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Hard facts about counting calories, exercise 

Sharon McBride
Fort Richardson PAO

Sharon McBrideHallelujah! 

I’m almost at the half-way point of the Weight Loss Boot Camp being put on by the fitness specialists at Fort Richardson’s Buckner Physical Fitness Center.

For three weeks, I have been hopping, skipping, jumping, jogging and running in an effort to lose weight and become more fit.

At this point in the program, it’s only natural for those participating to start talking about the progress they have made, or haven’t made, so far. Whether it is pounds lost or fitness gained, everyone is eager to talk about what’s been working or hasn’t been working for them.

The Atkins diet, NutriSystem and Weight Watchers all have been mentioned by participants to varying degrees, with people experiencing both positive and negative results from following these food plans.

From the very beginning, however, it was highly recommended by the BPFC staff running the Boot Camp program that those participating to lose weight should also enlist the help of a nutritionist to achieve their goals.

“What works for one person might not necessarily work for another,” said Dan Kehlenbach, one of the instructors. “Everyone’s body is different.”

Finding what works individually seems to be the key ingredient for weight loss and exercise.

When I was in the Army, a lot of my exercise choices were automatically made for me, which made it easier to maintain a fitness level.

And of course it helped that the thumb on the hand belonging to the Department of the Army was pressed firmly on the back of my neck when it came to maintaining a reasonable amount of weight and body fat.

Since I’ve been out, however, my choice to exercise has been completely up to me, as well as the freedom to eat whatever and whenever I want.

But due to weight gain, I am now at a greater risk for diseases like diabetes.

In an effort to educate myself on weight loss, I have learned there’s no magic pill in order to burn the 3,500 calories needed to lose one pound of fat for the average person.

According to, 3,500 calories is the rough estimate for the energy contained in one pound of fat. This means to lose one pound per week, a deficit of 3,500 calories per week must be created. There are seven days in a week, so dividing 3,500 calories by seven equals cutting out 500 calories per day.

It doesn’t matter how you create that deficit of 3,500 calories. It can be done through diet, exercise or both, because 3,500 calories is 3,500 calories.

But just dropping daily caloric intake can be extremely hard to do. Nobody likes to be hungry. We’re not used it to. As Americans, we can have any kind of food we want in a matter of minutes. All it takes is a quick pass through a drive-through.

However, I found that 3,500 deficit can be easier to achieve if I reduce my calorie intake by combining it with exercise.

For example, if I cut 250 calories a day from my diet and combine it with some type of exercise to burn an additional 250 calories per day, every day for a week, I can easily reach my goal of creating a 3,500-calorie deficit. By doing this, I achieve a healthy and feasible weight loss of one pound per week.

But there is a catch, as you have to know how many calories a day you are consuming on a regular basis before you can cut your intake.

Here’s where other hard truths come in.

1. I found I have to keep a food diary that details what I eat and when, how many servings I consume, and my caloric intake.

The experts agree with me on this one. A study published in the August edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine said keeping a food diary may be a key to losing extra weight. The study, of 1,685 overweight or obese U.S. adults 25 and older found those who kept track of what they were eating had a greater success of losing weight than lose who didn’t.

The bottom line is you have to know how much you are putting in your mouth. Only then can you figure out what’s going wrong and how to make it right. Is it convenient? No. But neither is paying taxes.

2. Whether it is diet or exercise, you have to find something you’re going to stick with for the duration.

For example, the problem with following a fad diet, for me, is I have a hard time sticking to it, especially if it calls for narrowly limiting my food choices. I don’t know about you, but there is only so much meat I can consume… I do occasionally like broccoli, bread or cheese. Restrictive food choices can also lead to other problems, like vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which is not a good idea for someone who has a family history of bone loss.

As for exercise, after my back injury, the physical therapist I was working with was a great advocate of swimming. Yes, I understand the water takes a lot of stress and impact off the joints, but I freak out when I can’t touch the bottom, I loathe the sting of chlorine in my eyes and no matter how hard I try, I always end up swallowing half the pool. You get the picture. Am I going to stick with exercising in the pool? Not in this century or the next.

3. I also had to become a label reader.

You would be amazed at what’s in some of the food we eat. For example “fat free” doesn’t always mean “calorie free.” The fat-free and full-fat versions in many cases equal the same or close to the same amount of calories per serving. Am I kidding? Nope, read the labels and compare for yourself.

