So this has been the question. What exactly am I doing to lose weight?
This is a complicated question with only 2 real answers that matter:
- I’m using an online calories-in/calories-burned tracker
http://caloriecount.about.com (it’s free and very well designed and programmed), and
- I’m paying attention
Now, I realize that’s not what you meant. You want to know the tips, tricks, secrets, and the rules I’m following. The truth is, I’m not following any rules. I HATE rules. I resent rules. I feel pressured and trapped by rules. Especially considering that whatever I’m doing now — I’m going to have to do the rest of my life.
So I really don’t have a diet plan or an exercise routine. Period. I don’t need any more pressure or stress than comes naturally with each day.
But okay. There are a few things that I know now that I didn’t used to know. Here are a few:
I never eat less than 400-500 calories under my daily burn. If I (or you) do — your body will think you’re in danger of starving, and will slow your metabolism so you don’t burn through as much of your fuel intake. Your body will go into “conservation of energy” mode.
Well– I don’t want my metabolism to slow down. I need to keep the burn up as high as I can — especially since menopause has already robbed me of some of my metabolic burn.
Additionally — just to keep my body from becoming too comfortable with any calorie (fuel) consumption level — I try to vary my daily intake number by at least 100 calories (up or down) every day. And, at least 1 day a week, I try to eat exactly the calories I’m burning.
The key here is to have a resource that tells you how many calories you’re burning. That’s where http://caloriecount.about.com comes in — they’ve got the baseline pegged based on your age, body type, sex, weight, exercise level etc. As long as you answer their questions honestly — it will give you a usable guideline. And — when you have days of unusually high exercise and exertion, you just enter the work you did by type, and the database adds that number to your calories-burned. The more calories you burn — the more calories you can eat and still stay within the metabolic-advantage number of 400-500 below burn.
It’s also important to realize that as you lose weight, it takes less fuel to accomplish daily tasks — this means that your baseline “calories burned” number goes down! When I started this process, I could eat almost 2800 calories a day and never gain or lose an ounce. Not surprisingly — I recorded several days of “regular” eating before I started, and I was averaging exactly 2800 calories! It’s not so surprising then, that I’d be at that exact weight for nearly 3 years. My magic burn number now, after losing 26 lbs, is down to 2645.
😀 I love the way math and science works!
It’s also very important to note that if you let your metabolism slow down to starvation mode — by eating 800 or 1200 calories a day less than you are burning — the first 2-4 weeks WEEKS after you raise your calorie intake post-diet, your metabolism will still be burning on LOW — starvation setting. This is an evolutionary characteristics of humans — developed because of long, food-scarce winters, and drought-plagued seasons with no available resources. In the end, your starvation-metabolism will take your “normal diet” and use those extra, unburned calories to put weight on you in preparation for the next winter or dry season.
This is where we got into that nasty yo-yo dieting mess to being with !
I’m walking more. I bought myself a little hi-tech pedometer so I can keep track.
Because all my joints are in danger of doing what the joints in my thumbs/hands/wrists have done (complete loss of connective tissue so that the nerves are unprotected and resting between bones — and hurting like hell if I don’t take very good care of them) it seems to me that waiting until there is less load for load-bearing joints is a good idea.
I will start exercising my knees/hips/ankles/feet more when there’s less of me to destroy the connective tissue I’ve got left.
In the meantime — walking, playing light games/sports on the Nintendo Wii will have to do.
Fat, Carbs, Sodium, Sugar, Fiber, Protein, Calcium, Potassium, Vitamins, Cholesterol etc. THE BIG CHEMISTRY SET
This is where the paying attention portion of living shifts from weight-gain/weight-loss/weight-maintenance to Pure Health.
Calcium and Vitamin D
I pay attention to calcium because all the women in my family history died 6-8 inches shorter than they lived. And if you think those 6-8 inches were lost because they shrank, you’re an idiot. They “shrank” because the bones in their spines, hips, and joints crumbled like old chalk on a blackboard railing. Have you ever had a broken bone? Well — imagine your bones breaking 1mm at a time. Thousands of breaks every year. Every morning — more breaks. More crumbling. Cell by cell. It’s no wonder pictures of old women showed them hunched over, and using a cane or crutch to walk!
Prior to the 20th Century — hardly anybody drank milk once they left infancy. My 5’5″ grandmother never drank a glass of milk of her own free will in her life. And when she died, she was under 5′ tall. Understanding that calcium and vitamin D are important really is a new thing.
So I pay attention. I drink at least 1 glass of 1% milk (usually 2 — and usually organic chocolate 1% milk!), and eat at least 1-oz of low-fat cheese or a carton of yogurt (not that nasty mass-market gelatin crap– real live yogurt) every day. And most of the time, I add a calcium/Vitamin D supplement.
Fat and Cholesterol
Talking about yogurt and milk and cheese brings up the topics of fat and cholesterol.
I am not on a low-fat diet. I don’t intentionally buy fat-free anything.
I cook with whole milk, butter, olive oil, whole eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese.
Several reasons. Fats are what keep the neurons in your brain functioning smoothly. Really. And given a choice, I’d rather be a fat blob that thinks well, than a svelte and athletic mindless toad.
