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Calories and Nutrients. Begin with the Basics! Part 3 of 3

Part Three:  Removing the mystery of what to eat. 

I passed this fork in the road one morning and it got me thinking about choices.

You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there. 
 Yogi Berra

Without a plan of action, we tend to flounder in uncertainty.  If we don't plan what we are feeding our families, the Wendy's drive-thru can easily become the default action!  
By developing an understanding of the nutritional content and serving sizes of the foods that we are eating, we can begin to make healthy choices.
  • The first question is "How much?"  In the first post of this series, I included a link with a chart of the total number of calories needed in a day based on gender, age, height, weight and activity level for the average person. This post doesn't cover body-building or sports nutrition.
  • In addition, we need to break down the total number of calories into their various categories based on our nutritional needs. Check out this chart for the breakdown of vitamins and minerals needed. I suggest printing it and laying out a plan for your family. Then begin choosing whole foods that meet the criteria.  

It can be overwhelming putting together a menu which includes everything our bodies need for healthy living. The Harvard School of Public Health's version of Heathly Eating Plate is a great visual resource to keep in mind.  The USDA also has a good version here.  The only difference is that the Harvard version emphasizes whole grains and alternative resources for calcium other than dairy.

Notice that the largest portion of this plate is filled with vegetables. Most of us, invert this to mostly protein and refined grains. Changing the way our plates look can create family strife when we are used to only eating two bites of veggies and large portions of mac and cheese and meat.

So what to do?!

Keep it simple!  We are all busy!  Begin adding more fruits and veggies to your weekly menu rotation.
Make them flavorful and colorful and don't get discouraged with the picky eaters in your family.  It's worth the effort!
Remember DO something rather than nothing and forget the whole perfection idea!
Anyone in charge of feeding their families should read this comprehensive document published by the USDA last year, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, for download, or here it is with easy navigation:http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm
Pay close attention to the appendices which include weekly nutrition intake levels for children and adults, based on age, sex and activity level.  It also includes how to read food labels and good sources of specific minerals and serving sizes.  NO EXCUSES!  KNOWLEDGE produces results!
Here is a screen shot from the Guidelines, Appendix 7.  Use the link above for better quality.

 Action Plan:

  • Just get started!  Learn portion sizes.  ANSWER this QUESTION: How many fruits and vegatables do you need? and then TAKE ACTION!  Here is fruit and veggie calculator.  Here is a chart for protein intake.
  • Set weekly goals. Add up the daily portions from the link above to set weekly goals, which is a more realistic first step.  Don't get discourage on Monday when soccer practice comes too soon and the fast and easy meal doesn't include veggies.  Make it up on another day, but try to get it in before the week's end.
  • Be creative! Check out my blog post (coming soon.) on practical ways to get your family on board with eating more fruits and veggies.
  • Choose nutrionally-dense foods over those with more additives, sugars and fats! Shop the outside of the grocery store, choosing whole foods rather than convenience foods.  Read labels on packages items and learn the nutrional values of whole foods.
  • Limit fat and sugar intake and choose healthier fats


Bottom Line from this blog series:

Eating and physical activity patterns that are focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active can help people attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.  - Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

 Choose the path and take one step at a time!





Calories and Nutrients. Begin with the Basics! Part 2of 3

Part Two:  Calorie Balance: Let's Get Moving!

I watch in admiration as daughter wearing bib 458 approaches the mile 3 marker pushing hard to beat her personal record and perhaps win her age group.  She has that inner drive to dig in and propel herself out of the pain in her side and in her lungs and put one foot in front of the other.

Several minutes later, I scan the crowds looking for the Philosopher.  He's bound to be coming over the hill anytime now.  I'm  looking for a red-head wearing dark blue....

Pushing to the finish line with a heart of compassion.  He's not so much worried about winning; his age group is competitive with cross country runners sprinting hard. He runs for different reasons.  He loves the whole experience...lungs filled, athletes and observers everywhere to lend ear to the latest tidbits from his curious mind, interesting people watching, friends and fellowship.

Both run the same race, but with different motivations.

The same is true for us.  We move our bodies for the same purpose of staying active, but we may be motivated in different ways.

Getting motivated is the first step to getting moving and lack of motivation results in inaction.

