2.2.1. Caloric Balance

Weight Management

The majority of North Americans are unhappy with their current weight. Almost everyone would like to lose at least 5 pounds. A growing percentage of North Americans are carrying enough excess weight to put them at risk for many diseases and even death. Few people, however, know enough about their own bodies to successfully manage their weight. Anyone planning to start a weight loss program should begin by carefully considering the following factors:

  • How many calories are being consumed daily?
  • How many calories are being expended?
  • How much fluids are being consumed?
  • How well are electrolytes being managed?

Weight Management Through Diet

The more people know about their diet, the better equipped they will be to manage their weight. Most people focus on the number of calories consumed. However, it is also important for them to know how many macronutrients are in the foods they eat. An effective way to do this is performing a 3-day nutritional intake analysis. These analyses are best done on consecutive days to account for the habitual ebb and flow of one’s daily food intake.

Remaining healthy during any weight loss program is paramount. Fad diets that promise quick results do not consider the effects of rapid weight loss on the body. Restricting weight loss to 1 to 2 pounds a week is a healthier and more effective approach. Slow weight loss also prevents the body from burning lean muscle since the body can only burn a certain amount of fat in a week. Dieters who experience slow, steady declines in weight are more likely to keep the weight off. The term “diet” is often synonymous with strict routines that require drastic changes in one’s eating habits. In reality, the term “diet” simply describes the intake of food. Overall the focus should move away from “dieting” towards implementing health, lasting lifestyle changes.

To lose weight, individuals need a clear understanding of how weight loss occurs. One pound of fat loss is going to require a reduction in caloric intake of 3,500 calories. When viewed in terms of daily food intake, to lose a pound a week, an individual needs to reduce their daily food intake by 500 calories a day: 3,500 calories/7 days= 500 calories per day. To successfully lose 2 pounds per week, that reduction would have to be doubled to 1,000 calories per day. (1 kg per week=1,100 calories/day, 2 kg per week=2,200 calories/day) Attempting to lose 2 pounds or more per week would require a calorie reduction too drastic to be maintained and too restrictive to be healthy. Thus the recommendation of combining diet and exercise is the most effective method for experiencing weight loss. Subtracting 500 calories of food intake and exerting 500 calories in exercise will provide that same 1000 calorie reduction, but in a manner that is far easier to maintain, certainly more enjoyable, and adds numerous physical and psychological benefits associated with regular exercise.

No matter what your weight loss goal is, even a modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, has been shown to produce health benefits, such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.

Getting Started with Weight Loss

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following the step-by-step guide published on its website, on this page: Healthy Weight: Losing Weight. This information is consistent with recommended behaviour change techniques and is reprinted below:

Step 1: Make a commitment. Start simply by making a commitment to yourself. Many people find it helpful to sign a written contract committing to the process and outlining desired outcomes. This contract may include things like the amount of weight you want to lose, the date you would like to lose the weight by, the dietary changes you will make to establish healthy eating habits, and a plan for increasing regular physical activity.

Writing down the reasons why you want to lose weight can also help. It might be because you have a family history of heart disease, or because you want to see your kids get married, or simply because you want to feel better in your clothes. Post these reasons where they serve as a daily reminder of why you want to make this change.

Step 2: Take stock of where you are. Consider talking to your health care provider. They can evaluate your height, weight, and explore other weight-related risk factors you may have. Ask for a follow-up appointment to monitor changes in your weight or any related health conditions.

Keep a “food diary” for a few days, in which you write down everything you eat. By doing this, you become more aware of what you are eating and when you are eating. This awareness can help you avoid mindless eating.

Next, examine your current lifestyle. Identify things that might pose challenges to your weight loss efforts. For example, does your work or travel schedule make it difficult to get enough physical activity? Do you find yourself eating sugary foods because that is what you buy for your kids? Do your coworkers frequently bring high- calorie items, such as doughnuts, to the workplace to share with everyone? Think through things you can do to help overcome these challenges.

Finally, think about aspects of your lifestyle that can help you lose weight. For example, is there an area near your workplace where you and some coworkers can take a walk at lunchtime? Is there a place in your community, such as a YMCA, with exercise facilities for you and child care for your kids?

Step 3: Set realistic goals. Set some short-term goals and reward your efforts along the way. If your long-term goal is to lose 40 pounds and to control your high blood pressure, some short-term eating and physical activity goals might be to start eating breakfast, taking a 15-minute walk in the evenings, or having a salad or vegetable with supper.

Focus on two or three goals at a time. Great, effective goals are S.M.A.R.T.:

  • S: specific
  • M: measurable
  • A: attainable
  • R: relevant
  • T: timely

For example, “Exercise more” is not a specific goal. But if you say, “I will walk 15 minutes, 3 days a week for the first week,” you are setting a specific and realistic goal for the first week.

Remember, small changes every day can lead to big results in the long run. Also, remember that realistic goals are achievable goals. By achieving your short- term goals day by day and week by week, you will feel good about your progress and be motivated to continue. Setting unrealistic goals, such as losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks, can leave you feeling defeated and frustrated.

