June 13, 2012

Taking the Plunge

Last night, I came home from work (arrived at 8am, left at 10pm… not fun) and was exhausted. I skipped my morning workout because I was feeling a little nauseous when I woke up (I think due to not enough sleep), so I really needed to get one in last night… but I also really was not feeling it. And then I went to change into my work clothes and I looked in the mirror while doing so. Ew ew ew ew ew. I did NOT like what I saw. I know I have been gaining weight lately – I am eating far bigger portions than I should, and I know it. For me, maintaining my weight is 80% diet, 20% exercise – so despite the fact that I’m working out a lot, it’s not really making a difference when I’m also eating a lot. No real excuses, just a sheer lack of willpower on my part. Despite knowing that it’s more about what I ate yesterday (ahem, too much fluffy pita bread along with the gyros we had brought in for dinner), one look in the mirror was enough to send me scurrying to the gym.

Once down there, I didn’t go too crazy. I started with the Rachel-Cosgrove-prescribed foam rolling, which I had skipped the first time through the plan. However, I was totally wrong yesterday when I said I wasn’t sore and hadn’t worked hard enough on Monday – I had just neglected to think about the fact that I usually lift in the morning and therefore experience soreness 24 hours later, whereas this week, I worked out on Monday evening, so it took some time to set in. Patience, Laura! As a result of all that soreness, the foam roller felt amazing (especially on my rock hard quads – who knew stepups could do so much damage?), and ten minutes flew by like nothing. Maybe foam rolling on a regular basis will be easier than I thought? I’ve always avoided because After that, I hit the elliptical for a down and dirty 10 minutes of interval work – 45 seconds all out (4:20 pace per mile if you believe the counters on the elliptical, which I don’t); then 15 seconds rest; rinse; repeat. My heart rate stayed up in the 150s throughout the workout, which is comparable to where I am when running and way above the 130ish rate I usually stay at when just doing straight endurance work on the elliptical. (Does it even count as endurance when my heart rate is that low? Probably not, I know.)

I went back up to my room and changed out of my now incredibly sweaty gym clothes – and again, I saw myself in the mirror and did not like what I saw. Particularly, I noticed that my extra weight is not distributing as evenly as it did even a year or two ago. I used to gain weight evenly all over, but now I’m finding that my arms are actually looking pretty muscular, my chest is normal size… but my stomach is big and my butt/thighs are pretty flabby. I know that where we store weight is based primarily on genetics, but is it possible for that to change over time? More research needed – I’m going to see if I can get Greatist on the case.

But in the meantime, it’s time for drastic measures – and I’m finally going to start doing what I probably should have done a long time ago. I’m going back to calorie counting.

When I first started consulting, I learned that calorie counting worked for me. I lost about 5 pounds and looked noticeably better (a coworker commented and asked for my “secret”). Unfortunately, I also became absolutely crazy obsessive – doing things like skipping planned dinners with friends because I had already eaten my calories for the day, or refusing my mom’s homemade food because I didn’t know how many calories were in it. I quit calorie counting before that type of behavior developed into a full blown eating disorder, and intentionally haven’t been back to it since, but now… I think it’s time.

This is going to be a bit of an experiment, though, as I am not totally sure it will be as helpful this time as it was the last go around. I still have a very good idea how many calories are in what I eat, and I can pinpoint pretty much to a tee where my problem areas are (ahem, team dinner buffets where I exhibit no willpower and keep grazing long after I am full). I bet that if I thought about what I ate last night, I could come within 100 calories of the actual answer… but that’s not the problem. The problem is that I need to set actual limits for myself instead of doing the less-psychotic-but-also-way-less-effective “well I had a big meal last night so I’ll have a light meal this morning and do a good workout and then it will be even.” Hi, Laura, newsflash – a 200 calorie breakfast and 60 minutes of steady state cardio does not even come close to balancing out a 1500 calorie dinner/drinks.