The bottom line is fat tastes good! If the fat is removed from a food, it doesn’t taste as good. Food manufacturers know this, so they try to make up for the loss of taste by adding other things…like sugar, salt and artificial additives. Sugar?

Yes, that’s right – S-U-G-A-R!

If you don’t burn off sugar, you consume, what does it turn into?

That’s right, fat, or F-A-T!

In many cases, you are better off consuming the full-fat version of some foods. Just remember to take it easy on the portion, which brings me to my next hard truth.

4. Know the portion of a single serving.

Some foods are packaged to look like a single serving, but in reality, they’re more than one serving. For example, a regular soda might list its calories as 110 per serving. That’s not too bad, you might think, but you have to read the entire label, as each bottle may contain four servings. So, if you drink the entire bottle, which is what most of us do, you have consumed a total of 440 calories. Now do you get the picture?

5. Everything in moderation.

I’ve been working with a nutritionist for the past several weeks who is a big believer of enjoying everything in moderation. Meaning, if you really want some potato chips, by all means have some potato chips. But eat just one serving not the whole bag. Satisfying a craving now means you’re less likely to binge later. So save yourself some heartache, but be aware of your limitations.

6. Know your trigger foods.

We all have them. A trigger food is something that no matter how hard we try, there’s no way on Earth we can keep it to a single serving. Mine is anything caramel combined with chocolate. Like those Girl Scout cookies …you know the Samoas? Yeah, those are made by the devil.

A single serving is listed on the label as two cookies at 150 calories. I know I won’t stop at two cookies, and because there are seven servings in a box I will end up consuming a whopping 1,050 calories. So I try not to go there - ever. And if I do, because someone’s child needs to sell that last box — insert sad puppy dog eyes here — I buy the box, quickly eat two cookies and leave the rest out for my co-workers, which brings me to my next point.

7. Don’t let setbacks get you down.

Ok, let’s say I blow it by eating a box of cookies. I won’t have to let it ruin my weight-loss goals because the quicker I kick the mule that kicked me, the quicker my backside will actually fit into the saddle.

8. Take pride in small accomplishments.

Recent research shows, even a modest amount of weight loss may significantly lighten the load on your joints. A reduction of five pounds also significantly lowers the risk of developing some diseases. So, if a few pounds lost doesn’t bring you down to your ideal weight – don’t forget you still reap several health benefits.

9. Experiment with food.

Try a variety of veggies and fruits, as you might find you actually like some of them that provide a lot of nutritional value. Also, some of those reduced-calorie foods actually taste pretty good and don’t have hidden extras. Read the labels, and try them out. If it tastes bad, once again, leave it out for your co-workers to enjoy, which brings me to my last point.

10.  The heavier a person is, the more calories they will burn.

Have you ever wondered why the closer you get to your goal weight the harder it is to lose those last few pounds? That’s because the human body is a very smart machine that quickly adapts to the stress you put on it.

For example, a 200-pound woman who walks for 30 minutes at approximately 2 mph will burn 113.6 calories. The same woman who keeps to a daily exercise regimen and gets down to 150 pounds will only burn 85.2 calories in 30 minutes. The more weight you lose the harder it is to maintain the same number of calories burned. That’s why mixing up an exercise routine can become important to weight loss.

Enter the BPFC Weight Loss Boot Camp.

With a constant mix of exercises by incorporating items like agility ladders, agility rings, weighted kettle bells, hurdles, cones and tubing, the body doesn’t know what to expect, and the gains in fitness are expected to be larger as is the amount of weight lost.

For example, the same women mentioned above at 200 pounds and 150 pounds will burn more calories participating in circuit training with some aerobic activity and minimal rest (similar to what’s offered through the Boot Camp class) during the same timeframe of 30 minutes. Despite their weight differences the calorie burn for both women increases dramatically to 363.6 and 272.7 respectively. Which calorie burn would you rather have?

Exactly how much weight have I lost to date? I’m not telling. But as I hop, jump, run, bend, stretch and sprint through each hour-long session that culminates in less than three weeks with final fitness test and weigh-in, I’ll let you know.

On a personal note, the BPFC staff keeps all participant’s weigh-in results confidential, but I plan on divulging the percentage of body fat lost I lost by participating in the class.

Until then, I’ll keep feeding my co-workers cookies, and they’ll never know I have an ulterior motive.

Editor’s note: Each individual’s health needs are different, and those with pre-existing medical conditions should always seek the advice of doctor before trying any new diet or any fitness program.