Now this is not a post I would have done if not for the comments in the last post.
Because I would not normally evangelize my lifestyle. It takes a lot of work to count everything. Every little thing.
It helps to have a touch of OCD and some disordered eating habits to start with.
I don’t think people who could describe their relationship with food as “normal” would have the energy to keep on doing it all the time. It takes work.
So while I certainly wouldn’t “recommend” the obsessive counting of calories as a lifestyle. It’s certainly helped me tremendously in getting healthier, fitter, stronger, while still being able to deal with some of my “food issues”… hey.. I ate cheese calzone today for the first time in… I dunno… 2, 3 years? I ate it, and I loved it and there was no guilt or bad feelings because I knew exactly what I was getting, thanks to my little counting app.
So how do I do it? The counting?
Well, to start with, I couldn’t without the web site and app… http://caloriecount.about.com.
There are others out there… if you have an iPhone, there’s actually a better one called Lose It!… but I do not iPhone, so I use my Calorie Count web site and I love it.
There are a few other popular ones out there, but I found Spark People to be a bit too pushy, and the Livestrong site is always asking you to upgrade to the paid version… which might be worth it, but I don’t know, because I’ve picked my site and am sticking with it.
So I signed up on the site… and put my stats in, etc, and it tells me how much I burn based on my body and activity level.
Now, I get pretty specific on mine. I set the burn meter to “sit on my ass all day”, which at my height / weight is roughly 1600 calories a day, and then I use a heart rate monitor to track my workouts and I add them.
But they also have estimates you can use based on how generally active you think you are, depending on how much time and effort you want to expend in entering data.
You tell the site whether you are there to lose, maintain, or gain and then it gives a recommendation of how many calories to eat.
One caveat… it tends to recommend levels that are too low. No female (except maybe a 4’6″, 95 pound tiny woman) should eat below 1200, even if it means losing weight slower. (men shouldn’t go below 1500).
But realistically, the best, most stable way to lose weight is to look at your daily burn and eat only 500 calories less than that. That should give you a loss of about a pound a week, which is really the fastest you want to lose, lest your body start to think the famine has arrived and it has to start storing everything you take in.
The thing that is harder is making sure that what you are counting as calories is accurate.
if you don’t have a food scale, then you have to start guessing… is this a medium banana? large? How much apple is this?
It’s even harder with things that do servings by things like “tablespoon”.
Because you’ll see, really, that the actual serving size always has a weight.
I can fit 32 grams of peanut butter in a single “tablespoon” measure. But 32 grams is what the jar calls “two tablespoons”… which I think is crappy… 16 grams isn’t even a LEVEL tablespoon… it’s WAY below the rim. Who measures like that? No one.
Hence the need for a food scale.
Now, once I started weighing and measuring everything, and breaking packages up into single serving bags and knowing EXACTLY what I am eating… well it’s MUCH easier to accurately account for intake and output.
What I thought I used to eat was too little for me, but still more than I actually thought it was, due to the measuring issues.
So I would say the two most important things are… know what you burn, and really know what you eat.
Once that happens, the rest is kinda just math.
Once I got the hang of counting the calories (took about 2 months), then I moved on to really paying attention to the “analysis” of my food and caring about whether I was getting enough carbs / protein / fat etc.
But I wouldn’t bother with that when starting out.
The accurate burn/eat measuring is hard enough.
The site also has excellent forums to help with motivation, questions, all kinds of stuff. It’s a very supportive and well informed community.
So that was step one… if you want to move into the madness that is accurately counting your calories, that’s a good place to start.
But don’t say I didn’t warn you… it takes a little bit of crazy to want to spend your time thinking about this stuff. And the further you go into it, the harder it becomes to accept eating anything you did not personally prepare (well, OK, for me, because again with the OCD on accuracy.