Some of you may remember the TV commercial for Camel cigarettes that portrayed a man walking all over town and then lighting up a cigarette, saying, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” Cigarette commercials have been off the air since 1971, but I’m frequently reminded of that line when I hear one of my weight-loss clients justify eating a cheeseburger, piece of cheesecake or plate of nachos because they walked the dog a mile that morning or exercised for 30 minutes after work. Their logic is that by exercising, they create a large enough calorie deficit to stay within their weight-loss goal and allow them to imbibe. Soon, they become frustrated when they don’t lose weight, and in some cases, gain weight.
This is when we have a heart-to-heart discussion about the concept of ‘calories in and calories out,’ and that it takes three minutes to eat a cheeseburger, but three hours to burn it off. A majority of my clients initially respond with disbelief. Most try to blame their weight gain or lack of loss on the five vegetables or eight glasses of water per day I recommend they consume.
It is only after we submit before the Google Gods, mouse in hand, to look up nutrition information and the number of calories burned for various activities, that they relent and understand I really do know what I’m talking about. A look of resignation flashes across their faces and they think they are doomed to ever enjoy a burger and fries again if they want to reach their goal weight. They begin to realize the one-mile dog walk does not allow them enough breathing room to order a daily Café Latte with whole milk and a Snicker’s bar.
What’s the point of all this doom and gloom? To educate you on the number of calories you burn with activity so that you are not duped into thinking a cheeseburger is a just reward for walking a mile. Most of us know how many calories are in the food and beverages we consume because the nutrition information is plastered all over websites and packages. But, do you know how many calories are burned in 30 minutes of daily exercise? If you weigh 150 pounds, you burn 80 calories when you walk one mile at a moderate, 3 mph pace. What this means is that if you want to lose weight and eat cheeseburgers, you need to walk more than one mile to equalize your caloric input versus output. To eat a Quarter Pounder with cheese (520 calories) you need to walk 6.5 miles to break even on calories. For a Snickers bar (250 calories), you’ll walk 3.1 miles; whole milk Latte (270 calories) 3.4 miles; 12-ounce soda (140 calories) 1.75 miles; or 12-ounce beer (153 calories) 1.9 miles.
Do not despair and throw in the towel on your daily exercise routine because you don’t think you could ever burn enough calories to eat burgers. Exercise is, without a doubt, the best medicine for our bodies, minds and spirit. My point is that exercising does not give you a free license to eat whatever you want and as much as you want on a frequent basis, without suffering the ill effects of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Continue your daily exercise regimen and aspire to add more time and intensity to your workouts.
Age is not an excuse – I just saw Mick Jagger at the Rolling Stones concert and at 72 years old, he puts most of us to shame. Also, seriously consider adding more ‘incidental’ movement throughout your day to burn calories (i.e. stairs v. elevator; park far away; walk v. drive to errands; five-minute walk breaks each hour). Finally, arm yourself with the knowledge of how many calories you burn doing your activities so that you know whether eating the treat is worth it. Think twice before ordering or buying something by asking yourself if your weight-loss goal and the amount of exercise you need to do to wipe the slate clean are worth the indulgence. Keep in mind that it takes 30 seconds to eat a Snickers bar and 50 to 60 minutes to burn it off. Two websites I like for calculating caloric expenditure based upon your height and weight can be found at: http://www.self.com/tools/ or http://www.healthyweightforum.org/eng/calorie-calculator.asp
My philosophy is there are no forbidden foods or drinks when embarking upon a weight-loss journey. However, when you do partake in what some may consider “off-limit” foods, do so in moderation, enjoying an occasional indulgence once or twice a week, and slowly savor every bite and moment of the experience!•
Sharon McGoff is a graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law, a certified personal trainer and health fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine and a certified life and wellness coach with WellCoaches Inc. The opinions expressed are those of the author.