It seems the old adage “You are what you eat” may not be quite accurate. According to research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it isn’t what you eat, but how much. Results from the two-year study, which assigned 811 overweight participants to one of four reduced-calorie diets, found that from a weight loss perspective it didn’t matter what foods the participants ate, but how many calories they consumed.
These findings are in line with a 2008 study by Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research which found that keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss. However, the current study “really goes against the idea that certain foods are the key to weight loss,” notes Frank Sacks, principal investigator and professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard School of Public Health. “This is a pretty positive message. It gives people a lot of choices to find a diet they can stick with.”
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), grouped participants into one of four diets: two low-fat diets and two high fat. All four included either a high protein or an average-protein component. Typical diets in the study had between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. All the diets were low in calories and saturated fat while high in fiber, and participants were instructed to exercise for 90 minutes per week. Participants who attended counseling sessions initially lost an average of 13 pounds after six months and, after two years, lost approximately nine pounds and two inches off their waist lines regardless of diet grouping. Participants used a Web-based, self-monitoring tool that tracked how their daily food intake matched their calorie goals. Catherine Loria, a nutritional epidemiologist at the NIH and study co-author notes that, in addition to making healthful food choices, “all you have to do is count your calories.”
So what does this mean for the 54 percent of U.S. adults who are currently trying to reduce their weight, according to a recent nationally projectable survey conducted by the Calorie Control Council? “Making changes that you can live with long-term is the key to not only weight loss but also weight maintenance,” said the Calorie Control Council’s Beth Hubrich, RD. “By making a few, simple changes in your diet, you can reduce your calories and over the course of six months to a year that can translate into a five to 10 pound weight loss. Substituting lower-calorie foods for higher calorie ones, eating more fruits and vegetables and decreasing portion sizes are all ways to reduce calories without making major sacrifices.” (For a calorie counter, click here.)
Even cutting just 100 calories per day, such as substituting a low fat version of a favorite food or using a low calorie sweetener in place of sugar, could mean big changes in a person’s health and waist line. According to Harvard’s Dr. George Blackburn, “Those 100 calories add up to 10 pounds a year. Small changes in caloric intake can result in small but meaningful healthier weights. Most people would be happy with that.’’
When it comes to weight loss, calories still count! Weight is determined by the number of calories consumed and the number used as energy. If more calories are consumed than burned, the result is weight gain. To better understand the number of calories needed to maintain and/or lose weight, check out the Calorie Control Council’s free diet assessment calculator.
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