PUBLISHED: 2:51 PM on Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Resolution: No more diets

  Dr. Sonja Koukel
Have you started thinking about your resolutions for the New Year? As this holiday season fades into memory, many of us look forward to the New Year with expectations of a fresh start. Optimistically, we make resolutions that will serve to guide our decisions and actions for the next 11 months.

Of the many resolutions that are proposed, one of the most common is the determination to diet away unwanted pounds. If this is one of your goals, consider this: How many consecutive years have you made this very resolution only to admit defeat before the year (month?) is out?

If this has been your experience, don't be disheartened. There's a reason why this plan fails. It's simply this: Diets don't work.

There are multitudes of diet plans available today, but just think about it - if the diets did work we would be a nation of skinny people. The fact is that losing weight by reducing calories is a slippery slope. Here's why.

Courtesy photo
  To lose a pound of fat in a week, you must reduce calorie intake by 3,500.
The facts: One pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. To lose a pound of fat in a week, you must reduce calorie intake by 3,500. This would require consuming 500 fewer calories a day. So, let's say I routinely consume 3,000 calories a day and I cut my daily consumption by 500 calories.

My diet is now 2,500 calories a day - a reduction of 3,500 calories for the week. On this diet plan, a weight loss of one pound a week should be do-able.

There's one catch however, the body was designed for survival and when calories are reduced it goes into "starvation mode."

This means that the body reacts as if it is starving and tries to conserve energy. This results in a lowered metabolism meaning slower weight loss or even no weight loss at all. You may have heard this situation referred to as "hitting a plateau." You can continue to cut calories each time a plateau is reached, but you can actually hurt your body's ability to lose weight by going too low.

When calorie intake falls below 1,200 calories a day, it becomes extremely difficult to follow a balanced diet and obtain all the nutrients that are needed by the body to stay strong and energetic and prevent disease.

These very low calorie intakes can also lead to other health problems such as eating disorders, gout, gallstones, and heart complications (

The best way to lose weight is to decrease sedentary activities such as playing video games, watching TV, and surfing the Internet.

Expending 500 calories a day through enjoyable activity is much easier and more effective than cutting calories.

Take walking, for example. You can burn 100 calories for each mile walked, but those are the calories that you burn only while walking.

The benefits don't stop there. A brisk walk breaks down a large number of muscle fibers that have to be replaced - and that requires energy.

Plus, the "power molecules" you used up while walking need to be replaced - requiring more energy.

So, for the 100 calories spent during the walk, your body actually used a total of 200 to 300 calories!

This is a very effective way to lose the weight and tone your body at the same time. Just to note, starvation diets do not contribute to body toning.

A common mistake made at the beginning of the New Year is starting a calorie restricted diet and exercise routine simultaneously.

This can be a recipe for disaster as the calorie intake may be too low resulting in a loss of energy, especially when the diet is low in carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates provide the fuel needed for energy and when there's not enough energy, exercise becomes a chore.

Take the fun out of the activity and you miss out on the benefits of how good your body can feel.

The recommendation for the New Year, then, is not to diet but to increase body movement.

Eat what you want without restricting any of the foods you love.

The goal is to set aside 30 minutes a day (or more) to walk or engage in some type of activity that you enjoy. As your body grows stronger, it will lose fat and build muscle.

And, as you become more aware of your body and how good you feel, you may notice a natural decrease in calories consumed without starving yourself. Try it.

You may find that this plan truly is a win-win situation.

Dr. Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.