Exercise is important - it is vital to health - but unless one can do moderate to vigorous physical activity for more than an hour a day every day - or be in some other way unusual (e.g., have genetically, hyper metabolism), exercise is not going to keep you thin - at best, it will allow you to eat a 100 or so more calories than you could eat without exercising, and maintain a certain weight.
So to meet my goals, I monitor - stay aware of - my calorie intake. Calories are currency and I do not spend them lightly. In other words, I would rather have a plateful of 200 calories than a tablespoonful. To be truthful, it took me years of self education - reading and research - to understand what 200 calories means in relation to my daily needs. I eat 5 or 6 meals a day and consume between 1500 and 1800 calories a day depending on my current level of physical activity and fitness.
For all of us, calories have always mattered and up until recently, the calorie content for most of our foods has been hard to access. With new nutritional labeling requirements for away from home foods (e.g., snacks in vending machines and movie theatres, restaurant meals), existing labeling on packaged foods, emerging but imperfect front of pack labeling and unprecedented access to legitimate calorie information on line, people have a real opportunity to consume the right amount of calories for their bodies. The information is there, but the understanding of calorie moderation and the desire to moderate are both lacking.
Now more than ever, we need health educators and promoters to:
- assure the public that calories do count,
- educate the public on the amount of calories most people need in a day,
- provide the public with the reasons the amount of calories needed may vary, per person and per day, and
- note that food volume alone does not signify calorie amount - for example a CUP of kale and a TEASPOON of oil or butter have about the same amount of calories (30 to 40), such that more can sometimes be less and less can certainly and often is quite more..
The way I eat, this calorie as currency approach, is possible because I choose foods with low energy density - Dr. Barbara Rolls at Penn State terms it Volumetrics and has written books on the style - it is not a diet, it is a way of choosing and preparing foods - all the time. I know January is diet focused but I encourage you to think instead about calories and nutritious foods on which to spend them.
[I did not discuss carbs, protein, fats and sugar - you understand there is a current debate and the evidence is contradictory, but calories have not changed - too many of them from any source is a cause of weight gain. Most will agree that salty, sugary and fried foods should be substantially reduced if not eliminated from the diet, and that complex carbs and fat are important dietary components.]