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Weight Control Doesn't Have to Be a Battle

Cut 50 calories, burn 50 and steady the scale, experts suggest

SUNDAY, Nov. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're like so many Americans, you're putting on a pound or two a year as you sail (or scarf) your way through the decades from youth to middle-age.

And, like most, you probably think the effort to control that widening girth is too overwhelming to think about -- particularly in the middle of working, raising a family and keeping in touch with friends.

Once the scale hits 10, 15 or even 20 pounds above what you used to consider your ideal weight, you might even be tempted to throw in the towel. p>

Exercise and nutrition experts have another idea. Instead of focusing on losing that 10 or 20 pounds, they say, concentrate on not gaining any more.

Burn just 50 extra calories a day and cut back 50 calories in your food intake, and chances are good you will keep the scale steady, says dietitian Susan Finn, chairwoman of the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition, a national nonprofit organization of food and beverage companies that advocates this 50-50 approach, based on recent research that says it will help maintain weight.

But most Americans first need a crash course in how to cut 50 and burn 50, according to the results of a survey commissioned by Finn's council. Earlier this year, researchers polled 1,044 Americans age 18 and over on various health and nutrition issues and what it would take to burn and cut those extra calories. p>

When asked how many tablespoons of ice cream the average person should eliminate to reduce 50 calories a day, 30 percent of respondents said they would need to take away five tablespoons.

The correct answer is just two -- and only 16 percent of those surveyed knew that.

More than a third thought they would need to walk briskly for 30 minutes to burn off an additional 50 calories a day. The correct answer: 10 minutes. Only 13 percent knew that.

Once people are convinced that simple steps can add up, Finn says, they have a chance to squelch the annual weight gain which, if unchecked, can lead to obesity over several years. "What we are saying to people is, 'You are not going to make drastic changes in your diet [with the 50-50 plan]. We are not trying to turn a couch potato into someone who spends an hour and a half at the gym,'" she says.

Like Finn, Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise is out to convince people that it doesn't take monumental efforts to stop the weight gain. If you can expend the number of calories you consume, you will be in caloric balance, he says. And that means weight maintenance is always better than weight gain if you are overweight already.

Bryant and a growing number of other experts advise people to buy a pedometer -- and wear it. An organization called America on the Move launched a pedometer campaign in July, urging people to take 2,000 extra steps every day, in addition to what you normally walk for exercise or in the course of a workday.

People who keep records tend to be more realistic in terms of how active they are, Bryant says. The pedometer is automatic. It logs as you go and keeps you aware of how active you are.

Start with 2,000 [extra] steps a day, Bryant says. That's about a mile and will burn an extra 100 calories -- even more than the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition's 50-50 plan.

There are plenty of ways to fit in that extra 2,000 steps, Bryant says. "Pace during telephone calls," he adds, noting that's easy to do with a headset phone.

"While doing self care, such as brushing your teeth or hair, move around. When watching your child's sporting events, walk around," he says.

Instead of suggesting lunch to a business associate or friend so you can talk about projects or catch up, suggest a walk, he says.

Adds Finn: "Right now we have a huge amount of awareness [about the obesity problem]." And she's hoping those who are overweight or obese will now hear the next message: "Start with small changes."

More information

To find out more information on the America on the Move project, see America on the Move. For more tips, visit the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition.

SOURCES: Susan Finn, R.D., Ph.D., chairwoman, American Council for Fitness & Nutrition, Washington, D.C., and past president, American Dietetic Association; Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise, San Diego
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