Small changes can add up to big weight loss

Whether you want to lose or gain weight, it's all about the calories, experts say.


It's early in the new year and maybe weight management is on your list of priorities. Start by assessing where you are. Do you need to keep weight on, or shed some pounds?

Local experts said it's all about the calories. To add a pound, you need to take in more calories than you use. A pound of body weight equals 3,500 calories. So, to lose a pound, you need to reduce that number of calories, which for a week is approximately a deficit of 500 calories a day. If you need to put on some weight, then add 500 calories a day. Weight management requires balance as well: in foods eaten, activity levels and attitude about eating regular meals and snacks. Don't starve yourself, it makes the body unhappy and you're more likely to binge later.

Michelle Lucas, RD CDE at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, said, "If they need to gain, eat several meals a day. Try to make them higher in fat, that adds calories. The richer, the better." She suggested adding nutritional drinks, such as Ensure and Instant Breakfast made with whole milk to add calories. "And they're not just junk calories," Lucas explained. It's about the numbers, she explained. To gain a pound, add more calories in a day. "Snacks become important," she said.

Some diet programs suggest not eating in the evenings, but Lucas said, "I haven't seen any research about eating late in the day. But just GI -wise, they wouldn't be as comfortable eating lots of food before bedtime. Metabolically, it seems to be total calories consumed." So if you're trying to lose weight, don't starve yourself, the long periods of time between meals slows the metabolism and it's easier to overindulge when you decide to eat again. She tells people to eat at least three meals a day. "It's all about portion control," she said. Decrease the calories you take in, then increase exercise for a greater deficit.

She also suggests you keep a log of everything you eat during the day. "You're more accountable," she said. Writing it down helps you control what and how much you eat. "Eat with intent and never shop when you're hungry." According to Lucas, these are things people know, but about which they often need a reminder.

"We teach the plate method," she explained. Select a small-sized dinner plate to begin with, then select food in these amounts: half should be vegetables, a quarter should be starch and a quarter should be a protein. Lucas also said to be sure to have a serving of fruit and dairy during the day. Keep track of your foods, remember portion control and balance.

At Walla Walla General Hospital, Nurse Practioner and Diabetes Educator Jean Sherman agreed about the plate method and added, "From a diabetes perspective, I teach diabetics to make good healthy choices." According to Sherman, the most important thing taught now is to reduce portion size. It's easy to understand the bigger-is-better mind set. "For 30 cents more you can get all that extra food. We work hard for our money."

But there are defensive strategies that appeal to frugal diners.

"Before you even eat, ask for your take-home bag. Get your doggie-bag first, divide it up and then enjoy your meal. If you're going to go out, maybe you want a little piece of cake. Plan ahead and adjust what you eat earlier," Sherman said.

"It's a matter of learning new habits and making small changes." She also encourages people to read labels and see how many calories are actually in a food.

"It's not dieting, it's just making small changes. For example, if you want to lose half a pound and every night you have a piece of pie, change so that every night you have a piece of fruit. As far as the overall picture, the first thing you want to do is write down what you eat. That little pinch of this and little bit of that really can add up."

Weight management is important. According to Sherman, "Every 20 seconds someone is diagnosed with diabetes, every 10 seconds someone dies as a result of it and there's a direct correlation between obesity and diabetes."

"Don't deprive yourself, eat sensibly," added Christy Druffel, health and wellness director at the YMCA. "Be sure to check with your doctor before starting an exercise or diet plan." Once you get the green light, proceed slowly. "Pick one thing you're going to change and try that for one or two weeks."

For a senior who wants to keep weight on, Druffel suggested smoothies or milkshakes and check the suggested servings on the food pyramid, newly revised for seniors 70 and older. She also suggested asking your doctor about taking a good multi-vitamin with B-12 and D in it. According to Druffel, those nutrients are harder for older people to absorb.

Weight management is all about balance in the foods you choose, portion control and small changes implemented with consistency.

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at


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