Tuesday, January 21, 2014

To Lose Weight, Track What You Eat

A page from my 12-week Weight Watchers tracker. It helps
keeps me honest--except when I cheat!
I cooked and baked like crazy during the holidays. I also stopped a longtime practice of tracking my food, something that helped me lose more than 60 pounds through Weight Watchers a few years back. Like almost everyone else I know, I rationalized my recent descent into indiscriminate snacking and splurging with the usual excuses: "It's just a few pounds. I'm still much thinner than I was." "I've been through a lot. I deserve to eat this whole piece of cake--and the cookies too!" "I'm a food blogger--how can I write about something without sampling it first?"

Unfortunately, you can't fool the scale--or the doctor. I gained 10 pounds during the holidays (on top of 10 I'd already gained), and my cholesterol level skyrocketed. OK, I can rationalize that too--they weighed me and took the blood sample after breakfast. Of course it must be inaccurate. But the truth is, it's time to 'fess up and drop some of those extra lbs, inches and bad habits. Both my husband and I are working hard at the gym--he with a trainer, me trying to do it on my own. Fewer carbs, more fruits, veggies and protein. I bought another 12-week "Plan & Track" journal at Weight Watchers, though I haven't rejoined--yet. However, my last stint was three-years, so the Points-Plus system is fairly second-nature to me: 26 daily points, plus a 49 extra to play with for the week. If you exercise daily, so much the better--you can eat a little more, but if you don't eat the extra points, the weight may come off faster. As for me, I'm just trying to get my splurging under control--and perhaps lose some of that extra girth. The first step is to step on that scale and face the music. The next step is tracking, tracking, tracking!

Several studies have shown that writing down what you eat--or keeping track of it through a food app--helps people lose weight. One study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and discussed on WebMD, showed that people who kept a food diary six days a week lost twice as much weight as those who kept a diary one day a week or less. Basically, the practice of journaling makes you more aware--or "mindful"-- of what you're putting in your mouth. How easy is it to snack on those leftover hors d'oeuvres before tucking them away in the fridge and forget you actually consumed half a tray of bruschetta and goat cheese, plus a plate of mini wienies? How hard is it to wrap that lonely leftover piece of chocolate cake for later consumption rather than stuffing it in your mouth--or, better yet, to toss it into the garbage to avoid future temptation? Writing down what you eat forces you to own your excesses.

So what's the takeaway? My husband's perennial injunction: "Time for that starvation diet!" sounds a bit extreme. Instead I prefer an old-fashioned, measured approach: the written food diary. He, on the other hand, uses the free calorie-counting app, myfitnesspal. "It's great," he says. "They have a great database of food and restaurants, and it keeps you on track." He particularly likes the calculator that he uses with the exercise app, Runtastic, to figure out how many calories he's burned working out at the gym, walking or biking, so he can adjust his calorie intake for the day. His single-minded focus on losing weight is rubbing off on me--at least a little. If he's going to lose 30 pounds, I'm good for at least those extra 10! I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

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