I know, it’s not a popular choice these days as far as diet plans seem to go. Exercise more and count your calories isn’t a catchy diet plan and it sounds like something a smart talking skinny person would say sarcastically to an overweight one. When I started to look into losing weight, it wasn’t my first option either.
I looked at them all and many of them just left me wondering if I could actually stick to them. Could I eliminate all carbs from my life. Could I focus on protein as king? Could I go solely plant based with my food consumption?
My super honest inner thoughts said, ‘Maybe for a little while.’
Which is precisely the problem I had with most diets I tried in the past. Each of them felt the need to vilify one food or group of foods and deify others. Each of them was only something I could stick to for a little while.
And here is the thing. I like food. I love the crisp tart sweetness of biting into an apple, the textural differences on the tongue between the peel and the flesh. I love the creamy buttery texture and taste of a good brie or camembert. I adore a slice of bread still warm from the loaf. In fact I even like baking the bread. The way a few ingredients like flour, water, yeast, and salt can come together to actually make the food stuff we call bread always seems magical to me.
There was always going to be a limited window of time for me to give it up completely.
Then I came across an article regarding something called the Twinkie Diet. If you are dieting, I recommend reading the linked article, but put simply a man went on a calorie restrictive diet that was based on snack foods (all the things we all KNOW are bad for us) that he called the Twinkie Diet and he lost 27 lbs. The plan basically proved a point – a calorie is a calorie.
While I could never exist solely on snack cakes it did make me think that I might not have to give up all of the foods that I liked. I really just had to limit. While I can’t give up bread completely I can limit the amount of it I eat.
That I could do.
And it is why I chose to go on a calorie counting exercise plan as my diet of choice. But here is where I ran into another problem.
I know it doesn’t seem like a problem in the traditional sense but when counting calories it can be a big pain.Most processed foods now have a very clearly written, if often misleading, nutritional label. While we do have some processed foods in the house their number has greatly decreased.
(The reason is actually not my diet but the fact that my darling dearest has high blood pressure and we needed to limit his salt intake. The amount of sodium in processed foods is through the roof in many cases. His food weakness is the bag of frozen tater tots and I think he almost cried when he first read the label after the doctor gave him his marching orders.)
So I am often left looking at a potato trying to decide if it qualifies as medium or large. I have a bunch of recipes I like using that were designed by a chef to taste good and don’t actually include a calorie count. As a consequence two items have become invaluable to me on my quest to find a healthy weight for myself.
The first is a food scale. I picked up a relatively cheap one since I’m weighing food and not explosive chemicals that could create a widespread calamity if I am off by .001 of an ounce. Whatever your choice, I highly recommend picking one up. Because sometimes that potato is large, sometimes small, and sometimes it is elephantine, yet the calorie counters don’t tell you what to do when you have behemoth of a spud sitting on your kitchen counter staring at you with it’s many eyes. So save yourself some trouble, weigh it and save terms like large and small for something else.
The other tool I use is a calorie counter. while technically all calorie counters count the same calories, a carrot is a carrot after all, only the size changes, most of them assume you are using processed ingredients from the store to cook with. Part of my friday meal planning (especially in the beginning) involved breaking my recipes down. And let me tell you in the beginning this takes a while because you aren’t quickly looking something up you are having to go by ingredients. If you stick with brand names and things with labels you are fine, otherwise…
‘I use two tablespoons of flour to thicken the sauce in the pan. There are 28 calories in a tablespoon of flour so 28 x 2 is 56.’
And at the end of the recipe you have the calorie count for the meal. Then you have to figure out how much of what you prepared will be going on your plate.
‘Okay the casserole dish is 3 quarts. One quart equals four cups, so the casserole dish has 12 cups, and I generally only eat a cup and a half from this casserole…’
Yeah, I should probably also tell you that basic third grade math will be your friend. If you ever thought to yourself ‘you know, I really wish I could remember my conversions’ then this diet is for you. A few months in and you will be able to automatically tell people how many cups are in a gallon and how many tablespoons in a cup. If you have any young children in your world just beginning their mathematical journey, you will be able to astound them with your skills.
You might also get called in to help with homework, just a warning. Sometimes being astounding has a cost.
Seriously though after a while it gets easier. It is just annoying to slog through in the beginning. I almost thought I was going to lose my mind over spaghetti sauce in the beginning. I grow tomatoes in my garden. It is one of the few things I can reliably get to grow and each year I make a freezer full of sauce, so this tends to be the sauce we use when we eat.
The calorie counters had no time for homemade sauce. If it didn’t come from a jar – they weren’t interested. In the end I weighed out all my ingredients, added them separately and repeatedly throughout the process and finally came up with a number for the approximate calories in a cup of my homemade sauce. I then wrote the number down in multiple places so I never had to figure it out again. As long as I don’t change my recipe again, I’m good.
There are many good calorie counters out there and all of them are going to have some parts you like and some you don’t. Occasionally, I think one is lying to me so I double check it with another. It usually just ends up me wanting something that I wish was lower in calories than it actually is rather than a lying computer program.
Truthfully, they are mostly pretty standard. You will have more problems if you cook than if you don’t, depending on how you cook. And patience is your friend. I recommend sitting down when you aren’t hungry and have nothing else scheduled and breaking out several of your favorite go-to recipes and then keeping the calorie break out where you can find it again later so you don’t have to break it out each time.
Currently the calorie counter I am using is on an app called My Diet Coach. I like that I get one heavy avatar for me as I am now and one smaller avatar that I can dress up. As I lose weight I get points and virtual clothing to put on her. It also has a pretty good calorie counter, which is the real reason I use it. There are bunches out there, this one just amused me. I’m sure if you poke around you will find one you like if this is the path you want to take.
Because in the end , everyone’s path is a bit different even if we all start at the same gate.