A brief recap of where we left off in Episode 1 of our Trilogy… Spring 2015: I was coming off a month-long emotional eating bender, exhausted by my own behavior, unwilling to undo the gains I had made at the gym with a lousy diet, and determined to face the truth about what I was really eating every day.
My journey at Ludus Magnus up to that point had already shown me the importance of small, gradual changes. So, when I loaded MyFitnessPal back onto my phone and began tracking my food, I purposefully did NOT make immediate changes to my diet. The first two weeks or so were purely a fact-finding mission. I ate what I “normally” ate, the only difference being I logged it in the app. Every bite.
The facts were powerful. And undeniable.
I thought I had a good idea of what I was eating (when not on a post-breakup binge), but the data from the app told a different story.
First of all, I was eating more at work than I originally thought. I work at Trader Joe’s, a grocery store known for amazing food from all over the world. Product knowledge is essential to the job; it is actually part of our performance reviews. Those of us who work there (and stay there) tend to be lovers of good food. And we eat a LOT of it. There is usually something open to try, often multiple things at once. And I was eating all of it.
It wasn’t just that I was trying all the food. The problem was that I was eating it mindlessly, and constantly. If I liked the daily sample at the demo station, I might grab 2-3 samples in the course of my shift. If there were cookies or a bag of chips open in the back room, I would grab a handful every time I walked by. At our daily crew tastings where we get to sample different products, if it was something I liked, I probably had multiple helpings.
Each handful or sample cup didn’t seem like much in the moment. But when I added it all up, the numbers shocked me. On a typical workday, I was consuming an extra 500 calories at least (oftentimes much more), and most of those calories were in the form of carbohydrates like chocolate, chips, cookies, pastries, etc. You know, all of my loves. And because I was doing it mindlessly, without intention, I wasn’t savoring that food. I was downing it robotically.
I was also still eating ice cream most nights. Of course I knew that it was terrible for me, but it was a different kind of painful to actually put the raw numbers into the app. I tried to portion out a small amount in a separate bowl, but this was self-deception at its finest. Inevitably, I would go back for a second “small” helping. And maybe a third. And a fourth. You get the idea. I needed the numbers to tell me the truth because I was incapable of telling it to myself.
Then there were foods I thought were “good for me,” except that my portions were, well, completely out of proportion. Nuts were a great example. Nuts like almonds and cashews are delicious and a great source of many essential nutrients, but I was eating them mindlessly from the bag while watching TV or driving. And eating them mixed with other sweet delights. I especially loved a trail mix we sell at Trader Joe’s that is just almonds, cashews, and dark chocolate chunks. I figured the benefits of the nuts offset the impact of the chocolate. Ummm, not really. Especially when I ate half the bag.
Once I had completed my fact-finding mission, Matt’s guidance was crucial to redesigning my daily intake. The app was a great tool, but it was hardly perfect. I couldn’t just accept its cookie-cutter approach based on a few bits of biometric data, such as my then-current weight, age, and activity level. I had to customize it for my individual needs.
The default macronutrient settings on the app were problematic. The app suggested that 50% of my daily calories come from carbohydrates, with 30% fat and 20% protein. For someone like me who struggled with sugar cravings and symptoms of metabolic syndrome most of my life, this Standard American Diet, Food Pyramid dogma was not appropriate. I already knew that I felt my best when I consumed mostly protein and fat, and Matt completely agreed.
Fortunately, the app allows the user to override those settings and change the macro percentages. I flipped the Pyramid on its head, with most of my calories devoted to protein and fat and a small bit to carbohydrates. It is worth noting that I did not go extreme low-carb; rather, after some experimentation, I settled on 40% fat, 40% protein, and 20% carbohydrates (I have since lowered the carbohydrates to 15%, but only after several months of adjusting to the lower intake and losing a significant amount of weight first. Recently I’ve considered taking another step down to 10-12%, we’ll see…)
Matt also took one look at the app’s suggested daily calorie total and told me it was too low. After years of dieting, I balked at the number he suggested because it seemed so high. But he assured me that if I ate most of those calories from protein and fat, I could still eat that much and lose weight. He actually cautioned me that dropping my intake too much could have the opposite effect, and teach my body to hold onto the calories rather than burn them. And I love to eat, so that was pretty good news. Today my daily calorie threshold is not as high as it was then, but it’s still much higher than most people would assume when I tell them I’ve lost almost 90 pounds.
The final tool I needed to embark on this journey jumped out at me from a clearance shelf at Target. A digital food scale, marked down to $10. If I was going to track my food accurately, I needed accurate measurement of my portions. Measuring cups and spoons were messy and cumbersome, and not particularly accurate. The scale was like manna from heaven. I put the empty dish on the scale, turned it on, then added my food to the appropriate weight (in grams, ounces or pounds). Multiple ingredients? No problem! I could just hit the “tare” button and zero the weight between each ingredient. Now I knew precisely what I eating. The scale removed all the guesswork.
So, at this point in my journey, I had defined the problem, gathered the facts, acquired the tools, and designed the plan. Execution was all that was left.
I had designed plans for myself in the past and never stuck to them. Why was this time different? Why have I been able to stick to this plan for (now) 665 days and counting? Tune in to Episode 3 of the MyFitnessPal Trilogy to find out!
I’ll give you a hint: it was as much about the contents of my mind as the content of my diet, maybe more…
I couldn’t have designed a plan that actually worked all on my own, I needed help. If you need help too, please call me at 614-517-2520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and join my other clients already working with me at Ludus Magnus!