This year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about diet, and how to drop a few pounds.
And by “thinking” I mean googling terms like “what’s an easy way to lose weight” while drinking red wine and eating cheddar-flavored Bugles.
I come from ‘that’ half of the population who can go on streaks of weeks, months – or even years – without showing any restraint about what I’m tossing into my mouth.
Thursday night? Dessert and wine. Oh yes.
You just signed a new client? Let’s have dinner! (and dessert!).
We sold our business! Let’s go out to eat — for an entire year.
And about all that advice on Google… I’ll cut the suspense: there are tens of thousands of answers, most in diametric opposition to each other.
It’s shocking how little the web seems to know about nutrition.
For me, seemingly simple diet advice like “watch your calories and cut out simple starches” (which – now I know – is, apparently, highly controversial) can quickly spiral into hours of reading and ‘decision fatigue’ at the moment of truth.
This brownie couldn’t hurt, right?
Lately, my cycling habit has compelled me to focus on numbers, and one that keeps popping up is my weight.
A cyclist hauling around 20 pounds of excess body fat is at a huge disadvantage. For the amount of time it would take to outride that handicap with increased power, one might have to train vigilantly (6 days a week) for a year. I’d rather put down the Bugles. (This year I’ve trained a ton and have firmly solidified the wisdom that you “can’t ‘out exercise’ your fork.”)
Here’s something I discovered this month that seems to have a lot of potential. In truth, this wasn’t the first time I’ve come across this simple tactic. But it is the first time it resonated with me.
A few caveats:
- This technique sounds so boring, and obvious, that it’s easy to disregard (as I did for years, particularly because many people say that this thing “can’t work,” or it “isn’t how losing weight actually works.”)
- It sounds like, and may very well be, a major pain in the pass, or “PITA.” Which is also a delicious Lebanese food.
Because of these two reasons, I’ve honestly just glazed over this tactic for years.
Why? I preferred instead to read endlessly about the value of paleo vs. vegan, organic vs. farmed, supplements vs. nutrient dense, starch solution vs gathering my own berries, etc, etc, etc. I considered eating big breakfasts, or little ones, or none at all (What?). Enough knowledge, and my will power would come through…
But this tactic does away with all that.
It’s about just one simple thing.
Track your calories.
Yep. Just write down everything you put in your mouth.
I know what you are thinking. Well, at least here’s what I was thinking.
And it’s boring.
And, why can’t I just be paleo?
But here’s the good news.
You can do it easily thanks to the My Fitness Pal app. It has a huge database of foods and their various combinations. You pull out your phone at meals anyway, right? Why not try it for a month?
The method has some interesting benefits:
- People online will argue about thermo-whatever and metabolism and … well they will argue, but this technique moves past all that and gets your attention on what you’re putting into your body.
- While many of us carry around a sense of shame about our eating habits, or are running a constant negotiation in our heads that says, “okay I’ll have the dessert but no breakfast tomorrow’, etc, this one simple thing requires us to do none of that. If you eat it or drink it, write it down. That’s it. The judgments you make in the future are bound to be improved just from this basic accountability. “What gets measured gets managed.”
- If you do this for just one month, you’ll learn a lot about food and its calorific and nutritional content. Even if your goal isn’t to lose weight, it could still be worth it. I’ve talked with people who’ve done this for a few months and have then used the knowledge they’ve gained of portion sizes, calorie counts, and nutritional values going forward.
Now, I’ve only lost 12 pounds, and my track record says it won’t last. But I don’t want to wait years until I blog about it. I wanted to share it now and see what ya’ll think.
This approach to diet is called the “CICO” — Calories in, Calories Out” method– and I found out about it from a wonderful community on Reddit/r/Loseit. Check it out for some inspiring stories of people changing their lives. Their quick start guide, is free, and invaluable, if you plan to try this method out.
You’ll find tons of interesting tips and tactics. I won’t share any of my favorites in this article because I’d really like to stress the simplicity of this plan of action – it’s about making it work for you.
The potential upside is huge: you don’t need to be vegan, or paleo, or change your lifestyle, or hang out in gyms, or eat half of what the waiter brings you, or stuff your face with salads.
You just need to track what you eat, and go from there. Perhaps, for the first month, you might not want to set a weight loss goal. Just track. Even when you eat two bags of Bugles. It’s ‘okay’. Only you will see it.
What do you think? Any simple ideas like this that led to big health improvements for you? I’d be interested to hear about them.
PS, here’s a quote I pulled from the Loseit community that I thought summed up these ideas nicely:
“I tried going low carb, but I just couldn’t give up enough carbs to go ketogenic.
I’ve always been too lazy to count calories. I figured, I know I’m eating too much, I just need to work on eating less, smaller meals, more vegetables.
Well, that wasn’t working…
Finally I figured, what the heck; people keep talking about MyFitnessPal and tracking calories, I guess I’ll try it since nothing else has worked.
I started recording all of my calories and then I realized, almost immediately, that I was making decisions based on gaming that final number [Calories allowance per day].”