I’ve been dieting for 15 months and am down nearly 65 pounds. It’s been surprisingly easy. As I mentioned in my first ever blog post, I discovered that I was really only doing a few things wrong. I was able to identify what needed work by using Cronometer to measure calories and nutrients. It’s a very helpful app, although it’s not the only one. In fact, I appear to be the only person I connect with on Twitter or Facebook that uses it. Everyone else uses other stuff, like My Fitness Pal. I guess I just have more refined and esoteric tastes than everyone else. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Anyway, the basic strategy I’ve employed using the app is to eat 500 fewer calories per day than I burn off, and get all of the recommended vitamins and minerals, plus the necessary omega-3s. This would result in losing a pound per week, and would ensure that I have the necessary nutrients to fend off various chronic diseases.
This approach naturally translates into exercising more, and generally eating more dead plants than dead animals. And it’s been extremely effective. By tracking my intake, I’ve been able to add some discipline to my diet that wasn’t there before, and the results are rather astonishing. Because none of my clothes fit anymore.
But it occurred to me from the beginning that this approach may not work for everyone. I’m a CPA, and measuring and counting things precisely is what I do for a living. Measuring and counting calories and vitamins and so forth is not that different from measuring and counting dollars and assets and so forth. So it comes very naturally for me. I’m basically just accounting with calories. But not everyone is wired the way I am. So for those who are not mathematically inclined desk jockeys, I’ve decided to put together a list of basic tricks and hacks that will allow those who don’t care for calorie counting to achieve results without having to keep all of the receipts.
#1 – Exercise 40 minutes a day – I discovered early on that regular exercise is the thing that increases my basal metabolic rate (fancy talk for the number of calories I burn when I’m doing nothing) by forty or fifty percent. Forty minutes of moderate exercise not only burns 300 – 400 or so calories, but causes my resting metabolism to increase from 2,000 per day to 2,800-3,000 per day. This, plus the exercise, means I burn 3,100-3,400 calories per day. And it’s a lot easier to eat less than 3,100-3,400 calories than it is to eat less than 2,000 calories.
Also, even light exercise (which only bumps your BMR by about 30%) is good for your health. I’ve seen studies before that show the difference between the completely sedentary, and those who engage in light, moderate, and heavy exercise. Even light exercise can noticeably reduce mortality. So, y’all move around more so that you don’t die.
Lastly, for those of us that have (or used to have, in my case) high blood pressure, exercise is a good way to unload some sodium. Too much sodium contributes to hypertension, and a ton of it comes out in the perspiration. Especially for those of us that live in a sweltering, outdoor sauna. And by that, I mean Florida, my adoptive home state, the land of heat waves, hurricanes, and crazy news stories.
#2 – Eat greens with every meal – One secret to getting all of the nutrients I need is to add leafy greens. I’ve noted before that these have all sorts of benefits. And researching what has the most nutritional value has caused me to eschew some of my food prejudices. For example, I used to think kale was only eaten by people who think that a fanny pack is a fashion accessory. But I now know that it’s very good for you. So I don’t fear the loss of my man card when buying kale anymore.
I use the country/bourgeois/Popeye combination: Collards, kale, and spinach. I have a helping of each every day. Spinach with the eggs in the morning, collards and kale with either lunch or dinner. Mixing these last two with meat in a stir fry can make something you normally consider gross quite flavorful.
#3 – Get outside – Getting outside is really the only way to get Vitamin D. Unless you live up in the frozen wastelands north of the Mason-Dixon line, in which case you must eat fish to get your vitamin D. Just make sure you don’t stay outside so long you burn or become so leathery that you’re bulletproof. Also, vitamin D is good for the immune system, which is important in the COVID times, as I’ve noted before.
#4 – Average six ounces of meat per meal – I noticed early on that meat was the biggest calorie source. Although this varies a bit depending on which meat I eat. Fish is low cal, chicken higher, beef even higher, and pork even higher. But in general, if I eat no more than six ounces of meat per meal, I’m able to stay under my goals. Diversity and inclusion interlude: I’m a dude. Women may want to eat less. They usually do, which is why my wife always gave me her leftovers. Which is probably why I got fat.
