So you’ve checked your liquid calories and cut back where you could. Hopefully in that process you’ve shed some
pounds and upped your water intake. This helps in more than one way, by the way: drinking more water helps flush your body and keep you hydrated, it’s great for your skin, aids digestion, and helps you feel full. It also makes you pee a lot. (Take it from a 160-ounce a day drinker! I may or may not be overly interested in the color of my pee.) Pro Tip: If you think you may be hungry, drink a big glass of water and wait 15 minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat. If you’re not, you may just have been thirsty: the body’s signals for thirst and hunger can be easily confused.
Anyway, back to business. The next thing I did on my journey to become healthier was to find out how many calories I was eating on a daily basis. Remember, I hadn’t yet changed my eating habits. I was still 252 pounds, but I was moving in the right direction. I wanted to make another small change, but the advice around the internet for a woman to eat 1200 calories a day to lose weight just did not fly for me. It sounded like torture! I’m 5’10” tall. That’s just too little food for me to subside on without becoming a raging crankypants. I figured if I knew how many calories I was consuming, I could cut back a little bit at a time and still lose without being miserable. So I scoured the internet for a place where I could track my food easily, and I remembered that I already had an account on SparkPeople.com from way back in 2008 when I had tried to lose before.
SparkPeople is a FREE website where you can track your food, exercise, and water intake, find recipes, articles, message boards and blogs about other people who are also trying to lose weight. I often describe it as Facebook for people who want to lose weight. Now I’m not compensated in any way by SparkPeople, I’m pimping it here because I USE IT and it works for me. I’ve been there full-time since April 2012, and I log in every day. If you don’t like the look and style of SparkPeople, there are many other options you can use: MyFitnessPal, FitBit (if you have a FitBit device) and LoseIt! are just a few. All of them have apps for your phone as well. Use whichever works for YOU. (Side note: You’re going to be hearing me say “do what works for YOU” a lot around here. It’s kinda sorta my motto. Diet, lifestyle, journey, method, whatever you want to call it, there isn’t one that works for everybody, because we live in this crazy diverse world where people are different, gosh darn it. To quote Martha Stewart, “And that’s a good thing.”)
For at least a week, just track your normal food intake. Be as accurate as you can. I invested in a digital food scale
right off the bat: weighing food can be much more accurate than measuring by volume, particularly with things that are oddly shaped. Potato chips, in particular, are better weighed than measured. Why? Because when the chips are whole, they take up more room volumetrically then when they’re broken into the crumbs you always find at the bottom of the bag. There’s a reason the nutritional information given on the back of the bag is related to weight. By the way, I’m not telling you to eat potato chips, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m telling you that *I* ate potato chips. I still do, actually. More on that in future blog entries. I’m also telling you that I TRACKED those potato chips in my food tracker, and I STILL FREAKIN’ DO. Whether I go over my calories or stay within my range, I track. Period. (There are very rare occasions where I am at a party and it’s just impossible to track what I’m eating. If it’s simple, I just guesstimate, but I always assume I ate more calories than I think I did. If it’s complicated, like a recent family party, I just track the rest of the day and skip that meal, and I try to eat more lightly the rest of the day.) Just the other night I blew my calories on an assortment of Reese’s peanut butter treats. Two Reeses trees leftover from Christmas, and FOUR, count ‘em, FOUR individual cups. Ugh. Yes I went over my calories, yes I tracked them. Why? So when I gain a few pounds, I can check my food tracker to see where exactly I went wrong. It’s called accountability.
Once you have your week’s worth of calories consumed, take a good look at how many calories you’re consuming a day. For me, at over 250 pounds, it was close to 2,500 calories a day. I was also, despite thinking I was “active”, sedentary. I basically had a desk job, I drove to and from work and parked close, and when I got home from work I would cook myself dinner and play video games on my backside for hours, stopping only for snacks, which usually consisted of Doritos, potato chips or ice cream. According to the USDA a 30 year old woman who is sedentary should only be eating 1800 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight, but the fine print says that woman is 5’4” tall and 126 lbs. Yeah, that wasn’t me. So, what then? How do you lose weight without feeling like you’re starving to death? Well, I cut back a little at a time. I don’t really remember how much it was right off the bat, but I’m pretty sure I decided to eat within an 1800-2200 calorie range. For a person of a healthy weight with a moderately active lifestyle, this is maintenance range (In fact, I’m eating around this amount right now, when I’m not bingeing on Reeses cups!) but for someone who is almost 100 lbs overweight, it’s weight loss range. So I ate at that range, and again, I lost!
If you’re as overweight as I was, and you want a good idea of what you’ll be eating when you reach your goal weight, the first thing you need to know is what your goal weight should be! I’ll be honest: my goal weight changed over time. Yours might, too. My doctor advised me to stick to the high end of the BMI chart, which is just under 25. (Yes, yes, I know the BMI chart is mostly bull hockey, as it doesn’t take into account your muscle mass, but when you’re morbidly obese it’s a good guideline to start out with. It’s not the be all end all of determinants but it helps.) So I scoured the interwebs for an ideal weight calculator. (You can find a good one here at the CDC website.) For a 30-something woman who is 5’10” tall, a good weight range for me is between 129-174 lbs. So, I was originally aiming for 174 lbs, or a loss of just over 100 lbs. A HUNDRED POUNDS. This was the first time I realized I was more than a hundred pounds overweight. I may have freaked out a little. I mean, I’d always known I was fat. I’d basically been fat since birth, and when you’re a fat kid all the other kids let you know, am I right? But a HUNDRED POUNDS overweight? I was gobsmacked. I’d already lost 23 of them, but still, it’s a shock.
If all of this seems a little overwhelming to you, it’s okay. I promise you that despite it feeling like a lot of work in the beginning, but it’s worth it, and on top of (hopefully) losing weight you will also learn about portion sizes, nutrition and how your body works. If you want a quick and dirty way to figure out how many calories you should be consuming without going under, use this rule of thumb: Figure out what your weight would be at the top end of your weight range. For me, that’s 174 lbs. Then use a daily calorie intake estimator to figure out your maintenance calories at your goal weight. For this exercise, you’re going to need your age. I was 30 when I started losing weight, and I’m 33 now, so I’ll use 33 as my maintenance age. (You can find a good daily calorie intake estimator here at The Mayo Clinic website.)
You enter your info like so:
So, if you want to maintain a weight of 174 as a 33-year old woman who’s 5’10” tall, you’d want to eat a maximum of 2100 calories. To maintain a weight of 275 with the same stats, you’d want to eat a maximum of 2250 calories. Not a huge difference, is it? If you’re eating 2250 calories a day, and cut 150 calories a day (that’s just a snack, really), in a year you could potentially lose 15.64 lbs. Not bad, eh? Just by skipping ONE snack a day!
“But Andrea, I have way more to lose than 15 lbs, and a year is FOREVER! Can’t I lose faster than that?”
You can, and you may. But this is A Measured Life, and we do things the slow way.
Stay tuned for Part III!