A lot of the questions I get asked recently about my weight loss revolve around food and/or working out. I figure now is as good a time as any to share some of what I’ve been going through in regards to those two topics. I’ve already gone over the running piece, so the food and diet part is on deck now.
In my “Top 12 List” that was recently posted here on Patch, I talked about food, but intentionally it was high level, not too nitty-gritty type of information. This posting is where I want to follow up on that and give you some real, tangible examples of what I am talking about and how I changed my diet to help me lose the weight and change my eating habits so the weight loss is sustainable (make sure I don’t pack it all right back on in a year’s time)
(Disclaimer: before I go any further, I want to say that I am in no way a professional, expert, or any other form of authority on the matters of food, diet, and weight loss. I can only relay my experiences and opinions. I know -and stress- that these are my personal opinions and experiences and realize that in all likelihood they are unique to me and me alone. Since everyone is different, everyone can and probably will have a different experience and have success using what works for their unique circumstance)
Ok, with that out of the way, what I can say is that in the past year and a half I have learned a lot about both food and myself. After it all is said and done, looking back at how I ate then vs. now; what I can say with absolute certainty is that food has been and will most likely remain to be my biggest challenge. I have always been a “food guy.”
I even went to school for a brief stint to study culinary arts and become a chef. That was a long time ago, and let me assure you, I am nowhere near being a chef in my chosen profession. But even though it’s not how I earn a paycheck, I never lost the love for food. My problem is I love pretty much everything about it; I love eating, I love cooking, I love tasting new things, and I love the social experience of it all.
There are not too many things better to me than a nice dinner out (or in, for that matter) with friends, some great conversation and some bangin’ food. This can mean trendy and new restaurants, but then again it doesn’t have to be high-falootin’ or pretentious, even a backyard BBQ with burgers, dogs and a couple beers can be a night to remember. To be honest, since my daughter came into the picture, the nights out have significantly decreased and the nights in have increased. Still a great time, it’s just the venue that has changed.
Now that I am at the weight that I am comfortable with (125 pounds later) and have close to a year and a half of trial and error under my belt, what I can see in hindsight is when I was 300+ pounds, what I really lacked was the ability to know when to say “enough” when it came to eating and even if I did; I also lacked the discipline to actually enforce it. So needless to say, I have had to take a hard look at what and when I was eating and make adjustments to really affect any kind of change.
The free iPhone app that I’ve been using has been instrumental in this, in more ways than what its function appears on the surface. The name of the app is MyFitnessPalan application for the iPhone used to be a daily diary to log what you eat and count calories against a daily goal. It takes into account your height, weight, age, daily activity level, desired goal weight, and rate at which you want to lose or gain (lose 1 pound a week, lose 2 pounds a week, etc.) to calculate a calorie goal for you per day.
It makes things easy by remembering all the items you enter so you can re-enter them again easily. You can build recipes using multiple ingredients, and most importantly (to me at least) it adds the functionality to just take a picture of the barcode on any food with your phone’s camera and it will look it up through the magic of the Internet and find its nutritional information.
So it makes this whole process easy. This was key, because I had neither the time nor the patience to learn a new and overly complicated program. But to my delight, to add a meal, all you have to do is shoot the barcode real fast and you’re done. The basic theory behind the app is that you burn X amount of calories each day just living your normal life. If you eat more calories than that, you gain weight. If you eat less, you lose weight. Seems simple, right? So keeping track of what you eat vs. the daily goal (i.e. what you are supposed to burn) is what the app does at face value. It’s got a massive database of foods and it recognizes pretty much everything I’ve ever scanned, even random store brand foods.
What it accomplished for me was much more than just what is on the surface though. What it forced me to do without ever telling me I had to do it was it made me look at what I am eating and when I am eating it.
I’ll start with what. Once I really got into this I realized that I had two choices: continue to eat the way I had been before, only eat a small fraction of what I used to in order to stay within my calorie goal per day, or find new foods that I can eat more of and will fill me up and still allow me to stay within my daily calories. For example, they never say “you have to eat broccoli,” but when a whole bag of broccoli is less calories than one slice of pizza (less calories than a half a slice of pizza, actually), the choice is clear. Drastic example, I know, but it works to illustrate the point. It really comes down to a volume thing with me a lot of times. Do I eat a slice or two of pizza (and be left hungry and unsatisfied), or for the same calories do I eat a real meal with a plate full of food, meat, starch, and vegetables and actually be full?
