How to Lose 100 Lbs Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking the Bank: Part III – Cutting Back now, you’ve hopefully cut out most of your drinkable calories and replaced them with water, and you’ve started tracking your food, or at least what you’re currently eating. There’s probably been some weight loss over time, but it might not be what you hoped for. This put me in May 2012 and 249 lbs. That’s right, in my first month on SparkPeople, I “only” lost 3 lbs. But remember, I had barely made any changes so far and I still lost weight. So what next?

That's totally a legit question.
That’s totally a legit question.

You may have already noticed that this is a bit of a numbers game. Unfortunately, weight loss isn’t addition and subtraction. It isn’t even algebra (I’m not 100% sure on this but I’m assuming it uses mostly Greek letters): it’s way more complicated than that. But the best part is that you don’t need to know all the factors to be successful, you just need to pay attention to yourself. Yes, you heard me, I’m giving you permission to be self-centered when it comes to weight loss! In fact, paying attention to your habits and your body may be the most important aspect of it all, particularly if you’re a woman.

As most people know, women’s hormones fluctuate throughout her menstrual cycle. This can lead to changes in levels of hunger, cravings, and dropping energy levels. It can also make the scale be your enemy, unless you know your body. Who better for me to use as an example but myself? (I mean, who else could I use that I know better than I know me, right?)

TMI WARNING: If you don’t like discussing female reproductive cycles then skip the section between the horizontal lines!

When I was severely overweight, I was seriously irregular. It was a big old mystery as to when TOM would arrive, and then I’d spend 2 or 3 days in a panic hoping my clothes didn’t get ruined from the sheer quantity of it all. I’d always been one of those lucky girls whose cramps were tolerable, but the whole event wiped me out with exhaustion. After a while I decided to go on birth control just to tame the beast. This helped for the most part, but came with a whole slew of side effects like enhanced mood swings and elevated blood pressure. YAY.

Once I started losing weight, things started to stabilize a bit, and I was able to go off birth control pills. (At this point my blood pressure dropped to low-normal!) It was at this point that I started really paying attention to how I felt during specific portions of the month. I tracked my cycle on (it’s FREE) and weighed myself daily. Lo and behold, a pattern emerged! Unlike what I’d always heard from discussions on family sitcoms, where the woman was always a raging bitch DURING her period and bloated like crazy, I bloat during OVULATION. (Oh hey, you mean all those jokes I heard growing up were WRONG!?) My weight is always highest the week surrounding ovulation, and I always hit my “low” weight a day or two before my period started. Since I tracked my weight on SparkPeople only when I had a drop, I could plainly see the pattern. No loss, no loss, no loss, drop, drop, drop, then next month the same thing, no loss, no loss, no loss, drop, drop, drop. This went on for more than a year! It helped me realize that I didn’t have to panic about a gain (or lack of loss) for most of the month, because the weight would come off when it was ready.


So back to the numbers game. You know how many calories you’re consuming, but you don’t know how many you need to eat to lose weight, right? Well this part is easy: if you want to lose a pound a week on average, you’ll need to cut back on 3,500 calories a week. Sounds like a lot when you put it down like that, but if you divide up into days, that’s 500 calories a day. This is called a ‘deficit’. You can achieve your deficit by cutting calories or exercising, or, better yet, by doing BOTH! Today, however, I’m just going to focus on eating at a deficit, since that’s what I did. Now, if you drop that 500 calories suddenly, your body is going to FREAK OUT! You’re going to want to gnaw your arm off with hunger, particularly if you haven’t yet changed from eating frozen french fries and fish sticks like I used to do. Start slow: cut 100 calories from your daily calorie allotment at a time, and when you’re comfortable with that amount, cut back a little more, until you reach your desired number.

SAFETY NOTE: Many websites out there will recommend women eat 1200 calories a day to lose weight. This is the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM your body needs to function, and unless you have a metabolic disorder, you shouldn’t ever need to eat this little to lose. I never ate below about 1500 calories, and that didn’t last long, because I was miserable. An easy rule of thumb is to take your goal weight (mine was 160) and multiply it by 10. If you use that general guideline you should be able to eat enough calories to get all your nutrients and you won’t ruin your metabolism by eating too little. But seriously, don’t go under 1200 for women and 1500 for men unless you are working with a doctor.

“So Andrea,” you say, “I’m used to eating filling, hearty stuff. I love meatloaf and mashed potatoes and mac and cheese and stuff!” Well, I have good news: you don’t have to give that stuff up. In fact, you have three, count ‘em, THREE options. You could a) continue to eat the same recipes but eat a smaller portion, b) adjust your favorite recipe to make it lighter and healthier so you can still eat it, c) eat it the way you’ve always eaten it but make it a special occasion food only. For example: I love pasta. Do me a favor. Go to your kitchen right now and read the package of a box of pasta. Go ahead, I’ll wait. A serving size of pasta is 2 ounces, right? A box of pasta is 8 servings!

That's all I GET?!
That’s all I GET?!

