By now, I’m sure everyone reading knows that the U.S. has an “obesity epidemic.” Maybe you’ve seen it yourself and noticed that the people (and children) around you are a bit chubbier than they used to be when you were a kid. Maybe you’re the one that has developed those stubborn love handles that just won’t go away. Or, maybe you’ve been struggling with being overweight since you were a child. What causes those extra pounds to add up over time? Some people would answer, “Eating extra Calories!” But what, exactly, is that?
Calories are just a measure of how much “energy” you get from food. That energy is used in your normal daily activities—to keep your body moving and running, to give you the energy to play a game of tennis, or to allow you to keep up with an active child. How many Calories you need is based on a number of factors, but current USDA daily recommendations for a moderately active adult are1800-2200 Calories for women and 2200-2800 Calories for men, with moderately active being defined as doing exercise equal to a 2 mile walk every day. The problem with us in the U.S., however, is that we generally eat more than that, and sometimes MUCH more.
So why is that a big deal? Well, if you overeat a mere 250 Calories a day, that’ll end up being 7500 calories per month. Considering a pound of fat is about 3500 Calories, that means you’re gaining just over two pounds a month. That’s twenty-four extra pounds over a year. I don’t know anyone who’d be interested in doing that. And, as we’re about to learn, 250 Calories is not that much.
So let’s assume for examples sake you’re supposed to eat 2200 Calories a day. Let’s look at a typical McDonalds meal: a Big Mac hamburger (550 Calories), a medium fry (380 Calories), a medium 32 oz. soda with no refills (300 Calories), and of course a small fudge sundae (330 Calories). That totals 1560 Calories, or nearly 70% of your total daily requirement in one meal. Add in the rest of your meals and snacks, and you’re probably well over 2200 Calories for the day (and most likely over by more than 250 Calories).
So maybe you don’t eat fast food a lot? Let’s look at a typical “healthy” meal at Applebee’s Restaurant: ½ of a Spinach & Artichoke Dip appetizer (750 Calories) and a Grilled Shrimp and Spinach Salad (1060 Calories). That totals 1810 Calories—more than the McDonalds meal above! Even taking out the appetizer and eating just the salad would be 1060 Calories, nearly half your entire day—in one meal.
Finally, let’s look at something you may have at home. Take, for example, the following ice cream, which promotes, “1/3 fewer Calories than regular ice cream” and “No Sugar Added”. This seems like a healthy option!
Looking at the back nutrition panel, however, shows a different story. It has a serving size of ½ cup, and has 140 Calories per serving. If you were to measure out a ½ cup, you’d probably agree that even a small bowl of ice cream is at least 1 cup, and probably 1½. Just your ice cream snack after dinner is 420 Calories! That’s nearly a fifth of your total daily calories, and very close to what an entire meal should be.
So what’s my point here? Most of us have no idea how many Calories we really are eating, and most of us assume we’re eating far less than we really are. So if you don’t normally count Calories, try it for a few days and compare it to what you should be eating. It might be an eye-opening experience. When you find out, fill out the poll below, and see where you fall among others!