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250/250 weight loss plan is step to better health

An Emory cardiologist presents a simple, doable way to maintain or lose weight, and Emory wellness experts offer additional tips.

Eat just a little bit less. Move just a little bit more. Add up the effects and you could lose one pound a week.  

Nanette Wenger

Nanette Wenger, professor of cardiology, emeritus

This is the premise of a plan that Emory cardiologist Nanette Wenger says aims to simplify the effort to lose or maintain weight. Called the 250/250 plan, it is a step process — you don’t have to add a lot of exercise time or drastically alter your eating habits.

The step, Wenger says, is superimposed on the recommended amount of physical activity and guidelines for weight management from the American Heart Association, recommendations that Wenger helped write for the national nonprofit.

It's also based on math. As Wenger explains, if you cut out 250 calories a day and increase your physical activity to burn 250 calories per day, "that's 500 fewer calories." Keep that up for a week and you can lose a pound.

Taking the first step

The first step is to find a way to cut 250 calories out of your diet. This could be as simple as cutting out a sweetened beverage at lunch or a beer at night.  

The second step is to increase your physical activity level to burn an additional 250 calories a day.  

For example, "I'm a chocoholic," Wenger says. She would need to cut out enough of her favorite food to equal 250 calories, while increasing her exercise to burn 250 calories. "This would mean doing something like walking briskly for an extra 35 minutes," she says.  

Wenger sees this as a way to ease into this method. "It's a permanent way of thinking," she says, "based on calories in and calories out."  

Good to know

Emory Report asked other Emory experts to weigh in on the 250/250 plan.  

Melissa Morgan, manager of the wellness program of the Faculty Staff Assistance Program, says the following activities would burn about 250 calories:

  • 40 minutes of brisk walking

  • 25 minutes of cycling at a moderate intensity

  • 45 minutes using a push lawnmower

  • 30 minutes of group exercise class

  • 55 minutes of general weight lifting.

"All of these are based on a 175-pound individual," Morgan says, "except for the bicycling which isn't weight bearing. Lighter individuals would require more time; heavier individuals less time."

Morgan and Wenger both say that people can look for simple and small ways to burn more calories daily, such as always opting for the stairs instead of the elevator; parking in the back of a parking lot and walking to the store or office; doing some gardening; or adding some minutes to your daily dog walk.

For employees, Morgan also suggests getting up from a desk every hour and taking a couple of laps around the office and walking to meetings.

Examining your eating habits and doing something as simple as choosing a small drink over a large size one is one way to get to 250 calories.

Cody Chiarello, a wellness associate with Blomeyer Health Fitness Center, says:  

  • Substituting a raw orange for a glass of orange juice in the morning can cut about 100 calories, and "you get the added benefit of fiber from the raw orange."
  • Substituting a cup of raw carrots for a bag of potato chips (single serving size) can also cut about 100 calories.
  • Cutting out mayonnaise and cheese from your sandwich can cut 150-200 calories depending on the type of cheese you use.
  • Eating smaller portions at dinner can cut up to 300 calories from your meal.

Morgan says, "The great thing about the 250/250 plan is that it encourages small, realistic changes to one's lifestyle for health and weight maintenance. Many programs try to sell a more extreme approach, such as cutting out entire food groups, which is unrealistic for long-term success."  

"Another positive aspect of this plan is that it puts equal focus on both eating habits and physical activity, stressing the importance of both for an overall healthy lifestyle," she adds.

Paula Anderson, chair of Emory College's Health and Physical Education Department, likes the set-up of the 250/250 plan. "Rather than trying to consume 500 calories less per day, it is more effective and healthier to split that by increasing activity slightly and decreasing intake slightly," she says.  

What's the problem?

Anderson explains the dilemma behind weight loss today:  

"Both from a genetic and nutritional needs standpoint, we are wired to consume about 2,000-2,500 calories per day for women, and 2,500-3,500 calories per day for men, as a general range. 

"However, our activity levels have drastically declined over the past 50-100 years, and the caloric densities of many of our widely available foods have increased over the past 40 years. Attempting to lose weight only by decreasing our caloric intake is a losing battle for most people, since our energy expenditures today on average are about 1,200-1,500 calories per day for women and 1,500-2,200 calories per day for men, unless we intentionally add more physical activity throughout our day."  

She continues: "Diets that significantly restrict caloric intake also increase risk of nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, increasing our physical activity provides us with many more health benefits than reducing caloric intake alone would."  

Anderson says, "The great news is that you can combine different activities and intensities to fit your lifestyle, interests and goals," listing activity bouts of 10-15 minutes, squeezing in strength training exercises around the house or office such as lunges while vacuuming or push-ups on the wall.  

"The most important thing isn’t so much what activities you choose each day; the goal is to build the habit, and build support structures around that. Meeting a friend to walk or work out together is very effective; you’ve made a commitment so you’re more likely to stick with it. Discuss your priorities and goals with co-workers and your supervisor, and ask for their support in helping you meet your goals."  

April Flint, assistant director of athletics for recreation and Play Emory, says employees and students alike at Emory can take advantage of many physical activity opportunities either for free or for nominal fees.   

Some of the free or low-cost recreational and competitive opportunities at the Woodruff Physical Education Center (WoodPEC) include:

  • fitness equipment
  • basketball courts
  • indoor and outdoor tennis courts
  • indoor swimming pool.
  • drop-in fitness classes.  

And "more programs will be developed beginning in fall 2013," Flint says.  

Wenger's tip: Plan ahead

Wenger said the whole 250/250 method is a "matter of planning. I tell my patients to plan ahead." If there's a special occasion, a party or some special weekend activity, she tells them to get the calories out of "the bank," by putting them there beforehand, increasing physical activity ahead of time.  

This can be done on a personal level. "It's very simple, very modest, very doable," she says.

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