Balancing food with exercise key to weight control

• Diets focusing on extremes of high protein and high fat often ineffective, researcher says

URBANA—Studies suggest that people will be more successful on a weight loss program that focuses on energy balance—that is, to lose or maintain a healthy weight, individuals must match what goes into their mouth with the amount of energy they expend in physical activity. It seems so simple. So then, why are so many Americans obese?

“Research is clear that for long-term success with weight management, consumers must increase their daily level of physical activity,” says Donald K. Layman, nutrition professor and researcher in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. “Unfortunately, in many of the efforts to address the obesity epidemic, there seems to be an uneven focus on the ‘energy in’ side of the equation, but not enough on ‘energy out’ side.”

Because of Layman’s work in the area of diet and nutrition, he recently presented his views to the Food and Drug Administration obesity working group.

At his presentation, Layman stressed that diets focusing on the extremes of high-protein/high-fat or very low fat/high carbohydrate are usually unsuccessful because they impose too many limits on food choices. To lose weight, diets must be individualized, along with the right amount of physical activity to match energy intake.

“Americans need to understand that low quality diets combined with low levels of physical activity produce extremely high risks for chronic adult diseases of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” said Layman. “People need to make choices on their optimal diet and balance that with choices for physical activity.”

Layman explains that when people try to lose weight by reducing calorie intake without increasing exercise, it’s counter-productive because they wind up losing muscle mass—and muscle burns calories.

It’s important to have an understanding of portion control, serving sizes, the information on nutrition labels and how many calories per day your body can burn. “Most women over 30 need about 1,800 to1,900 calories a day but they’re eating closer to 2,400 to 2,600,” said Layman. “They may have developed those eating habits when they were in their 20s, but over the years, become more sedentary and haven’t reduced their calorie intake to compensate for the reduced physical activity.”

Although many diet plans and programs claim to be the one and only answer, Layman says one diet does not fit all. “A critical next step in understanding healthy lifestyles is the realization that there are multiple good diets. The key issue is to understand which diet is best for each individual.”

Layman said that people tend to mix and match diets, eating a high carbohydrate, low protein meal for breakfast and a meal low in carbohydrates and high in protein for dinner. The body can’t adjust to the imbalances throughout the day. He recommends eating a breakfast that includes protein because it takes the body five to six hours to metabolize protein, and you’ll feel less hungry. “People tend to start the day with a bowl of cereal or toast with jam for breakfast, and in two hours they’re hungry again. They eat carbohydrates all day and then load up on protein at dinner.”

If you’re considering going on a diet, Layman says to ask yourself if you’ll be on the diet six months from now. “If you can’t visualize yourself eating the same way in six months, it’s probably not the right choice for you,” he says. In fact, Layman likes to call diets “lifestyle programs and nutrition plans” so that people think more about long-term changes in their eating habits to lose and maintain weight.

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