the taste of sweet on your tastebuds and on your mind.  It makes it that much harder to sort of fight the compulsion for sweets when it comes to regular foods," Bauer explained.

Regular sugar and foods containing corn syrup also make you want more sweets.  You can cure that sweet tooth by going cold turkey. If you suffer through a withdrawl period, Bauer says you'll stop wanting them.

After you've lost the taste for sweets, Bauer adds, you can bring back a few of the replacements. She advises no more than two items a day containing artificial sweeteners and encourages people to enjoy the natural flavor of food.

Thinking Right = Eating Right

Once you get the calories and the type of foods you will and won't eat straight, check what's between your ears-- your attitude.

Bauer says a positive self-image is essential to weight loss success.

Instead of being disappointed when you look in the mirror, get excited about what you're going to see.  Visualize your success and think about what you will enjoy about a slimmer you.

"The best advice I could give to anybody trying to lose weight is to find your passion for action, the reason that you need to lose weight and you want to lose weight for yourself," Bauer said. "It can't be for your spouse, it can't be for your doctor, you need to want to do it in your own heart. And when you find that you're going to prevail."

*Originally published April 1, 2009

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Lorie Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

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