A Thousand Calories Can Kill Us and Save Us

A hospitalman swims laps.
Hospitalman Eric Alter swims laps in the Naval Support Activity Bethesda Fitness Center pool on April 30, 2018. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julio Martinez Martinez/U.S. Navy photo)

USA! USA! America is #1!

We are number one at consuming the most calories in a given day. Great … According to Evoke.ie, the United States and Austria have traded titles over the years as the number one consumer of calories in a day. The top five daily calorie consumers range from 3,500 to almost 3,800 and are, from the highest first, the United States, Austria, Italy, Israel and Ireland, with the United Kingdom barely missing top-five status. We have to start looking at what we eat and how much work it takes to burn off that extra thousand calories consumed.

According to WebMD and many other medical recommendations, the average daily caloric intake should be 1,800-2,000 for women and 2,000-2,400 for men. Depending upon your size (height/weight), your actual daily requirements will be higher or lower than the average recommendation. These numbers are the amount of food it takes to live your life, not gain or lose weight and get the required amount of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. For instance, a 200-pound man burns more calories than a 130-pound woman doing any task (even sitting).

On average, Americans are overweight and bordering on obese, with lower activity rates and nearly double the daily recommended caloric amount. So what is the solution? Here is the math:

To burn a pound per week, you need to reduce your daily intake of calories by 500 or increase your activity by 500 calories burned. That will total 3,500 calories burned in one week as a caloric deficit.

Recommendations to Reduce Calories Consumed

Think of food as calories and work: A typical normal-sized cookie is about 100 calories. If you walk for 20 minutes, you will burn 100 calories. In fact, when I get off the bike or treadmill, I announce, "Well, I just burned five cookies." Once you realize how much work that is -- typically 30 or more minutes -- you may also look at food (junk food) in a completely different way.

Drop the sugar: Reduce on average 500 calories by eliminating (or nearly eliminating) sugar from your diet. Reducing or nearly eliminating your sugar intake is going to lead to a huge decrease in daily calories as an average American adult eats nearly 88 grams of sugar a day. The alarming number is that the average child in America eats nearly 128 grams of sugar a day. Cutting extra sugary foods/drinks will account for 500 calories on average in the American diet (onlinenursingprograms.com). Limiting your daily sugary food and drink intake to less than 40 grams is highly recommended.

Americans are the highest consumers of sugar per year, eating on average 130 pounds of sugar annually. On average, sugar makes up between 500-750 calories daily in a given diet.

Keep the bathroom scale in the kitchen: That is right. Keep the scale and weigh yourself in the morning. Looking at the scale to the left of the refrigerator may help you curb that midafternoon or late-night snack. You may say, "All I really need is a glass of water."

A calorie is a calorie: Not all calories are created equal, though. We recommend trying to reduce 500 calories of food intake while trying to add 500 calories of activity to your day. This produces a 1,000-calorie decrease in your day and will help you with seeing results in weight-loss goals. However, hormonally speaking, 500 calories of sugar will be processed in your body differently than 500 calories of fat or protein. When eating sugar, the spike in insulin to reduce blood-sugar levels is pumped into the bloodstream after eating. More insulin is needed when your diet is high in sugar. Your body will burn sugar primarily for energy, sitting on its fat reserves. Of course, any calories consumed that are not burned off through living or extra activity will be stored as fat.

See links for more information about Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance.

If you can drop 500 calories a day from your diet by eating less and burn an additional 500 calories by moving more, the results will speak for themselves. This only applies to people who are eating well over the recommended daily caloric amounts presently, as well as those who do not exercise regularly. But being conscious of the calories you burn in a day makes for a good daily goal of activity, whether it is 10,000 steps per day of walking or a variety of methods as seen below.

There are other activities that burn 100 calories: More calories burned

Here are a few options for burning 100 calories. Do this or a variety of these activities during a 30- to 45-minute workout, or spread throughout the day if you prefer short bursts of activity.

  • Walk 20 minutes
  • Dance for 17 minutes
  • Bowl for 30 minutes
  • Walk stairs for 11 minutes
  • Run 8-10 minutes (moderate to fast)
  • Bike for 10 minutes (fast)
  • Elliptical 8 minutes (fast)
  • Swim 12-15 minutes (moderate to fast)

So the 100-calorie cookie you want to eat will cost you 20 minutes of walking or a certain amount of time listed above with various physical activity.

For more activities and the amount of calories burned, check out the exercise list from Harvard Medical School. People of three different weights will burn a different amount of calories during exercise time.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, Military.com has you covered. Subscribe to Military.com to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues