The photo above is a "before and after" photo of my torso. The left side, is the photo I mentioned in a previous post that was one motivating factor in starting this journey. The photo on the right is my torso after losing 60 pounds. You can't see my legs, but they have noticeably slimmed as well. This post is a bit long, but it explains how I got from the left photo to the right photo, and I've lost even more weight since that photo on the right. Remember, this was after a lifetime of obesity and yo-yo diets.
You probably know this fact, but in order to lose one pound of fat, we must burn 3,500 more calories than we consume. To me, that is a lot of calories, which is probably why the current consensus is to check your weight no more frequently than once weekly when on a weight loss plan.
There is no cheap, easy way to track how many calories our bodies burn daily just to exist or the calories we burn when we exercise. There are many apps that will estimate it for us, but those estimates are rough, at best.
Since we can’t accurately track how many calories we are burning, we really should track how many calories we are consuming.
My current weight loss success has been due to a plan that includes a lean protein, calorie deficit approach that emphasizes low calorie dense, volume eating (better explained below). How this worked for me:
Focus on eating less calories than I burn (tracking calories, accountability).
Exercise at least four times a week on average (two cardio and two strength training).
Find low calorie foods to eat that I can consume in a significant quantity to feel full (it’s all about the vegetables, folks).
Consuming a lean, low-calorie protein with every meal (my go-tos are eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, pork tenderloin).
Have readily available low-calorie snacks on hand at all times (low calorie Greek yogurt with stevia, berries, granny smith apples)
Avoiding processed carbohydrates and eliminating/limiting starchy vegetables consumption (potatoes in small amounts and rice rarely, no pasta, and consuming low calorie diet bread or wraps only).
In some cases, choose lower calorie options instead of not consuming something at all (95 or 55 calorie beer instead of the 250 calorie craft beer).
Get enough sleep (adequate sleep helps with cortisol reduction, which helps with weight loss).
Pre-planning and compensating for food-related social activities. If I am going to a gathering/event/restaurant where I will be eating, I determine what I will eat ahead of time. Regarding family gatherings, I’ve brought my own food with me.
If I know I will be eating more calories than usual that day, I try do some cardio exercise that day to help with the excess calories I’m going to consume (cycling, walking).
Avoid the "all or nothing" mindset. Eating something I shouldn’t is NOT failing. Quitting the plan entirely and returning to my old eating habits is failing. One bad choice doesn’t negate my success to date.
I do have one disclaimer to my list above. We spend summers away from home where there is no gym, so my strength training stopped when we left for the summer, which was about three months into my weight loss journey. I will head back to the gym when we get home. I’m still cycling and walking when the weather allows. Even without strength training, I have lost over 30 pounds since we arrived at our summer location.
If you are still on the fence about starting a weight loss attempt, don’t start one yet. I suggest you do this one thing, instead. Log in an app or write down everything you consume, including the calories consumed, for at least four days, if not a whole week. Eat as you normally have, but just log the food and calorie count somewhere. It's important to really understand your food consumption.
If you feel ambitious, measure the quantities of what you consume as well. If measuring food and drinks seems too overwhelming, then estimate how many calories you are consuming using the package nutritional information or internet search. Just be honest about your portions and their calories. You might want to guess the total size of your portion first and then measure the portion to see how good you are at eyeballing it. No, this isn’t to make you feel guilty about how much you are eating. It’s so you can actually understand what and how much you are eating. That was my biggest issue.
We can’t change what we refuse to acknowledge. Weighing and measuring our food and drinks helps us acknowledge what we are choosing to consume. One of the biggest realizations I have had during this weight loss attempt is that over the course of many years, I’d trained myself to believe a serving size was bigger than it actually was. I was used to thinking eight to ten ounces of meat was a serving size. It’s actually four ounces in most cases, and for high calorie processed meats it can be three ounces or less. I also realized the serving size for pasta and potatoes was much less than I thought.
Logging food is important. Do not discount it as unnecessary. It is the one way that we can hold ourselves accountable for what we consume. It’s very hard to lie to yourself about how much you are eating when the measurement is staring you in the face. I have often removed food from the scale, zeroed out the scale a second time, and weighed food again because I couldn’t believe the portion weight was correct. I use a digital food scale from Amazon that cost about $10 (see photo below). I’m not promoting this product, just showing you what worked for me:
I’m a little intense about measuring food. I measure the tablespoon of half and half I put in my coffee every day. For me, measuring food is probably the single most annoying part of this process. Creating a salad from scratch, and measuring each ingredient, is the bane of my existence. I hate having to do it but do it every single time. I do it because I know if I stop doing this, my ‘guess’ as to portion size will loosen up, and I will find myself eating more than I should, while telling myself I’m not. This is how I take control of my relationship with food.
In the first few months of my diet, I spoke to two people in my family who scoffed at me for doing this, and said they weren’t going to measure their food and didn’t need to. After a few weeks of dieting and not seeing results, they began doing it. It truly is the best way to know what and how much you are consuming.
For me, technology is the easiest way to log calories. There are lots of food tracking apps for cell phones. Some phones even come with one installed. I use the My Fitness Pal app because it has a huge database of grocery store foods, restaurant chain foods and beverages. It also records exercise and syncs with the bicycling app I use, Map My Ride.
I use the free version and have seen no need to upgrade to the premium version. You can also access it on a computer as they have a website and it will sync with the phone app so that your logged data is in both places. If you input your weight loss goals and the time frame you wish to take to lose the weight, it calculates how many calories you should consume in a day to reach your goal in the time frame you chose. Please seek medical advice about the amount of weight and the weekly weight loss that is healthy for you.
No method is perfect and not everyone likes technology. Find a method of logging and tracking your food intake that works for you, but log and track your calories!