Monday, November 15, 2010

Losing Weight when you Love all things Food.

*note: I am not an expert in nutrition.  What is written below is only a reflection of my experience.

I sat across my dining partner yesterday and watched him put down a nearly two pound burrito at Chipotle.  This football sized missile was stuffed with rice and beans and steak and guac and cheese, among other varying ingredients.  It's massiveness required two hands in order to eat it.  After we respectively shoveled our burritos down our throats, we laughed at the absurdity of it. 

That was a standard burrito?  No wonder Americans are facing an obesity problem.  No one needs to eat a burrito of that size!

Representative of burrito size.

Chipotle is one of my favorite places to eat.  All of their food is fresh and locally sourced.  Their menu is simple and yet plentiful.  Their (americanized) Mexican delights are par above any other burrito joint I have eaten at (yes, including Anna's!!).  My only gripe is that their portions are excessive.  Their food may be fresh and local, but they deceivingly contain just as many calories, if not more, than many other fast food restaurants.  Conservatively, my dining partner's burrito probably contained 1,200 calories.  This is well over half a days worth of calories for the average American.

My friends have often poked fun at me about my obsession with calorie counting.  I am self admittedly a calorie counter, and proud of it.  I can accurately portion out anything and assign a calorie count to it - it's like a party trick, except if I ever whipped it out at a party, people would think I was a crazy woman.   I log my calories into the LoseIt iPhone app Every. Single. Day.  Without fail.  It's a habit I build into my day, like brushing my teeth. 

I am also in the best shape of my life.  In the last two years, I have lost over 20 pounds and managed to keep it off.  I hit an all time high weight of 150 pounds twice in the past six years and am now at a healthy 126.  Counting calories and adopting a long term healthy lifestyle contributed to this weight loss.   Counting calories keeps me accountable for the things I put into my body.  I try to eat around 1600 calories a day to maintain my current weight.  Getting to your goal weight isn't about deprivation, it's about adopting a new, long term attitude about food.

I lost all that weight because I believe in a simple formula:  calories in vs calories out.  If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.  If you burn more calories than you eat, you lose weight. 3500 calories is a pound either way.  Ta-Da. You would think I just solved the the million dollar question.

The biggest problem that people have is they don't know what they are putting into their bodies and they are drastically underestimating how many calories are in the things they eat.  Portion size is another HUGE problem.  Did you know the standard serving size of pasta is 1/2 cup and contains 220 calories, on average?  What's your pasta serving look like?  At the risk of being harsh, I don't believe it when people say they can't lose weight.  Yes, you can.  Anyone can.  Show me what you are eating and I'll tell you why you aren't losing weight.

I write a food blog and I obviously LOVE food.  I think about eating all the time.  I love the taste of familiar foods, I love the textures of new foods, I love creating food.  I love sharing a good meal with good friends.  So while being immersed in all things food, I refuse to let the pounds creep on.  I must make conscious decisions everyday about the choices I make regarding food in order to maintain my weight loss.

I make conscious decisions about what each calorie is worth and what is not.  Here are a list of things that (to me) are just not worth the calories:
  • Anything fried.  If you go sometime without eating fried foods, your first bite of fried foods can make your stomach ache for hours.  Why cover up good food with salty, fatty batter? The earth's creator did not intend for food to be beigish brownish.
  • Dressing.  What a hidden calorie fest.  Without even trying, a good salad can be easily ruined with an extra 300 calories of dressing.  I either use a spray dressing or I measure out a few tablespoons into a ramekin.  I then dip each bite.  I always ask for dressing on the side.
  • Bread.  If I am out to eat, I will typically only eat half the bread.  If it's a sandwich or burger, most of the time I eat the sandwich open face. 
  • Desserts: trust me, I eat these.  Lots of them.  But in extremely small portions.  I don't want subpar chocolate like a hershey's bar.  Give me one good, fancy chocolate truffle and I am happy.  Give me two bites of a really good cookie.  Give me a bite of the cupcake or some spoonfuls of decadent ice cream.  I try to share or I just throw the extra away to not tempt myself. 
  • Butter.  This is a no no to me.  I use the fake spray butter and always use EVOO to cook with.  If a recipe (like cous cous) calls for butter, I just take it out.  Doesn't change the food, saves you calories.
I eat almost everything I want to, I just control it all in moderation.  I drink wine, I eat sweets, I eat pasta.  I eat cheese like it's my job.  I go out to eat at restaurants frequently.  But yes, I order steamed veggies instead of fries, have all my sauces on the side, and my favorite delis sandwiches typically contain a 2 to 1 ratio of veggies to meat and zero sauce.  I often eat lean cuisines for lunch because they are portion controlled.  I opt for fish over steak and I don't get much satisfaction from starchy carbs, so I don't bother eating them.  I'm not deprived at all.  I am satisfied.  If food is fuel, I use premium and I don't overfill the tank.

I live by the motto:  "That doesn't taste as good as being thin feels." 

I recognize that any emotional attachment to food can be unhealthy.  I remind myself that if I indulge here and there, it's not the end of the world.  If I am tempted to make bad decisions or "treat" myself, I try to remember that 30 minutes after I eat, it won't have mattered what I ate.  It all goes into and comes out of the same places regardless of whether it's veggies or fries.  The veggies count toward my long term health goals and the fries will probably just give me gut rot and guilt.  I use to make all these decisions very consciously and methodically.... until guess what?  It became a habit.  It became second nature to me.

So yesterday after a significant workout, my dining partner wolfed down his well earned two pound burrito, while I wolfed down my well earned burrito bowl - steak, rice, extra pico, extra corn salsa, lettuce and light sour cream.  No beans.  No wrap. Beans make me wicked gassy anyways....

It's what works for me.  What works for you?

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