A few weeks ago, a gym member asked me if I was still on a diet, since I’ve been maintaining a healthy weight for the past year. The question made me chuckle. There is a common misconception that when we finally hit our goal weight, we then have more freedom to eat whatever we want.

Selecting healthier food options should never be a temporary solution to losing weight. It’s a lifestyle change.

The truth is, maintaining my weight has been more difficult than dropping the extra pounds I needed to lose. It is very tempting to go back to my unhealthy eating habits. I love eating salty snacks and sweet treats and drinking sugary beverages. Eating healthy is challenging and it’s the main reason why over 42% of this country is struggling with obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a previous column, I discussed how I’ve found success in portion control to manage how much food I would eat for each meal. Relying on this process has allowed me to cut back drastically on daily calories, which ultimately contributed to my weight-loss success.

Losing weight shouldn’t turn into obsessing over counting calories, but keeping a primary focus on calories in vs. calories out can get you to your goal weight.

About 3,500 calories equal about 1 pound of body fat. The average woman needs about 2,000 calories per day and the average man needs about 2,500.

Clearly, these calorie intake numbers depend on several factors, including age, height, weight, fitness level and metabolic health. In general, if you cut about 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, you can lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week.

Your daily calorie intake should be handled like a personal savings account. Normally, you wouldn’t attempt to purchase a new car if you only had $50 to your name. The same goes for calories when determining what to put on your plate. If you start each day with needing about 2,500 calories, get smart about which foods you choose to eat throughout the day. Incorporating exercise is also key. But remember, you can’t out train a poor diet.

Also, you should never starve yourself to cut back on calories. It’s all about making wiser decisions about how to properly fuel your body to match your daily activity level.

Below is a glimpse of different activities and how many calories you can burn compared to the amount of calories contained in a few listed unhealthy and healthy food items. The exact calories burned is ultimately based on a person’s size, age and fitness level.

Activities:

• Running a mile burns about 80 to 140 calories, depending on speed.

• Swimming for one hour burns about 400 to 700 calories, depending on speed.

• Biking at a speed of 12 to 14 miles per hour for 30 minutes will burn about 300 to 400 calories.

• Walking a mile will burn about 65 to 100 calories, depending on speed.

• Weightlifting for an hour can burn about 200 to 400 calories.

Foods:

• A double-patty cheeseburger is about 500 calories.

• A slice of pepperoni pizza is about 285 calories.

• A glazed doughnut is about 240 calories.

• A grilled, skinless chicken breast is about 142 calories.

• A banana is about 105 calories.

• An apple is about 95 calories.

• A cup of raw broccoli is about 31 calories.

Doing math to determine what you should eat daily is no fun — especially when you’re hungry. Everyone loses weight at a different pace, so don’t get consumed with worrying about every calorie you eat and burn. Start turning your attention on how you can replace some of the not-so-healthy options with better ones. It will get you closer to achieving your weight-loss goals.

Stephanie Swearngin is a group fitness instructor at VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa and at VASA Fitness.

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