I’m trying to put this all out there as honestly as I can, but I would also really like your help. Y’all have called me out on crap in the past, and I’ve learned a lot from it, so I’d really like it if you’d do it again. If you see me obsessing too much, tell me to lighten up. Don’t let me skip out on fun things with friends because ZOMG I HAVE TO WORK OUT EXTRA BECAUSE I HAD A PIECE OF TOAST AT BREAKFAST. The last thing I want is to be one of those girls who won’t let anything but protein shakes and salads cross her lips. I have always been about everything in moderation and I’d like to stay that way… but that means I need to make some big changes to my portion sizes. A few fries won’t kill me, but if I want to eat a massive meal, salad it is.

What are your thoughts on calorie counting? How can I keep myself in check? I am pretty nervous about this one…


21 thoughts on “Taking the Plunge”

  1. I always use calorie counting when I’m trying to “reset” my body after some bad choices (actually am smack in the middle of this at the moment). I agree that you can’t be too obsessive/exact about it, because otherwise you’ll go insane, but I think it really helps to at least remind yourself how many calories are in things and how quickly they add up. I’m loving the Lose It! app — it has tons of food, and you can scan barcodes for stuff it doesn’t have and input exercise for extra calories. It really helps with accountability, I think. Hope this helps — good luck!

  2. Maybe if you worked out a little less, you’d be less hungry.

    When I work out a ton, I notice that I naturally eat more than when I’m just doing regular exercising. Whether it’s because I’m just naturally hungrier from burning more calories, or if it’s because I think I “deserve” to eat more since I worked out a ton… who knows.

    But, it seems to work for me.

    In any case, good luck!

  3. This is where Geneen Roth’s book “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating” can help. Whether or not it’s possible to pinpoint an emotion behind the eating, there is usually this one subconscious thought: “It’s there and I want it and I need it before it’s gone or I miss my chance.” Something that’s helped me is just acknowledging that I can have ice cream at any time. I can have cake or pizza or whatever at ANY time. Do I want this cake right now because I’m hungry? Not really. Just taking a minute to think about it helps me set aside a craving.
    Also, I tend to cut peanut butter and “baked goods” and drinking for about a week. Usually that helps break the addictive cycle and reset what it is I’m craving. The first few days sugar-free are hard, but then I can bring it back in moderation after about a week.

    I NEVER calorie count.

  4. Hi Laura,

    I was on vacation for the last three weeks and am just now catching up on your blog (Sorry I comment so rarely!). Reading all the posts in a row, it struck me how concerned you are about your weight and calorie counting is such a miserable task!

    I recently tried a new approach, and I have to admit that I now feel like a bit of an evangelist, but at the same time I feel so much better that I feel like I’m cheating people out of information if I don’t share.

    My husband was having trouble losing the last few pounds, and my body was on the fritz in about 100 different ways. We started eating Paleo about a year ago, and I can’t believe how much better I feel. I lost the weight I had to lose, have a ton more energy, my skin’s clearer …I could go on and on. My husband lost the weight and his back and knee pain are gone.

    You can see a brief overview on Greatist! 😉 http://greatist.com/health/the-ultimate-guide-to-eating-paleo-022012/

    I’d recommend reading Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. I know Paleo looks pretty nuts, but there seems to be a lot of research supporting it and I certainly feel better.

    So, there’s that, for what it’s worth! If you give it a try at all, I’d be curious to see what you think!


  5. I have been using myfitnesspal.com since late Feb & it’s helped me tremendously. Lost 10-12 lbs & plan to keep it off. It’s so easy to use.

  6. You all are awesome!!! This is why I love blogging 🙂

    Liz – I was looking for an app, so will definitely check that one out!

    Amy – one thing I am changing about this time around with calorie counting is NOT allowing workouts to change how much I eat. Before, it became an excuse to eat a lot then hit the gym – but it’s so easy to overestimate calories burned. Plus, I just don’t think it works to “make up” for eating calories! Clean diet is key, no matter how you’re exercising.