Fats are also what keep your skin healthy, your hair shiny, and your fat-soluble vitamins available.
Also, fat is one of the key ingredients that make other foods taste good. And I’m really into tastes good as a deciding factor in what I’m having for dinner.
Okay — I do pay attention (there it is again) to how much fat I eat. That’s where http://caloriecount.about.com comes in. I enter what I eat, and it counts the grams of fat and shows me what percentage of my daily calories-in come from fat. I aim for 30-35%. Some days I may go as low as 20% — other days, I may hit 45%. But the average is constant.
Because I pay attention.
I don’t eat fried foods but once in a blue moon (technically, that would be 3 times every 2 years) — and some years not at all.
And I add butter to veggies after they’re cooked, rather than during cooking as my mother and grandmother did.
I do use real butter — because it tastes wonderful — and the wonderful taste does not depend on using a lot. A teaspoon of butter goes a long way, flavor-wise; whereas I could use a tablespoon of another fat and still not be satisfied with the flavor.
I feel the same about low-fat and fat-free cottage cheese, yogurt and sour cream. If I’m going for the sour cream flavor in a soup or on a baked potato — better to use a small amount of the real thing than a whole tub of something that tastes bad, disappointing, or fake and has a slick texture because of the added gelatin or lecithin used to thicken it. Cream cheese is the only exception — because neufchatal cheese (which is a lower milk-fat version of cream cheese) tastes exactly the same to me as its hi-fat cousin. And on a bagel — well. Neufchatal it is.
Cholesterol is a bit of a slippery slope (so to speak) in the American diet. Most of the cholesterol we eat comes from meat, eggs, and dairy products. I don’t want to cut down on dairy — because I need the calcium. I don’t want to cut down on eggs, because they are so useful in cooking, they taste good, and recent research is attributing so many positive health benefits to whole eggs that I’m not sure we can afford to lose them. So —
I eat less meat.
In general, I eat 4-8oz of meat and poultry a week.
Which leads us to protein. Over the years, one of the things I’ve figured out about all those crash diets and starvation diets is that a shortage of protein gives me a headache and makes it hard to concentrate.
So if I don’t eat meat — how do I get enough protein?
Again, we’re back to http://caloriecount.about.com and their database. I shoot for 20-25% of my daily calories to come from protein.
By rejecting the American hamburger and hot-dog diet, I go to fish and vegetable sources for my protein. Beans, peas, nuts, and nut butter!. — And yes, I realize many perfectly healthy vegetarians live decades on tofu, but I do not like tofu, and so do not eat tofu.
I eat fish and seafood once a week (even though I live in the land-locked panhandle of Texas where no scallop or lobster has lived since before the dinosaurs became extinct.) I have a handful of either walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts or almonds every day. And bean soup is one of my favorite foods in all the world. I average 2 meals of beans or bean soup every week.
I’ve talked elsewhere on this blog about fiber. Weight Watchers talks about fiber. Atkins talks about fiber. Every diet that’s paying attention at all is talking about fiber.
The current batch of research has decided (in direct contradiction to the experts for the previous 20 years) that fiber really isn’t going to do us any good in preventing colon cancer. Like so many other ideas that come and go — this one will probably be back.
But that’s not why I eat a lot a of fiber. I eat fiber because it is FILLING, and it lets your body do a more efficient job of through-processing. You eat good nutritional foods –> your body extracts all the benefits –> and discards the rest. And it happens faster with a healthy supply of fiber. In . Out . Done.
You have to drink a lot of water/clear liquids for it work properly. You have to be consistent. Voila! And it works especially well when ridding your body of all those fluids created by the dissolution of fat.
The nutritional guides say 20-25g of fiber a day. I’m finding that I’m running more like 35-40g according to my handy online database — sometimes more.
Carbs and Sugar
I don’t bother with counting carbs. If I’m getting enough protein and hitting my numbers on fat and fiber, my carb numbers run about 45%.
The only place I pay attention with carbs is to make sure they don’t come primarily from sugar. This turns out to be a pretty easy turn as well — because if I’m eating my carbs as whole grains and potatoes/rice/pasta, plus at least 3 servings of veggies and at least 2 servings of fruit per day — then there’s not much room left for sugar.
Which is good. Because I eat 4-8g of chocolate every day because of its unbelievably high antioxidants. (yeah, right) And because it tastes good. 72%-cocoa chocolate (or even higher) turns out to have more that 100 times the antioxidants of blueberries, pomegranate, or any of the other so-called superfruits. This gets lost in the media because of chocolate’s bad reputation as candy (empty calories.)
As it turns out — candy — if it’s mostly dark chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts — is not the boogie-man it’s made out to be. And if it’s 72% dark chocolate, dried blueberries / raspberries / cranberries / blackberries or poms plus walnuts or almonds — then it’s so dense with antioxidants and other nutrition that you might as well call it medicinal!
And even if it had no antioxidants at all — I’d still eat 4-8 grams a day.
Take that! Diet Police!
