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Doing Mental Math Cuts Calories

Tim Boyer's picture
Cutting Calories

Do you find it difficult to not stop by a Starbucks for quick refreshment and/or snack when you are on the go? Do you find yourself habitually detouring into a 7-11 for a quick thirst quencher? According to a new article in Prevention magazine online, those impulse stops add on calories that could easily be avoided by doing a little mental math.


According to Prevention magazine writer Victoria Wolk, take a few seconds to do some mental math, and your craving for a quick sugary drink may quickly evaporate once you’ve factored in the "exercise equivalent" of the food item and how long it would take to burn those calories off.

This weight loss tip is based on a study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where researchers are investigating more effective ways to help consumers make healthier choices—especially when displaying calorie counts on menus are not working as well as hoped.

"People don't really understand what it means to say a typical soda has 250 calories," says study leader Sara N. Bleich, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. "If you're going to give people calorie information, there's probably a better way to do it. What our research found is that when you explain calories in an easily understandable way such as how many miles of walking needed to burn them off, you can encourage behavior change."

This research finding was discovered earlier last year when Dr. Bleich and colleagues displayed 1 of 4 randomly posted signs containing caloric information that included the number of minutes of running or miles of walking necessary to burn off a beverage sold from a convenience store. The study was designed to see what effect the signs would have on purchases made in convenience stores by Black adolescents living in low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland.

What the research showed was that when adolescents saw printed signs that explained the number of miles it would take to walk off the calories in a sugary drink, they were more likely to choose either a lower calorie beverage, a healthier beverage or a smaller size beverage, rather than the typically-preferred higher calorie beverage.

Prevention magazine points out that although the study focused on teenage drinking and eating habits, that adults would do just as well, “picturing the sweat we'd have to expel to zero out those empty calories.”

Calorie Burning Effort Examples

As a guide to help adults see what the sweat equity is in some indulgent snacking, Prevention magazine online provided the following popular examples and what it would take to zero out those calories:

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One Au Bon Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookie―290 calories burned off with either 72 minutes walking, 32 minutes biking or 24 minutes running.

One Starbucks Double Chocolate Chunk Brownie―380 calories burned off with either 94 minutes walking, 41 minutes biking or 31 minutes running.

Dunkin’ Donuts Blueberry Muffin―460 calories burned off with either 114 minutes walking, 50 minutes biking or 38 minutes running.

Panera Bread Cinnamon Roll―630 calories burned off with either155 minutes walking, 68 minutes biking or 52 minutes running.

Cheesecake Factory Vanilla Bean Cheesecake―870 calories burned off with either 215 minutes walking, 95 minutes biking or 72 minutes running.

But if you think that you can beat the obesity game by choosing only so-called “zero-calorie diet drinks” when you stop by that 7-11, here is recent news about a study that showed that diet sodas do cause obesity too.

For more tips on how to lose weight, here are some weight loss tips from the Dr. Oz Flat Belly Plan.

Prevention magazine online “The 10-Second Trick To Never Gain Weight

Reducing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption by Providing Caloric Information: How Black Adolescents Alter Their Purchases and Whether the Effects Persist” American Journal of Public Health Volume 104, Issue 12 (December 2014); Sara N. Bleich, PhD, et al.