Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Down For The Count

The calorie count, I mean. So I mentioned last week that for a while I was going to keep track of what I ate and the calories in it.  I am about to break down in excruciating mathematical detail (and no pictures) how I plan to lose the weight that's been creeping up recently. So if this is a trigger for you, or if it just bores you a lot, don't read. If you are a numbers or nutrition nerd, read on!  Also, you know, I'm not a doctor or even a dietician. I am just really good at Google-ing. So this is not medical advice. Its just math.

I hate restricting myself by going on diets. Mostly because I like food. No, I love food. My bf's parents joke that me and Dan's entire relationship is based on food. Its not untrue- we cook together, go out to dinner together, I think bringing him lunch is romantic. Since we both come from cultures of food-loving ethnic types (the only people who outshine the Jews on food as love, fun, and guilt, of course, is the Italians), food is a language of love to us. Alas, food is also how you get fat. (So does that mean fat is a language of love for us?)

I have a few motivations to tackle my weight gain: losing weight will make my clothes fit better, will make me healthier, a better runner... also I have a physical every 2 years at work to be medically  cleared to sit console & mine is coming up in August. I'd really like to show up healthier and fitter than in August 2010. The running we are doing is certainly helping, but its not enough by itself.

I have done Weight Watchers before, so I know about (doesn't mean I use) portion control, healthy substitutions, what to order at restaurants etc. I also know how all-consuming the counting becomes after awhile (calories or points, doesn't make a whole lot of difference), and how unsustainable it is for me. I don't really want to go there again.

So first, I thought I should assess my eating habits. My goals were to measure things, make good choices, eat when hungry. I didn't restrict myself, and in most cases did the calorie tally at the end of the day. The results:

Tuesday 1/10
3 mile run after work
Wednesday 1/11
Weight workout
Thursday 1/12
4 mile run after work
Friday 1/13
None. Dan’s bday celebration
Saturday 1/14
3ish mile walk/run after work
Sunday 1/15
Weights workout
Monday 1/16
5 mile run after work

* For Friday I had to guesstimate the calories using some Google-ing because the restaurant we went to didn't have any nutrition facts available. I did round up from search results because they weren't for the specific restaurant and ingredients; it still wasn't a terrible day, if my calorie count was anywhere close to accurate.

So then the question is, how many calories should I be eating? And this answer is not easy to come up with.  Various websites will take a stab at it though, for you.

Step 1: Calculate Basal Metabolic Rate
That is, calculate how many calories your body burns just to exist. If you lie in bed and do nothing, your body still must burn some amount of calories to keep you alive. Websites that will attempt to calculate that for you can be found here, here, and here. These sites don't take into account different body composition/muscle-mass that can cause a body to burn more or less calories than another, so they are inexact. Gotta use what you've got.

I got 2 different numbers, between those 3 sites, so I will go for the lower one: 1521.25

Step 2: Determine your Activity Level
On top of BMR is how much fuel your body needs to do all the other things you ask it to do during the day. Walking, climbing stairs, exercising... all these take energy, which means your body burns calories to do it.
Estimating activity level is, in my opinion, the hardest part. There is no concrete criteria for which category you fall into. Also it may vary from day to day, week to week. And it makes such a difference in calories allowed. Per the criteria here, the most explanatory I could find, I think I'll call it moderately active because I run (but slowly) 3x a week, with less strenuous exercise on 2-3 other days (yoga or weight training).  You can also use this website, and put in the number of hours per day you spend at each activity level and it'll do steps 1-3 for you.

Step 3: Calculate Caloric expenditure- total calories you burn in a day
Again, tons of websites will be happy to help you, such as: this and this. Since I called myself moderately active, my multiplier is 1.55.

1521.25 x 1.55 = 2358
(Note, if I bump down to light activity, this number goes down to 2091. Huge difference!)
What this number means is, if I stay active and eat this many calories per day, I should not gain or lose any weight.  But what if I want to slim down?

Step 4: Calculating ideal calorie intake
Those same sites linked above have some advice on how to calculate ideal calorie intake. The suggestion given for weight loss is to reduce the number in Step 3 by 20%.
2358 x 0.8 = 1886
(for comparison 2091 x 0.8 = 1672)

Given that it takes approximately a 3500 calorie deficit to lose a pound, eating at the calorie deficits in step 4 should yield a weight loss of ~1 lb/week. Of course, that's with no cheat days or screwing up. Or vacations. Still, reaching my weight goals within 3 months is totally possible, if I be good.

So what's the plan, man?

Sorry, I'm a BSG dork. Source.

Right, so the plan, which I have, which the Cylons really did not (Yes I am still mad, Ron Moore!), is to stop calorie counting but keep measuring. I think I have shown above that when I plan, measure, and make good choices, I can stay within my calorie allowance without a problem and post a weight loss for the week. When I don't plan or measure, well, I give you Friday the 13th. But even that didn't kill me!

I weighed myself last Tuesday morning and again this morning, to give myself a benchmark for how that amount of eating might affect my weight.
1/10 Weight: 158.2         1/17 Weight: 155.4        Difference: 2.8
I don't really expect to hit numbers like that every week because I know this is at least partially related to the holidays and last weekend's heavy drinking, but I think it still proves that these methods will have some affect. 10 pounds to go! They say the last 10 lbs are the hardest, and they are. These are not the last 10 pounds, they are the next 10 pounds. I can weigh 135 lbs, but as soon as I stop dieting, I reach 145 pretty quickly. I'm ok with it, I'm less ok with 155. It's definitely time to do something.

So the rules for my non-diet diet:
  1. Measure food. Weigh food. Do not serve dinner family style. Basically, portion control. This works well for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner at home. But at restaurants...
  2. Eat when hungry. Stop when full. Sounds easy but this is SO hard. For starters, I will stop halfway through any meal and ask myself whether I'm still hungry, and how much of what is left I really need to eat to be satiated. Leftovers are OK. In fact, they are encouraged!
  3. 1 cheat day per week allowed. Cheat days happen, whether you allow them or not, so might as well allow them. Do not go crazy and eat everything in sight because it's cheat day. Do enjoy yourself and your meals on cheat day.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption- lately I've been enjoying quite a few adult beverages, between the holidays, the wedding, and because the winter seasonals are my favorite beers. But they're such a waste of calories, so alcohol is to be used sparingly, when the occasion calls for it... not just because there's an open bottle of wine in the fridge.  I'm not going to limit myself to a number or day; I want to have a drink without guilt when the occasion arises.
  5. Weigh myself twice a week (and only twice a week). If the trend goes in the wrong direction, its back to calorie counting and the giant time-suck that entails. Yes, self, that is a threat.
 Sorry that was so long. Yikes!


  1. DOWN WITH NUMBER 4!!! Just kidding. Did you know, I'm actually 135 lbs? And don't give me that "it's all muscle crap" I'm trying to shed 5 before marathon day, but not very hard lol. I'm kinda hoping that business with the semester starting again and the training will just do the work for me. I don't want to count calories or keep journals or really have to watch what I eat. I'd rather run 30 miles a week so I don't have to....crazy, I know.

  2. Yuck. Hate counting calories but I would love to lose another 20. Maybe I will just run more! ;) Best of luck to you in reaching your goal!

  3. heh i keep track of my calories. it's not all that fun and i rarely stay within my "limits" but i do like to see how much i'm consuming. it actually has helped me drop consistently about 5lbs and then give or take the holidays, being outta town, etc. another 2-3. without it i pay ZERO attention to how much i'm eating... and i can eat A LOT. you are much better than me at exercising portion control!