Here's my dirty little secret; I've been doing that all summer. To look at me no one would say I have a weight problem, but thanks to sports injuries and other medical issues this summer, I've been sidelined from my normal active lifestyle. Sprawling on the chaise lounge and reading instead of chasing a fuzzy green ball across the tennis court and doing yard work has been a surprisingly enjoyable change. Unfortunately, I didn't change my eating habits along with my reduction in activity and the inches have been creeping on. Every morning when I reach for the elastic waist pants I tell myself 'this is it, gotta cut back', but each night I eat my healthy, delicious, home-grown cherry tomatoes, and still reach for the French Fried Onion rings (ever get one of those big bags from one of the warehouse stores?). Since even my "fat cloths" are getting tight, it's time to get serious.
Counting calories and making a point of skipping the junk food is the best way to do that, but that can be boring (yeah, like that's an excuse -- but what can I say). Doing the right thing can be easier when it's also fun, and I know just the place to go www.mypyramid.gov. Be prepared for a near information overload. Designed and run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the site's main page has so many links to useful information that you hardly know where to start. There are waaay too many of them for me to go through here, but I do want to tell you about my favorite, www.mypyramidtracker.gov.
You start out by telling the Tracker your age, weight, and height (why fudge? No one but the computer will know and if you don't tell the truth, later you won't get an accurate breakdown of what nutrition you need). Next you're asked to list all the foods you ate for the day, then the number of servings. After that the Tracker will analyze your intake for the day and shoot you to a page where you can choice to see if you met the 2005 Dietary Guidelines -- they use cute little emoticons as well as showing you the amount you actually ate and the amount that is recommended; you can see your nutrient breakdown for the day -- you get your total calories consumed along with a breakdown of your fats, proteins, and vitamins; you get "Pyramid stats" which show you graphically whether you got your recommended daily amount of milk, meat, veggies, grains, etc; and lastly you can view your "healthy eating history by day, month, up to a year -- this is assuming you've registered and have faithfully input your eating habits for a while.
Registration is free or you can use "check it out" daily without registering. I think the benefit of registering is that you can save your information for at least a year in order to track how well you're doing. Plus, you won't be able to access your "check it out" information from the whole day if you don't use the same computer all day -- no adding breakfast and lunch at your work computer then going home and adding dinner. You'd have to start from scratch adding your entire food intake for the whole day. Frankly, I think the benefits of seeing how your eating habits change over time is well worth the registration.
Plusses and minuses of the Tracker...well, today I couldn't find Velveeta sliced cheese, so I had to compensate with the next best thing (American/cheddar cheese, processed), but I could choose one slice as my serving size. Plus, I could add plain M&M's and select as few as 10 pieces as my serving size! The Tracker strives to offer a huge range of foods to choose from, from simple foods like bananas to restaurant food like McD's Big Mac. And they have very flexible serving sizes, from a whole apple (and you can even choose large or medium) to a slice as a serving size. My only real quibble is that they don't show you the calories for your individual foods. I like to know how many calories those 10 M&Ms are verses one (or two) Hershey's Kisses so I know which food choice will be cheaper calorie-wise when I'm limiting my sweets intake.
I won't bore you with the anal way I figure that out on my own, but I will tell you about a book that I absolutely love "The Calorie King Calorie Fat and Carbohydrate Counter" (613.23 CALOR 2009). I looked up M&Ms in the book, and it actually told me how many calories there were in one M&M! Okay, okay it only told me the calories for the plain M&M. It didn't go on and do the same for the peanut, almond, or peanut butter, but I was still impressed. Plus, it not only tells you the calories, it also gives the fat and carbohydrate counts. The book covers the normal basic foods -- like meat, breads, fruits veggies, etc -- and an amazing array of sweets (like M&Ms) as well as a huge section on restaurant foods. I found the Outback, O-Charley's, Sizzler, Red Lobster along with the usual suspects like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell. Starbucks was even in there. Do you really want to know how many calories your favorite frappuccino are costing you?
If all our copies of Calorie King are checked out, there's always the Reference copy you can use here, or you can try any of these other calorie counting books.
I'd like to talk more about www.mypyramid.gov but if I do that, this'll become a novel rather than a blog -- it's already leaning in that direction -- so just check it out on your own. If you have any questions on using it, pipe up here or give us a call at Reference!