Posted by Ian Kay on January 27, 2011
We all know that, in order to change how you look, you need to change what you eat. Exercise is the other factor, but changing your diet alone can produce impressive results. The type of food is very important and so are the amounts of those foods.
I do not have to tell you that skinless, non-fried chicken, broccoli and brown rice is considered “healthy”. But I know that figuring out if you are eating enough (or too little) of these foods is not always as clear. This is where the measuring comes in.
First and foremost, you should find either a specialist in physique nutrition or a well-known (and generally accepted) online formula, such as the Harris-Benedict. Will this online formula be the answer to your calorie needs? Probably not. But it is a reasonable starting point from which you can adjust accordingly to personalize your plan.
Wherever you get your calorie numbers from, you will need to find a reliable way to track your daily intake. This is the point at which many people fall off the wagon. Here are the different ways people tend to approach calorie watching:
“Intensive counting”: Every food is measured in a spoon or cup, or weighed on a food scale. Scraping off of the top layer of food to bring the measurement within the plan is a common action. PROS: The person gets an excellent sense of what they are eating and a basis for educated estimations in the future. Results tend to be excellent. CONS: Much of the day is dominated by counting, measuring and worrying. Sustaining this level of calorie counting may become obsessive and a point of great stress. RECOMMENDATION: Use this method for the first 2 weeks of a new eating plan. You will know that you are on the right track and you will be able to make informed decisions when you are socializing or just not in the mood to measure.
“50/50 counting“: Any food that comes with a serving size written on the box or package is recorded. Anything else, like meats, vegetables, potatoes and cheese are guesstimated. PROS: The stressful meticulousness of the “Intensive counting” is vastly reduced, and a fairly decent calorie count can be expected. CONS: If you have never accurately measured meats or grains before, I can guarantee that your guesstimations will be off. RECOMMENDATION: Fall back to this method after the 2 weeks of Intensive counting. That will turn your “guesstimations” into “educated guesses”, and bring your totals much closer to the real numbers.
“Packaged only”: Unless it comes in pre-arranged sizes (individual yogurts, frozen foods, etc.), all amounts are guesses. PROS: Not a whole lot. At least you are thinking about what you are eating. CONS: First, a healthy diet shouldn’t include that many pre-packaged foods. Secondly, guesstimating all the rest is going to leave you way off the mark. RECOMMENDATION: Only do this method once you have accurately measured your foods and gotten results for a while.
“Eating better“: Simply eliminating foods that you know are packed with calories or are unhealthy. Generally adding in some vegetables or fruits. PROS: Depending on how bad your diet was to begin with, this could produce excellent results right away. The contrast of substituting vegetables for french fries will show up on the scale fairly quickly. CONS: Unless you have more than 50 lbs. to lose, this method has diminishing returns. At some point you are going to have to at least get a sense of the amounts that you are eating. RECOMMENDATION: If your eating habits are really bad and you have quite a lot of weight to lose, this is often a good starting point. For anyone who eats relatively healthy already, more specific changes are required.
In the end, of course, every individual must choose the method that best fits their lifestyle. Careful measuring and weighing may not be a viable option for the middle of the week. Sometimes even measuring for one day (like a Sunday) will give you a little bit of knowledge to apply to the decisions you will make the rest of the week. Bulk preparation also goes a long way to eliminate time constraints. If you cook all of your chicken for the week on Sunday, freeze half of it (defrost it Wednesday night), then you take the stress and the inconvenience out of eating well at work. Most importantly, though, is to simply have a plan of some sort. A plan that is reasonable, measurable and sustainable.
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