Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Goes In

So I can't believe I've gone nearly 9 weeks without mentioning that we're technically on a diet. Confession: I hate that word. It sounds so regimented and strict and boring and difficult...and what we're doing isn't really any of those things. But then, when I confess we're counting calories, that sounds just as pedantic. But here's the sales pitch: it's SCIENCE!

Yes, there's some effort involved in figuring out the calories in the foods you normally eat, but that sort of calculation is becoming easier and easier. And anyway, once you get into the habit of tailoring your portion sizes correctly and maybe doing a few substitutes for lower-calorie alternatives, it's a piece of cake. (And yes: I've had more than my fair share of pieces of cake whilst doing this.)

See, here's where the science comes in: it's just calories out vs. calories in. Seriously: simple arithmetic. No need to separate yourself from the maths by assigning points values to things, or having to change up your whole diet to accomodate special meal packages, and no shelling out huge flipping wadges of cash to get fancy-pants suppliments: just make sure you're burning more energy than you consume. Simples. In fact, I've lost about 14 lbs. since we started and the Husband has lost nearly 10. So we know it's working.

The Husband has us set up a lovely little chart in Excel. Well, I say it's's actually quite huge - but that's because it's become something of a pet project for him. We figured out our BMRs (basal metabolic rates) by plugging our heights and weights into an online calculator. We then added in some scaling via a sedentary multiplier and then all we have to do is keep track of what we eat and when we exercise. I have to say that just the act of being conscious of what you're shoving in your mouth makes it easier to eat less than if you don't think about how much you munch in a given day. I've also noticed this is much easier for me to be good about if I'm keeping busy instead of lounging around in a chair watching a movie or haunting Pinterest.

An average week in our chart.

So what sorts of changes have we made to make our Calories-in/Calories-out routine work for us?

  • Buying no-sugar-added or sugar free drinks (aside from juice). We've always done this, but our thinking is: why waste the extra calories on a drink when you can have a tiny chocolate bar?
  • Switching up the crisps. We used to get McCoy's Man Crisps. We love them. However, at 180 calories a bag we wanted to see if we could do better, and we did. Sainsbury's Good For You brand clocks in at only 95 calories per bag, and the cracked pepper and sea salt variety are perfectly scrummy.
  • Cracking down on portion size. This was a big one for us. It's so easy to look at what is, ostensibly, a decent portion of food and think, "but my tummy will have an empty!" Yes, there were a few days at the beginning where we were noticeably not full-to-bursting, but we're so used to it now that our old huge portions make us feel somewhere between stuffed and marginally uncomfortable.
  • Putting the fun in Fun Sized. Don't get me wrong: what most of my compatriots think of as "fun sized" candy (like those Mr. Goodbars you'd get at Halloween) are pretty anemic as a serving size. But by buying our chocolate in individual-sized servings it helps us keep track of what we're eating. Example? I managed to chow through a whole Olympics-themed Cadbury's bar in a day. That's around 1000 calories! By contrast, we get 7- and 9-packs of little lunchbox-sized chocolates, so I can have a Toffee Crisp or Kit Kat with my lunch for something like 100 calories. And I don't have to sacrifice my chocolate. Let us all say amen.
  • Top up the Tipple. I know this is on every weight-loss list of tips, but seriously: keep up with the drinks. It's perfectly true that half of the time when you think you're hungry, it's just thirst. And if you're keeping up with your water/juice/milk/fizz intake, that leaves less room for that extra piece of pie, or the fudge that someone is insisting you take a chunk of.

In the end, the biggest bonus of this whole thing for me (aside from the fact that I'm back below my pre-pregnancy weight for the first time in ages!) is that I don't have to change what we eat in any drastic fashion. I still make curry, chili, pasta, macaroni & cheese, omlets, and all the rest. We still have oven chips with dinner, and the other week I didn't flinch at making a gigantic brunch of bacon and French toast. As long as you know what goes in, you can compensate for how much energy you need to expend to meet your goals. Say it with me people: calories in-calories out!

Psst: just a little pseudo-science shout-out. I keep seeing these stupid lists of "negative calorie foods" on Pinterest. There's so much variance in how people's bodies metabolise food that it's practically impossible to call anything a negative calorie food with any degree of reliability. But hey: be skeptical! Don't just take my word for it. Have a listen to Brian Dunning over at Skeptoid and check the sources he cites for his research and see what you think.


  1. Ok, were you writing this this morning? Because, this very morning I sat down and wrote a post about food. Hive mind, or what?! Diets are in the air at the min, I think :-)

    Good to know - with the aid of a whizzy spreadsheet - that calories aren't actually that hard to track. It's always hugely intimidated me. And I agree that it is totally about balance and not splurging but not giving things up entirely.

    14 lbs is amazing, well done! xx

  2. I agree; I think "calorie counting" always sounds more draconian and pedantic than it really is. And I *was* writing this morning! Got to love how that works itself out. I'll have to get Seb to send over a blank copy of our sheet if it'd be helpful. :)