Potassium and Sodium
These are the last 2 things on nutrition labels that I pay close attention to. (Yes, I know there is a lot more information that’s very useful — but these are the things I keep track of daily.)
Body chemistry is a complicated and amazing thing. I don’t have nearly enough information to understand it. But — there are some things we know for sure — and some newer bits that seem to be important, and are coming soon to a news-cycle near you.
Too little sodium, and your metabolism suffers. Too much sodium combined with too little potassium, and it suffers. Sodium makes you bloat and carry around more water in your cells. Exercise too much without replenishing sodium and you dehydrate, pass out, or worse. Eat too much sodium so your cells fill with fluid, and your heart has to beat harder to get the blood oxygen / fuel to all the places it needs to be. Too much of a chemical imbalance like this and you put your hard-working pump at risk of massive fail.
The current wisdom on sodium is that a person who is moderately active, eating a 2000 calorie diet, with no high blood pressure history and no diabetes can safely consume 3500-4500mg of sodium a day. That is considerably less that most people eat in the US.
Restricted sodium diets recommend a number closer to 1500-2000mg of sodium/day — regardless of how much you exercise, or how many calories you eat.
I shoot for 3500mg of sodium a day, but I rarely hit it. Cheese has salt. (it’s required to make milk become cheese.) V-8 Vegetable Juice has salt. Pasta sauce, canned veggies, olives, pickles, canned fruit, canned tuna — pretty much anything that’s preserved, in a can, cured, fermented, or aged has salt. That’s a really high percentage of everything in a grocery store except for fresh.
And — while I really respect the idea of a mostly fresh diet — it does not lend itself to travel, workplace environments, college, volunteer work, or day-to-day living. It’s also the most expensive way to eat in the USA. (So why isn’t the government subsidising fresh organic food, instead of the petroleum industry?)
There are low sodium varieties of many processed foods — and that’s good. Even cheeses can now be found with lower sodium. The problem is — we like salt. I like salt. Read Alton Brown on salt and he explains why it’s important to flavor and taste buds. We like it because of its taste and because we NEED it to function. Even when we buy low-sodium foods — we miss it — and far too many of us waste the money we spend of the lower sodium foods by adding salt at the table!
Then — there is potassium. Another component in the body’s self-diagnosing and self-treating chemistry set. Turns out — it may be that when eating 4000-5000mg of potassium per day, AND 3000-4000mg of sodium per day –> the potassium may actually be cancelling out the negative effects of the sodium on blood pressure and heart function. Potassium is important because it works with sodium to maintain the body’s fluid balance. And diet’s that are high in sodium, but missing crucial potassium may actually lead to high blood pressure in people who have never shown tendencies in that direction. For more information on this, look at this write-up in Men’s Health Magazine on the relationship between sodium and potassium — and blood pressure.
Potassium is also important to maintaining BONE MASS (see calcium, above), concentration, and coordination — all of which are fairly important to me.
What we do know we is that we need a lot more potassium than most of us are eating. And multivitamin potassium is nowhere as beneficial as getting it from food directly. And athletes need even more. So — here’s a list of naturally high potassium foods, ranked from highest to lowest:
- soy flour
- blackstrap molasses
- wheat bran/oat bran
- cooked spinach
- winter squash
- tomato purée/sauce/juice
- sunflower seeds
- pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
- prunes/prune juice
- lima beans
- brussels sprouts
- pinto beans (all legumes)
- potatoes w/skin
- green peas/lentils
- fresh yogurt
For an even more complete list of foods rich in potassium, look here at drugs.com!
Here’s a link to my very best, high potassium, high fiber, high protien, reasonably caloried recipe: WIFFA Green Bean Stew. It clocks in at 220 calories per cup — with 14g of protein, 4.5g of fiber, and 700mg of potassium.
The truth is, we don’t really have much of a picture of how the chemistry set works. On the coattails of Linus Pauling and his lifelong examination of Vitamin C, we’re being amazed and confounded by all the implications and nuances of each vitamin, mineral, and chemical that comes into play. We’re starting to recognize that potassium, Vitamin D, B12, B3, — pick your B vitamin and prepare to be astounded — but they all are pieces of a puzzle — and the machine doesn’t work without all the puzzle pieces present and in the right combinations and amounts.
These are the ones I’m paying most attention to because I already know I’m not getting the right amounts.
You have to know your own body, and pay attention. Pay attention.
If your head hurts, that’s a clue.
If you are forgetting things — that’s a clue.
If you are tired all the time — that’s a clue.
If you are not sleeping at night, or if you fall asleep during work — those re clues.
Muscle aches? Dry skin? Puffy ankles? Impatience where there hasn’t always been impatience? Short Temper? Does your mind wander? Has your breath or perspiration odor changed? How about your feet? Are your fingernails more brittle? Are they harder? Are your gums bleeding? Is your vision blurry? Is your hair breaking or falling out? Having trouble concentrating? Short winded? More infections than normal? Thirsty all the time? Not thirsty at all?
All of these are clues. They’re things you need to pay attention to. Many of them are things you need to repeat to your doctor.
Body mass, metabolism, body weight — all of this is chemistry and math.