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littlegeorge 01-08-2013 11:17 PM

Little George's Weight Loss Diary
 
I've been keeping a blog about my efforts to lose weight. Since the terms of service here discourage posting links to other sites, I thought I'd copy the first few blog entries here. Hope you find this helpful...

I’m writing this because I’m over 60 years old and I’m over 200 pounds overweight. (Let me be very clear. I don’t weigh 200 pounds. I weigh 200+ pounds more than I should weigh. You do the math.) I’ve been overweight for my whole life. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Who am I trying to fool? I’ve been overweight since I was a kid. Over the years I’ve been on dozens of diets and I’ve lost hundreds of pounds. But the weight always comes back. And I’ve always wound up weighing more than I did when I started. So what’s the point in doing this again?”

For most of my life I’ve been too heavy. And I’ve been on lots of diets, lost lots of weight and every time I’ve gained it all back with extra to spare. For many years I kidded myself into thinking that the extra weight really didn’t make any difference. After all, wasn’t I able to live my life and do my job? So what difference did it really make? Oh I knew that I’d feel better and probably look better if I lost a few pounds – but hey, life isn’t perfect. And what’s wrong with being a ‘jolly fat man’ anyway?

But as the years went by, I found that my size was starting to get in the way. Eventually, it got to the point that I couldn’t always do the things I wanted to do or go to places that I wanted to go. Still I rationalized it away. “Well, what do you expect? You’re getting older. Of course you’re slowing down a bit. That’s just the way things work…” But it got worse. One day I realized that the extra weight wasn’t just an inconvenience. It was running my life for me. It was affecting almost every decision I made. My knees began to bother me. I couldn’t walk more than a block or two. I was winded all the time. I was in danger of evolving from a ‘jolly fat man’ to an invalid. And it was at that point that I realized that the time for rationalizing my size had passed. I had to do something.

And so, I’ve decided to take on weight loss yet again. I know that this isn’t going to be easy – in fact, about the only metaphor that I can think for for what I’m planning to do is a war, one in which I’m up against almost insurmountable odds. I’ve seen the statistics on diets and permanent weight loss, and I understand that my worst enemy in this effort body is going to be my own body. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/ma...-fat-trap.html if you don’t believe me).

So in this blog, I hope to share my progress in this war with you. As I write these words, I’m actually already 2 months into the conflict, but in this blog I want to go back and try to re-capture how I was feeling, week by week, from the beginning. To the extent that I’m successful, I’m hoping that these notes will be helpful to others who are up against the same problems. And if I fail, I still hope that the blog will serve as a cautionary tale for those who will follow me. Wish me luck.

littlegeorge 01-08-2013 11:22 PM

The Importance of Record Keeping
 
As I mentioned in the first blog post, I’ve been on a lot of diets. I’ve done low-carb. I’ve done high-protein. I’ve done low-fat. I’ve done balanced dieting. I’ve done crash-dieting. I’ve done fasting. I’ve done liquid diets. Those of you who are as old as I am may remember the Water Diet, which was popular in the 60s. That’s the one where you could eat as much as you wanted as long as you remembered to drink 8 glasses of water every day. I remember thinking that if it worked it would be because after 6 weeks my bladder fell out.

If you’re reading this because you’re hoping that I’m going to tell you about some new miracle diet that will take off as much weight as you want and keep it off while you eat everything you want, then I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. It’s true that I have found some diets to be more effective than others for taking weight off. But those are the results that I’ve I’ve gotten for me – they have worked for my body. There is no guarantee whatsoever that what has worked for me will work for you. You need to find a diet that will work for you – and it’s quite unlikely that it will be the same as the one that works for me (or for anybody else, for that matter).

All of the diets that I’ve been on over the years have had two things in common:

First of all, they all worked. That is, they all took the weight off. Some worked a bit faster than others. Some were easier to stick to than others. But every diet that I’ve been on has taken the weight off. So at least from that perspective, they were all pretty much interchangeable.

Secondly, none of them worked. That is, after they took the weight off, none of them turned out to be sustainable. After a certain number of weeks, I found it impossible to stick to the diet, and so I went back to eating like I had before. And the result was, the weight always came back.

