That title sounds so funny. I mean, what’s to learn? Open mouth, insert food, chew and swallow, right? Sure, we’ve all got that part down, but I’m talking about learning what I’m putting in my mouth. I sometimes thought I was eating healthy, but then I started reading labels…Holy cow! I had no idea what I was eating.
Did you know that about 75% of weight loss comes down to what we eat? That kind of stinks (right?) because changing eating habits is NOT easy. I get that. I’ve been there. But I’m also living proof that it can be done.
There were basically two things I needed to figure out. One, how many calories should I be eating? Two, how many calories was I actually eating?
To determine how many calories I needed, I went with the general rule of 10 calories per pound of body weight. So at 180 pounds, I needed 1800 calories a day. When I got down to 150 pounds, my daily calorie need was 1500 calories, etc. Easy math, right?
Calculating how many calories I was actually eating took a little more effort. Google was my friend. If what I was eating didn’t have a label, I would google the type of food and amount for a calorie estimate and just tally up the total. Talk about an eye opening experience! I honestly had no idea I was consuming as many calories as I was. Take, for instance, salad dressing. I’d make a salad for lunch, feeling good about being healthy, and then douse it with salad dressing. When I started tracking calories, I realized that a serving of salad dressing is 2 tablespoons, and depending on the dressing, those 2 tablespoons added over 100 calories to my meal. Now, I would always use more than 2 tablespoons, so my “healthy” salad suddenly became a calorie heavy meal.
Reading labels was vital to learning how to eat. Not only was I not aware of how many calories I was consuming, I realized I also didn’t have a fat clue what a healthy portion was. Labels spell it out. So I started measuring my food. I had to see what 2 tablespoons looked like, what 1 cup of cereal looked like. I was amazed to see how much larger my portions generally were. When I began to calculate the number of calories I was eating based on my portion sizes, I was flabbergasted! I was disgusted, actually, and that was good motivation to make some changes.
So I began to measure my food to be a serving size. I still tracked calories but now I counted them to make sure I stayed within my daily limit. And that helped me make better choices. I could eat a couple of slices of pizza and blow 600 calories, or I could have a big salad with lots of fresh veggies for 200 calories and have a snack later. I had to think about spreading out my calories so I could have a snack when I got hungry without going over my calorie limit. That made choosing a handful of carrots over a brownie easier. 35 calories vs. 120-200 calories? No brainer. It’s kind of like budgeting dollars. If you know you only have $20 for your night on the town, I’ll bet you’d be eating Subway for dinner instead of steak!
If you’re like me, counting calories is a bit tedious, though. But I found the Lose It! app which made things so much easier. It’s free in the app store, and lets you track not only calories but also exercise and weight. You can connect with other people and earn badges for reaching goals. I didn’t use it to its fullest potential, but as I began to be aware of calories, I loved the calorie tracking aspect of the app. It has a feature that will scan barcodes of packaged food, or you can manually enter your food and amount by choosing from a list of common foods. And seeing the line on the weight graph trend down kept me motivated to keep going!
I’ll be writing more about food choices and how I construct my meals, but before I could make changes I had to know what I was eating. If you’re serious about wanting to lose weight, I challenge you to keep a food journal–even just for a week. What did you eat? How much? How many calories was it? It’s a great visual of your eating habits and a great way to see where you can make changes.