Prevention of weight gain is often overlooked when we talk about weight management or weight loss. Many times people do not concern themselves with preventing weight gain until physical symptoms of pain or discomfort show. Or, some people forget the step of preventing weight from gaining further before they can start to see a reasonable amount weight-loss. After all, you cannot run until you have learned to walk.
Obesity is a chronic condition just like diabetes is a chronic condition. Chronic conditions are chronic partly because they progress over time. So why not stop obesity in its tracks before pain emerges and risk for developing associated diseases increases.
How? With nutrition!
A significant portion of preventing weight gain involves being aware of what you eat, and the quality of food you put in your body, and particularly, how many calories you consume in a day.
What are calories? And where are they found?
Calories are units of energy found in food and drink. If you are eating and drinking more calories than your body can use or burn, then you will gain weight. If you are eating and drinking the same amount of calories that your body can use or burn, then you would stay at the same weight. This is called weight maintenance. You need to achieve weight maintenance before weight loss can be a sustainable goal. That is part of the reason why yo-yo diets do not work.
How many calories do I need?
That’s very individual as not everyone’s age, muscle mass, metabolism, health condition, hormonal balance and other factors that affect our energy needs, are the same. The most practical way to know how many calories you need is paying attention to how many calories you are eating and how your body weight responds over the course of weeks to months. Our body’s weight fluctuates on a day-to-day basis because of fluids, food in our stomachs, and stool in our bowels. So tracking our weight over time gives you a better idea of whether you are gaining or losing body weight. That is part of the reason why family doctors measure your weight yearly at your physical exams.
Generally speaking, most people need about 1500-1800 Calories per day to normal day-to-day activity. Unless you are exercising intensely for more than 150 minutes per week, do not eat or drink extra for the calories you burn from physical activity. Meaning, do not justify that chocolate bar or slush with “because I exercised…”
1) Track your food intake:
I know people often loathe tracking food intake, but think about it this way. You have a calorie budget to spend on food and drink, just like how you have a money budget to spend on essentials like rent and “fun” things. If you overspend money on “fun” items like a cute pair of shoes that are more pretty than functional, and still need to pay rent, you are going to be carrying debt. Along the same lines, calorie debt is accumulated around your belly if you overspend your calorie budget.
So unless you know where you’re “overspending,” you will not know where to cut back.
If you do not like numbers and calories, then track based on portions compared to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide for your gender and age group.
The foods that do not fit into the food groups, are ones you want to limit as much as you can. And no, potato chips are not a vegetable….unfortunately.
2) Read nutrition facts labels for calorie information and record these on your food journal:
I will be writing a blog entry on label reading in the near future, but for now, track those numbers so you know how much you’re “spending.”
3) Review your food journal to spot trends. If you do not know how to, get the help of a dietitian:
Click here to find a dietitian or ask for a referral to a dietitian from your family doctor who is part of a Primary Care Network.
4) Be as active as you possibly can:
Any safe form of movement that is more than what you would do is increasing your physical activity. You do not need to go to a gym to obtain that.
Overall, the key is awareness - calorie and food awareness. When you are aware, you can cut back on portions or calories, and prevent weight gain.
Good nutrition helps you attain health, and physical activity helps you maintain health.
~Sally Ho, Registered Dietitian
Leduc Beaumont Devon Primary Care Network