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Staying trim while enjoying the trimmings during the holidays


Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s.

It’s the gauntlet of food-centric holidays. Watching the waistline, while celebrating the season, is a challenge for even the most conscientious eaters.

Understanding the math behind weight gain and weight loss can help you have your cake and enjoy it too.

How many calories does your body need?

A calorie is a unit of energy. Each one of us needs a different number of daily calories depending on our physical build, metabolic rate and activity level.

Calorie math is simple.

A person who eats more calories than they burn off will gain weight. A person who eats the same number of calories as they burn, will maintain their weight and a person who eats fewer calories than their body uses, will lose weight.

Putting “calorie math” to use

A pound of weight equals 3,500 calories.

Running a mile burns about 100 calories.

Doing the math, a person who eats 500 calories less per day would lose about a pound a week. By eating 250 calories less per day, one would lose a pound about every two weeks.

A person who keeps their calorie intake stable, but wants to “run off” a pound a week would have to run 35 miles per week or about 5 miles every day! This is ambitious for even an avid runner like me.

Using the formulas above, it becomes clear that “not eating it in the first place” is probably easier than trying to “run it off” later. Cutting out calories is a much more direct method than just exercise alone. Combining calorie reduction along with modest exercise is the healthiest approach for most people.

The Dr. Dan plan

Get to know yourself better. Visit a nutritionist or a website such as to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) and your daily nutritional needs.

Start paying better attention to what and how much you are eating on a daily basis.

If you wish to lose weight, make plans to eliminate about 250 calories a day from your diet. Plan on eating three meals and two protein rich snacks throughout the day.

Cutting out 250 calories may be as easy as not drinking a 110-calorie can of soda and leaving a few bites of food on your plate at each meal. (Just don’t let your mom see that you aren’t finishing everything on your plate.)

Start adding some light exercise into your daily routine for motivation and heart health. (Be sure to discuss the appropriateness of your exercise routine with your health care provider first.)

The key is to make small changes that you can sustain. After six months, it is reasonable to see a 10-15 pound weight loss, which may motivate you to exercise a little more, eat a little healthier and treat yourself to some new clothes.

Summing it up

Healthy weight loss and maintenance can be achieved through a balance of smart eating and regular exercise.

In my experience, the best nutritional plans include using common sense and moderation. Fad diets or dramatic changes are generally not sustainable. Skipping meals often leads to over eating later in the day.

Managing your weight during the holiday season doesn’t mean that you have to deprive yourself. Using Dr. Dan’s calorie math you can enjoy the trimmings, while trimming your waistline.


Pediatrics in Paradise – Daniel R. Brennan, MD, CLC, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician, certified lactation counselor, Santa Barbara native and proud father of three.

November 13, 2013

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