Sunday, January 31, 2010
While I am still collecting data on some of the restaurants, you can access a chart containing data from over 600 entrees from the 12 largest restaurant chains right now. You’ll notice that sodium and calorie content is compared to the benchmark of 800 calories and 800mg of sodium, which approximates one-third of the recommended daily intake.
...Yes, you’re reading it right. By and large, food from restaurants is outrageously unhealthy. The report will demonstrate that sodium, not calories, represents the greater threat from restaurant food (although the calories do plenty of damage themselves). Only 22% of the entrees from the preliminary data are within one meal’s worth of sodium (and that’s just the entrée!), and more than one in ten items exceed the daily recommended value – all by themselves!
I’m not claiming to have “breaking news” that restaurant food is high in sodium, but check back in a week to see some ways of breaking down the data that demonstrates the issue with new clarity.
The “Default Plan” has been created to deal with this question. It has four parts:
1. Balance and Moderation. Anything not a part of the week’s plan should be done in balance and moderation. Balance food groups, the distribution of calories throughout the day, and so forth. Exercise moderation in portion sizes. Consume caloric beverages, diet sodas, and alcoholic beverages in extreme moderation. Whatever is not explicitly covered in the week’s eating plan needs to be reasonably constant to effectively judge the week’s plan.
2. Make Good Choices. There are too many aspects of healthy eating to name them all without succumbing to a “laundry list” approach. Many books and websites lay them out in great detail. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know the many good choices that can be made. Just four examples: wheat bread instead of white bread, skim milk instead of whole milk, lean protein instead of fatty protein, and whole fruit instead of fruit juice.
3. Drink plenty of water and get lots of rest. In my experience, two things should defy balance and moderation: water and sleep. If I’m tired or dehydrated, I often end up eating poorly. For me, seven hours of sleep is important to function well. And while I don’t know just how much water is sufficient – most recommend eight glasses a day and some advise adjusting upwards if overweight – I know if I don’t need to “go” for hours, I need to up my water intake significantly!
4. Make a sincere effort at the above. This is a carefully chosen statement. To achieve the consistency needed, this won’t work without sincere effort. However, notice that it doesn’t say “make a Herculean effort”. In fact, part of the contest among the 16 eating plans is to see which make those everyday healthy choices a little easier. You cannot sustain a Herculean effort for the rest of your life.
The purpose of the Default Plan is to allow the weekly plans to be relatively simple and straightforward, but also healthy. I don’t think 1800 calories a day of potato chips and ice cream would make a healthy diet – even if you did lose weight. The Default Plan ensures that won’t happen. Actually, the Default Plan really wouldn’t be a bad approach on its own. I know this: if I’d have done these four things consistently for my first thirty-eight years, my road back to a healthy weight would have been a lot shorter.
This eating plan has one rule (plus observation of the “Default Plan”): No eating out. This includes eat in and take out – anything that comes from a restaurant*.
I will admit this approach comes close to violating my rule on sustainability. I can’t really see myself never eating out ever again, but if it works as well as I think it might, I’d have to consider cutting way back, maybe combined with one of the other eating out strategies in the Pounds Off Playoff.
Finally, it’s no “eating out”. What about beverages? Non-caloric beverages are fine, but that’s it. Mostly this is for the black coffee I drink daily, mostly from home, but sometimes with reinforcements from Starbucks.
And one other bonus...I’m going to save a lot of money the next two weeks. This makes my wife very happy.
*If you eat out once or twice a week, or if you splurge on a birthday or special occasion, go ahead and enjoy yourself. My beef is with myself. I’ve gone the drive-through route for weekday lunches and I'd had dinner out whenever I had an excuse to, such as if I have a night meeting for work, my wife is working late and I have the kids, or many other "reasons". If this doesn’t describe you, I’m not trying to take the joy out of your special occasion out. If it does, and you’re overweight, hopefully we can learn together on this one.
Total Loss: 9.0 Pounds
The best thing I did this week was get realistic about weight loss. I lost 6.2 pounds last week, but I knew that wouldn’t continue, so I set my goal as anything over 2 pounds, and it worked out.
The most interesting thing I learned is that sticking to 2500 calories invokes many of the other plans as well. In other words, you can’t limit calories without exercising some of the strategies to limit calories. I eliminated snacking after 8:00 – a huge problem before P.O.P – except for a fruit or a 200 calorie treat. While I still ate out, I ordered less at every restaurant, from quick Chinese and American lunch takeout to two nice dinners with friends and family. And I’ve cut down on whites, since I just can’t afford the calories.
