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By Blair Anthony Robertson, The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

As a cyclist who rides almost every day, I often think about the correlation between exercise, calories and ideal body weight. That’s because it’s simply easier to be a good cyclist if you are as light and strong as possible.

One of the misconceptions about active people, especially long-distance runners and cyclists, is that they don’t have to worry about how much they eat. They’ll stay slim and trim automatically.

Indeed, I will occasionally hear fellow cyclists, usually new ones, say that one of the reasons they enjoy riding is they can eat as much as they want. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction — my eyes go straight to their waistline.

If you truly want to eat all you want, you need to pick foods that are low in energy density, according to Michael Greger, author of How Not To Die.

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to get in better shape and drop some weight, your best bet is to focus on what you are eating and not rely on moderate amounts of exercise. Yes, the good news for foodies is that food is the answer to losing weight. The bad news: food — less food, better food — is the answer to losing weight.

The numbers speak for themselves. At the helpful website, I took a hypothetical 35-year-old man who is 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds — a little overweight but nothing terrible.

Then I checked the calories burned for certain workouts. It’s not a lot. Jogging (a slow trot, which is reasonable for a new exerciser) burns just 286 calories in 30 minutes. Running briskly (8 mph) for 30 minutes burns 551 calories. Riding a bike for an hour rather vigorously (14-16 mph) uses up 864 calories. To lose a single pound, you have to create a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories.

The easier way is to look at food intake. For many, that’s easier said than done. But the numbers can be jarring, as you already know if you’re ever perused those mandatory nutrition charts at chain restaurants. A small fries at McDonald’s are 230 calories. If you eat them, you just wiped out your 30-minute jog through the neighborhood. Pasta carbonara (1,590 calories) and a Godiva chocolate cheesecake (1,110 calories) at The Cheesecake Factory adds up to a sobering 2,700 calories.

Experts say that the biggest factor is awareness. That’s why nearly every diet works in the beginning and why the Weight Watchers points system is so easy to follow — once you reach your allotted points, you’re done for the day. People are focused and determined. In order to make lasting changes, you usually have to change your thinking, your lifestyle and, sometimes, even your friends. While on the website, you can get a very good free booklet, “The Caloric Deficit for Weight Loss,” which lists the 27 most fattening foods and offers alternatives.

This doesn’t mean that your days of being a foodie are over (or that we won’t try to dazzle you with recipes for, say, braised short ribs or German chocolate cake in the weeks to come). It simply means that you have to pick your spots and space out your splurges if you want 2016 to be the year you reach your fitness and weight-loss goals.

©2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Smaller portions and healthier options are the best option. If you want to be satisfied without gaining weight, even a modest increase in fruits and vegetables makes a difference. (Blair Anthony Robertson/Sacramento Bee/TNS)



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