 The bottom line:  GET moving!  Find the motivation.  Choose a goal.  Get moving...did I say that yet?

I am the cheerleader and photographer at the running events for my family.  My Better half is a runner. Running clears his mind and keeps him strong.  I hate running...too much jiggles and it's not my thing.  I love a good round of Tabata high intensity drills (more about that later), a cycle or step class.  

Find something that you like to do and get at it.  NO excuses.  STOP telling yourself that you don't have time. If you CAN move, you MUST move if you want to perserve or improve your fitness level which results in improved every day living.

Two more racers...Get inspired!

NOW for the tools:

  • Excuse #1:  I don't have time.  Do you have four minutes?  Do a round of tabatas!  What is a tabata set?  Named for Dr. Izumu Tabata, it includes 8 rounds of high intensity exercises....20 seconds of work, ten seconds of recovery until you complete the circuit.  Sample set: four rounds and repeat. Jumping Jacks, Cross country ski or split lunge jumps, mountain climbers, push-ups.  Twenty seconds of each, ten seconds recovery between each exercise.  Repeat for rounds five through eight.  Add a round or two of tabatas to your walk or jog on the days where you have more time.  Higher intensity burns more calories!  *Check with your doctor before beginning strenuous exercise.  Critics of the use of the term tabata say that most folks aren't truly at maximum effort, but that's ok!  My goal is to DO something...to get moving, right?
  • Excuse #2: I don't feel like it.  I'm too tired.  Set a goal.  Make an appointment with yourself and stick with it.  I feel the same way sometimes so I find little ways to reward myself.  I got a pedometer and tried to add steps to my day.  I loved seeing how many steps I had taken.  I was motivated to make the number stretch higher.  Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Schedule a check-up with your doctor.  I tend to be anemic so I make sure to get checked regularly.  Take charge of your work out or no one else will.
  • Excuse #3: I'm late to class or I didn't get started on my work out in time.  Get out of the mindset of perfection.  Stop thinking "ALL or nothing."  Do something rather than nothing!  I say this to my classes ALL the time.  I hope they hear my voice in their heads.  If you planned on running for 40 minutes and now you have 10 minutes...do 10 minutes.  It's better than NOTHING!
  • Excuse #4:  I can't afford a gym or personal trainer or I don't know what to do.  If you are just starting to exercise.  Begin by adding steps to your day.  Park at the end of the parking lot. Go to the park and walk briskly!  Check out some online resources like this one: HERE is a list of activities from which to choose and it tells you a ballpark of how many calories each one burns per hour!  Start logging your activities!
  • Excuse #5:  I hate exercise! That's ok. Don't call it exercise....tell yourself you are going hiking. Take a karate class. Find something you love to do and get your body moving. 

Kayaking burns around 250 calories per hour and is tons of fun.

And kids can do it too!

Hiking burns 400 calories per hour without a pack and hills!

Cycling for fun (low intensity) burns 395 calories per hour.

Utimate Frisbee burns 526 calories per hour.

Karate burns 658 calories per hour!

Get the idea?  Find something you love and DO it!  

There are some pitfalls to calorie counting.  Most of us underestimate what we eat and overestimate how hard we are working.  Be conservative so that you don't sabotage yourself!


Resources to get you started:






Calories and Nutrients. Begin with the Basics! Part 1of 3

Part One: Calorie Balance: Calories in.

Every day my inbox is filled with information on the latest weight loss craze.  It can be overwhelming just trying to figure out the good and the bad, but it really boils down to education.  My first idea for a post title was "Cut the Crap." It's kind of appropriate in a way because there is so much misinformation and so many false promises that only lead to weight gains and losses that mimic the Dow Jones Industrial Index.

Keep it simple and learn about your food. Eat nutritionally dense foods that provide fuel for your body. Start tracking calories

The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to make moderate changes that last a lifetime.

I lead a very busy life, as most of us do, so I don't always have time to pull out a food journal to record calories, BUT I have working guide in mind when I choose what to put in my mouth.  I have figured out that I pretty much eat a lot of the same things each week so I know the calorie counts of those items without looking them up which leads to informed decisions.

Start somewhere.  Add the basics to your mental log or use an online calorie counter (see below.) It might be necessary at first to write down everything and I mean everything to get a full and realistic picture.