What this means is that before you go on a diet, you need to be aware that you are not choosing an eating plan that you’re going to stick to until you take the weight off. You must design an eating plan for yourself that you can stick to until the day you die. If that’s not going to work for you, then the diet will not work in the long run. It might take the weight off, but it will come back.

So how does one find such a diet? Before you can design a diet that works for you, you need to learn about food, about the way you consume it, and about the way it affects you. And I’m only aware of one way to do that: comprehensive detailed record keeping of everything that you put in your mouth. This isn’t an option. This is a necessity. If you’re going to change your eating habits, you must first understand what your eating habits are – not what you think they are – but what they really are. And there’s only one way to be sure of that. Write it down.

Next time we'll talk about the mechanics of doing that...

littlegeorge 01-08-2013 11:25 PM

Why is Record Keeping so important???
 
Last time out, I talked about how important it is to keep track of your eating habits. There’s no substitute for this. You really do need to get into the habit of writing down everything that you put in your mouth. Let me explain how I learned this. Many years ago, I was in a group program for overeaters that was being run by a ‘weight loss coach'. During our first meeting the coach told us that we were going to have to keep detailed records of everything that we ate.

I remember thinking to myself, “well that’s just silly – I already know what I eat.”

And just as I was thinking those thoughts the coach said, “I know some of you are thinking that you don’t really need to keep records because you already know what you eat. Trust me. You have no idea what you are eating. Nobody does until they start writing it down. And before you can even start thinking about losing weight, you need to know what you are eating, how much, and when.”

And so our coach handed each of us a little booklet in which we were supposed to write down every morsel of food that went into our mouths. The booklet also contained a little calorie-table, so I could look up the nutritional information for each thing that I ate. I still thought it was silly, but I had paid good money to be part of the program and so I decided I would play along. I slipped one of the booklets into my pocket and agreed that during the next 7 days, I would record the details of every meal, every snack and every drink that I took.

The process was, to be candid, a pain in the butt. Every time I went to a restaurant, every time I sat down to eat at home, and every time I had a little snack or a drink I had to whip out my little booklet – look up each and every food that I had just eaten and write them all down along with the calorie count, fat content, protein, carbs and so forth for each and every mouthful. It was bad enough to do this when I was alone at home but at restaurants it was absolutely humiliating. I imagined everybody else in the dining room was watching me as I filled out my little food diary, thinking to themselves, “poor fattty – he wouldn’t have to do this if he’d just be more careful about what he ate…”.

A week later, I had discovered a few things about myself and about the way that I was eating that surprised me. For example, I had thought that the vast majority of the calories that I was consuming were being eaten at meals. But the records in my little booklet made it clear that the lion’s share of the fat-making foods that I was swallowing were contained in the little things that I was eating between meals – endless cups of coffee laden with cream and sugar – not to mention the donuts that often went with those cups of coffee. And the calories that were in the scrambled eggs that I had for breakfast were vastly outnumbered by the calories in the butter and jam that I was slathering on the toast that went with those eggs.

Who knew?

I had been thinking to myself that “I know what I eat”, but I was thinking about the eggs – not the toast – and certainly not the butter or the jam. And I hadn’t been thinking about the cream and sugar in my coffee either. And yet the butter and jam and cream and sugar turned out to be a much larger part of the problem than the eggs. And so I learned that if you’re going to lose weight, you have to begin by figuring out exactly what you’re eating, day by day, hour by hour, with no exceptions.

Next time, we'll talk about taking the 'pain in the butt' out of record keeping...

littlegeorge 01-08-2013 11:38 PM

Making Record keeping easier
 
Last time around, I talked about the importance of record keeping, and the fact that keeping records revealed a lot of surprising facts to me about what I was eating, and which things were making me fat. I also talked about the fact that using a little booklet to do that record keeping was a pain. In this blog entry, I'm going to show you how keeping records has become a lot easier than it was back in the old days when I was carrying around my little booklet.

These days, I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my food intake. It’s hard to overemphasize what this spreadsheet has meant to my ability to track my food intake. It is modeled on those little booklets that I was carting around back when I was in group weight loss programs years ago. Here's how it's used.

When I was using a booklet, I had to write down the names of every mouthful of food that I ate, and then look up the nutritional information for each and every food. All of this data then had to be copied into my booklet by hand.
By contrast, the spreadsheet looks up the nutritional information for me and fills out my food diary automatically.

