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Counting Junky Calories Still Leads to Creeping Gain

Two local nutrition experts sound off on a recent study that found its not only how much you eat, but the types of food, that keep you trim.

For a long time, we've been told that as long our bodies burn more calories than we take in, then we're good to go and will somehow stay thin forever. A recent long-term study has revealed new details, however, about what are keys to weight gain over long periods of time.

The study, done on over 120,000 nurses, doctors, dentists and veterinarians over a 12 to 20 year period, was published in in the New England Journal of Medicine.

One big find was that weight didn't usually pack on in a short period. In each four-year evaluation period, subjects gained an average of about 3 pounds. Thats less than a pound a year- but over 20 years definitely adds up.

Not only that, but those 4-year weight gains had high association with very certain foods, most strongly potato chips, sweetened beverages, and red meats.   

"Identifying some of the food contributors related to weight gain and  weight maintenance is helpful, but this is really only one part of the weight-management puzzle," said Julie Pozzoli, a Registered Dietician with St. Luke's Hospital  Nutrition Wellness  Center. "It often takes ongoing self-awareness of food choices and eating behaviors for long-term success."

The study also found the more vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and yogurt a participant ate, the less likely they were to gain weight during the 4-year intervals.

Kit Kitson, is a bodybuilding athlete and owner of InShape Nutrition located at West County Health and Fitness in Ballwin. Kitson has guided the nutrition of many athletes working to decrease bodyfat, and his stategies are based on the types of food eaten by his clients.

"Avoiding fatty foods is not the total answer. Sugar makes people fat, too," said Kitson. "Eliminate unneeded sugar and most saturated fats, and you will take big steps to a slimmer you."

Additional factors found by the study that increase weight gain over time are alcohol use, quitting smoking, less sleep, and more TV.

Alcohol use increased weight gain per drink, and the more hours of TV you watched, the more weight was gained. Also, the less sleep that was had per hour increased weight in increments.

"Many of my clients are aware that food intake and physical activity are important, but may not realize the impact that sleep and/or stress management can also have," Pozzoli said.

Kitson bluntly noted, too, that physical activity has its limitations.

You can't out-exercise a crappy diet," Kitson said.

Both Kitson and Pozzoli stress that make healthy decisions reigns supreme. Know that billboards or literature from restaurants are meant to sell you something, not keep you healthy. Read labels and check for contents such as saturated fats, sugar, sodium content, and what your food is made of. Not only that, but check what a portion size is considered.

"While eating a food 'in moderation' sounds like a good idea, many people don't know what that means," Pozzoli said.

An easy way to avoid this trap, Kitson added, is to cook your food at home so you can control portions and ingredients.

Either way, self-education and awareness are key.

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