Weight specialist Dr. Roland Angeles explains how energy levels affect weight

Energy in, energy out
By Walter Ang
September-October 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

The basic concept of the calorie diet, reports Walter Ang, is 
Energy in, energy out

A results of a recent U.S. study that followed the diets of monkeys for 20 years showed that a reduced-calorie diet paid off in less disease and longer life. The researchers note that these findings could apply to humans.

Of course, the mere mention of "calories" and "reduced" will most probably result in a lot of teeth-grinding and hair-pulling by a lot of humans. But a "reduced-calorie lifestyle" is not impossible to do and does not have to be painful.

Calorie is a measurement unit of food energy that is made available to the body through digestion. Everything we eat and drink (except water) has calories. Everything we do burns calories. By simply sitting down and breathing, your body is burning off calories. Of course, more strenuous activities burn off more calories.

"The reason why people become overweight is an imbalance in the amount of calories ingested and the amount of calories burned off," says weight-specialist Dr. Roland Angeles. "If you consume the exact amount of calories that your body burns daily, your weight would remain the same." However, many of us live sedentary while having, admittedly, slightly decadent diets.

Counting the calories of what you eat can help you lose (or gain) weight. "To lose weight, you need to eat less calories than what you are usually used to so that your body will start using up the 'reserves' that are stored in fats," he says.

"However, it is important to know that drastic or crash dieting is harmful to the body. If your body is used to eating, for example, 3,000 calories a day and you suddenly started eating only 1,000 calories, your body would react in ways to counteract what it acknowledges as starvation. Your metabolism (or how fast your body burns calories) will actually slow down to keep every calorie it can because it wants to keep you alive. Not exactly the results you'd want out of dieting." he says.

This is aside from feeling cranky and weak among other side effects like fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. Losing weight too rapidly can even lead to severe complications like gallstones.

People who try to loss weight usually try to change everything in their lives all at once and the sudden pressures and stress of all that change becomes too overwhelming, leaving nothing done. "Small steps, specifically gradual reduction of calories, and consistency are important in achieving weight loss," says Dr. Angeles. "There are about 3,500 calories in one pound of fat. If you ate 500 less calories each day for seven days, it would equal the 3,500 less calories required to lose one pound of body fat."

You don't have to slash out huge amounts of calories from your diet right away. If you start eating less (for example, 250 calories) while becoming more active (for example, burning 250 calories by walking for about half an hour), then you would have ended up shaving 500 calories from your body. "Your weight loss won't be instant, but small tweaks can, and will, pay off over time," he says.

Counting calories can be tedious and time-consuming, so an easier approach is to find low-calorie substitutes for the foods you usually eat, or lessening the portions of your servings.

Instead of sugar, try a low or no calorie substitute. Instead of a whole cup of rice, you don't have to go half right away. Try filling the cup only two-thirds full. Forego the whipped cream in your iced mocha latte. If you like having ice cream after a meal, slowly get used to fruit-flavored yogurt instead. Once you're used to that, slowly switch to a non-fat variant.

Counting calories, of course, is not an excuse to cheat or fool yourself. If you ate only non-fat ice cream and nothing else every day, of course, you would definitely lose weight, but your body would become malnourished.

"If you do start watching your calories, you will also need to make sure that you eat a variety of foods so that your body is properly nourished with different vitamins and nutrients," he says. "This is why junk food like chips and soda are known to contain `empty calories,' in that they pack a lot of calories but have very little or no nutritional value."

While there are free online calorie calculators that can help you figure out how much calories you usually eat and how much you usually burn off, before starting any kind of diet, always be sure to consult your doctor or nutritionist first.

Dr. Angeles also warns against any kind of diets that are discussed in magazines, TV shows or from friends, especially diets mentioned from foreign sources since the eating habits of people in other countries (and the caloric amount in their usual diets) may differ vastly from yours.

"Your dietary needs (including how many calories you should be taking) depends on several factors, including age, gender, height, weight, your usual activity level, and the rate of your body's metabolism," he says. "Children, adolescents, and pregnant women should never start a diet without a doctor's approval."

A certified health professional will help you establish all of these "base" information and help you come up with a plan on how to gradually introduce change to your eating and exercise behavior to achieve your desired weight.