So for example, let’s suppose I have eggs and bacon for breakfast.
  • I enter the words “eggs” and “bacon” into the column that is headed “Food”.
  • The spreadsheet automatically tells me what the serving size is for “eggs” and for ‘bacon”. (That is, it fills in the words “1 egg” and “2 slices” in the Serving column of the spreadsheet.)

Once I know the serving sizes, I can figure out how many servings I actually ate and enter those numbers in the “Quantity” column.
  • So for example, the serving size for “eggs” is “1 egg”. If I had 2 eggs for breakfast, I would enter the number “2” under “Quantity”. The serving size for bacon is "2 slices", which is exactly what I ate, so I enter the number "1".
  • The spreadsheet automatically calculates the nutritional information for the foods that I entered. There are columns for Carbs, Fiber, Net Carbs & Calories, but it could just as well be fat, protein, or whatever you need to track.
  • Finally, it calculates the totals for this particular meal and displays them in the bottom row.
At this point, you may have some questions about this spreadsheet (please feel free to post them to the comments). But here are a couple of questions (and answers) that I've been asked my friends.

Q) A minute ago I was complaining about having to carry a little paper booklet around with me – but doesn’t using a spreadsheet mean that I need to drag a computer with me to every meal?
A) Actually, no – not really. That might have been true 10 years ago, but today I can keep the spreadsheet in my smartphone and keep my food diary up to date using that device, which I carry with me anyway.

Q) Where did this spreadsheet come from?
A) Well, to be honest, I created it myself. (I work with spreadsheets in my job, so it was only natural for me to create one that I could use to help me lose weight loss.)

If you don't know anything about spreadsheets, don't despair. There are smartphone apps that you can buy that do similar sorts of things. There are also websites that provide similar functionality. (Again, please feel free to post comments if you've found an app or a site that you've found to be helpful).

The point here is not that you need to write a spreadsheet to keep track of your eating (although that's what I use).

The point is that you will need to figure out a way to keep a record of your food intake. Your system has to work for you. Maybe a booklet and a paperback calorie-counter from your neighborhood bookstore is all you need. If not, consider a smartphone app or a website that you can access from your smartphone.

littlegeorge 01-18-2013 09:56 PM

A Geek way of dieting
 
It has been suggested to me that I should have called this blog “a geek way of dieting”, since my approach to losing weight is very data-driven and takes advantage of technology wherever possible. With apologies to Doc Brown (from Back to the Future), I’ve often thought to myself, “this isn’t diet, it’s a science experiment.”

For me, using a spreadsheet or some kind of app to keep a food diary has been extremely helpful. It has a couple of important advantages over the booklet used by so many weight-loss groups.
  • The first advantage is purely psychological. Whenever I pulled out my little booklet (particularly in restaurants), I felt that I was broadcasting a message to anybody who happened to be watching me. (“Hey look at me! I’m fat!”). Now - don't get me wrong - I'm not delusional. I realize that in reality, it's very unlikely that anybody was paying any attention at all. But my point is that to me, it felt like people around me noticed whenever I made an entry in my little diet book, and that alone was enough to discourage me from using it. But if somebody happened to notice me pulling out my smartphone, I felt like they would assume that I was checking my email or updating my facebook. So I could update my food diary without feeling that I was drawing attention to myself.
  • The second advantage is more practical. Every booklet that I've ever used included a printed table of foods with calorie counts and other nutritional information. Printed tables cannot be changed. My spreadsheet has a similar table – but it’s completely editable. So I can add foods to it whenever I want. This turned out to be one of the most important advantages of using a spreadsheet. To understand why, consider what’s involved in keeping track of the foods you eat when you go out for breakfast. There’s a restaurant near my house that sells something called a “Maserati Omelet” (your friendly neighborhood breakfast place probably has something similar on the menu, although they might call it something else). It’s made with eggs, Italian Sausage, mozzarella cheese and pasta sauce and my mouth is starting to water just thinking about it...

The table in my little booklet did not contain any nutritional information for a Maserati Omelet – but it did have entries for each ingredient. So assuming that I could figure out what was actually in a Maserati Omelet, (the restaurant menu was a good start, but only a start) I would begin by writing down a list of all the things that went into my breakfast.

