As I lay in the St. Francis emergency room writhing in agony the nurse asked, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad would you rate the pain?” “Let’s put it this way” I responded, “If I owned a gun I would not be ready to use it yet, but I would be comforted just knowing it was there.”
She did not think my lame attempt at humor was funny.
I’ve had back pain before but never anything like this! There were some precipitating events that led up to my emergency room visit, of course, but one of the underlying factors was the fact that at only five feet ten inches tall, I weighed 318 pounds!
This was the final straw. I simply had to lose weight. But like most other overweight people, I had tried all kinds of diets and they never worked. In my case I would always loose an encouraging amount of weight at first and then hit a plateau. After a few weeks on the plateau I would decide, “What’s the point of missing out on the food I love when I’m not losing weight anyway?” and that would be the end of the diet.
But clearly I needed to do something. That’s when I discovered that there are free online websites that make calorie counting easy.
IT'S ALL ABOUT CALORIES!
Most overweight Christians are painfully aware of what the Bible says about gluttony. For example, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor…” (Prov. 23:20-21a, NIV). Or, “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach…” (Phil. 3:19, NIV). One of the roadblocks to my weight loss, however, was that I was convinced that I was not one of those people. I really didn’t think I ate all that much.
What I didn’t realize was that weight loss is not just about the quantity of food we eat, but about how many calories the food contains. I discovered that the amount of calories a food contains is not always very intuitive.
For example, I never would have dreamed that a single “healthy” taco salad can contain as many calories as three delicious jelly-filled donuts! I didn’t realize that I could stuff myself with four servings of Culvers’ mashed potatoes and gravy (which I love) for about the same amount of calories as a single Big Mac. It’s not just about quantity. It’s about calories.
Understanding this fact, allowed me to eat enough food so that I did
not go hungry, while staying within what I soon called, my “budget.”
To make calorie counting easier, I signed in to CalorieCount.com (later changing to LiveStrong.com) and selected a goal of 230 pounds. This was not an ideal weight, of course, but I thought it was a realistic target. I didn’t realize until later that this was a great strategy! If I had set my initial goal at 185 pounds, for example, my calorie limit would have been too low and I never would have been able to stay on my new diet.
The website asked about the level of my physical activity and I selected the lowest level. I admit it, I was a couch potato (mmm, potatoes!).
According to the website, if I ate 2,400 calories per day I should achieve my
goal in about 18 months. I knew, of course, that I could lose more weight—and
lose it faster—by lowering my calorie goal, but I wanted a calorie total I
could live with permanently. I figured that there was little point in
struggling to lose weight if I was just going to gain it back again
Once I signed up, it was just a matter of keeping track of my calories for the day. Both CalorieCount.com and Livestrong.com (I'm now using "MyfitnessPal.com") make that easy with extensive databases of foods and restaurants which include calorie and nutrition information. All I had to do was type the name of the food and/or restaurant in the search box, fill in the quantity, and click to add it to my list for the day. The websites automatically tally up the calories and other nutritional information. Since I am on the computer every day anyway, searching for foods and recording calories turned out to be easy and even fun.
I have come to call this weight lost program my “budget” rather than my diet. To me, diet implied something I discarded after I reached my goal. I knew if I discarded this, I would immediately begin to gain weight again.
IT’S ALSO ABOUT CHOICES
Next to losing weight, the main goal of my “budget” is to make the right food choices to ensure that I do not get hungry and do not run out of calories before the day is over. After a while, I discovered that this was relatively easy to do.
It’s all about choices, but contrary to popular opinion it is not always about healthy choices. For example, I significantly cut down on the amount of healthy milk and orange juice I consumed and replaced them with Crystal Light and Diet Coke. Diet Coke may not be the most healthy choice, but for me it cut hundreds of calories out of my daily calorie budget.
In fact, one of the great features of this “budget” is that I can eat just about anything I want. I did not have to cut out the sweets or fast food which I love. I just have to “budget” for them. So for example, I will sometimes cut down on the amount of food I eat during the day just so I have enough calories left over at the end of the day to enjoy cookies or ice cream!
This may not be
the most healthy choice but being able to enjoy the delicious foods I love is
one of the things that has kept me on this “budget” for about four
years now. Besides, when it comes to being unhealthy, weighing 318 pounds at my
height has to be near the top of the list.
Paradoxically, although my budget has allowed me to make some less than healthy food choices, overall, I am actually eating more healthy now than I ever ate before! This is because, first, the budget has required me to limit my overall intake of sweets, which is certainly healthier.
Second, in order to make my
calories stretch for the day, I tend to choose lower calorie (and more healthy)
foods like turkey or grilled chicken rather than high fat, high cholesterol
(albeit delicious) cheeseburgers or fried chicken. Or, as another example,
since I love mashed potatoes, I order Culver’s mashed potatoes and gravy
instead of fries. This is not only a more healthy option, but a more filling
and lower calorie option as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy my cheeseburgers and fried chicken. I just have to budget for them. The point is that while I still eat some junk food, overall I am making more healthy choices than before I was on my budget.
EXERCISE AND GOING OVER BUDGET
So what happens when I go over my budget? Simple. I almost never go over budget on purpose. I have discarded too many diets by thinking, “Well, I’ve blown it again. What’s the use?!” But on those rare occasions when I have accidentally gone over, I compensate by cutting back on calories the following day.
Another strategy for some might be to make up for the added calories by exercise. Both CalorieCount.Com and Livestrong.Com give the option of factoring in exercise. The more I exercise the more calories I’m allowed to consume. I decided against this option, however, because my goal was to lose weight not to exercise so I could eat more.
Speaking of exercise, at first my new “budget” was almost entirely about counting calories. I was, after all, in physical therapy for back pain and even the required walking around the block was uncomfortable. When the back pain went away, however, I began walking more and more. While walking, I often pass the time by listening to an ipod or wrist-radio, talking on my cell phone or praying. This makes walking even more enjoyable.
Once my back was healed, I even began using weights. Nothing serious, mind you, but as I understand it, muscle tone helps increase metabolism which helps lose weight!
At 318 pounds, exercise was drudgery but I discovered a happy--rather than vicious--cycle. The more weight I lost, the more I enjoyed the exercise. I discovered, however, while exercise is essential to good health, it did very little to help me lose weight. When I exercised before I started counting calories, I just ended up eating more and never losing weight. Losing weight was all about calories.
One of the websites suggested that I should eat all of my allotted calories for the day. If I consistently come in under my target for the day, it may cause me to start becoming hungry which would make it harder to stay on the budget. I love this rule because if I get to the end of my day and have calories left over, I can eat the rest of my calories just for the sheer pleasure of eating— and do so entirely guilt-free! This was one of those features that helped me stay on the budget for so long.
Finally, I mentioned earlier how those pesky plateaus have been the downfall of many of my previous diets. I found a simple solution. I only weigh myself once a month. This turned out to be great strategy! There were times—especially as I got closer to my goal—that my weight loss for the month would be minimal, but I almost always lost something each month and that was enough to keep me going. Even if I only lost a couple pounds for the entire month, I would look at a pound of hamburger in the freezer to remind myself that losing two pounds is no small accomplishment.
I’ve been on my “budget” for about four years now. I started at 318 pounds. After I got down to my initial goal of 230 pounds, I was able to comfortably lower my calorie limit eventually to 1,950. I now often don't even eat that much--not because I have to limit myself but because I just don't need to eat that much anymore. I've lost a total of 133 pounds. I feel better, look better, and the back problems I once had are gone.