Friday, April 5, 2013

Counting Calories

If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat - plain and simple, right? Sure. But how is this possible unless you know HOW much you are eating and HOW much you are burning? Especially in today's super-sized world where a seemingly harmless restaurant salad winds up having more calories than a steak and French fries.

If you've never counted calories or kept a food journal, I suggest trying it - even if its just for a day. Whether you want to lose weight, make healthier choices, or are just plain curious what you are consuming on a daily basis, knowing exactly what and how much you put into your body is something worth being knowledgeable about.

As I've previously mentioned, the start to my calorie counting began after I had Hannah and had to be sure to meet my calorie quota in order to keep my milk supply up. So, I downloaded an app on my iPhone and logged away. At first, I was forgetful or lazy, and only logged a few things a day. Then, as I increased my running mileage, I started to see a change in my milk production, so I forced myself to be more accurate. "There's no way I can keep up with this everyday" I thought to myself as I sat there with my measuring cups, pouring and scaling out perfect portions. What a pain! Lucky for me, I generally eat the same things on a daily basis (thanks to my dairy and soy-free limited diet) - so after a week of measuring, it became common knowledge and I was able to accurately estimate my portions without the help of the measuring cups. A handful of almonds was about one serving size. When I filled my cereal bowl to the top, it was 2 servings. Ok, got it.

The ease of calorie counting came from the amazing app I use: MyFitnessPal. It has a section for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. All you do is click on the meal, search the food you ate, select the portion size, and you're done. Your height, weight, activity level, and weight (loss) goals are entered, and a daily calorie goal is set to fit your specific needs. Your goal can be anything from losing .5lbs per week, maintaining your current weight, to gaining 2lbs per week (great for pregnant woman trying to stay on track!) There is also a section that charts your nutrition goals (ie. fat/protein/carb).

The wonderful thing about this app is its ease and accuracy; I have always been able to log the exact food item I ate, from Stop & Shop brand products, to meals at restaurants. It allows you to select potion sizes from 1/8 all the way to 10 servings. Not only does it inform you of the calories in each serving, but also the fat, carbs, protein, sodium, cholesterol, sugar...and so on. To add to the ease, it keeps a diary of previous foods you have logged, so you won't have to re-search for them each time. How easy is that?

Perhaps the most helpful key to this app is its ability to log your work outs. Everything from running to "walking carrying infant or heavy bag" can be logged. Every calorie burned is a calorie added to your daily budget. The next step is all you; you want to maintain your weight, eat back all the calories you burned. You want to lose weight, eat less than you burned. You want to gain, eat more. This is where determination and motivation will be YOUR key. At the end of a day of logging, the app tells you "if everyday were like today, you'd weigh ______lbs in 5 weeks". If you over-ate you'd be heavier. Kept to your calorie budget? Smaller. Quite easy, and motivating in itself. Of course, the true key to calorie counting is being honest. If you go back for a 2nd handful, log it.

My first thought after a few days of counting was "holy shit, I eat a lot!" It didn't help that I overrate on a lot of high fat & calorie dense foods, like avocados, nuts, and fish. I had pretty much hit my calorie quota before dinner. No wonder that despite all my running, those last few pounds of baby weight were staying put. If I over ate, I felt terrible. Solution? Planning ahead. "Failing to plan ahead is planning to fail" - I've heard it before, but now I live it. Every night before bed, I go into the next days calorie budget and plan out each meal and snack. I love this, because if its a weekend and I know I'm going to have a couple glasses of wine and some chocolate treats with my husband - I can log those first and budget wisely around it. I chose high protein and carb filled meals that will keep me full, and am sure to eat every few hours to keep my metabolism and energy up. I never feel hungry or deprived. I can eat what i want and as much as I want if I plan for it. Those last few LBS of baby weight have finally vanished, an after having two kids, it feels great to say that I am proud of my body. It may seem like a lot of work, but being healthy is a full-time job, and one that I'm willing to work hard at.

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