So my booklet looked something like this: (with apologies - the BBS system insists on reformatting my tables)

Food Qty
========================
Eggs 4
Mozzarella Cheese 2 oz
Sausage 2 oz
Pasta Sauce ¼ cup
Wheat Toast 2 slices
Butter 2 tsp
Jam 2 tsp
Coffee With Creamer 3 cups

Once I had all that written down, I’d have to look up the number of calories and the amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrate for each ingredient and use that information to fill out the rest of the table. Then I’d have to add up each column to get the totals for breakfast. (It’s no wonder I lost weight. Keeping track of all this information probably consumed more calories that there were in the food to begin with.) This put me off of the whole idea of dieting for a long time. I understood that keeping detailed records of what I was eating was important. But doing so just seemed like too much work. Sooner or later, I’d quit writing everything down – and not long after that, I found myself drifting back to my old eating habits, which is the first step toward regaining whatever weight you might have lost.

That’s what led me to create the spreadsheet. It began as an alphabetical list of foods and the nutritional information that I wanted to track for each one. There are hundreds of such lists on the web. I just found one that I liked and copied it into my spreadsheet. Here's part of the information in the first few rows of the food table in my spreadsheet.

FOODSTUFF SERVING SIZE CALORIES CARBS FIBER
Alfalfa sprouts 1 cup FV 10 1 1
Almonds 1 oz 164 6 3
Anchovies 5 anchovies 42 0 0
Apple 1 apple 73 19 2
Apple juice 6 fl oz 90 23 0

Next, I added entries to the food table for the meals that I was in the habit of eating. Since omelets were a fairly regular part of my diet, I added entries for a few of my favorites.

FOODSTUFF SERVING SIZE CALORIES CARBS FIBER
Omelet,
Bacon & Cheese 1 3-egg omelet 552 4.2 0
Omelet, Cheese 1 3-egg omelet 140 2.23 0
Omelet, Greek 1 3-egg Omelet 199 4.8 1.2
Omelet, Maserati 1 4-egg Omelet 441 8.3 1.5
Omelet, Veggie 1 3-egg Omelet 101 2.18 0.5

This greatly simplified the job of keeping track of what I was eating. For example, the next time I went out for breakfast, I ordered a Greek omelet. As I was finishing my meal, I pulled out my smartphone and added an entry to my food diary.

In the “food” column I typed “omelet, Greek”. The spreadsheet promptly filled in serving size.
Since I had eaten one 3-egg omelet, I entered the number “1” under “Qty”. The spreadsheet automatically filled in the nutritional information.


Serving Food Qty Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Calorie
================================================== =======
1 3-egg Omelet,
Omelet Greek 1 4.8 1.2 3.6 199

If I had only eaten half of my omelette (opting to take half of it home in a to-go box), I could have typed “0.5” in the qty column, and all the nutritional information would have been adjusted accordingly. The spreadsheet also calculated the net carbs (more on that when we talk about low-carb diets in a future blog entry).

OK – enough about how I keep track of the foods that I eat. In the next entry, I’m going to begin examining weight-loss goals.

Phranquie 01-26-2013 02:10 PM

George, I have enjoyed reading your analytical "geeky" approach to tracking your foods for weight loss. Logging every bit of food I eat is an essential tool for me in my road to being fit and healthy. I weigh and measure everything I eat. I even have a small pocket sized digital scale that I carry with me to restaurants. I use an online food tracker program for logging in my food. On this program I also track my weight loss.

I too have been one to lose and then regain weight over and over. I can lose weight, I just don't keep it off. I can lose especially well with eating LC. But I eventually would start eating off plan and dive fully back into overeating mostly carbs. I finally realized that it wasn't just about the food but there was something more to do with the reason I was overeating and binging on bad food. I have begun an exploration into the emotional reasons of why I overeat. This investigation is just as methodic as my weighing and logging in my food and weight. This is the first time that I have cracked open the cellar door to my emotional eating and it is working. I am working on it everyday. I am becoming as mindful of my emotional states and stresses as I am of the food I eat.

I look forward to seeing more of your journey leading a healthy and productive life.


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