Following on the heels of this was a paper in the journal Cancer Causes and Control by Isabelle Romieu of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which detailed the key drivers of energy imbalance that lead to obesity. Energy imbalance, when it comes to weight gain, simply means consuming more calories than you need, which over time can lead to becoming overweight and possibly obese.
And, as many of us have frustratingly found, it doesn’t take too many of these extra calories to put on weight, something Romieu and her co-authors highlight –
“Very small deviations from energy balance, on the order of 1 – 2% of daily energy intake, can result in large long-term change in body weight (~20kg)[Ed: ~44lbs].”
For a moderately active adult woman, for example, 1 – 2 percent is only about 20 – 40 extra calories a day. That’s the splash of cream in a morning coffee, three ounces of sugary soda, or half a small cookie. Or looking at it from the other end, that’s the calories burned by walking less than half a mile. Not much at all.
Clearly, the little things we do in relation to how we eat and how active we are can really matter, especially over time. So, let’s take a look at some of the little things that can put a hitch in our best efforts to keep in energy balance.
Eating too fast
It’s a go, go, go world these days, and that mindset can transfer to our eating, too. But eating food fast can easily lead to overeating because our minds and stomachs need some time to synch up. You can quickly down two hot dogs, a shake, and large fries before your mind has had a chance to register the first hot dog and tell you you’ve had enough. Before you know it, you feel stuffed and may have eaten a 1,000 calories more than your body actually wanted.
The fix: Simply try to slow down at each meal. Take time between bites. Enjoy your food. This slower pace can put your stomach and mind in better synch and help you feel satisfied with less food.
Ordering “the works”
Steer clear of ordering anything with “the works.” Along with “stuffed crust” and “extra whip,” “the works” are two terrible words to utter when you’re working to keep calories in check. Whether on a potato, hamburger, or dessert, “the works” is usually just a vehicle for extra calories you may not even enjoy all that much.
The fix: Try low-calorie toppings instead, like fresh fruit, tomatoes, or salsa.
Being swayed by advertising
Most food companies want to get us to eat and drink – and the more the better. And they spend billions of dollars a year on advertising to get us to do just that. So, it’s important to try to develop a bit of media savvy when it comes to advertising, so we can make clear, objective choices about the food we eat.
The fix: When you see a food ad, just take a moment and ask yourself: Why is the company paying for this ad? Is the ad a true depiction of what buying and eating the food is like? Is the food a healthy choice for me and my family? Most of the time, the answers will speak for themselves.
Driving a lot
Many of us need to spend way too much time in cars — or on buses or subways. It’s just a fact of life. We have to get to and from work, pick up the kids, and run errands. But many times, we also take the car or other transportation when we could just as easily walk or ride a bike. And this cuts out a great opportunity to easily add some physical activity to our days.
The fix: If it’s safe, try to do some errands on foot or by bike a couple times a week. Then, build from there.
Most of us do some amount of automatic eating — eating without really thinking about it because there’s food in front of us, our favorite TV show is on, or it’s a certain time of day. But such mindless eating, usually when we’re not even hungry, can add a lot of extra calories to our days.
The fix: Just take a moment and think before you eat. Ask yourself: Am I actually hungry? If you’re not, try to do something other than eating for while. Go for a quick walk, play a game, even do some chores or errands you’ve been putting off.
Throwing in the towel
Set-backs are natural. We’re human. But don’t let set-backs frustrate you into abandoning your health goals – even for a day. Yes, you ate five pink cookies you hadn’t plan to and missed your workout. That’s OK. Keep the long view.
The fix: Stay positive and know that health is a journey. And journeys are rarely straight lines to a destination. There can be twists and turns. Just get back on track and keep moving forward — knowing you can get where you want to be.
A lot of beverages are packed with calories — sugary soda, sweet tea, and many types of blended coffee drinks. On top of this, it’s been shown that our bodies don’t register these liquid calories as readily as those from food. So, we often don’t compensate for beverage calories by eating fewer food calories. The result: extra calories in our day.
The fix: Choose water or unsweetened tea and coffee instead of sugary drinks. Start with just one or two days a week, but eventually try to get down to zero sugary drinks. It’s probably not as hard as you think.
Being too refined
Being refined in life is wonderful, but eating too many refined grains is not. Refined grains — which make up foods like white bread, white rice, and regular pasta — have had most of their fiber and nutrients stripped out in processing. Diets rich in less-processed whole grains — like, 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, and old-fashioned oatmeal — have been shown to help keep weight in check.
The fix: Try to start buying more whole-grain foods. There are a lot of options these days. Look for foods with “whole” or “whole-grain” as a first ingredient and not too much sugar (7grams/serving or less).
Avoiding the bathroom scale
Not many people enjoy stepping on the bathroom scale. But avoiding it for long periods can lead to unwelcome surprises. Weight gain has a way of sneaking up on people. An extra pound here and an extra pound there can really add up over time. Stepping on the scale weekly, even daily, can help us keep track of our weight and adjust how much we’re eating and how active we are.
The fix: Set a date with your scale — every Tuesday at 7am, say — and keep it. Want to go a step further? Keep track of your weight with a paper log or smartphone app.
Ignoring calorie labels
One thing’s clear by now: calories matter. And although it’s not essential to painstakingly track how many calories are in the food we eat, it can be helpful to have a general idea. Some meals, especially when we’re eating out, can have a surprisingly large number of calories, at times bordering on a whole day’s worth.
The fix: Many restaurants and fast food places post calorie-counts on menus, so they’re pretty easy to find. Given them a quick read before you order, so you know what you’re getting, and adjust if you need to.
Eating out for lunch – a lot
Eating lunch out — whether at a restaurant, fast-food place, or food truck — is often fun, tasty, and easy. But there can be downsides, too. It can be unhealthy, expensive, and calorie-packed.
The fix: Try to brown-bag it more often. Packing your lunch with healthy foods, in modest portions, means you’re more likely to keep calories in check.
Waiting ’til tomorrow
Trying to get on a healthier path — whether it’s walking more or eating more fruits and vegetables — isn’t always easy. So, it’s natural to want to put things off. And a day here or a day there may not make much difference, but the more you put things off, the more likely you are to keep putting things off. The sooner you get started on a healthier path, the sooner it’ll become second nature to you, and the sooner you’ll start getting benefits.
The fix: Try a new healthy behavior today, no matter how small it may seem. It can be buying a banana at lunch or walking to a bus stop that’s further away than usual. Then keep it up, building over time with other healthy changes.