Ever since reading Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s The Diet Fix and heartily recommending it to several colleagues and friends who were looking to lose weight, or help others lose weight, I decided that I better try the “10-Day Reset” for myself. Sometimes a nutritionist decides he better walk his talk. Setting out to achieve my own personal goals, I began March 4 to make special preparations. I let family and friends around me know that I would be doing a few things differently. I weighed myself and took some baseline measurements. I got a Jawbone, which is basically a lightweight electronic bracelet that tracks my physical activity and the duration and quality of my sleep. Plus, per the book’s recommendation, I downloaded the MyNetDiary app on my iPhone. Don’t have this yet? Go download it right now. It’ll change your life.
Let me tell you that MyNetDiary has become an obsession. My family, friends, and colleagues can attest. During breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there I am with my iPhone out logging in each of my foods. On occasion when I’ve forgotten to log a meal, and not trusting my own memory, I’ve even texted or called people asking if they remembered what all I ate. Lately, some have started reminding me before I eat to log my foods (so I don’t annoy them later?) One person (it figures that she’s a registered dietitian) has taken to calling me out whenever I reach for a treat, saying, “Are you going to add that to your calorie app?” It’s a pretty wicked tactic and yet quite effective at making me put a cookie down.
The Diet Fix certainly advises that keeping a food diary would reveal a lot about your own diet, but what I found was that it was empowering and life changing. I’ve learned quite a lot about myself. I think that even if I quit diarizing right now I still would’ve learned some valuable things that can help me make better choices in the future. So for your benefit and especially for mine, this is what I learned about my own diet summarized in bullet points:
- Buffets are really, really bad. One visit to an Indian buffet will put me far over my calorie needs for the day. Plus, most of those calories come from fat and carbs (depending on what foods I choose), yet often leave me lacking sufficient amounts of protein to meet my daily requirements. Suffice it to say that I should avoid going to buffets of any kind. There’s nothing about variety and the desire to try a little of everything that drives me to overeat. (Addendum: Potlucks are just as bad. In fact, they’re worse. Because if you don’t partake and don’t try everything, it makes you kind of look like a jerk.)
- Skipping breakfast and/or lunch because I was “too busy” means paying for it dearly later. This is a big mistake! I get seriously hungry and by the time I get home I’m at the fridge voraciously eating everything in sight. And, in sight might just be ravioli and meatballs, and I could eat three plates full, followed by dessert, which brings me to my next point.
- If I’m going to eat dessert, prepare or beware. It’s really easy to underestimate how many calories are in, say, strawberry shortcake. And it’s really easy to eat a couple of servings or more of strawberry shortcake. Watch out!
- Exercise changes my appetite. I’m hungrier on days that I lift in the gym, causing me to crave savory, salty foods (e.g. a hamburger and french fries). Yet I’m less hungry overall on days that I run, swim, or bike. Although on those cardio days, I’m really thirsty and drink plenty of calories in the form of sugar from juices or sports drinks. I need to remember to not overeat on lifting days and on running days need to try to still eat regular meals with plenty of protein, especially since I have plenty of extra calories to use on those days.
- Keeping high-protein meal items and, especially, high-protein snacks around at all times is a must. This means protein bars, nuts, Greek-style yogurts, and other items. Protein shakes are a lifesaver. This is necessary having made the commitment, as outlined in the book, to eat breakfast upon waking, eat every three and a half-hours, eat 400 to 450 calorie meals with 20 or more grams of protein, and 100 to 150 calorie snacks with 10 or more grams of protein. So, now I stock the fridge and pantry.
- Having barcodes, packaged foods makes it easier to accurately count calories, while restaurant and home-cooked foods are a bit tougher. That’s not to say that I’m advocating for packaged versus restaurant or home-cooked meals. That’s certainly not the case. On the contrary, packaged foods are usually higher in sodium and percent calories from fat and carbs, while lower in protein and vitamins and minerals. But MyNetDiary makes it really easy to scan bar codes on packaged meals and get data right away without having to log in each item individually. So I’ve found myself sometimes gravitating to those options and looking for packaged items that are lower in calories, yet higher in protein, calcium, and potassium. I wish there were more of them. It’s harder to estimate calories when dining at restaurants, where calories aren’t posted, and where chefs are pretty liberal with their use of butter. The same can go for home-cooked meals. My wife’s cooking is quite delicious, for example, but I’m always suspicious of just how much fat and sugar are really in her cakes and pastries. Obviously, home-cooked meals can all-around be better for you if you’re doing the cooking yourself and know what’s going into the meal.
- Watch out for cereal and granola with milk. I can eat several bowls of cereal or granola (or cake, for that matter) without any discernible feeling of satiety. The actual type of cereal or granola doesn’t seem to matter despite differing calorie percentage of carbs, sugar, or protein. The type of milk (skim, whole, or 2%) doesn’t seem to matter either. I just plain like eating it! But it’s a completely different story if I eat cereal or granola as a topping for Greek-style yogurt. No problems there probably due to its viscous texture. I have a hard time finishing a whole serving. Oatmeal is fine too.
- Packaged food labels can be deceiving. MyNetDiary makes it really easy to scan bar codes on packaged foods and get nutritional data right away without having to log in each item individually. But take packaged almonds versus unpackaged. The label will only claim required nutrients (sodium, vitamin A, C, calcium, and iron), but if you bypass the barcode scan and just type in almonds, you’ll also get vitamin E and potassium.
- Potassium and calcium are quite a challenge. I have MyNetDiary Pro to track my vitamins and minerals. It’s definitely worth the minor extra cost. And what I learned very quickly is that even if I eat a pretty decent diet, using MyPlate guidelines, I generally get all my vitamins and minerals except for calcium and potassium. I can’t ever seem to get enough of these two. Eating yogurt helps me get some of both, along with protein. And, when I’m nearing my calorie limit, with only a 150 or so calories left to my name, and I’m still far too low on potassium, a small red potato can save the day with nearly 900 mg of K.
- Sometimes after dinner I realize I have quite a few calories left. This is when I get excited. It means I can have an extra helping, or a cookie, or beer.
- Beer and wine calories are often forgotten. Count these before you drink, because afterwards, well, it’s just harder to remember.
As I read these out loud to myself, I realize that most might find these observations to be fairly obvious to anyone who has counted calories, but I know I’m talking to my own internal eating demons. It’s proven to be a useful exercise for me and I would suggest everyone try it. It goes without saying that everyone will have different experiences.
Now I’m not overweight by any stretch, but I have felt there were definitely some things I wanted to improve about my body. Mainly, I wanted to get back into the shape that I was in a decade or more ago, such as play soccer for a full 90 minutes without needing to be subbed out, and mountain bike a full 20 to 30 miles without having to lay down on the side of the trail feeling as though I would pass out or puke. So far, by using the MyNetDiary app along with Jawbone, I’ve been able to easily maintain my current target weight, and am well on my way toward my goals of improving my fitness.
Photo credit: iStockphoto.