CINCINNATI—As weight-loss resolutions are being made and, inevitably, broken, it’s important to consider how accurately the body balances what people eat and what they burn.
Each time calories are consumed, the gut signals the brain that energy has entered the body and needs to be expended. Some of that energy is spent through natural processes, like maintaining body temperature. But energy is also spent during physical exercise.
The balance between energy consumed and energy spent, along with gut-brain communication, is so fine-tuned that the difference between maintaining body weight and gaining just one pound each year could be as little as one potato chip per day, says one University of Cincinnati (UC) researcher.
Randy Seeley, PhD, professor of psychiatry and associate director of UC’s Obesity Research Center, estimates that an adult man would need only 11 extra calories per day to gain a pound each year.
Seeley says the math is pretty simple:
· A typical adult man consumes 900,000 calories each year.
· To gain just one pound each year, an adult man would need to eat about 4,000 calories more than he burns.
· 4,000 calories divided by 365 days = approximately 11 calories per day, or about one potato chip.
Seeley says this may seem like small potatoes, but the average yearly weight increase among people in the United States is close to one pound per adult.
“When you look at how obesity has affected our country,” says Seeley, “and you realize that the average person—someone who may be considered overweight—is gaining less than one pound per year, it’s easy to see that what most consider to be a very small snack has the potential to really add up over time.”
UC’s Obesity Research Center studies the biological basis of obesity and works to develop therapeutics to prevent and/or treat weight gain. Seeley says that although there are some pharmaceutical and surgical options for addressing obesity, diet and exercise are still the most effective way to prevent and treat the problem.
He cautions that his calculations don’t take into account variability between individuals and environmental and genetic factors that contribute to weight-gain susceptibility.