One thing did not go as planned this week: exercise. I had planned to do 90 minutes of cardio the first week of each eating plan and 180 minutes the second. Well, I did 90 minutes last week and 130 this week. From my perspective, I got too busy – working late, an unexpected breakfast meeting – but I suppose I could have found the time had I tried hard enough. Still, I’m racking my brain to remember the last time I did 130 minutes of cardio during a work week...and it may be never. So I can’t feel too bad about this.
As I leave the 2500 calorie plan, at least for now, my lasting impression is that it is doable and it seems to work. This week, I went to a seven hour party with the guys in my fantasy football league and ate out socially twice, but felt I could plan for it. I never felt like I was sacrificing, but rather that I could have everything I needed and anything (but not everything) that I wanted. This bodes well for this plan long term.
Coaching Point: Be realistic about weight loss. Your prior weight loss may not reflect reality, like my experience the very first week of this contest. Or it may be statistical variation for any number of reasons. Don’t think you can do it forever, just get refocused on realistic weight loss.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
To track my calorie consumption, I have arbitrarily decided to divide my day into three sections: 500 calories allocated through mid-morning, 1000 calories from late morning through mid-afternoon, and 1000 calories from 4:00 on. Essentially, these are breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including snacks closest to those mealtimes. These are just guidelines to make the counting easier, and unused calories do carry over. If I limit breakfast to 300 calories, I know that gives me 200 more I could apply to dinner or dessert. Works pretty well.
I’m not planning to weigh and measure my food. To get away with this, I have three strategies. First, I’ll use the many websites that carry calorie counts. If you enter “apple calories” into Google, you’ll see that it’s just that easy. I usually check two or three sources to ensure some consensus calorie counts. With restaurants, I plan ahead, checking out the menu on-line beforehand or grabbing a nutritional menu when I arrive. Finally, I’ll estimate where I don’t have clear information, using information about similar foods as a baseline. For this to work, I’ll need the discipline to estimate conservatively, so that I am as likely to overestimate calorie content as I am to underestimate it. These quick strategies will allow me to stay to my desired calories, without adding time and frustration to my day weighing and measuring food.
Week 1 Loss: 6.2 pounds
Total Loss: 6.2 pounds
As Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe and ESPN would say, I’m shocked, SHOCKED! (I guess that line is really from Casablanca, but I know it from the Mark Twainesque member of The Sports Reporters panel on ESPN.) Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked. We all know that extremely overweight people can drop several pounds almost immediately when starting a new diet, and this would apply to me. I’m not ready to share my exact starting weight, but suffice it to say it would be make an excellent batting average! (Sabermetrics fans, I’ve found one good use for BA...as a metaphor for portliness!) Anyway, I started high enough that I may drop a bit before settling into that hoped for two-pounds a week pattern.
The reason I was surprised is that I don’t really feel like am losing weight. I had three days where I definitely hit the 2500 calorie mark and no disaster days. But I also had a few meals that were family style with some really tasty Italian and Thai food where I had seconds and really didn’t know how many calories I was consuming. Fortunately, there were no major “eating disasters” – entire bags of chips, half-cartons of ice cream, etc.
Down 6.2 pounds, I feel like a starting pitcher whose team just staked him to a six run lead before even taking the field. I know it’s a little too good to be true, but as long as I don’t do the eating equivalent of walking a lot of people, I’m going to sail to a great two-week start.
Coaching Point: Get started and tell someone. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – make a plan, start it right away, and become accountable to someone so that you’ll stick with it.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Maybe not. But I am committing to spend the next 60 weeks of my life observing these 16 plans, all of which all of which are a radical departure from my previous plan of focusing on life, family, and pleasure, and resolving to address my diet later. So if the potential eating plans aren’t nervous, maybe I should be a little.
Without further ado, here is a brief introduction to the 16 eating plans I will be living with for the next 60 weeks:
“The Calorie Focus Region”
1. 2500 Calories per Day. This is the first of two calorie counting approaches. I am still on the fence about posting my actual weight, but suffice to say, this is more than the 500 calorie reduction generally thought to produce weight loss. (As with all 16 eating plans, the “Default Plan”, which I will introduce shortly, governs what I do other than just counting calories.)
2. No Eating Out. I eat out way too much – usually for lunch and sometimes for dinner. If you eat out once or twice a week, this may not speak to you, but I get more than a normal daily allotment of calories from restaurants. For at least two weeks, I’ll go cold turkey. This includes dine in and take out.
