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A New Year’s resolution every cop should make — living a healthier lifestyle

It’s not impossible to lose weight or live healthier, but it is a conscious decision that you have to make


Understanding the basics of nutrition goes a long way when it comes to lifestyle changes.

The New Year brings hope and promise to law enforcement officers around the globe. Some want to save more money, others aim to have more family time, some seek new ventures or promotions and then there are the nutrition and fitness goals that are set every December to begin in January.

Understanding the basics of nutrition goes a long way when it comes to lifestyle changes. This article does not take into account any underlying medical issues an individual might have. All diets should be carefully researched and dependent on your individual needs before being adopted.

1. Calories in, calories out

When first starting out with a nutrition program, it’s critical for all officers to understand the basics. Calories determine whether or not you gain or lose weight. It’s that simple. If you eat more calories than your body needs, then you will gain weight.

In order to lose weight, you have to create a healthy calorie deficit. One pound of body weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. Now, if you want to lose two pounds per week, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to carry a 7,000 calorie deficit each week, it just means that you have to burn more calories than you consume.

While the FDA recommends a 2,000 calorie diet per day, that recommendation may be way too high or way too low for your individual needs. To understand what your daily caloric needs are, I suggest trying this calculator as a baseline.

2. Macronutrients simplified

Carbohydrates, protein and fat are the primary macronutrients. Each of these macronutrients has calories associated with them, typically per one gram of measurement. Eliminating one group entirely will cause some potential short-term or long-term side effects, so it’s important to keep a balanced distribution of your macronutrients.

  • Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
  • Protein = 4 calories per gram
  • Fat = 9 calories per gram

Depending on your goals and activity level throughout the day, you may seek to consume 30% of your calories from carbohydrates, 40% from protein and 30% from fat. My rule of thumb is to not overthink it and to keep everything balanced over the course of a week. Eating healthy and being mindful about your macronutrients is a lifestyle change, so modifications on any given day are normal and expected. The important thing is to keep your calorie intake balanced based on your individual caloric needs.

3. Alcohol

Wine, beer and liquor have calories and they also alter the way your body breaks down the food you consume. One gram of alcohol equals seven calories.

A glass of wine typically has between 120-140 calories per five ounces. A bottle of wine (red or white) has about 600-700 calories on average. Light beers tend to have 60-90 calories and other beers may have 160-180 calories per 12 ounces. Finally, one ounce of scotch, rum or vodka ranges from 64 calories to 80 calories, depending on its alcohol by volume percentage.

There are two takeaways from this overview of alcohol as it relates to nutrition. First, if you’re consciously trying to lose weight and monitoring your calories, your daily caloric intake must factor in any calories from alcohol you consume. Second, being healthy is about balance, don’t drink too much, and be responsible if you decide to drink – never drink and drive.

4. Water and fiber

Water and fiber are two under-consumed necessities for balanced nutrition. Men need a minimum of 64 ounces of water and between 30-38 grams of fiber each day. Women need a minimum of 64 ounces of water and at least 21-25 grams of fiber per day. To put it simply, the more active you are, the more water and fiber your body needs.

Besides the health benefits of making sure you consume the minimum water and fiber intake each day, they both help you feel fuller longer when included with each meal. A glass of water before, during and after a meal is a good practice to adopt. Also, including something high in fiber (e.g., broccoli) with each meal makes it easier to work it in.

5. Snacks and desserts

Snacks (e.g. crackers, potato chips) and desserts (e.g. ice cream, candy bars) are all OK to eat and will not result in weight gain as long as you do not exceed your body’s caloric needs on a given day. While snacks do not have a lot of nutritional benefits, it is acceptable to allow yourself one candy bar or one small bag of chips once per week. The main point about snacks and desserts is to limit them to once per week to avoid a binge, bad habits from coming back and to ultimately preserve your health.

6. Frequency of eating

The frequency of eating is a topic that sparks a lot of debate. Some individuals insist on having five to six small meals (e.g. 200-300 calorie meals) a day and others prefer eating three balanced meals a day (e.g. 400-600 calories each). It really depends on your level of activity and your individual goals. If you work out more than five days per week or twice a day, then smaller, frequent meals may work better for you given your level of activity. Or, maybe you work out frequently, but you still prefer three balanced meals a day. The frequency of eating is an individual preference and it depends on your fitness goals.

7. Diets galore

From Paleo and ketogenic to Weight Watchers and Atkins, anyone can pick a diet and see results if they stick with the regimen. Most diets are meant to be temporary to reach a specific goal. Some diets turn into lifestyle changes. For example, competitive bodybuilders follow very strict diets year-round, but that’s because their fitness goals and lifestyles require that level of effort. Cops that are not looking to compete in fitness competitions do not need to adopt these restrictive diets. However, all cops need to adopt healthy nutrition for long-term health benefits. All diet choices should be based on individual caloric needs and fitness goals.

There is a lot of information about nutrition, and it can often seem overwhelming. When making a conscious decision to become healthier in the new year and modifying food and beverage consumption, it’s a good practice to start by holding yourself accountable and keeping a food diary for an entire week. Write down everything you eat or drink for the week, look online for calorie conversions and then you can take a step back and look at where you can make some simple changes. More calories than your body needs will result in weight gain. Edit your diet and apply those modifications each day. It’s not impossible to lose weight or live healthier, but it is a conscious decision that you have to make.

NEXT: Fat loss made simple: 12 tips to becoming a leaner cop

This article, originally published 12/29/2016, has been updated.

Heather R. Cotter has been working with public safety professionals for 20 years and understands the resource challenges and constraints agencies face. Heather is a Captain in the United States Army Reserve and holds two master’s degrees from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University. Contact her at