One Less Cookie = 10 Less Pounds

Cookie Monster

EARLIER IN the month, I read and subsequently saved, an insightful article written by Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times entitled, In Obesity Epidemic, What’s One Cookie?

There a few key points the article makes in summarizing various studies that underscore how small behavioral steps can lead to significant improvements in health.  Kinda like that adage: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

The “thousand mile journey” under discussion is weight loss.  The key points include the value of making a small change, the difficulty of losing weight and how to get started.

Start with a small change.

You may be well aware that a pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories.  If you were to eat an extra 3,500 calories today and then increased your caloric energy expenditure by exercise in addition to your body’s metabolic requirements, you would not gain any weight.

You’ve, in effect, “burned it off”.

That’s an extreme example.  But what about the extra cookie each day, or can of soda? If that extra 100 calories exceeds what you’re burning off, it will become fat.  Over 365 days, an extra 100 calories is 10 pounds.

Skip that cookie or soda each day, and assuming everything else is the same, you will lose that 10 pounds over the course of a year.  A small change that pays dividends.

“As clinicians, we celebrate small changes because they often lead to big changes,” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston and a co-author of the JAMA commentary. “An obese adolescent who cuts back TV viewing from six to five hours each day may then go on to decrease viewing much more.

Losing Weight is Hard

Yes, losing weight is hard, because changing behavior is hard.  The things we do with constant repetition is hard wired.  Over time, we become emotionally and physically invested, particularly when it comes to food; after all, we eat for more reasons than to fuel ourselves.

If the fuel (calories in) exceed what the body needs (calories out), fat happens.  And unfortunately, the body is more resistant to weight loss than weight gain. In large part, that’s because the hormones and brain chemicals that regulate our unconscious drive to eat, along with how our bodies respond to exercise, exacerbate the difficulty of weight loss.

You may skip the cookie but unknowingly compensate by eating a bagel later on, or wantonly dive into that extra serving of pasta at dinner.

“There is a much bigger picture than parsing out the cookie a day or the Coke a day,” said Dr. Jeffrey M. Friedman, head of Rockefeller University’s molecular genetics lab, which first identified leptin, a hormonal signal made by the body’s fat cells that regulates food intake and energy expenditure. “If you ask anyone on the street, ‘Why is someone obese?,’ they’ll say, ‘They eat too much.’ ”

“That is undoubtedly true,” he continued, “but the deeper question is why do they eat too much? It’s clear now that there are many important drivers to eat, and that it is not purely a conscious or higher cognitive decision.”

How to Get Started

Again, begin with small steps.

James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, says that while weight loss requires significant lifestyle changes, taking away extra calories through small steps can help slow and/or prevent weight gain.

In a study of 200 families, half were asked to replace 100 calories of sugar with a noncaloric sweetener and walk an extra 2,000 steps a day. The other families were asked to use pedometers to record their exercise, but were not asked to make diet changes.

During the six-month study, both groups of children showed small but statistically significant drops in body mass index; naturally, the group that also cut 100 calories had more children who maintained or reduced body mass, and fewer children who gained excess weight.

So, armed with this information, consider doing this:

1. Identify what unnecessary food you’re consistently eating that you’re willing to forgo.  The amount of food you select should relate to how motivated you are, and how much weight you’d like to lose.  Make it at least 100 calories.

2. Determine what you’re going to replace that abandoned food with.  You don’t want to get into that psychological dilemma of deprivation: “Oh my God… woe is me… I can’t have that bagel (soda, candy, bag of chips, et al) and feel deprived.”  Instead, have a substitute.  Lemon water for the soda, full grain, whole wheat toast for the bagel, or a carrot instead of the chips.

3. Get rid (or don’t buy) what’s now forbidden, buy the substitutes and have them available when you’re on the run, or at work.

4.  Allow yourself two times a week where you can cheat, just to calm your sense of deprivation.

5. If you’re a complete non-exerciser, start parking your vehicle further away from your destination, and once you realize that it ain’t so bad to move your legs, select a few times a week to take a walk. As you become accustomed to it, walk further and walk hills.

Well, that’s it for now.  For those of you who want to dive deeper into the mysteries of food, I suggest you click the “Diet” link under “Topics” in the sidebar and read what interests you.


Last Updated on June 23, 2011 by Joe Garma

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Joe Garma

I help people live with more vitality and strength. I'm a big believer in sustainability, and am a bit nutty about optimizing my diet, supplements, hormones and exercise. To get exclusive Updates, tips and be on your way to a stronger, more youthful body, join my weekly Newsletter. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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