3. 1800 Calories per Day. A Mayo Clinic book I read identified this as the lowest sensible level for my weight group. By comparing the two calorie levels, I hope to find out how hard it would be to go low, and what the payoff would be.
4. Limit Restaurant Entrees to 800 Calories and 800 mg of Sodium (UPDATE: Changed to the "Rule of 7"; see the Eating Plan Profile for the Rule of 7). Conveniently, recommended levels of calories and sodium intake (in milligrams) are about the same. The “800/800” benchmarks are intended to represent about one-third of a day’s recommended amount. Look at your favorite restaurant’s nutritional facts – you’ll be *shocked* how few items meet this standard.
“Whole Foods Region”
5. No Processed Foods. No processed meats, no whites, no artificial sweeteners. This is the first of three methods – and the most aggressive – to increase consumption of natural foods and reduce processed foods. Ideally, my body will return to a more natural state as well, if I can actually find enough to eat in modern America!
6. No Whites. No products from white sugar or white flour and no white starches. From my previous experiences with low-carb diets, I think this will be very helpful. In addition to being a more “pure” diet, it keeps you away from all kinds of high calorie temptations.
7. No Junk Food. No chips, no crackers, no sweets, and no fried foods. This is the most convenient of the three “no” plans in this section, but it allows for a lot of “white bread” choices that could slow weight loss.
8. Nine Servings of Fruits and Vegetables a Day. And only one from fruit juice. I have seen different recommendations for the number of fruits and vegetables one should eat, generally ranging from the familiar “Five-A-Day” to nine. I’m guessing squeezing all this goodness in will crowd many other things out.
“Behavior Focus Region”
9. Write it All Down. Everything. One of the most common behavioral recommendations is to keep a food journal. I have resisted this to maintain my state of denial about my eating choices...until now.
10. No Food after 8:00. I’ll bet there aren’t a lot of overweight people who aren’t night eaters. This approach goes cold turkey on the time that is most prone to the consumption of empty calories. The rest of the day depends on the “Default Plan” to be successful.
11. The Hunger Scale. A common technique for retraining people to eat only for hunger – as opposed to other reasons – is to have them rate their hunger level on a 1-10 scale before eating anything. A one is ravishing hunger, a five is comfortable, and a ten is beyond stuffed.
12. No TV or Reading While Eating, Eat Only at a Table, and No Eating from the Container. This is a collection of strategies aimed at ending unconscious eating. Any one might not make a big difference, but together, they would represent a major change in behavior.
“Promising Tricks Region”
13. Divide Plate in Quarters. When eating meals, divide the plate into quarters to balance food groups. One quarter protein, one quarter starch, and half fruits and vegetables. This approach allows you to eat in a healthy balance without the detail of counting or precise measuring.
14. Three Strikes. Since this is a sports metaphor, let me explain it with another. This is the “bend, but don’t break defense” of eating plans. Three “strikes” are permitted, but once that allocation is gone for the day, that’s it. Strikes include junk food, seconds, and most snacks.
15. Half to Go and No Seconds. Restaurant portions often are huge, with calorie counts well in excess of their home-cooked equivalents. One strategy is to order a to-go container at the beginning of the meal. This plan consists of never exceeding normal portions when out, and avoiding seconds at home.
16. Lips to Hips. My grandma was beautiful, and kept her figure and her health for decades. One of my lasting memories of her is her saying when sweets came out. “A moment on your lips, forever on your hips,” she would say. Worked for her. I’ll try it.
These 16 plans reflect some common sense approaches to health and weight loss. Most are attributable to numerous books and magazine articles. A few – numbers four, 14, and 16 – I added my own twist to, but really, most of what we need to know is easily available from multiple sources.
Every two weeks, I will post on each new eating plan in greater detail until I have covered all 16 plans.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or a nutritionist. Consult your doctor before starting a diet or exercise plan.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Calorie Focused Approaches. We all know that weight loss is a simple function of calories in and calories out. Eating plans in this category seek to restrict calories.
Whole Food Approaches. A lot has been written of late about the relationship between processed food and weight gain in America. If you don’t have a strong grasp on this, I’d recommend you read one of Michael Pollan’s books. Whole foods are the opposite of processed foods – they are closer to nature and our bodies know better how to handle them.
Behavior Focused Approaches. In addition to eating more than we should, people who struggle with their weight usually have behaviors that contribute to the problem. Some of the most well known are emotional eating and stress eating. My problem is mindless eating and the four behavioral approaches are focused on helping me tune in to what I’m eating.