    Lauren – I read one of Geneen Roth’s books and really couldn’t get into it. However, I like the way you explain it there. I don’t really eat much dessert, but I do get carb cravings until I’ve gone cold turkey for a while, so am working to reduce that. I honestly swear I could eat too much of just about ANY food though! I think I need to come up with the in-the-moment philosophy that works for me – I’ll give yours a try.

    Kerry – hope you enjoyed your vacation and thanks for commenting! Definitely have been much more concerned about my weight as of late – despite the fact that I haven’t actually weighed myself in a few months, I can definitely tell my clothes are a lot tighter (ugh). I’ve heard so many great things about Paleo, but am just very concerned about keeping that up while traveling, since many of the meals I eat don’t seem to have ANY Paleo-friendly options. Any chance you’ve stumbled across some Paleo-friendly advice for business travelers? For now, I am going to stick with calorie counting (I think I need that kind of severity in order to reset), but would definitely consider going paleo in the future, since I certainly see the benefits of it.

  7. Calorie counting DOES work, but it is sooo easy to get obsessive about it. I hate not being able to eat food that I can’t be sure of the calories in! It drives me crazy.

    I totally relate, I’ve been looking in the mirror and pictures of myself and being soo disgusted. I know I am a good 5-10 pounds heavier than I was when I was being dilligent about eating healthy and exercizing. I so have been guility of trying to out exercize my indulgences, but it just doesn’t work out that way. I love good food and drinks so much, and running more just doesn’t cancel it out like I wish it would. UGH.

    Good luck to you, I just took some before pictures of myself and am comitted to cleaning up my eating and getting back down to a fit, toned, healthy girl.

  8. I have a running friend that says she does it periodically to get back on track and then stops until she needs to do it again. I think that is a sensible approach. They say our stomachs are bad at telling us when we are full, calorie counting is a different way to keep track of this, plus you can make a spreadsheet out of it.

  9. Hey Fit girl! I lost 30 lbs by controlling portions, eating the right things (veggies, fruit, lean meats, good fats) cutting out complex carbs (yes, the beer too) and eating more often.
    I use myfitnesspal.com app on my phone to keep track of calories. A great little program.
    Starving yourself will only make your body go into starvation mode and hold onto what you are trying to loose. Become a grazer of the right foods. Because of your travel schedule you will have to get creative with your mid morning and mid afternoon snack. It may be a protein bar or a hand full of healthy nuts at times. But always have something healthful on hand or with you to snack on.
    I would also recommend the Shakeology supplement we have been talking about. This will help you get the protein as well as vitamins and minerals that will help you get heaalthy from the inside 🙂
    hope this helps!
    If you have any questions or need any help just drop me an email or call
    your fitness friend

  10. I used to keep a food journal when I was younger and used WW points to keep track. I got a bit obsessive but it “worked.” I have tried to do it again but I just dont have the willpower I had when I was 16…I have thought about keeping a food journal again though. Just seeing helps I think.

  11. I never, ever count calories because I also have obsessive tendencies. Also, counting calories reminds me that I’m making sacrifices and relying on willpower, and that ultimately won’t work for me.
    After years of tweaking my diet and workout levels, I kind of haphazardly discovered a dietary tweak that makes or breaks me, and that’s knowing what is the ONE thing in my diet that is the catalyst to eating. (If you don’t have a problem resisting junk food, this may not apply…) For me, that one thing is Coca Cola. No joke!-when I drink Coke, I start craving fast food, chips, candy, cookies, etc. No other soda has that effect. I’m in a Coke-drinking phase right now, but I already know that if I stop tomorrow, in one week I will weight 5 lbs less. Just a quirky suggestion from a non-calorie counter – eliminating one dietary item is much easier for me than cutting down on everything in general!

  12. Hi Laura,

    I guess that the ability to stay on track with Paleo depends largely on how you interpret it. In the strictest sense, it would be almost impossible to maintain on your schedule and with all your travel. Ultimately, I think the oils that things are cooked in would be the biggest struggle, but that may just have to be a compromise (Paleo says no canola). Beyond that there’s some wiggle room depending on who you’re reading. Some folks think potatoes and dairy are fine as long as they don’t bother you or throw you off. The Perfect Health diet (which is more along the lines of what I’m doing now) even allows some white rice. Robb Wolf is a good place to start (and his writing is by far the best), but Mark Sisson and The Perfect Health Diet certainly add a bit of perspective about flexibility.

