What's One Cookie? Not Much, Say Doctors


michelle-obamaWhat with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move intitiative to combat childhood obesity, there’s a lot of attention right now on small, doable lifestyule changes that can improve health.

But as doctors acknowledge, it’s going to take more than simply switching from soda to water and taking a short walk around the block to cause significant weight loss.

Theoretically, cutting as little as 100 calories from your diet and adding in 100 calories worth of exercise every day should lead to weight loss. But the body adapts to those small changes pretty easily, and as you drop a couple pounds from making these changes you need fewer calories. Aside from those biological changes, we often compensate for these changes by eating more calories at another meal.

This is especially important in dealing with childhood obesity. Parents want to avoid being too radical with the dietary and exercise changes to avoid setting up food issues or body shame — but nothing short of a lifestyle overhaul for the whole family is really going to be very effective.

Doctors like the small-changes approach, though, because they can lead to bigger ones. A short walk around the block can lead to a longer one and then maybe even to a jog, and cutting soda for water can lead to swapping a cookie for an apple. And even those small steps can lead to an important victory — stopping weight gain.

And there are a lot of positive effects to healthy lifestyle changes, even if you never lose a pound. “I’m not saying throw up your hands and forget about it,” Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, head of Rockefeller University’s molecular genetics lab, told the New York Times Well blog. “Instead of focusing on weight or appearance, focus on people’s health. There are things people can do to improve their health significantly that don’t require normalizing your weight.”