Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Calorie is a Calorie is a Calorie

My "clickable" moment to finally take this path seriously was inspired the same way as many things have inspired my life: from a comic book.

One my long time favorite artist/illustrators is Carol Lay. Her comics, strips and graphic novels are always entertaining; funny with an odd sense of darkness. But a few years back, I picked up her book, The Big Skinny, which turned out not to be a collection of strips, but rather a memoir of Lay's own weight loss journey. It wasn't necessarily that Lay said anything new or different from other weight loss books or websites. But it seemed to hold my attention. Maybe it was the right time.  The moments leading up to the divorce proceedings had begun, the job was not as excellent as it could have been, and I found myself medicating my feelings with lots and lots of cake. I did not like what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Years ago, my doctor sent me to a nutritionist to address my weight and cholesterol. He gave me a book called Volumetrics, on energy dense and calorie dense foods. It was a diet. I gave it a pass. 

Fast forward to the Streamlined Ska Librarian beginning: I rejoined a gym and I dropped about 15 lbs. immediately from just moving around more. But I knew I would stall if I didn't really work out a plan. I signed up with a trainer who came up with a plan to lose one pound a week. At first I actually gained weight since I was still scarfing down pints of ice cream and such after each workout. That's when I realized if I wanted to take this seriously (and I was paying for training sessions), I needed to be more aware of what I was eating. And that's where Lay's book came in.

While Lay does go on about other things, some which touched on my life (binge eating, ritualized eating) many of which didn't (her desire to be vegan, her family story, some of her recipes), the main gist of her plan was to count calories. And perhaps it was her hand drawn appendices, but I found her calorie charts a lot more approachable than most websites or diet books. 

Listening to my trainer again, we worked on an actual calorie counting plan. All research and websites show (as did my trainer) that you need to expend 3500 calories more than you take in per week to lose one pound. So, with the promise to actually  be more aggressive in exercise, we worked out that I could intake 2700 calories a day if I burned 3200 calories. This immediately seemed better than most weight loss plans I saw which said you should eat between only 1600-2000 calories. I wasn't in a hurry to lose weight. I just wanted to make sure it would work. 2700 calories seemed like less of a "diet."

I took a page from Lay's piece and kept track of the calories in a little scrap book, at least for a few months. It was a good eye opener to see how much one can really eat in a day and how much I was eating. Right now, I pretty much eyeball the food amounts, but if in doubt, I check with Lay's book or online with CalorieKing. What I like about both of them is that give generic nutritional information, as opposed to certain brand name food I wouldn't ever buy. And I bought a kitchen scale, which was also a real eye opener:

So that's what a single serving of soba looks like!

Now, there was also the idea not only of portion control but also what exactly I was portioning into my meals. I knew I had find healthier food, but not to entirely forgo the sometimes treat, lest I binge out in a frenzy later. And, even if 2700 calories seemed like a lot, there were days it went very quickly. And that brought me back to Volumetrics. So choices were made for more energy dense foods, such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains, etc. Various studies (and these are only two of hundreds) address the positive effects of energy density foods with exercise on weight loss AND weight maintenance. It's one of the few weight loss/maintenance research subjects where most everyone is on the same page.

Interestingly enough, while I was pretty strict at first recording calories taken in, I didn't track how I expended calories. I just knew I had to do a minimum of 5 days of intense workouts (both cardio and weight training), as well as just moving around a lot more during every day. It was a lifestyle change for both input and output of calories.

One thing I did NOT do was use any supplements or follow special types of diet. No food was bought at health food stores, no "diet foods" or points, no special rules as to when and what I could eat, nothing that wasn't my regular cooking. I DID cut out a lot of the regular intake of pasta and desserts. But this really was a basic calorie counting procedure. Very old fashioned.

And this worked. For me. And I still have to do it, but now it really is second nature.

Does this mean I can't have a wings night with the guys or maybe enjoy that piece of chocolate cake? On occasion, just not all the time. There can't be the "I deserve a treat" thought process anymore. It's now "If you do this, just remember how you'll feel later and is it worth it?"

But here's something that shows me it is: My body, my health, my clothes, my attitude.

Calories in. Calories out. An oldie but a goodie even for the streamlined set. 


        Lay, Carol. The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude. 
            Villard Books, 2008.

        Rolls, Barbara and Robert Barnett. Volumetrics: Feel Full on Fewer                     Calories. Harper, 1998.

Ledikwe, Jenny H., Heidi M. Blanck, Laura Kettel Khan, Mary K. Serdula, Jennifer D. Seymour, Beth C. Tohill, and Barbara J. Rolls. “Dietary Energy Density Is Associated with Energy Intake and Weight Status in US Adults.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83, no. 6 (June 1, 2006): 1362–1368.

Raynor, Hollie A, Emily L Van Walleghen, Jessica L Bachman, Shannon M Looney, Suzanne Phelan, and Rena R Wing. “Dietary Energy Density and Successful Weight Loss Maintenance.” Eating Behaviors 12, no. 2 (April 2011): 119–125. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2011.01.008.

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