Hi folks! Today’s topic comes from
@kimretta on twitter. Say hi to Kimra! (HI KIMRA)
She asked me a few weeks ago: “How do you track your food without wanting to punch an eye out? Nothing makes me want to eat more packaged food than tracking, which is probably not the point…”
Calorie counting. My best weight loss frenemy. I have found it to be about 100% true for me that if I’m not tracking, I will not lose weight. I’ve found a pretty high correlation to being in peak training season and gaining weight UNLESS I track my food, especially for run-focused stuff like marathon training. I do *ok* at not eating like a complete asshole when my activity level isn’t too high or too low, but again, never to take of the precious ell bees, just to maintain where I’m at.
My “eat-watch” is a little broken. I’m pretty sure it always has been. If you locked me in a room with only carrots, I’d find a way to overeat on them. I am the person that obsesses over the chips bowl at a party even if I’ve eaten proper dinner. I can eat back a 20 mile run in one meal, and then shove beer and cake on top of it and be still scouting for my next
In my world, there are a lot of miles and a lot of food.
My body lacks the normal human response known as “full” until I’ve completely overeaten, and it doesn’t matter whether I eat carbs or protein or vegetables or what. It’s actually WORSE when I eat less carbs – carbs make me feel full as long as they’re part of a balanced meal, where when I eat a bowl of veggies and protein I’m like… ok, where’s the rest of my dinner please?
When I first started tracking I freaked out that I might have to do it for the rest of my life. After quite a few years or so of doing this I’ve realized that I’ll have to do it for the rest of my life in these situations:
1. If I am currently at a weight and would like to be at a different one. I cannot do that intuitively.
2. If I am either in peak training OR doing ZERO training. My brain has no idea how to normalize that hunger vs the amount of calories I should have in those two situations. I’m like a fish out of water, or a cat IN water, just to give you a proper visual.
For right now, I am trying to take off some weight, so I am tracking. Every day. Every bite that goes into my mouth. And it’s just a thing I do, like shower, brush my teeth, check facebook, etc. It doesn’t drive me completely and totally crazy. Let me try and examine why.
1. I know it works. After many false starts, I have been able to lose and maintain that loss (for the most part) with keeping track of my calories. I have not found any other way that works for me. Bitching about a problem I have a solution to (and not doing it) does me no good.
2. I’ve only used sparkpeople.com. I find their website easy to use and I’m kind of over it 7 years later, but I used to REALLY dig getting my spins and points and trophies. I’m not sure if any of the other sites are better or worse, but if you hate what you use, try Spark. This is an example of what it looks like.
3. I used to get stressed out about exactly how many calories were in things. Seven years later, I realize that an estimate is probably good enough. If you go out all the time, this might be more of an issue, but finding a hamburger at a chain place (with all the calorie counts online) that’s similar to the burger I got at the local joint works for the once in a while I do it. It works best if you really try to find something similar. For example, the giant half-lb thick burger that, say, Chilis makes, is not the same as a McDonald’s hamburger. It’s about 4 times the size and calories. So, when you’re eating off the grid, you just have to be HONEST with yourself what your food looks like.
4. I work a computer desk job and have my laptop/phone/tablet around pretty much at all times, so it’s not a big inconvenience. It’s just another website/app I need to visit a few times a day. If you are reading this right now, chances are you have the time to track your food during the day. Seriously. You’ve already spent longer reading this than it would take to track your food. Make the commitment that you’re going to do it for at least a month, and just *do it*. After dinner, if you forget to track during the day, sit down and log what you had. It’s about as annoying as flossing – you’re spending more time bitching about wanting to do it more regularly then it takes to just do it. It’s all about making it a habit.
The more time consuming process is planning out meals and batch cooking. Once that’s done, tracking is really, really easy. Assuming you’re looking to expand into this arena, read on. If that’s TL;DR – just go to sparkpeople.com and set up an account and commit for a month and see if calorie counting works for you.
**I receive no compensation, it’s just that Sparkpeople changed my life.**
Here is the more complicated part – food planning and batch cooking. I started planning our meals a few years ago, when I realized I was wasting a lot of money on food that I didn’t eat because I forgot I had it, or it was missing other components to make a whole meal, and ended up eating out a lot more than I had planned/should. Since then, I’ve made out a meal plan for the week, and a grocery list from that meal plan.
I assemble a plan of what we are going to eat for the week, around Thursday or Friday the week before, in a spreadsheet in Google Docs. I get Zliten’s buy in on the plan before I make the list (or not, but that’s at my own peril for food tantrums).
