The key to maintaining a healthy weight is balance. You can eat whatever you want and not gain weight as long as your caloric intake is equal to your caloric output. Even though you might enjoy a diet of lots of cake and ice cream, you might end up hungry, and eating this way might leave you with deficiencies in essential nutrients. Balance also means that you eat mostly nutritious food with occasional not-so-healthy treats. Consult your doctor or dietitian to help you design a meal plan that allows you to eat what you want.
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Calorie Balance to Not Gain Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is not only good for your overall health, it may also improve the quality of your life. The only way to maintain your weight, however, is to balance the number of calories you eat with the number of calories you burn. If you eat more calories than your body needs, you'll gain weight. Your calorie needs are unique and are based partially on your genetics. The USDA Dietary Guidelines page offers a range to help you get started, based on age, gender and activity. Women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day; men need 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day; and, younger women and men, especially those who are more active, require even more calories.
Technically, you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight as long as you stay within your daily calorie needs, but eating a diet filled with junk food will leave you deficient in essential nutrients, which isn't healthy.
Fill Up on Low-Cal Goodies
To leave room in your diet for "whatever you want," focus on eating low-calorie foods most of the time. Fill up on foods that are rich in nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods and lean protein, such as poultry, seafood and beans. These foods may help save calories, too. It's not the number of calories in food that keep you full, but the volume of food you eat. Eat fruits and veggies, which have relatively few calories per serving, so you can enjoy larger portions without eating too many calories.
Fitting in Whatever You Want
Once you've made "room" in your diet with low-calorie foods, you can fit in your favorite indulgences. You should not, however, treat your diet as a free-for-all; limit your "treat" calories to 10 to 15 percent of your overall diet. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, you could budget 200 to 300 calories as discretionary calories. For your daily treat, you could enjoy 1/2 of a small slice of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting or 1/2 cup of vanilla ice cream.
Exercise to Allow for Extras
Burn calories with exercise to create room for your favorite treats. The number of calories you burn depends on the activity, the duration of that activity, and on your current weight. For example, a 125-pound person can burn 90 calories during a 30-minute game of bowling, but a 185-pound person can burn 133 calories doing the same activity for the same amount of time. More strenuous activities burn more calories. Running at a pace of 5 miles an hour helps a 125-pound person burn 240 calories and a 185-pound person burn 355 calories in 30 minutes.
You can also give your metabolism a little boost with strength training, because muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat. Lifting weights, doing yoga and body-resistance exercises, such as squats and lunges, all help build metabolically active muscle.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Back to Basics for Healthy Weight Loss
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- Go Ask Alice: Calories: Does It Matter Where They Come From?
- NIHSeniorHealth: Eating Well as You Get Older: Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Eat More, Weigh Less?
- HealthAliciousNess.com: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool: Chocolate Cake, Vanilla Ice Cream, French Fries
- FamilyDoctor.org: What It Takes to Lose Weight
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- McKinley Health Center: Breaking Down Your Metabolism
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?