In a world inundated with information and technology, it is easy to get caught up in thinking that knowing something is the same as actually being able to do it. The media is flooded with research about the impact of eating a healthy diet on weight loss/maintenance (even more so than physical activity!), yet statistics indicate a disconnect between what people believe and what they practice.
The National Weight Control Registry (a study of people who maintained at 30 or more pound weight loss for one year or longer) uncovered that 98% of participants reported that they modified their food intake in some way to cause a change in their numbers on the scale. By following these two steps, you can hope to enjoy the same result.
Step 1: Keep a food diary (Yes, it really works!)
As indicated on the Fed page of this site, I recommend healthy, lifelong eating as opposed to particular diets (unless you are adjusting for certain circumstances). However, we may be tricked into thinking that we already make the healthiest choices. Keeping track of your food intake is the best way to become mindful of the food that passes through your lips. You will be able to pinpoint both the strengths and (often overlooked) weaknesses in your diet.
At the start of 2012, I weighed about 25 pounds more than I do now. I taught fitness classes, worked out regularly and chose (mostly) healthy foods. My weight was still in the “average weight” category, but I wanted to lose a few pounds. Since I figured that I was already eating healthy, I decided I’d start a running program. Day1: I tripped down the steps as I was heading to the treadmill. I could barely walk for the next two months, let alone do cardio at the intensity I had planned. This left me resorting to Plan B—using the old Bowflex (strength training) and taking a closer look at my diet.
Although it sounded like a tedious idea, I kept a food diary for one week. This involved jotting down what I ate and drank every day on a piece of paper, then looking up calorie content in books and on the Internet. Those of you who are more tech-savvy may chose to keep track of your intake online. Some great options are myfitnesspal and ChooseMyPlate.gov‘s Supertracker. Both are free and give you great insight into where your diet could use some alterations.
What an eye opener! According to the USDA MYPLATE guidelines, “active” women in my age group should be getting about 2,000 a day. Although my choices were healthy, I was averaging around 2,200. The grilled veggie burrito I ate occasionally at Qdoba was 920 calories with 310 of those calories hiding in the flour tortilla. I also discovered that there are 460 calories in one Starbucks javachip frappucino. When you only need 2000 calories, that’s a quarter of your daily calories in ONE coffee drink!
Step 2: Implement changes
Keeping the food diary didn’t magically make me lose weight, although some research suggests that a few people may tend to make different choices because of the accountability (related to having a record of what you’ve eaten) or having to take the extra time/effort to write it down and research the calories.
Once I became mindful of what I was eating in reality and the nutritional content of those foods, I was able to make the changes that I needed. I still ate veggie burritos at Qdoba, but ordered them “naked” (same ingredients but served in a bowl without the shell). I continued going out to coffee with friends but ordered a small coffee with cream (a little under 50 calories). I discovered that I was eating way too much wheat/carbohydrates (cereals, sandwiches, pastas, pizza), so I tried finding other alternatives for these choices. I also upped my fruit/veggie intake from one or two to three to five a day.
So far, I have kept the weight off for about three years. I have good days and bad days, but I am mindful of this and know exactly how to modify. People always ask me how I do it. I think they expect me to reveal some secret about a particular workout, fad diet or cleanse. They seem to lose interest when I talk about the food diary and making little changes to what I eat. It isn’t sexy. But it does work.