Keep in mind, this is on average. If you only have meat with one meal, or you’re a hardcore OMAD (One Meal A Day) type, you can go ahead and have an 18 ounce porterhouse. If you’re an intermittent faster (I.E. go 16 hours without eating) then you can have a bigger hunk of meat with your meals too.
But I’ve only been able to fast when I’m hungover, since eating in that condition just results in unintentional bulimia. And OMAD only worked for me once when I ate entirely too much at Golden Corral. I’d rather not eat until I’m miserable. So I stick with three meals a day. Call me old fashioned. Or boring. It’s better than being hungry.
And yes, for anyone reading this who doesn’t live here, I know Americans are weirdos who still use the imperial measurements. If you’re a furriner, click here to convert ounces to grams or whatever. And stop judging us. Now. We have nuclear weapons.
#5 – Cook for yourself – Cooking your own food with healthy ingredients is key. Not only is it healthier than precooked or packaged, hyper-processed stuff, but you burn calories just standing in front of the stove. And more if your wife makes you do the dishes. I spend an extra hour and a half on my feet because of this, which burns off an extra 300 calories or so.
And even a hapless food burner like me can eventually figure out ways to cook. There’s plenty of free recipes online. Although you usually have to read through an endless origin story for the recipe. Usually an unnecessarily verbose tale about how some guy or gal’s grandma used to make this or that meal during the Depression. It’s usually a good four or five pages before you get to the actual recipe. I mean, normally I’m fine reading five pages (and I usually write that much) but it’s not something I want to do when I’m hungry.
But despite the quirky recipe bloggers who feel an urge to bury the lede (I.E. the actual recipe) with their life story, this is much better than just buying junk. You only think you’re saving time eating that pre-prepared unhealthy stuff. You’ll realize you’re wrong when you die young.
#6 – Eat out less – The stuff at restaurants, as I’ve noted before, is out of control. They seem to add extra fat, and God knows what else, to add at least 50% more calories to something I could make for myself at home. I mean, the stuff at restaurants usually tastes better (way better) than what I cook (a low bar to clear, assuredly), but it’s usually not worth it, health-wise.
And the portions are pretty outrageous at most of these places. And since I was never the guy who got a doggy bag, I couldn’t resist cleaning my plate. So a night out is by definition a night where I’m off my diet.
If you cook for yourself, you can make sure you don’t eat too much, and get all of the right nutrients. So save those nights out for special occasions. Oh, and one other little bit of accounting advice. It’s way cheaper to cook for yourself. So you can lose weight and save for your retirement or kid’s college tuition at the same time.
#7 – Don’t sweat the holidays – Ignore the diet advice you hear about the holidays. Far too many people obsess over possibly gaining weight on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. But if you behave for 362 days out of the year, three days of excess won’t mess it up. Hell, if you behave eleven months out of the year, the entire month of December won’t be enough to mess it up.
Just have fun. Spend time with friends and family. Behave the rest of the year. Being healthy does not preclude you from having fun. And I’m convinced cutting off fun entirely to militantly adhere to a diet actually increases your chance of failure. Go ahead and have the turkey, pumpkin pie, eggnog, and excessive amounts of alcohol that naturally comes with the holidays.
If you get back to your diet on January 2nd, you’ll find you didn’t lose much ground and it’s easy to get back on track. If you miss time with your family, you’ll regret it far more than packing on a pound or two over the holidays. Even if you’re a misanthrope like me.
#8 – Be careful with dessert – As I’ve noted before, some desserts, like cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, have ridiculous calories. Most desserts do, without a lot of benefit. And they rarely leave you feeling full, which just leads you to eat more later.
But some are OK. The best I’ve found is frozen yogurt with some fruit on it. It’s low cal, the yogurt has calcium and vitamin A and other things, and the fruit is good for you because it’s fruit. But take a hard pass on the pecan pie, cherry pie, cake, shortcake, and so forth. Unless it’s the holidays. I already made that exception for you. You’re welcome.
#9 – Snack on nuts, not chips – Binging on chips used to be my downfall. I still occasionally indulge, but only a little bit. Chips aren’t heavy on nutrients (you’re better off just eating potatoes), but nuts are a different story. They’re a good afternoon snack, and can be a great source of nutrients, including vItamin E and magnesium, which can be hard to come by.
