Friday, December 16, 2011

Approaching 100, Part 2: On Voodoo, Calorie Counting and Serving Size

Diet:  It's the prettiest girl at the dance...or at least the one with the fanciest dress.  People always ask, what are you eating?  Are you skipping green foods, or foods made in Iowa?  Do you eat tofu or avoid all foods with the letter "m"?  

Voodoo:  There are so many conflicting stories, fad diets, organizations with political agendas (both ways) and nutritional information available that it's easy to get upside down.  For example, there's the twinkie diet that suggests that a calories is a calories is a calories, with respect to losing weight.  That is, if you eat fewer calories than you burn, your body will find create the energy needed to function from your body fat, thus you'll lose weight.  There's Adkins, South Beach, you name it.
Then there is information that suggests that some people will not burn fat because of strange happenings with their body's insulin.  So for them, a calorie is not a calorie.  They need to be very wary of simple, processed carbohydrates.  
And this country is terrified of fat.  But not all fats are the same.  Animal fats, vegetable fats, processed fats, oils of coconut, olive, corn ...  What gives?!?!  It's hard to know what is right, what is wrong and who to trust.  Even the science of nutrition is changing quickly, as all new sciences do.  I'm willing to bet that a substantial portion of what is accepted as truth today will be famous examples of science being wrong in the future.  It's just how things work.
As before, just because I've done something doesn't mean I'm an expert.  I don't wish to say these things are definitive truths but merely to say, this is what worked for me.  Probably more so with diet than exercise, you have to find what works for you.  

Calorie Counting and Measuring Serving Size

First, if you don't measure your food, you're not counting the calories you consume.  What you're counting is the calories in a serving size, which you are probably NOT eating.  An example is rice.  The serving size for rice is 1/2 cup of cooked rice, and it has about 170 calories or so.  A half cup of rice isn't very much at all.  I found by serving and then measuring, that I'd eat one and a half to two cups of rice and would count that as a serving. 

Calorie counting is not something I do regularly, and I didn't do it for very long.  I started when I was around 270 pounds.  Only when I had to give up running because I was too heavy did I start counting calories.  When I did start counting calories, I also kept track of macro nutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fats.  I tried various percentages and monitored small changes over two week periods to see how things went. 
Calorie counting is a task!  I created an excel spreadsheet, and eventually menu items where I'd combined certain things that I often ate together.  The original motivation was to streamline the record keeping.  The upshot was that it further helped me make good choices.

Once I got the hang of what a serving size should be and I formed habits of eating appropriate amounts or appropriate foods, it became second nature.  By that time I was around 250 and never have had to do it since.  Once in a while I'll google a serving size of a new food and see how calorie dense it is.  Otherwise, I go more by feel than anything else, which brings me to my second point.

Athletes Don't Diet, They Fuel

If my goal was just to lose weight I'd eat salad morning noon and night.  I'd never touch high calorie foods bacon, and I'd never touch a beer.  But if I'm eating a lot of high fiber, low calorie foods I may feel full, but I bonk on runs and rides.  That sucks.

So I eat a lot of nutrient rich foods that come raw, usually unboxed and minimally processed.  Examples are beans, sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruits, nuts, eggs and oatmeal (all except eggs are high in fiber).  I have a very hard time passing a homemade cookie and really enjoy a good beer now and then.  About once a month I eat a fantastic cheese burger and have no problem choking down pizza.  However, most of the time I eat simple, whole foods. 

Here's an example of a typical day's food:

  • Option 1:  Oatmeal with raisins, walnuts and honey, a whey protein shake and a banana
  • Option 2:  Three scrambled eggs with green chili and a banana
  • Option 3:  Peanut butter and jelly on toast and a banana 
All options come with coffee. 

  • Option 1:  A cup of beans and a half cup of rice, spiked with pickled jalapenos and hot sauce and a baked sweet potato.
  • Option 2:  Chicken breast with veggies like broccoli and quinoa. 
  • Option 3:  Left overs from dinner, provided it's an appropriate meal (Not too calorie laden).
Dinner:  For dinner I try and eat a salad first.  Then, I eat whatever we're having.  Depending on cardiovascular work load I will limit servings to one.  But often, I need two servings. 

Snacks:  I usually have to eat between breakfast and lunch and again between lunch and dinner.  I eat fruit or vegetables to my heart's content.  We now have a continually stocked fruit basket at home, and I have a supply of bananas, apples, pears and nuts at school for if and when I get hungry.  Creating an acceptable snack-menu has proven very useful.

The point is this:  I eat to perform well while working out.  I know that diet is a bigger component to losing weight, but I'm not on a diet!

Fast Food
A major pitfall is eating poorly when not in your regular routine.  I don't hit fast food restaurants hoping to make a good choice.  Instead, I head to a grocery store and pick something sensible from the deli, or even get some lunch meat and some fruits and veggies and have that for lunch. 

Treats and Rewards and Cheat Days

For a long time I had a Cheat Day.  On that day I'd not worry at all about what I ate.  I found this to be an effective way to help me forgo foods I knew I shouldn't be eating regularly.  I think that above many other things, this helped me form good habits. 

An internal conversation would often go as follows:

Bad Me:  "Beans for lunch, really?  At least I should buy a candy bar and a soda."

Good Me:  "Saturday, at the football game, you can have candy, soda, beer, whatever you want."

As it turned out, I began to crave those "healthier" foods and lost my taste for some things I used to enjoy.  Habits are about repetition and consistency.  This cheat-day helped me with that.

Soon I tapered the Cheat Day down to a Cheat Meal.  Now, I don't have a cheat day or cheat meal.  Sometimes I mess up and have too much of something I shouldn't have had, but all in all, I've got good habits now.


I needed to create a lot of structures to promote consistency.  That consistency helped me form new habits, and new cravings.  The food I crave most, now, is pinto beans.  Originally I had to be strict with myself about resisting "bad" foods, allowing myself to have them as reward at certain times.  Now I trust myself to eat them appropriately.  For the most part, though, there are a lot of things I will not buy, but will perhaps share if offered, like potato chips or boxed cookies.

Also, there are certain food items that are just not going to be cut from my diet, and I'm okay with that.  They include half and half (the real stuff, not non-fat), tortillas, and homemade cookies.  It all works out fine as I eat them regularly and have learned to adjust other things.

Last thing is that changes were small, usually one at a time.  If I change four things simuteanously and either gain or lose weight, which of the four is the key?  I have to remember that I didn't gain this weight overnight, I'm not going to lose it overnight either.   

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