Weight Management: It All Counts

In order to be able to balance my intake with my output, once I figured out what my typical output is, it is necessary to count the intake. The way to do that, I propose, is to round off and keep track of what you eat.

While it is not impossible to track all the foods, it is also not necessary. Ultimately, we need only know how much total intake we have enjoyed in the course of the day. So if we have a nice breakfast and add up all the parts, you might be heading into your day remembering a number such as 500 or 650. We don't have to remember exactly what you had.  Just the running total.

Creating that running total involves having some idea of the Calorie content of foods we eat.

Many foods are labeled, so we can get an exact-ish number from the label. But do we really want to keep up with adding a bunch of 180s and 120s? I do not!

Since I am trying to stay UNDER a certain daily limit, I round up anything that is close to half way. Abandoning strict math rules, a 135 or 140 Calorie item gets added to the daily sum as 200.

Other foods, however, are not labeled. What should we do?

Remembering that we are averaging over decades, not hours, I have come up with some simple estimating principles.

  1. Any bread about the weight of a slice of bread is 100 Calories. (That extra dense biscuit weighs a LOT more than a slice of bread! The crust on a slice of pizza is about two slices... etc.)

  2. Any piece of meat about the size of a deck of cards is 250 Calories. A 1/4 pound (4 oz.) 85% lean hamburger patty is about 250 Calories. Use this to calculate all meats, and you'll be okay. The 16 oz steak, then, is 1000 Calories!

  3. A slice of cheese is about 100 Calories.

  4. An egg is about 100 Calories. Oil on the egg adds more, depending on how much you use.

  5. Pasta--consider it bread and see rule 1.

  6. If a creamy dressing (e.g. mayonnaise ) has eggs or milk in it, it is about 100 Calories per dollop.

  7. Other condaments are about 50 Calories.

  8. One small potato is about 150 Calories.

  9. Added Fats--Add 100 Calories if it is fried! Add 100 Calories if it is buttered.

  10. If it includes a creamy or cheesy sauce, add 100 Calories (at least!).

  11. Vegetables are about 100 Calories (this estimate is probably high, unless your vegetables are cooked with fat--see rule 7)

  12. Fruit is about 100 Calories. (Low, but since it is also generally healthy, we get a break!)

  13. Deserts and sweet pastries should be exceptions to the rule and count as 400 Calories (probably low in most cases!)

Using this system, you can quickly get close to the Calorie count for many foods.

Meat pizza = 2 breads, 1 meat, 1 cheese = 550ish

1/4 Pound Cheeseburger = 2 breads, 1 meat, 1 cheese = 550ish

Two vegetable servings (green beans and
mixed vegetables), one potato serving
(baby new potatoes) and one meat
(broiled fish) = about 650 Calories.
Big yummy plate of spaghetti with meat sauce and cheese--just never mind. Say 1500 and enjoy!

Obviously, labeled food is very hady for this system. Grab a bottle of Juice (250 Calories), a granola bar (180 Calories) and enjoy!

I would recommend you look at Calorie Lab's web site. You can find Calorie counts for many of your favorite drive-through meals as well as counts for other things. If there is something you eat frequently, you might want to look it up and learn the more accurate number--and then apply THAT number to similar foods.

However, don't go overboard learning the calorie count of every food in the store. You'll go nuts and give up.  The Reasonable Fitness approach is all about sustainability. Just use the rules above and round up. Look things up when you feel like it.

The important thing regarding counting is to be obsessive and COUNT EVERYTHING that goes in your mouth--and round up! If you really want to manage your weight, you have to get the intake under control.

A typical day for me--with my 2400 Calorie daily limit (see "Enough is Enough" section)--might go like this:

Sausage, Egg, Cheese on English Muffin = 650 (Sausage, 250; Egg, 100; Cheese, 100; Bread, 200)
Zero Calorie Beverage = 0
-- 650

McDonalds 1/10 Pound Cheeseburger = 400 (Bun, 200; Cheese, 100, Meat, 100)
Small (paper bag) Fries = 250
Zero Calorie Beverage = 0
-- 650

Granola Bar: 200
Fruit: 100
-- 300

Going into dinner, I now have 800 Calories I can blow! If I aim for 700 or so, I'll be losing weight!

Broiled Butter/Lemon Pepper Talapia = 250
Steamed Mixed Vegetables = 100
Pasta Salad = 300 (Pasta, 200; Creamy Sauce, 100)
-- 650

Dessert anyone? All of the above comes in under the 2400 Calorie maintenance limit for my weight, age, and lifestyle.

Suppose I had, instead of the Sausage laden breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal (200) and a 100 Calorie piece of fruit?  See what just happened?  I dropped 350 Calories off my day--that I could have had as ice-cream or cake--or that would go toward weight loss.

Counting is no fun, but once you get into the habit, it becomes natural.  Moreover, it will make you very aware of what you are putting into your body! You will NOT pick up that second doughnut from the break room when you have to add 400 Calories to your daily intake.

Awareness, for me, was the turning point in weight management. Once I became a conscientious eater, I was far better off, and I became able to manage my weight--to lose that first 60 pounds. Being intentional lead to freedom. Yes, I CAN have another barbecue sandwich at lunch, but that's 600 Calories I CANNOT have later that night.  I CAN stop for ice-cream, but that's 400 Calories (if I get the little one) that goes into the daily hopper!

It is OKAY to Go Over the limit, sometimes.

Reasonable Fitness is a lifetime approach. Keep that in mind. Over the course of a week, you have some number of Calories per day. For me, about 2400, as I have said. Over the course of a week, some days, I might go over that.

No problem. Just take the overage off the next day! Ouch!!!

Suppose I have a business dinner, and end up 300 Calories over my daily limit? Well, that just means that I have only 2100 Calories for the next day--I'll be starting the next day with 300 Calories in the tally. I'll be substituting granola bars for burgers and skipping the sweets.  If I keep my two-day total under 5200 Calories, I am still on track.

But DON'T think of it as tracking Calories for two days--just start the next day with 300 Calories and count back up to (in my case) 2400, just like every other day.

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