Bottom line: If I consume more calories than I need for my energy expenditure, I gain weight. If I need to lose weight, I need to burn more calories than I take in while still eating enough calories to provided adequate nutrition.

By understanding the calorie balance, I can make lasting changes and meet my fitness goals.

For example, our family loves to visit our local Chick Fil A restaurant for dessert.  From the store's printed nutrition guide or website, you will find that the large cookies and cream milkshake is 700 calories!  Let's think about the balance: 700 calories would be a large portion of my daily caloric intake and with very little nutritional value.  I would need to consume even more calories to meet my nutritional needs in addition to the 700 for the milkshake.  To burn 700 calories, I would need to run seven miles.  I hate running more than I love milkshakes! Easy for me. 

I have two choices: 1. Go without or 2. choose a lower calorie option.  I like keeping life real and having fun with my kiddos. So rather than feeling sorry for myself, I will consider option two: ice cream cone which has 290 calories.  I shave another 100 calories off by getting the kiddie cone.  All the taste, smaller portion, happy momma!  Simple choice without feeling deprived. 

I have listed very specific calorie counts here because we frequent Chick fil A and I have added this to my memory log.  Begin making your own basic index of things your regularly eat.  Keep it simple!!

Check out this calorie counter at Livestrong.com to get started tracking your food and drink.  I used this to calculate my lunch pictured at the top of this post.

Once you begin tracking calories, you need a target range of daily calories based on your goals: maintain current weight, lose weight or gain weight. 

Determine your daily caloric need based on on your sex, age, weight and activity level by using a calorie calculator from a reputable source.

Here are two websites and tools that I recommend: 

  • Choosemyplate.gov with a basic calorie chart based on little to no physical activity.  Be honest about your activity level.
  • Livestrong.com with a calorie calculator based on your information, activity level and goals.

Armed with your daily calorie target, you can begin making choices that lead to lasting change. Do you have your goal?  THAT is step one! 

Don't get obsessive, but do get informed!



Stay tuned for part two: Calorie Balance: Energy expended.




Just get started!

The page is blank....she chooses the first color.  

Getting started is always the hardest part.

It begins with a thought...a plan of sorts.  Marker meets paper and the first lines are drawn.  

 A child's drawing has freedom unstained from the strivings of adulthood.  The marker flows in the shape of a promise.  As adults, getting started at something new brings apprehension met with anticipation, doubt met with determination.

She sits back ..tweaks here...more color here...

The thought was there in the back of my mind.  Could I regain the strength of my past?  Were those just the days of my youth already past?  I pulled into the parking lot and sat there.  Women in workout wares hustled by my car headed to the gym.  Maybe I could just get started.  

I pulled away doubtful that I would return.  But I was beginning to choose my color...It all starts with the idea.

Several days later I returned and watched again, but this time determined to enter the doors and begin my journey.  We all grabbed our mats for pilates.  A simple and slow start, but I knew from my early years as a fitness instructor that slow beginnings are key to staying the course.

As each week passed, I added new classes.  I grabbed the shortest step with no need to compete with the others around me.  I knew the way.  

Small changes lead to big changes.

It wasn't easy and the pounds did not shed quickly, but I knew I did not want to turn back. Encouragment came from family and friends. I prayed even though it felt lame in the face of so many bigger issues in the world.

After six months, I was feeling stronger and stepping higher.  I was loading up the weights and hanging in there with the front row students.  I started thinking about another new beginning.  Teaching. I wanted to help those, like me, who wanted to get stronger, to breath easier on the hills.

It's been more than seven years since that day in the parking lot.  I have been tweaking and adding color here and there.  I match eyes with the new student as she enters and heads to the back row, grabs the baby step, and 3 lb weights.  Hope...determination.  I see my beginnings and smile.

A blank page stares. I type the words of this first blog post. It began as a thought, but I keep pushing it back.  And I watch Baby girl draw...erase...try again.   Just get started.

Don't wait for perfection, it'll never happen.  If you are just getting started, make no excuses, just get at it.

Stay tuned for simple steps and ideas that helped me along the way whether you are a beginner or an oldtimer.

At the end of my classes, I often say to my students, "Introduce yourselves to someone you don't know; it's always easier when you know someone!"  This blog is my way of introducing myself and working together toward a healthy lifestyle.