    My schedule is nothing like yours, but since I’ve been traveling (on vacation-it seems unfair to compare)for the last few weeks I’ve had an opportunity to see a bit more how Paleo is on the road. Granted, I was not enough of a fool to skip pizza in Italy, so I wasn’t perfect, but I did find it fairly easy to stick with.

    If you’re willing to recognize that you just can’t control oils, and are willing to eat some potatoes and white rice, most menus become more accessible. Here are some examples of what I do:

    Mexican restaurants: I order fajitas and skip the beans and tortillas. If I’m really good, I skip the rice too. That’s a large part of what they usually bring, but there’s plenty of food anyway.

    Pub Food: Bunless Burger with a side salad (often I can just add olive oil to this).

    Italian Restaurants (hardest): Salads are the best option. Risotto if you’re doing rice, but that would usually be a lot of rice. Creme brulee for dessert (Sugar is also something that is excluded in the pure interpretation, so this is a rare treat.)

    Thai: Most anything really. Tom Kha Gai if you’re not eating rice. If you are eating rice, almost anything works. You’d just eat less rice than they would usually bring.

    When it comes down to it, usually it’s not too hard to find meat and potatoes (the trick is to not eat too many potatoes). At first I thought it would be super impossible, but I’d say that 90% of the places I’ve eaten have either had a do-able (if not perfect) option or were willing to modify things enough to make them work.

    A few other ideas, though if I’m right, dinner is the toughest part for you. Since dairy treats me just fine as long as I’m not eating grains and beans, I usually have full fat greek yogurt, walnuts, and berries for breakfast. Hard boiled eggs also travel nicely, and half an avocado is a delicious and totally legitimate treat. Salads for lunch work really well and you have more control over the oil used in those.

    Oh, and drinks-important given your blog title. Mark Sisson supports red wine (and dark chocolate) and Robb Wolf is a believer in the SoCal Margarita (no sugar). I should also mention that I dropped weight eating about 2600 calories a day (exercising of course, but less than you usually do), and continuing to enjoy my martinis.

    I do have to mind my carbs, but not excessively and the Paleo world is currently arguing about whether some level of carbs helps or hinders. I also have to remind myself that I can’t just gorge even though I’m eating good food. Other than that, it’s been much more simple than I expected. It is tough to get used to eating fat though!

    Ultimately, I don’t have your schedule and I’m not sure how to navigate it, but I think it might be possible.

    If you do decide to try it and you have any difficulties, I’d be glad to brainstorm possible solutions!


  13. I also went crazy overboard when I count calories (obsessively) in high school. I’ve never been able to stick to it since that period. However, I also think going back to it would be great for accountability. I also hear that just writing down what you eat helps tremendously.

  14. Brittany – we’re in this together! You can do it 🙂

    Becca – absolutely agree that I’m going to do this in the short term. Blah blah pick a lifestyle plan not a diet… but for me, I just need to recalibrate my portion sizes for a while (and get used to eating less than I have been as of late), and hopefully it will stick for at least a few years! And you hit the nail on the head with me loving numbers/spreadshsheets…

    Brett – I signed up for MyFitnessPal, and am testing that against a few other options. Will let you know which one sticks and maybe we can friend each other! Luckily, I always carry protein bars in my bag (sometimes I think I have too many weighing it down, but I like to have a variety of choices!). I think the toughest part is going to be dinners, which tend to be bigger meals when I’m traveling…

    Pam – that is a GREAT suggestion about soda! I’m not much of a sweets person, but I find that white carbs (bread/rice/pasta/etc) act as kind of a “gateway food” for me, so I’m trying to only choose them mindfully instead of letting myself be tempted and then being thrown completely off.

