Years ago I found a really great computer program called Perfect Diet Tracker. It’s a really easy way to keep track of calories in vs. calories out. The program will take your age and weight and calculate your calorie budget for the day. If you want to take off a couple of pounds, you can enter that, along with the time frame you want to lose the weight and it will subtract calories from your budget. I think of the budget as a kind of calorie “checkbook”. I have a certain amount of calories that I can consume daily to either maintain or lose a couple of pounds. Over the years the program has been updated and now, instead of a finite number of foods in their database, it will search the internet for whatever food you put in. It certainly beats writing everything down in a food diary and looking up the calories and serving sizes to keep up with what I put in my mouth. It’s not a fun process. I prefer the “shove it in your mouth by the handfuls and forget you ate it” philosophy. But sometimes, that kind of catches up to you and you notice your clothes are a little too tight. So, I log onto the program, and start weighing and measuring my serving sizes. Gulp. I eat very healthy, but it’s the serving sizes that get me.
I’m also kind of an exercise nut. Not because I LOVE to exercise, but because I love what it does for me, especially when I’m logging what I put in my mouth. The endorphins from a good, hard workout can work miracles…make a bad day good, make food taste better, give me more patience and energy for the rest of my day, and sharpen my mind. It’s also great when I’m tracking my food…I can enter the exercise I do for the day and voila…the program ADDS the calories burned to my allotted calories for the day!! So I can eat more! Yay!! It even takes into account your Basal Metabolic Rate, or the number of calories you burn in a day doing nothing. All you have to do is enter the exercise and it does all the calculations for you
Years ago I found a calorie burn chart that showed the calories burned per minute for every exercise you could think of, so I’m well aware of the exercise that burns the most per minute and that is what I focus on. More bang for the buck. Running, jumping rope, and biking will burn almost 600 calories an hour. Back in the 90’s, when the cardio machines at the gym started showing the calories burned as you worked out, I became a slave to the number. I couldn’t stop until I had burned off at least 600 calories. If I were running, I could do that in an hour, but stationary biking took an hour and a half. The Stairmaster and elliptical trainer showed even higher numbers, so I loved those machines. I remember my disappointment when I found out that those machines typically overestimated calories burned. It gets more difficult the older I get. I can’t just jump on a machine for two hours a day and still function for the rest of my day. So I do a lot of cross training. Hard one day, easy the next.
Generally, I think this is a pretty healthy way to keep track of what goes in my mouth and what I’m doing to burn it off. It’s like a quarterly checkup with your supervisor…just an accountability thing. If I want to eat mixed nuts and drink a couple of glasses of wine, I have to budget for it. Or work out longer. For my weight, the charts show that I burn about 92 calories per mile, so on the days I do a longer run than usual, I can usually have an extra glass of wine. It’s like picking up an extra job to buy something special…You just exercise a little more and deposit more calorie burn in your “checkbook”. A 5-oz. glass of white wine has 105 calories, so I just run a couple of miles to burn it off.
The problems come as you age. Your BMR drops, so your calorie “budget” drops, just to maintain. If you want to drop any weight, the calories allotted for your day drop to almost dangerous levels, so if you want to eat enough to have energy to exercise, you have to exercise more! It’s a vicous cycle. Add to that the fact that as you age you need more recovery time between exercise sessions and your magic formula of just “move more eat less” gets much more difficult.
It’s a common sense kind of thing. Moderation is the key. One glass of wine, not three. Eat the dessert, exercise a little more for a couple of days to burn it off. The program is pretty good, but you have to rely on sound principles. If I plug in my height and weight, and enter a target weight loss of three pounds in two weeks, it gives me a calorie budget of 1450 calories per day. If I want to maintain my weight, I can eat 1900 calories per day. All pretty reasonable.
It doesn’t work miracles. If I put a weight loss goal of 6 pounds in one week, it gives me a calorie budget of NEGATIVE -1010 CALORIES per day! I think it actually forces you to be reasonable about your goals. When you shoot too high in the weight loss category (whether it’s # of pounds or the time you give yourself to lose the weight), you can immediately see that it’s ridiculous.
I’m a firm believer in moderation and making healthy lifestyle changes, not temporary diets, fasts or banning foods. But every once in awhile you just need a check up, to make sure that your “lifestyle” is still on the right track.