The other thing I had to take a look at myself in regards to was when I eat. The most noticeable “bad habit” thing to me (that I had to lose) was the after-work, pre-dinner snacking. I would routinely skip breakfast, eat a huge lunch, and then still be hungry when I got home. Snacking would then commence. I would grab whatever I could get my hands on and eat until I was satisfied, then cook and eat dinner a little bit later.
With this new plan, I’ve had to adjust when I eat as well, because if I’m going to only eat a certain amount of calories a day, I want to spread them out so I don’t eat too much early on and mess myself up later. I also realized I would have to skip a lot of food during the day if I was going to have enough calories leftover to snack when I got home and then eat dinner. It was just not worth it to me. Instead, I’ve been eating a breakfast every day and a regular-sized lunch (read: not a full-size hoagie and medium-sized bag of chips), along with two snacks, (one a.m., one p.m.) to hold me over until the next meal, and then I still have a decent amount left for dinner and even a little dessert later in the night.
It’s been working out really well for me. There are always times that things come up and you deviate from the plan, but for the most part, I re-learned how to eat on a regular, healthy, “normal” schedule. Again, this is just my take on things and what has been working for me; what works for anybody else may be completely different.
But taking a step back and speaking of re-learning, I’m also learned what portion sizes are. I would also say that’s another really big change I’ve made, food-wise. I’m spreading things out, and eating smaller (more reasonable) portions. It amazes me how off base I was in regards to what I thought a portion was and what they actually are.
So it’s safe to say that I did change up a lot when it comes to the food that I’m eating and cut out some bad habits of when I was eating it.
That being said, I have yet to sit there and be like “I’m starving! This is misery!” I’ve always been able to be full and good, and it’s given me a whole new world of food to really explore and get into cooking/ eating. Overall, not bad. Very different, but do-able.
Looking at things from a broader scale, I cut down on a lot of the junk food, and really increased the amount of vegetables and less fatty meats like chicken and turkey. I really haven’t gone crazy and cut a lot of things out altogether. As a matter of fact, I can actually only think of three things that I dropped altogether: fast food; pasta: just based on calories; and my morning coffee.
In terms of pasta, one cup is typically a serving, (and the calories were on the higher side just for that one cup) and let’s be honest, I would be eating a whole lot more than one cup. It just didn’t make sense to me calorie-wise to eat a plate of pasta and then have to compensate by skimping on other meals just to conserve calories. I still eat it, but it’s usually as a side now, not as the meal itself.
I still do the coffee; I just drink it black now. That was the only one thing that took some getting used to. But again, when I look at how many calories the half and half and sugar added, I personally would just rather use them on something else later in the day rather than burning them first thing. I’m used to it now and I actually like it, but it did take some getting accustomed to before I got to this place on the coffee front.
The last thing I want to say is that I have learned that as long as you stay the course, it is ok to go off every once and a while. Things like a plate full of pasta at a dinner out or birthday cake, or whatever, in and of themselves will not kill you or completely erase everything you’ve been working for so long as it's the exception and not the norm. I struggled very hard with this and took a very long time of trying this by incremental baby steps to realize it. Now I am getting a lot more comfortable with a trip to Friendly’s for ice cream dessert or birthday parties, etc. It’s all about moderation and balance, and that can be part of the balance as long as it’s every once and a while. It you are eating a Reese’s Pieces sundae every night however, don’t come asking why you aren’t losing any weight.
Ok, there it is. My take on the my personal changes in diet and the program that I used to keep it all in check.
Thanks for reading all of this. I know these last few posts have been pretty lengthy, but when I get going there is just a lot to say on these topics of food and exercise, particulary when it comes to how they relate to losing weight and keeping it off. It has meant a lot to me to be able to share all that I have learned with you.
I'm looking forward to moving ahead, now that I have dispensed my take on the major factors that have contributed to everything up until this point. I'll be looking to create some more specific (and shorter) posts.
Thanks again for reading, and until next time take it easy.
To read more from Andy, check out his blog here.