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Don’t Count Calories, Add Fiber to Your Diet

It's important to recognize the role calories play in your ability to lose weight. Varying your caloric intake daily forces, the body to use more energy, then jump-starting weight loss. Calorie needs also varies from person to person, so it's hard to pinpoint a specific number of calories to cut while on a diet. The key is not to kick your body into starvation mode by making a drastic cut to calories. Be mindful of nutrition and make small changes instead, like choosing light beer, thin crust on your pizza and fruit over candy on top of frozen yogurt. It's all about healthy eating, not starvation.

“Eat less, move more.” That's easy to say, but practicality is one of the most important things when it comes to health and fitness. Recommendations like this are blank statements that do not address practicality-so when it comes down to it, which is more important? Diet, or exercise?

Yes, we should all eat healthier. Yes, we should exercise every day. There are infinite things we could have to be healthier, like sit less, eat more vegetables, eat less processed food, or drink less alcohol. But they do not take into account the reality of life: we are all constrained by a finite amount of resources such as time, energy, willpower, and money. Recommendations that do not take this into account can easily make us feel like we are failing our fitness and health goals.

At a physiologic level, weight loss and weight gain revolve around caloric consumption and expenditure *. Because of this, it's important to understand the basics of calories. Put simply: we lose weight when we eat less calories than we expend. Conversely, we gain weight when we eat more calories than we expend. To lose one pound of fat, we must create a 3,500-calorie deficit, which can be achieved either through exercise or diet.

Let's say that a 200-pound man wants to lose one pound in a week. Through exercise alone, he needs to run about 3.5 miles per day (or 24.5 miles total), assuming his diet stays the same. Through dieting alone, he needs to cut back 500 calories / day (the equivalent of two Starbucks Frappuccino), given his exercise regime stays the same. Theoretically, the two should achieve the same results.

But in the world of fitness theory and reality are not the same thing, because theory does not account for adherence. We do not live in a magical house that contains a gym, a Whole Foods, and a personal staff of nutritionists and trainers. Instead, we're left about our own devices in everyday life. What happens then?

You must've heard it from your mother and no doubt in countless television ads – eat more fiber! If you're counting calories and reading nutrition labels, bulking up your weight loss plan to include fiber may seem like just one more diet chore. But adding fiber to your diet is easier than you might think.

The Health Benefits

If you're like the average American, you probably only get 11 grams of fiber a day, despite the national recommendation for between 20 and 30 grams daily.

Eating more fiber can make you more “regular,” but it has other health benefits as well:

• A fiber-rich diet protects a woman's heart. An analysis of health information from 72,000 women who participated in the 18-year long Nurses' Health Study showed that women who ate a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits (all sources of fiber) had a reduced risk of heart disease compared to women who ate less healthfully.
• A fiber-rich diet contributes to a healthy pregnancy. Eating foods rich in fiber is recommended during pregnancy, and a recent study of the diets of 1,500 pregnant women showed that those who ate 21.2 grams of fiber a day were 72 percent less likely to develop preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure) than women who ate 11.9 grams or less daily. Adding just 5 grams of fiber, or two slices of whole wheat bread, to their daily diet cut the risk of preeclampsia by 14 percent.
• A fiber-rich diet may prevent cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may prevent certain types of cancer, particularly colon, esophageal, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.

Fiber: Getting Started

The easiest way to increase fiber in your diet is to replace a low-fiber food with one that is higher in fiber. For example, use a high-fiber whole wheat bread instead of white bread for a sandwich, or snack on an apple instead of beef jerky. Apply this approach to all meals throughout the day.

Other some good sources of fiber to try:
• Fruits and vegetables with the skin on (well-cleaned, of course)
Potatoes with skin
• Beans such as lentils or black beans
• Whole grains such as oats, barley, or bulgur wheat (just remember to stick to the correct serving size to keep your calorie count down)

People who are watching their carbohydrates should know they can subtract the dietary fiber grams in a food from its total carbohydrate count, though this will not change the calorie count of the food.

Fiber: Upping Your Intake

Increasing fruits and vegetables is a great way to improve the overall nutrition in your diet without adding calories (many high-fiber foods are lower in calories than other foods), but this should not be your only strategy for increasing fiber, says Weihofen. “You have to eat an awful lot of them to get your fiber allowance. You do have to have whole grains or fiber supplements,” she explains, adding that she believes a fiber supplement is a good idea. “I like Metamucil or Benefiber – a natural fiber, something you can take for the rest of your life.”

A final word of caution: When increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, take it slowly. Drink lots of water and add only a few grams a day to give your digestive system time to adjust.