I was trying to figure out what subject I should write for this month’s “Eat Drink and Be Skinny” post when, quite fortuitously, I received the following message from “Kate” from Cape Town, South Africa who had seen my video and no doubt sensed I needed some help and inspiration for a subject:
This is one of the more common questions I get asked, so I was happy to reply with the following which solved my response to Kate AND provided me with a subject for the impending blog that was quickly becoming overdue:
Hopefully this does work…
First, I think it is important to point out that throughout my entire life, starting back in my teens, I had tried hundreds if not thousands of diets. Unfortunately I LOVE bad food, and even more unfortunately, I HATE healthy “good” food. Not sure why but I have never considered vegetables and other healthy foods to be my friend. This kind of sums it up for me:
Fortunately, things can change.
It was the beginning of my Boston Marathon training and I had just finished my 7th day of walking a 3 mile loop with my friend Rick. Exhausted, I had just sat down to take my shoes off when he said “Now that we have started an exercise routine, we need to talk about your diet”.
I knew that that subject would be coming up but that didn’t mean that at the very moment he uttered those words that I didn’t want to shove him outside, lock the door and pull the shade down shouting “Sorry, but no one is home!”.
Fortunately I decided to let him go on.
First, Rick explained that, in a “rule of thumb” kind of way, if you take your body weight, add a zero onto it, you will maintain your body weight if you eat that may calories. Since at that point I weighed around 280 pounds, I could eat 2800 calories and I would maintain my bodyweight.
If I cut down the number of calories, then I would lose weight. Add in exercise and I would lose even more. After a brief discussion, Rick said I would be allowed 2000 calories a day, and since I had never really paid much attention to calories anyway (maybe THAT is why my diets never really worked?), I agreed.
Eventually after 5 months, I had dropped to ~200 pounds and my weight loss slowed. I mentioned it to Rick who brought up his theory again. The conversation went like this:
RICK: Remember what I said about your weight versus calories? You are now at 200 pounds and eating 2000 calories. We need to reduce your calories again. How about 1500?
ME: 1500? How about 1600?
RICK (annoyed that I would question him): You really want to play this game? How about 1400?
ME (quickly figuring out “the game”): I like 1400?
Second, not all food components (ie proteins, carbohydrates and fats) are created equal. So even though 1 gram of fat, carbs and protein each weigh 1 gram, there are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat and only 4 calories in 1 gram of carbs or proteins.
The final component is what percentage of the total fats, proteins and carbohydrates should compose your daily calories (2000 in my case). These percentages really differ for each individual, but in my case Rick suggested 20% of my caloric intake for fats and 40% for carbs and proteins. Here is a simple chart.
Diets have always been a challenge for me because they told me what I could and couldn’t eat. That was ok for the first few hours of day ONE, but by day TWO I resented the diet’s restrictions and generally wanted nothing from the “Could Eat” list and everything from the “Couldn’t Eat” list. By day THREE I had abandoned the diet and was looking for a new one.
With this “diet” I could eat anything I wanted as long as I didn’t exceed my allotted calories for each day. But once I reached that point, I needed to stop eating for that day. It forced me to plan my snacks and meals ahead of time. And if I knew I was going out with friends, I could plan accordingly and not sabotage my entire diet.
This was a sensible lifestyle change and not a temporary fix for a few days, weeks or month, soon to be forgotten once the diet ended.
To keep track of the calories, I had to create an Excel spreadsheet that I could record everything that I ate. Once created, I had to break everything down into proteins, carbs and fats. For the first time in my life, I actually realized the benefit of “Nutritional Facts” on the side of packaged foods. For unpacked foods (meats, veggies, etc) I measured and weighed them on a scale and obtained their “Nutrional Facts” from websites like www.calorieking.com.
Below is an example of a typical day back in 2015 that shows my food breakdown.
You can also download a revised blank excel template that I created just for this story here: Master Food List July 2017. It’s not very user friendly but there are other apps and websites that allow you to do the same thing. The most important thing that you must do is record everything that you eat (that handful of peanuts is just as important as a steak).
Was this a pain to do?
Absolutely, but the benefits far outweighed the trouble.
For the first time in my life I was able to stick with a “diet” as it had no restrictions on what I could eat. It quickly taught me that I needed to make smart decisions about what I was eating and if I planned ahead rather than as an afterthought, that I could remain satiated the entire day. Just as important, I became aware of what I was eating and came to realize that the better I ate, the better I ran and worked out. And the better I felt.
So, to answer your question Kate, my “eating strategy” was to become specifically aware of what, and how much, I was eating. Eventually I learned to view food as fuel for my body rather than something to satisfy my fat addicted mind. And the best part, unlike being held hostage by foods on a specific diet, was that I never felt hungry or left craving forbidden foods. For the first time in my life, I controlled food rather than it controlling me.