“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be healthy, even as your soul prospers.” 3 John 1:2

With the holidays behind us, many are looking in the mirror to assess the damage.

It’s nearly impossible to get through the Christmas season without gaining at least some weight, but one doesn’t need to go overboard, either. Right now, many of us are doing the annual post- holiday rituals of wondering what we did wrong and figuring out how to not do it again. Do you count carbs or calories? Do fat grams matter? What about high fructose corn syrup? It can be mind boggling.

Here are some tips from the experts to help us navigate a better plan for this year.

Track Your Counts

To begin, many professionals encourage their patients to track their food intake for at least one week to help them chart what they are actually eating every day rather than just trying to remember. Don’t change your eating habits while trying this experiment. Write down what you ate, when you ate it, how many calories, fats and carbs each item had. At the end of your week, you’ll be able to compare where all of your calories came from.

Counting Carbs, Fats and Calories

Fitday.com tackled this issue head-on recently and found out that doctors who were in favor of counting calories over carbs did so because some foods that are considered low in carbs (like fried chicken or cheeseburgers) are huge in calories. Though those in the counting carbs camp like to think that calories don’t matter as much as carbs, it is difficult to get around the fact that the more calories you take in, the harder it is to burn them off. 

However, doctors on the other side of the equation (those who encourage patients to each more fats and limit carbs) say that fat can be considered a “fuel” for your body and by limiting carbs, your body will burn more of the fat for energy. Both approaches can be “correct,” depending on what works best for you. Still, both groups caution about foods that are low in fat. While the fat content may be cut down, the calorie count may not be.

“A calorie is the standard unit for measuring energy released from energy-yielding nutrients, such as fat, protein, and carbohydrate,” according to Go Ask Alice. “Whereas proteins and carbohydrates have only four calories of energy per gram, fat has nine.

Food labels are now federally standardized to help make it easier for the consumer to know what’s in a particular food. You can calculate the percentage of calories from fat by looking at the column marked ‘Percent Daily Value’ for total fat and simply add up these percentages. It’s recommended that fat make up no more than 30 percent of your daily diet.”

Go Ask Alice’s website also states that the number of calories a person needs is based on different factors including body weight, age, gender and physical activity level. “Generally, 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day is considered low, and anything above 2400 is considered too much.” They recommend a visit to www.choosemyplate.gov, a USDA-sponsored site that will help you figure out what the ideal calorie count should be for you.

Counting Points

Weight Watchers claims to have a similar yet simpler approach. “We know that a calorie isn’t just a calorie. Which is why every food is assigned its own Points Plus value based on protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber content. It takes into account how your body processes food, and nudges you toward healthier, more satisfying choices.” 

While they also encourage participants to watch their calorie, fat and carb intake, they know that not everyone will want to mess with the math. They created an extensive list of many food and beverages that each has been assigned a number. As long as you stay under your daily number, you should be able to lose weight. Weight Watchers also offer special apps and “eTools” to help you on your journey and to take away the guess work.

Counting Counts

David Zinczenko, the former editor of Men’s Health magazine and author of the many Eat This Not That books, believes in counting calories, but his trick is to compare apples to apples or tuna sandwiches to tuna sandwiches. 

His new book, Eat It to Beat It, lists foods (and calorie counts) that you should be eating more often and foods that are best to avoid. Readers will “discover thousands of shocking food truths to help flatten your belly fast—and get you on the path to better health!”

The book promises to expose strange, unnecessary and in some cases, shocking ingredients in many common brands. It will also explain how to make smart choices about the foods you love and foods to help you lose weight, drop blood pressure, boost your immune system, and more.

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