CINCINNATI—It’s the season for backyard parties and grilling out, but while fruits and veggies are plentiful this time of year, some of what is found in the picnic basket isn’t the best for helping you stay slim and trim.
UC Health’s Lauren Ashbrook, MD, warns that in order to lose weight, it’s important to carefully watch what—and how much—goes into your body.
"Everyone says that diet and exercise are the healthiest ways to lose weight, which is true, as long as you are expending more calories than you take in,” says the primary care doctor who just finished her residency at UC and will see patients at the Clifton UC Health Physicians Office in August. "When you construct a weight loss plan, you have to take that into account.”
Ashbrook says that exercise is important for staying healthy and should not be omitted from your daily routine but that it doesn’t typically burn a lot of calories, unless you’re doing lengthy, high- intensity exercise like running a marathon.
"An average-sized woman will burn 200 to 400 calories during a 30-minute workout, which isn’t a whole lot, as it cannot account for significant dietary indiscretions,” she says.
Ashbrook says weight has always been a struggle for her, but the method that has helped her lose 30 pounds recently—and what has worked throughout the decades—is calorie counting.
"Now, it’s even easier because there are many free phone applications that will instantly look up calories for what you’re eating and keep track of it for you,” she says. "These applications also calculate basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of calories you are burning at rest, even while sleeping. This is done by entering your height, weight, age and sex.”
She says the goal is to take in fewer calories than what you are burning to lose weight: To lose one pound, you must burn 3,500 excess calories; for one pound of weight loss a week, this equates to 500 calories per day.
"This simple math works well, and I’m able to keep track, right down to the piece of gum I’m chewing, of how many calories I can have per day and still lose weight,” she says. "When it comes down to it, it’s just keeping a close eye on what you’re putting into your body.”
Ashbrook also urges measuring food with a scale, to make sure portion sizes are correct, and to only eat half of what is on the plate at a restaurant, after picking an option from the menu that looks healthy. Many restaurants give calorie counts for these healthier options.
"Most of all, don’t give up if you have a bad day,” she says. "Just do better the next day; it all averages out as long as you cut calories from another part of the week.”
And, she adds, don’t completely deprive yourself of the "bad” foods you love.
"You can have small amounts of the things that you like, as long as it’s sporadic,” she says. "It’s important to stay balanced. Recently, there was a professor who used a Twinkie-based diet to lose 27 pounds, which isn’t necessarily the healthiest way to lose weight, but does demonstrate the benefits of calorie counting. Losing 10 percent of your weight, in general, will help your cardiovascular and endocrine health. It is important to get excess weight off, and there are lots of ways to do it, but just be reasonable about it. Everything in moderation.”
Ashbrook says if you don’t have a smartphone or a gym membership, just keeping track of calories with a pen and paper combined with simple exercise like walking can do the trick.
"Sometimes, just writing down what you are about to eat can deter you from making high-calorie decisions,” she says. "Both counting calories and reaching for healthier food choices while cutting down on portion sizes can help you lose weight. The key is to stick to it, don’t get discouraged and don’t think that exercise alone will help you lose pounds.”