The trick is to just have a handful in the afternoon to tide you over until dinner. But don’t have a whole can. Binging on nuts is just as bad for your beer gut as wolfing down potato chips. But when done sensibly, they balance out your diet quite nicely
#10 – Coffee is your friend – Coffee (and teas and other stuff) have lots of nutrients and few calories. And they keep you awake if you have an extraordinarily dull job. Like accounting. Although it’s best not to have more than four per day, since caffeine can disrupt sleep. Unless you drink decaf after lunch. Which I used to think was for wimps, but I’ve warmed to it. Especially since I now sleep a lot better.
There is one added bonus with the peculiar percolation commonly enjoyed by the non-Americans of the world. That would be tea, and not the drink of raw patriotism known as coffee. In addition to the nutritional benefits, Tea is also pretty good at easing the symptoms of a cold. Even The Horror of Wuhan, The Black Plague of 2020, can be eased somewhat with tea.
#11 – Go easy on the sauce. And dressing and cheese – It’s easy to blow up the calorie count with too much in the way of condiments. I realized this when I discovered that the calories in your average salad mostly come from the dressing, not the veggies. And topping things with cheese and sauces can also make the count go out of control.
It’s easy to fall into this trap, since sauce and toppings are the go to solution for bad cooking. A culinary calamity can be eased by dousing it in barbecue, buffalo, alfredo, or any number of other sauces. This was another thing that caused me to pack on pounds. So if you end up making an atrocity so horrid it may be a sign of the apocalypse, throw it out. Try again. Don’t douse it in a deluge of sauce or other things.
#12 – Go easy on the other sauce (alcohol) – Alcohol has almost no nutritional value. Except wine, which has some. But the amount you’d have to drink to get significant nutrition would be a liver-death defying feat. Any two drinks, depending on what you have, can add 200 – 500 calories (totally or mostly empty calories) to the diet. A significant amount of alcohol can blow a diet if you’re not careful. This is why real life alcoholics are also usually giant fatties.
This is not to say you can’t drink. You can live a little. And the holiday exception still applies. Just be careful. To keep calories low, go with liquor sipped slowly over time. One shot has under 100 calories. And make sure it’s bourbon. Because America. Or you could drink pisswater (light beer) which also has 100 calories. If you’re ok with losing the respect of the rest of humanity.
#13 – Sleep. A lot. – Well, not for 10-12 hours. 7-8 hours is ideal. This is important, and not only because of the arcane effects of sleep deprivation on metabolism presented by fancy schmancy doctors.
Lack of sleep produces stress. And stress often produces an urge to eat in order to cope with the stress. How many times have you seen women downing a bowl of ice cream to deal with stress or depression? I know it’s a stereotype, but stereotypes don’t just fall out of the sky. And men do it worse, because we tend to pound libations when we’re stressed, which, as I’ve noted before, is really bad for you for a lot of reasons.
#14 – Watch out for scammers – A lot of diet people are just selling supplements. Some of us are so desperate to lose weight we’ll try any harebrained idea. And Twitter and Facebook are replete with screwy schemes. It’s best to be careful of this.
Rather than sift through the dubious information on the Internet, I chose to review the results from someone whose agenda is known. But that’s not the only way. When looking for diet advice, it’s best to stick with sources like the CDC, NIH, or similarly reliable sources. Ignore the shady online conspiracy theorist types. And remember, there are no tricks. It’s just about diet and exercise.
#15 – Figure out what works for you – I know this seems lame, like when Letterman would get to Number One on a top ten list and it would be anti-climactic. But I, unlike him, am not just filling in the last one with something kinda weak. There’s a reason I’m saying this.
One thing I’ve had to figure out is fitting all of this into a busy schedule and within a budget. Balancing time exercising with work and home life and figuring out what foods are healthy but within your budget takes practice. But even people of little means can find ways to exercise (you don’t need to go to the gym or spend money to exercise) and can find ways to make healthy meals on a budget. Figure out a time to exercise (morning or night) that fits your schedule, even if it just means riding your bike to work, and find time to cook healthy meals.
So there’s fifteen pearls of wisdom to help you lose weight. They’ve all worked for me. I’m down 65, and I’ll lose another ten before I’m done. Even if you’re not counting every calorie and every macro and micro nutrient, do these things and you’ll see progress. And your doctor will finally stop yelling at you. I know mine did.
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