I include workouts in here, plus notes on anything else that’s going on for the week. I omitted that column in the picture, but it says things like “lunch with the parents” or “game night” or “Yelp party” and stuff so I remember social obligations and don’t plan to make an elaborate meal when I have to be across town an hour after work ends.
Then, I make a grocery list of what I need to make the foods for the week, cross referenced with what’s in my pantry (or sometimes my memory of what’s in my pantry, in which case I err on the side of overbuying, so sometimes I’ll end up with lots of extra cans of tomato sauce or beans, but that’s ok). Then I add things like snacking fruit and veggies, stuff for breakfast, consider if I need any other snacks like nuts or I’m out of bread or tortillas and then ask Zliten the same questions for his staples.
I use the OurGroceries app, and it has changed my life. Hello networked grocery list. I can be at home on the couch, and Zliten is at Costco, and I can add stuff to the list for him in real time. More often, we can divide the grocery store and conquer and meet back together without wondering who got what, and get the shopping done in half the time. I also try to make it a habit to add anything to the list that I run out of right away, for example, we ran out of tartar sauce last night, so I just added that. I don’t need tartar sauce for anything this next week, but it’s best to get the condiments and staples I expect to be there replaced right away. This is what my current list looks like, and will also show up on my phone and Zliten’s phone as well.
As for timing, I grocery shop typically on Friday nights after work. It’s the one weeknight I know I don’t have any workouts, I get out of work pretty regularly at a decent hour, and usually stores are pretty chill then. Also, we usually go out to lunch on Friday, so I’m feeling indulged and not deprived, so I don’t want ALL THE THINGS.
I’m in the happy position where I don’t have to bargain hunt. I’d rather splurge on good quality food, exactly what I want, exactly the brand I want, instead of being less than happy and turning to takeout. On average, we spend ~900$ on food and drink for 2 adults in a month. We could probably do better, but it is what it is and I will cut corners elsewhere before this.
So, I get the food. Friday night, it typically just goes in the fridge. We usually have some sort of adventure to get up to on Saturday morning, and all that standing during cooking is not = relaxing. Somewhere between Saturday afternoon and Sunday night, I batch cook.
Depending on the level of difficulty – it take about 2-3 hours (with periods of waiting, not 2-3 straight hours in the kitchen). I try to not do completely from-scratch recipes that have fifty steps – I did that once and was completely unenthused when I was still cooking 8 hours later. Those are the things I will save for meals out or special occasions.
Once I’m done, I do three things:
- Divide it up into about 6 portions (depending on how much I’ve cooked, I usually aim for about 3 meals worth each, and cooking 2-3 meals sets us up well for the week).
- Freeze anything I’m not going to eat before Wednesday that next week so it doesn’t go bad.
- Put any new (or significantly different) concoction into sparkrecipes. This slight pain of having to input it initially is mitigated by the fact that any time I eat that food forever, the calorie, fat, protein, carb, fiber, whatever count is right there. Enjoy some of my chicken tortilla soup recipe for an example of what this looks like.
So, now, I am set up for the week to be able to, instead of having to add tomatoes and noodles and two types of veggies and two types of meat and two types of cheese each day I eat lasagna, I just add one serving of lasagna. It’s fab!
But, you say, that’s great and all, but my life doesn’t go according to plan! Things go wrong! Schedules change! What if I don’t feel like another turkey/tuna/sunbutter sandwich on Thursday? Well, here’s the list after…
As you can see, some things have changed (and I actually forgot to alter Tuesday as well, as I did not have that for dinner, I had fish burgers and oven fries because I neglected to make the pasta salad). I had the nutritious dinner of grilled chicken and vodka (not vodka sauce, just vodka) on Thursday. I got up too late that day to complete my workout and only did half and never made it up. We changed run days over the weekend due to weather. And this one is actually pretty tame, some weeks the end doesn’t even look like the same week at all.
Life happens. You have to roll with the punches. But having a plan helps you to react differently. Say, I ended up with an unexpected lunch date out on Tuesday. Without the plan, I’d know I ate food out that I wasn’t supposed to, and missed a run, but I’d have no idea how to best absorb that into my week. With this plan, I would change what I was going to eat Tuesday for lunch to Friday (since I had planned to go out anyway) and do my run then as well. No sweat, and nothing missed – just rescheduled!
And, I suppose, that’s “How to manage food consumption without going batshit crazy 101”. Any questions? There won’t be a quiz, but hopefully this might help you if you’re flailing in this area of your life.