    Kerry – I’ll check out the Perfect Health diet! Love reading new health/fitness books. Thank you so much for all the suggestions – that is INCREDIBLY comprehensive! And you’re right – I am a big fan of both red wine and lime juice/tequila “skinny margaritas”, as well as flavored vodka and plain seltzer. Time for me to really cut back on the beers, as I mentioned last week! I may definitely take you up on more tips to succeed if I end up going the Paleo route…

  15. I’m an obsessive record keeper. (I’m addicted to spreadsheets.) I try to use that to my advantage when I diet. Counting Calories in a spreadsheet works for me because it keeps me honest. If it works for you, go for it.

    I think the key is to avoid setting hard limits for daily intake. Instead, use the information to keep things from getting out of hand.


  16. Wow, Laura, with friends like these on your team, you can’t fail! Such a variety of great comments and advice should serve to guide you through to your goal. 🙂

  17. Wow, Laura, with friends like these on your team, you can’t fail! Such a variety of great comments and advice should serve to guide you through to your goal. 🙂

  18. I say go for it. Nobody likes calorie counting, but you gotta take control.

    Back in January, I was feeling really great and taking care of my body and at a healthy, happy weight. Fast forward to the end of February and I’m 8 pounds heavier. March brings a couple more and by April I’ve gained 15 pounds. Absolutely none of my pants fit, not a single pair. I’m so digusted with myself because I know that I’ve just been eating completely out of control. I have no excuses. I make a couple half hearted attempts to clean things up, but with no luck. So I just give up and I snack and munch and all out binge. I fall into the ‘what’s the point, I’m so fat attitude’ and my total comes to 19 pounds gained by eating too much (because I’ve been intensively exercising this whole time).

    Long story…I have finally taken control. It’s been a 9 days of eating super healthy (and zero exercise unless you count cleaning) and I’ve lost five pounds. That is obviously not all fat, but I feel so much better. I almost had a giant slip today, instead it was a manageable slip and I’m trying to bring back the exercise.

    It is so hard and slow, but we have to control what we eat because no one else can do it for us. I have to go extreme because I’m all or nothing. So right now I’m making every meal I eat, there’s no dessert, no restaurants – I need complete control. I can make myself treats, but moderation isn’t something I’ve figured out yet and I’m a mindless muncher, so I have to remove myself from the situation. But the point is to figure out what works and do it with the eventual goal to have a healthy handle of portion control and to have a healthy relationship with food.

    Good luck!

  19. As you get older, your body starts to change. For many people, around your late 20s, they (myself included) start gaining weight around their midsections. There is nothing you can do about it – it is life. Your body is going to change over time and you just have to accept it.

    Instead of calorie counting, I suggest just accepting your body the way it is. So long as you are healthy, that is all that matters. You are trying to fight against nature and genetics and it just sounds so exhausting. Every year it will get harder and harder to keep weight off and your body will continue to change. Trying to fight against it will just make you crazy.

  20. Laura, I am constantly going back and forth on calorie counting. I use Fitday.com when I in “counting” mode. One problem is that I seem to have two modes. I’m tracking calories and being restrictive or I’m not tracking and I’m eating with reckless abandon. When I’m in not-tracking mode for a while, I can see my weight creeping up and, like you, I’m unhappy with what my mirror and clothes tell me. Lately, I’ve had lots of days where I start off the day in calorie-counting mode, but then by evening, I think “screw this, I want to eat whatever I want.” As if not recording what I eat makes it not “count.” (I know better but sometimes behave as if I don’t.)

    I go through phases where I tell myself I will “eat reasonably” without calorie counting, but that rarely goes well for me.

  21. I’m in the same place right now! I’d like to drop a few stubborn pounds before my wedding so I’m trying calorie counting short-term (I’m thinking of doing just the month of June). Like you, I already know what my problem areas are– beers and late-night snacks all weekend long– but seeing it in black and white helps me realize their true impact (man, I hate the moment when I have to write down the calories from a few causal beers!). I haven’t gotten too obsessive yet but I do sometimes feel guilty if my total for the day is even a little higher than it should be.

    Look forward to following your progress! Good luck!

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