Being realistic also means expecting occasional setbacks. Setbacks happen when you get away from your plan for whatever reason—maybe the holidays, longer work hours, or another life change. When setbacks happen, don’t waste energy dwelling on them – get back on track as quickly as possible. Also, take some time to think about what you would do differently if a similar situation happens, to prevent setbacks.

Keep in mind everyone is different—what works for someone else might not be right for you. Just because your neighbor lost weight by taking up running, doesn’t mean running is the best option for you. Try a variety of activities: walking, swimming, tennis, or group exercise classes, to see what you enjoy most and can fit into your life. These activities will be easier to stick with over the long term.

Step 4: Identify resources for information and support. Find family members or friends who will support your weight loss efforts. Making lifestyle changes can feel easier when you have others you can talk to and rely on for support. You might have coworkers or neighbors with similar goals, and together you can share healthful recipes and plan group exercise. Joining a weight loss group or visiting a health care professional, such as a registered dietitian, can help.

Step 5: Continually “check in” with yourself to monitor your progress. Revisit the goals you set for yourself in Step 3, and evaluate your progress regularly. If you set a goal to walk each morning but are having trouble fitting it in before work, see if you can shift your work hours or if you can get your walk in at lunchtime or after work. Evaluate which parts of your plan are working well and which ones need tweaking. Then rewrite your goals and plan accordingly.

If you are consistently achieving a particular goal, add a new goal to help you continue on your pathway to success.

Reward yourself for your successes! Recognize when you are meeting your goals and be proud of your progress. Use non- food rewards, such as a bouquet of freshly picked flowers, a sports outing with friends, or a relaxing bath. Rewards help keep you motivated on the path to better health.[1]

The Importance of Physical Activity in Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Consistent with Health Canada guidelines, information from the CDC website “Healthy Weight: Physical Activity for a Health Weight” explains the importance of including physical activity as part of any weight loss program.

Why Is Physical Activity Important?

Regular physical activity is important for good health, and it is especially important if you are trying to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight.
When losing weight, more physical activity increases the number of calories your body uses for energy or “burns off.” The burning of calories through physical activity, combined with reducing the number of calories you eat, creates a “calorie deficit” that results in weight loss. Most weight loss occurs because of decreased caloric intake. However, evidence shows the only way to maintain weight loss is to be engaged in regular physical activity. Most importantly, physical activity reduces risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes beyond that produced by weight reduction alone.

Physical activity also helps to

  • maintain weight;
  • reduce high blood pressure;
  • reduce risk for type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and several forms of cancer;
  • reduce arthritis pain and associated disability;
  • reduce risk for osteoporosis and falls; and
  • improve mood (reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety).

How much physical activity do I need?

When it comes to weight management, people vary greatly in how much physical activity they need. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • To maintain your weight: Work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous- intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity can help you maintain your weight over time. However, the exact amount of physical activity needed to do this is not clear since it varies greatly from person to person. It is possible that you may need to do more than the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to maintain your weight.
  • To lose weight and keep it off: You will need a high amount of physical activity unless you also adjust your diet and reduce the amount of calories you are eating and drinking. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight requires both regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan.

What do moderate and vigorous intensity mean?

Moderate: While performing the physical activity, if your breathing and heart rate is noticeably faster but you can still carry on a conversation, it is probably moderately intense.

Examples include:

  • light yard work (raking/bagging leaves or using a lawn mower)
  • walking briskly (a 15-minute mile)
  • light snow shoveling
  • actively playing with children
  • biking at a casual pace

Vigorous: If your heart rate is increased substantially, and you are breathing too hard and fast to have a conversation, it is probably vigorously intense.

Examples include the following:[2]

  • jogging/running
  • swimming laps
  • rollerblading/inline skating at a brisk pace
  • cross-country skiing.
  • most competitive sports (football, basketball, or soccer)
  • jumping rope

Table Common Physical Activities and the Average Calories Expended During Those Activities

Moderate physical activity Approximate calories/30 min for a 154 lb persona Approximate calories/hr for a 154 lb persona
Hiking 185 370
Light gardening/yard work 165 330
Dancing 165 330
Golf (walking and carrying clubs) 165 330
Bicycling (<10 mph) 145 290
Walking (3.5 mph) 140 280
Weight lifting (general light workout) 110 220
Stretching 90 180
Vigorous physical activity Approximate calories/30 min for a 154 lb persona Approximate calories/hr for a 154 lb persona
Running/jogging (5 mph) 295 590
Bicycling (>10 mph) 295 590
Swimming (slow freestyle laps) 255 510
Aerobics 240 480
Walking (4.5 mph) 230 460
Heavy yard work (chopping wood) 220 440
Weightlifting (vigorous effort) 220 440
Basketball (vigorous) 220 440

aCalories burned per hour will be higher for persons who weigh more than 154 lb (70 kg) and lower for persons who weigh less. Source: Adapted from Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, page 16, Table 4.

  1. CDC’s step by step guide.https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/getting_started.html.
  2. CDC’s page on physical activity.


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Fundamentals of Health and Physical Activity by Kerri Z. Delaney and Leslie Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.