Over the past few months, I’ve lost almost 30 pounds and 5-6 inches off my waist. People are always asking me how I did it, so I decided to write a series of blog posts to give a good answer. In Part 1, I said that we have to talk about the “why” before we talk about the “how.” And next week in Part 3, I’ll discuss exercise.
This week, I want to talk about nutrition! I found that by making small tweaks to what I eat, I was able to save a substantial number of calories. Further, I found that doing simple arithmetic (less calories in, more calories out) was the best way to achieve quick weight loss.
The biggest secret that helped me get started eating healthier was a smartphone app named My Fitness Pal. It helped me understand the impact of what I was eating. You begin by telling the app about yourself (current weight, target weight, activity level, etc.). It gives you a target number of calories to hit each day. When I was losing two pounds a week, my goal was to eat about 1,500 calories a day (unless you exercise which adds back calories to your daily budget, but that is a topic for my next post).
You log what you eat in the app, and it is very eye-opening. For example, I used to eat hotcakes at McDonalds for breakfast. Did you know three hotcakes are over 300 calories? Syrup adds almost 200 more calories, not to mention over 200 calories in butter. A medium frappe would add over 500 more calories. Do the math! That’s 1,200 calories. Holy cow! That’s almost a whole day’s worth of calories. By contrast, I also used to get a breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts that I liked just as much. Did you know that an egg white veggie wrap has only 150 calories, and a small latte has about 200 calories? I like both breakfasts equally. Now, the choice is easy! It’s either 1,200 calories or 350 calories.
Seeing the calorie content of dinner choices was eye-opening as well. Did you know a half order of Texas cheese fries at Chili’s is almost 1,300 calories? Chili’s flatbreads are over 1,300 calories too. Again, almost a full day’s worth of calories for someone trying to lose weight! In contrast, Panera’s French onion soup is under 200 calories, and a small Outback sirloin is also about 200 calories. Again, the choice becomes easy! Both options are very tasty, but one has 5x the calories.
With the empowerment of the My Fitness Pal app, I began to understand why I had gained so much weight. I stopped going to Chili’s and other similar restaurants so often. When I did go, I made smarter choices. I ate smaller portions. I left off calorie-heavy condiments. Even the reduction from a medium latte to a small latte made a difference. Limiting myself to one soda a day made a difference. Experimenting with various healthy cooking options at home also helped. It all adds up, and the My Fitness Pal app helps you see that very clearly.
I guess you could say that the method that worked for me was calorie counting. I know many different “diets” exist and are popular. Some say you should limit your carbs. Others say no animal protein at all. But I wanted a sustainable plan that allowed me to feel like I was still enjoying life! I still ate everything I loved (just less of it and less often). This made it possible for me to stick with it. God bless those of you who are strong enough to not eat bread, cheese, meat or whatever else it is that you’ve completely given up… but I can’t do it, and I didn’t need to to get healthy.
I also want to give a quick shout out to a few of my favorite supplements and substitutes. I regularly enjoy chia seeds, which are a great source of Omega-3 and fiber. I also take a Mega-Red fish oil pill. My doctor said that the fish oil was probably one reason my triglyceride levels fell so drastically. I also take a raspberry ketone pill, which is supposed to make fat cells available to be burned during exercise. Don’t know if it helped or not, but it definitely didn’t hurt! I also began using Truvia as a zero-calorie sweetener. I’ve never found a sugar-free sweetener that I’ve liked before, but this one is pretty good. In a blind taste test, my wife actually liked it better than sugar!
All of this was fueled by a sense of urgency because I had considered the “why” more than the “how” of weight loss. I knew I had to make a change. I also knew that I had to explore why I was eating the way I was. I had to stop eating for non-nutritional purposes. No more eating when bored. No more eating when sad. In those moments, I instead began to turn to exercise, and I found that it made my mood feel much better than eating. And exercising actually took the hunger away! Win-win! More on exercise in Part 3 next week.
[ht: Colin Dunn for the supplement photo, creative commons license]