Understanding portions and calories is the key to kicking a sugar addiction. In nutrition, a calorie is the measure of the amount of energy contained in a food. Your body breaks down foods to provide energy and keep all the metabolic processes going. The three macronutrients have calories. Protein contains approximately four calories per gram, as do carbohydrates. Fat has nine calories per gram, and alcohol has seven.

## A calorie isn’t just a calorie

One of the common nutrition mantras that continues to spew from pop medical publications is that the only thing that determines weight loss or weight gain is calories in versus calories out. This is just not true — what happens to the calories you eat is highly dependent on what kind of calories they are and also on the physiological state of the eater.

Let’s take two subjects as examples: Woman A splits up 1,200 calories of vegetables and lean protein into five meals every day. Woman B doesn’t eat during the day and then gobbles 1,200 calories’ worth of donuts every night before bed. These two women will have very different bodies and health profiles, even though they both eat the same number of calories. A calorie is not just a calorie!

## How many calories do you need to beat your sugar addiction?

If you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the excess as fat. Sugar is a particularly troublesome source of calories because it’s often very low in nutrients and it triggers cravings for even more.

A pound of body fat has 3,500 calories, so to lose 1 pound, you need to “release” 3,500 calories. Eating just 100 fewer calories every day yields a loss of 10 pounds in a year. Conversely, if you overeat 100 calories every day, you’ll gain 10 pounds in a year!

Individual calorie requirements vary greatly depending on personal metabolism and activity levels, but you can get a decent ballpark number from one of these methods:

• The Harris-Benedict formulas: Nutritionists have used these two formulas for a long time because they give a reasonable approximation of a person’s caloric needs:

Men = 66 + (6.23 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) – (6.8 × age)

Women = 665 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 × height in inches) – (4.7 × age)

• Calorie approximation by activity: This method of estimating calorie requirements takes your activity into account. Multiply your weight in pounds by one of these activity modifiers:

× 10 if you’re sedentary

× 13 if you’re moderately active (exercise three days per week for at least 30 minutes)

× 15 if you’re very active (exercise for more than five hours per week)

## A balanced diet: Find the right ratios to beat your sugar addiction

For years, Americans have been duped into believing that a grain-based, low-fat diet is the best way to combat obesity. As the consistent and appalling rise in obesity and diabetes continues, it’s clear that a new set of nutrition guidelines is in order.

Fortunately, the new set of U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for the proper ratio of food groups is a considerable improvement from the old food pyramid, which had as its foundation 6 to 11 servings of grains.

MyPlate currently recommends that half your plate be filled with vegetables and fruits, one quarter with protein, and one quarter with grains, along with a serving of dairy. The new guidelines are reasonable but still not ideal.

Most individuals with average calorie expenditure — which, in the United States, means somewhere between completely sedentary and moderately active — function best with approximately equal ratios of calories from protein, fat, and carbohydrate in the diet, creating the 30/30/40 plate.

If you can eat 30 percent of your calories from protein, 30 percent from healthy fats, and 40 percent from carbohydrates (mostly vegetables), you can stay lean, healthy, and craving-free! This type of insulin-controlled eating is especially important for those with diabetes.

## Portion distortion: How much is too much?

Increased calorie consumption is one of the three primary causes of obesity in Americans (along with increased sugar consumption and lack of physical activity). Portions and calorie content have risen consistently over the decades, and Americans have the waistlines to prove it!

Here are some comparisons of portion sizes in the 1980s versus today:

Portions and Calories in the 1980s Portions and Calories Today
8 ounce coffee with milk and sugar: 90 calories Frappuccino: 16 ounces, 350–500 calories
Blueberry muffin: 1.5 ounces, 210 calories Blueberry muffin: 5 ounces, 500 calories
Chicken stir-fry: 2 cups, 435 calories Chicken stir-fry: 4 cups, 850 calories
Bagel: 3 inch diameter, 140 calories Bagel: 5–6 inches diameter, 350 calories

To become accustomed to what a normal serving size is, put out your usual portion of food, measure it, and then compare your serving size to what’s on the nutrition label. You may be surprised to find that your “normal” portion of pasta or breakfast cereal is actually three or four servings!

To become more skilled at eyeballing portions, refer to this handy list until judging your portion sizes becomes second nature:

• Baseball or computer mouse = a serving of starch like pasta, potatoes, or rice

• Compact disc = a serving of bread

• Deck of cards = a serving of meat or fish

• Golf ball = 1/4 cup, a serving of nuts

• Half your thumb (knuckle to tip) = 1 teaspoon

• Tennis ball =1/2 cup

• Your fist = a serving of fruit