By Jeff Ellis and Martha Ellis
Published Wednesday, May 13, 2009
| From the September 2007 Issue of FireRescue
Have you looked around lately? We’re getting fatter. In 1991 12 percent of the U.S. population was considered obese based on their body mass index (BMI) a statistical measure of a person’s weight scaled according to height. (For more on body fat measurements see the sidebar “Measure Me ”) Apparently we’ve been living the good life because according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by 2006 65 percent of the population was considered overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9) and obese (BMI greater than 30).
Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the number of children who are obese or overweight has tripled since the 1960s and doubled since 1980. Some health experts have even suggested that our generation’s children could be the first to not outlive their parents. Why? Our children will suffer the problems associated with obesity including Type 2 diabetes high blood pressure heart disease high cholesterol and asthma.
We all recognize the reasons for our increased weight: sedentary lifestyles and poor diet. Not too many of us are milking cows feeding chickens plowing fields or picking crops these days. We live in a country of convenience where we can get more calories delivered to our door in 30 minutes than we ever could have collected in an entire day using the aforementioned “old-fashioned” methods.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1970s we prepared and ate most of our meals at home. By 2004 the amount of money spent on dining out had increased tenfold. Further according to the National Restaurant Association over the past 30 years spending on fast food has ballooned from $6 billion to $110 billion.
Even many firefighters are opting for the easy way out driving to the local fast-food establishment to pick up their meals a couple times a day. However nothing beats good firehouse cooking for flavor value and if properly planned good health.
Why control your eating habits and keep your weight in check? There are many reasons but let’s start with an important one: You’ll live a longer better life. If that’s not a concern for you we’re sure it’s very important to the people who love you. Another reason: setting a good example for our kids. Of course keeping your weight in check will also help you avoid a host of health problems including heart disease diabetes high blood pressure and lack of mobility.
For those of you who want to make a healthy change but don’t know where to begin following is some nutrition-related information that should get you on the right track.
It’s a Numbers Game
Diet. Are you getting tired of the word? Everywhere we look someone is trying to convince us that there’s a better way to lose weight on their easy eat-everything-in-sight plan. There are lots of diet plans such as Atkins the Zone Weight Watchers and South Beach which aim to cut calories and/or certain types of foods. And there’s also the big debate between low-fat and low- carbohydrate diets. What should you believe?
Forget about all those diets and simply adopt a healthy lifestyle. Eat better food and less food in general. And of course exercise more. That’s what all of those diet plans don’t want you to know. The simple truth: Consume fewer calories than you expend and you’ll lose weight. Sound too easy? Check the diet plans out there and you’ll see they all restrict your calorie intake tell you which foods to eat and expect you to exercise.
Here’s some good news: You can eat ice cream and potato chips and drink beer and still lose weight—the key is burning more calories than you take in. Despite what all these diets proclaim it really is simple: Expend about 500 calories more per day than you consume and you will lose about 1 lb. per week. Let’s do the math: 500 calories x 7 days a week = 3 500 calories. One pound of body fat contains 3 500 stored calories so if you want to lose a pound of weight in a week a mere 500-calorie deficit a day will do the trick. Just be careful to not lose weight too fast. Your caloric deficit should be between 500–1 000 calories per day. Cutting more than 1 000 calories a day will slow your metabolism which leads to slower or no weight loss; essentially you reach a plateau. So feel free to eat the goodies but remember the more treats you consume the more time you must spend at the gym to work them off.
A Balanced Diet
Your daily caloric intake is based on your body weight and activity level. To maintain a pound of body weight an inactive person needs approximately 13 calories a day; a moderately active person needs 15; a very active person needs 17. These are approximations; your needs may differ slightly.
For example a moderately active 200-lb. firefighter would need 15 calories per pound x 200 pounds—3 000 calories a day—to maintain the status quo. Any calorie increase will cause weight gain and any decrease will cause weight loss if he or she maintains their normal level of physical activity.
When it comes to eating healthy and losing weight you must eat a balanced diet of carbohydrates protein and fat. As previously mentioned there’s quite an ongoing debate about the proper amount of each of these nutrients but let’s keep it simple. A good objective: Consume 50 percent carbohydrates 25 percent protein and 25 percent fat. Using our hypothetical 200-lb. firefighter as an example on a 3 000-calorie-a-day diet he would consume about 1 500 calories from carbs 750 from protein and 750 from fat. This is just a guideline; don’t fret if you stray a few percentage points one way or the other.
It’s also very important to watch what type of fats and carbohydrates you consume. Stick with good fats: mono- and poly-unsaturated fats which are derived from seeds nuts and vegetable oils including canola olive peanut sunflower safflower soybean and corn. Limit your saturated fats to less than 7 percent of your total caloric intake.
Saturated fats are found mostly in animal fats including meats seafood poultry skin egg yolks and whole milk dairy products like cheese ice cream and butter. Completely avoid trans fats which lower good cholesterol (HDL) and increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and are created by hydrogenating vegetable oils making them more solid at room temperature. They’re found in margarines baked goods and processed foods. Fortunately manufacturers are now required to list trans fats on all nutrition labels of processed foods. Further many cities around the country are now banning trans fats from restaurants.
A good rule of thumb: Eat more complex carbohydrates (fruits vegetables whole grains) and fewer simple carbohydrates (sugars). We’ll tackle the specifics of sugar in the next column.
Make Smart Choices
It’s easy to understand why most people hate the word “diet.” The truth of the matter is this: To lose weight you don’t need to go on a fad diet that cuts out all the foods you enjoy. You just have to be smart about what you eat and how much you exercise. In the end it’s all about math: Consume fewer calories than you expend and you’ll lose weight. We understand that this isn’t always as simple as it sounds but realizing that it’s really just a numbers game is sometimes just the motivation we need to take the first step.
Tests to determine whether you are overweight
Body mass index (BMI) is a number derived from a formula that uses your height and weight as an indicator of body fatness. To determine your BMI use this formula:
weight in pounds
(height in inches) 2 X 703
For example a firefighter who is 6-feet tall (72) and weighs 200 lbs. has a BMI of 27.1 BMI = 200/(72 x 72) x 703. Or you can visit the National Institutes of Health Web site www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi and plug in your height and weight. Unfortunately BMI sometimes wrongly suggests fatness in people who are athletic and muscular which is of course where firefighters want to be.
A more accurate method to measure body fat is hydrostatic weighing underwater weighing that measures body density. From that figure we can calculate body fat percentage. Most universities with exercise physiology programs can perform hydrostatic weighing as can many fitness facilities or weight-loss clinics. Of course you can always perform an Internet search for hydrostatic weighing facilities in your area.
Comment Now: Post Your Thoughts & Comments on This Story