Small changes can help with weight control

June 19, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Weight control is a problem for nearly two-thirds of the American population, so take some comfort in knowing you are not alone. A study published in the textbook "Body Mass Index: New Research" (Nova Science Publishers, 2005) might provide some insight on simple actions that might help. The author, Shanthy Bowman of the Community Nutrition Research Group of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, analyzed data collected from more than 8,500 adults on two nonconsecutive days between 1994 and 1996. Her findings include:

  • People who were overweight generally consumed about 100 calories a day more than their body needs. Over time, consuming 3,500 calories more than your body uses will add a pound to your body weight. So, 100 extra daily calories can be significant.

    (Examples of foods containing about 100 calories are half of an English muffin with one teaspoon of peanut butter; a handful of nuts; 10 baked tortilla chips with three tablespoons of salsa; four Hershey kisses; one ounce of cheese; a tablespoon of butter; a medium-sized cookie; 5 ounces of wine; or 8 ounces of an average carbonated beverage.)

  • Most people consumed those extra calories at dinnertime.

  • Skipping breakfast increased chances of being overweight. In fact, those who skipped breakfast tended to eat more food throughout the day, especially foods high in fat or added sugar and low in nutrients.

  • Those who were overweight tended to eat more total fat and saturated fat than their normal-weight counterparts. For example, overweight people were more likely to eat fried chicken rather than broiled, baked or stewed chicken, significantly adding to their fat intake.

  • Overweight people tended to watch more than two hours of television and didn't exercise on the two days on which researchers collected data.

  • What does this mean for you? First, try trimming a few calories here and there, throughout the day. Stop taking one or two candies from the office candy jar, or switch to water or diet soft drinks instead of high-sugar beverages.

    Lighten up your dinner without going hungry by preparing bigger portions of salad and vegetables and downsizing on carbohydrates, protein and fats - especially saturated fats. The Pyramid Tracker, part of the My Pyramid Food Guidance System ( can help you identify what and how much food you should eat based on your age, gender and activity level.

    Every day, eat a smart breakfast - possibly a small bowl of high-fiber cereal, an egg and some fat-free or low-fat milk, or a cup of yogurt.

    Turn off the television and get out and do some yard work, take a walk in your neighborhood, or clean out the clutter in a closet. Regular physical activity helps you control body weight by balancing the calories you take in as food with the calories you expend each day.

    The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends being physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Increasing the intensity or the amount of time that you are physically active can have even greater health benefits and might be needed to control body weight. About 60 minutes a day might be needed to prevent weight gain. Children and teenagers should be physically active for 60 minutes every day, or most every day.

    Be patient - small changes like these could have a big impact if you stick with them over the long run.

    For more information regarding weight management, food choices, recommended calorie levels and physical activity you can visit and If you would like a printed copy of this information, send a self-addressed, stamped (39 cents) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Weight."

    Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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