Find out how I managed my eating by setting a calorie target and tracking my food.
After giving birth to a healthy baby girl two years ago, I was struggling to lose 25 pounds of baby weight. I enjoyed a lifestyle of free-eating while pregnant and indulged in the foods that I had previously restricted (pasta, rice, pizza, chocolate, chips). But now it was time to lose all that postnatal flub.
I packed on 40 pounds while pregnant and was determined to lose the weight. Giving birth had left my body a loose, jelly-filled mess and a stubborn part of me was just not willing to accept that. I also suffered two back-to-back miscarriages, which added a few more pounds to the mix. I wanted to get to a healthy weight in the hopes that baby #2 would come along, so I put the baby-making goals on hold and decided to focus on re-building myself, both mentally and physically.
There aren’t any gimmicks or lose weight fast tips in this post. Find out how I started eating right to lose weight the old fashioned way; by setting a calorie target and tracking my food. I discuss this method in my post on 5 tips to lose weight here.
Understanding Weight Loss
I hate the word diet because it always reminds me of those “Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days” deals that are both unhealthy and unrealistic. After working with a dietitian in 2013, I realized that weight loss and weight maintenance were not about “diets” but about a lifestyle change. You have to commit to maintaining healthy eating habits and portions on a daily basis if you want to lose weight, or maintain weight loss success.
After reducing my food intake and still not losing weight, I started to get frustrated. “Something is wrong with me” I told my husband. “I’m eating less and still can’t lose any weight.” I went to the doctor to have my thyroid checked, convinced that my thyroid medication had to be adjusted (I suffer from hypothyroidism). Why else wouldn’t I be losing weight? Bad news, my thyroid was working just fine, which meant I had to face the harsh reality that the problem was not with my metabolism, but with my self-control.
Setting a Calorie Target
I decided to begin tracking my calories. I had previously kept a food journal when working with my dietitian, so this was not new for me. Studies have found that people who track their foods are more successful at weight loss than those who don’t, so as much as you think you don’t need a food journal/tracker, you do (at least to start). Trust me. I decided to use the “Lose It” app, or LoseIt.com website as my tracker. There are lots of free calorie trackers out there, such as MyFitnessPal, so find one that works for you.
I tracked everything I ate for a few days and found I was consuming around 1700 to 1800 calories a day. Not bad, right? Well, I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t know what calories I should have been eating to lose weight to compare that too. The Lose It app includes a calorie calculator based on your current weight, weight loss goals, age and gender. It will calculate a calorie target for you based on the information you enter. If you use a different calorie calculator you can also enter your calorie target manually in Lose It.
I used the calorie counter found at MuscleforLife.com because it calculated my calorie target while taking into account my activity level and body fat percentage (which I estimated based on sample pictures posted on the same site). This site is a great resource for those looking to lose weight and build muscle – check it out.
After calculating my calorie target, it became apparent that the amount of calories I should have been eating to lose weight (1,450) as compared to what I was actually eating (1700 to 1800) were way off.
I tracked my calories religiously after that to stay within my target, while exercising 4-5 days a week. While it was normal for me to be slightly over my calorie target, I was consistently close to it and even indulged in some higher calorie days on the weekend (they’re pretty hard to avoid sometimes). I invested in a food scale to more accurately weigh my meats and hard to measure foods to be more accurate.
I weighed myself once a week, usually at the same day and time (Saturday morning) and slowly but surely noticed a healthy drop 0.5-1 pound per week. It was working. The steady results pushed me to maintain my daily tracking efforts. I know many of you think this would be tedious. A lot of people ask how I lost weight and when I mention that I track my calories, they immediately say they would never be able to do that.
For me, the benefits of tracking far outweigh the negatives and have contributed to my results. Plus, I always found that when I stopped tracking my calories, I would always eat more than I should. It’s hard to smash through a bag of chips when you know you have to record it in your calorie tracker/food journal. Try to stick with it; it becomes a habit after a while and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. After five months of tracking and staying close to my calorie target, I had lost 15 pounds.
It is important to note that as your weight drops, your target calories for weight loss should drop too. This is because you burn less calories when you weigh less. Lose It automatically adjusts your calorie target if you enter a lower weight into the app (I would think that other tracking apps would too). Many people don’t realize that this adjustment is needed and hit a plateau in their weight loss simply because they didn’t drop their calorie target as their weight dropped. Don’t make that mistake! Find out the other reasons you aren’t losing weight here.
Quick Tips for Healthy Eating and Tracking
Try and make healthy food choices. A piece of cake may be the same amount of calories as a piece of whole wheat toast with eggs, but the first option has higher amounts of sugar which will spike your insulin and make you crave more sugar. Aim to have a serving of protein, complex carb and healthy fat at each meal to keep you full and satisfied. But every so often, squeeze in a little cheat meal as well. Sometimes you just need it to stay sane.
Raw vs Cooked
Make sure you know how the calorie count on foods is affected when raw versus cooked. For example, the calories posted on a box of pasta are for uncooked pasta. When entering the amount you ate into a tracker, make sure it is for cooked pasta if you measure your portion after cooking, otherwise your calories will be incorrect.
If you are heading out to a restaurant or a friend’s for dinner, try to eat a little before you get there so you are not super hungry. On an empty stomach, you are more inclined to make poor food choices. I have been known to eat a huge bowl of pasta and 10 ounce steak with crab on the side because I got to a restaurant on an empty stomach. Also, check the menu and pick your meal in advance before you get there so you are not tempted to pick a higher calorie option.
Dealing With Hunger
My final tip. When you are cutting calories to lose weight, there are going to be times when you feel hungry. It’s unavoidable at times. If you feel hungry, don’t panic! You will not starve to death. Drink a glass of water first, since thirst is often confused for hunger. It’s also important to determine if you have any emotional triggers. Do you like to eat when you are bored? Stressed? With friends?
Be aware of your triggers and work around them. Don’t let them derail your progress. I have a two hour commute home from work – I get hungry during this time. It’s important for me to expect this and not down a few tablespoons of Nutella when I get home. I try to distract myself with dinner prep, maybe drink some water or have a low calorie snack (pickles are great for this) and before I know it, dinner is ready.
Go For It!
I hope my experience with weight loss and calorie tracking helped shed some light in this area. Weight loss is challenging and takes dedication and self-control, which are things that are easily tested when we are running low on sleep or stressed out from work/kids/everything else. I am still working to lose the last 10 pounds and maintaining my tracking activities to this day. Try it out and let me know the results!