That is a RIDICULOUSLY TINY PORTION OF PASTA! It looks really sad in even a small bowl. (Seriously, even now, after almost 2 years of eating a single portion of pasta, just looking at it makes me a little sad.) How do I bulk my pasta so it feels satisfying? Veggies! (And maybe a little meat.) One of my favorite ways to eat pasta during the summer months is to brown the meat from two Italian sausage links, then cook chopped onions and asparagus in the fat, and toss in the pasta. The onions and asparagus bulk up the pasta and it looks like a normal sized meal, but the veggies don’t add a lot of calories.

Continue making little changes. If you only cook at home a few nights a week, cut back on eating out. Often times you’re paying triple the cost by eating out, and eating triple the calories!

Manage portion sizes. A portion of cooked lean meat is 3 oz. This is where that kitchen scale comes in handy! Note: just because you know the portion size doesn’t mean you have to EAT the portion size. A portion of cooked white rice is 1 cup, but I can never eat that much, so I eat a half cup. And I measure it out every time to make sure I’m getting the right amount. This may *seem* like extra work, but you have to spoon the rice out of the pot anyway, right? Just use a measuring cup to serve instead of a spoon. Problem solved, one less utensil to wash! (Want a great guide for eyeballing portion sizes? Check out )

Measure. When cooking, measure the ingredients before adding them to the pot, particularly cooking fats. If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of olive oil, measure one tablespoon of olive oil! It’s really easy to overdo it with cooking oil because it spreads out as soon as it hits the pan so it’s very hard to eyeball. Note: I used to go through olive oil like it’s going out of style. Now that I measure it, it lasts forever!

Adjust your recipes. If a soup recipe calls for ¼ cup of olive oil, cut it in half. If the soup tastes awful (it won’t) you can always make it the regular way next time (you won’t.) This doesn’t apply to baking, where the ratios of fats to dry ingredients is very important, but in soups, stews and stir frys you shouldn’t have any problem cutting back on fat. Just don’t try to make everything fat free, the fat free diet ship sailed many moons ago, young padawan. (How’s that for mixed metaphors?!)

Leave the leftovers in the kitchen. This is HUGE for me. I portion out my plate and a plate for The Hubs, and I pack the two lunch containers BEFORE sitting down to eat. That way the leftovers are out of sight out of mind. I eat what’s on my plate, and that’s it. I’m a bit of a grazer, so if there is food sitting in front of me, I’ll pick at it. This a danger for me, so I leave it in the kitchen.

Eat slower. This is a skill I have not yet learned. I’m working on it, though! Pay attention to the food as you put it in your mouth. Smell it, taste it, feel the texture. Can you taste the various ingredients as you chew? How full are you? Could you stop eating right now and be satisfied? On a positive note, if The Hubs finishes eating before me, I know he really liked the food.

Be mindful. If you think you want a snack, really think about. Are you hungry, or just craving something? Are you upset? Bored? Thirsty? Hormonal? I am, without a doubt, a boredom eater. If I’m upset, I have no appetite. If I’m angry, watch out, because I’ll clean circles around you! But leave me to my own devices on an evening with nothing to do? I’ll snack, and snack, and snack. Which one are you? Smart Swaps. What are smart swaps? A smart swamp means switching out one food for a similar food with fewer calories. Here are some of my favorites:


  • Have an English Muffin instead of a bagel
  • Try raisin bread instead of a cinnamon roll
  • Choose bacon instead of sausage
  • Cook your oats with unsweetened dried fruit and cinnamon instead of adding sugar (it will taste sweet)
  • Top pancakes or waffles with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt


  • Bring carrot chips with your sandwich instead of potato chips
  • Skip the mayo on your sub sandwich and get mustard or vinegar instead
  • Try your BLT with a smear of roasted red pepper hummus instead of mayo
  • Have your sandwich on pita instead of a roll
  • Top a burrito with pico de gallo instead of guacamole


  • Use a corn tortilla instead of flour tortilla
  • Eat a broth or tomato-based soup instead of a cream soup
  • Serve pasta sauce over spaghetti squash instead of wheat noodles
  • Use oil & vinegar instead of creamy salad dressing
  • Bump up on herbs and spices to cut back on salt


  • Eat dark chocolate chips instead of a candy bar
  • Nibble on dry roasted almonds instead of mixed nuts
  • Try roasted chickpeas instead of potato chips
  • Choose plain Greek yogurt instead of fruit flavored
  • Enjoy a frozen banana instead of ice cream

In Recipes

  • Sub evaporated skim milk for heavy cream (unless you need it whipped)
  • Choose a leaner cut of meat (pork loin instead of pork shoulder)
  • Cut back on the fat in your milk (if you buy whole, switch to 2%, if you buy 1%, switch to skim)
  • Reduce the sugar and oil in recipes (except in baking)
  • Thicken soups with pureed vegetables instead of roux or heavy cream

Miss the beginning of the series? Go back to Part I and Part II.

So, do you, my dear readers, have any awesome smart swaps to share?

How to Lose 100 Lbs Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking the Bank: Part II – Know What You Consume

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.)

So you’ve checked your liquid calories and cut back where you could. Hopefully in that process you’ve shed some

Drink more water!
Drink more water!

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.

Business Dog says "Get to the point, Andrea!"
Business Dog says “Get to the point, Andrea!”

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 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.”)

My food scale.
My food scale.

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.

"Andrea, I don't believe you."
“Andrea, I don’t believe you.”

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.

BMI Calc
There’s that word again: OBESE!

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!

Click here to read Part I.