Tricks of the Trade. My Grandpa Quinlan taught me that to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit you can just “double and add 30”. And you know what? It works pretty well. Sometimes a shortcut can get you 90% of the benefit with 10% of the work. The “promising tricks” are simple shortcuts that could help cut calories and balance nutrition without actually counting anything.
Healthy. Preference will be given to approaches that correlate with improved health. In addition to reducing calorie consumption, these plans should increase consumption of vegetables and reduce some of the destructive eating habits that cause weight gain. This rule also pretty much rules out crazy fad diets. Darn, no (insert crazy fad diet here) diets!
Sustainable. Conventional wisdom now favors “lifestyle change” approaches over intense diets, which too often lead to yo-yo cycles of weight loss and gain. To make the tournament, each plan needs to be something that could be followed long-term with only minor modifications.
Diverse. It wouldn’t make for a very interesting contest if all 16 plans were alike. And testing several philosophies on weight loss will be more revealing. To achieve diversity, I created four categories of eating plans, which are discussed in the next post.
Aggressive. Each plan needs to have a high probability of success. This nixes the “leave one bite on the plate” diet.
Public Domain. These plans should not require fees or specific purchases. Rather, they should reflect the some agreed upon consensus as a sensible approach. Obviously, some people have success in various proprietary weight loss plans, or eating specific foods. However, one of my goals is that others might see the Pounds Off Playoff approach and try it. Required purchases and memberships would work against it. The only drawback is that I can’t try the Subway diet!
Personalized. We all know some things that work for and against us in the weight department. For me, I’ve had some success with low carb approaches, but my downfalls include mindless eating, late-night eating, and eating out – to name only a few. The 16 plans should build on strengths and short-circuit weaknesses.
Next, I’ll share the four categories of diets that will form the four “regions” of the contest.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Here’s an overview of the Pounds Off Playoff plan.
A Tournament. The Pounds Off Playoff is a single elimination tournament, complete with brackets, just like that big tournament played by college basketball teams.
16 Eating Plans. The “teams” are 16 dueling eating plans. Essentially, I’ve identified 16 different approaches – low calorie diets, whole foods, behavioral approaches, and promising tricks.
30 Games. Each “game” consists of two eating plans, with two weeks on each plan. The plan with the most weight loss for its two weeks (or percentage lost in case of ties) advances to the next round.
60 Weeks. With 16 eating plans, the first round will consist of eight games, the second round four games, the third round two games, and then a championship game. That’s a total of 15 games, with each game lasting four weeks.
Two Exercise Plans. To keep the competition even and encourage exercise, I’ve scheduled 90 minutes of cardio for the first week of each two week pairing, and 180 minutes for the second week. Mostly, I’ll be biking, or riding an exercise bike.
The Basic “Rules”. Weigh in is every Sunday morning before eating breakfast. I have a digital scale, put it on the same squares of bathroom tile, and take two extra measurements just to be sure. Each week I follow the given plan as faithfully as possible and follow the “default plan” to cover everything not spelled out that week’s strategy (more about that later).
My goal is to lose weight, and also relearn how to eat. My 40th birthday is a little more than a year from now, and I think it’s finally time that I stopped eating like a high school student with money and a car.
This blog serves two purposes – building in some accountability for me, and providing a window in for others. I’ve found the weight loss stories of so many people to be inspiring, and I hope I can repay that benefit by helping others.
I’ll share more details about the Pounds Off Playoff plan this week. Then, the blog will get into a normal rhythm, with a post every Sunday summarizing the week, and occasional mid-week posts.
(Note: I am not a medical doctor or dietician. Consult your doctor before starting a diet or exercise plan.)
I used to think that was a funny story... until it happened to me. I’ve carried extra weight pretty much my entire adult life, but sometime in my mid-30s I found myself in George Scott’s shoes, and I knew I needed to do something. The problem, of course, is what to do about it. I’ve tried a lot of things, and spent hundreds on diet books, with at best temporary success. Sound familiar? What I really need is an approach that combines the best advice on healthy eating, a structure to keep me on track, an objective measure of success, and a little fun. That’s where the Pounds Off Playoff comes in.
The Pounds Off Playoff is essentially a competition that pits 16 sensible eating plans in a single elimination tournament. Over the next 60 weeks, I’ll test calorie restriction methods, whole food diets, behavioral approaches, and tricks that keep the pounds off. About once a month, one of the 16 plans will bow out, until a single approach is left standing. Along the way, I hope to cure that "Dunlop Disease" and learn healthy behaviors that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The next post will explain just how the Pounds Off Playoff plan works.