06 March 2012


So, my grandma sent me an e-mail asking for details about what I've done the last few months with eating healthy and exercising, and since I took the time to type it all out I thought I might as well post that info here too:

I've been using a website called myfitnesspal.com.  It's free (which means there are dumb little ads that show up on the sides of the pages, but otherwise it's a fine little site).  When you use it for the first time it asks what your height, age, gender, and weight are.  Then it asks you what kind of lifestyle you live (I chose sedentary -- I figure that some days I am more active than that, but I thought I'd rather estimate a lower activity level than overestimate).  Then it asks how often you want to exercise and for how long each day, and I think I signed up for half and hour a day, 6 days a week (no Sundays), although I usually do between half an hour and an hour a day, depending on how motivated I'm feeling.  Then it asks what your weight goals are -- you can tell it you want to gain weight, remain the same, or lose.  It asks what rate you want to lose weight at, and I think I put 2 lbs a week (because I heard that more than that generally isn't healthy).  

After you enter that info in the first time, it comes back with a goal for how many calories to consume each day to follow your weight loss goals.  And the way that this works is that if it tells you, for example, that your goal is 1400 calories a day, and you do exercise that burns about 200 calories one day, then you can eat 1600 calories worth of food that day.  On days you don't exercise, like Sundays, you would just stick with eating the 1400 calories per day.  (I often end up with 100 to 300 extra un-used calories a day below my daily limit, but on some days I'm right close to the limit, especially on days we eat out). 

You enter in everything you eat throughout the day on this site, and it adds up the calories, fat, sugar, salt, etc.  The website has a database of foods, so you can enter things in and it will give you the nutrition info (or if a food isn't in their database, you can add it in and just type in the nutrition info from the packaging and then that food will be added to their database so you can use it in the future).  I read that people who write down all the foods they eat each day on average lose twice as much weight as people who don't keep track of what and how much they eat (probably just because they're more aware of their intake and they become conscious of what they are actually eating and the nutritional values, I guess).  Most foods you can measure out with measuring cups/spoons, or weigh if you have a kitchen scale.  I got a good little digital kitchen scale at wal mart for about 20$, and it weighs things in grams, oz, pounds, and some other measurement, and goes up to 10 lbs.  So if you can weigh something in ounces, most everything tells on the label how many ounces are in a serving and how many calories per serving so you can figure it out.  When I first started doing this I measured everything all the time, until after a few months I had a better idea of the calories in my most used foods -- but I still measure and calculate foods that I don't use as often.  

You also enter in the info whenever you exercise.  For me this part is harder, because I want a definite way to know exactly how many calories I burned while exercising, but it doesn't seem to be an exact science.  If you are using an exercise machine it might tell you how many calories you burned based on your BMI, or if you have a pedometer it might have this function (although through my research I wasn't convinced that these calculators were very accurate, at least on the inexpensive pedometers that I was willing to pay for).  There might also be calories burned calculators on iphones, but I don't have one of those.  The Wii fit program also calculates your calories burned based on your BMI and how long you exercise, so I entered that in a lot when I started too, because you could jog in place holding the wii remote and then it would tell me how many calories burned.  The website also has a database of exercises that you can enter in, and you can add your own to that too.  Some of the exercises I did didn't show up in the database, though, so I've gone to a couple other websites to calculate calories burned, and then just plugged these numbers into the myfitnesspal site.  One is http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc -- this one is in the center of the page, just scroll down and you will enter your weight at the top then find the type of exercise and add how many minutes you did it, and it will calculate how much you burned.  I like this one for walking or running, especially if I walk on side walks and keep track of the time when I left and the time when I returned, then I can go on google maps and see how many miles my route was, and calculate how many miles per hour I was walking and get a better idea of how many calories were burned.  This is another site I've used to calculate for less common exercises, like jump roping: http://www.fitclick.com/calories_burned?srch=Bicycle+Crunches

Exercises I've tried are jogging in place, doing the step aerobics on the wii fit while holding a 5 pound weight in each hand, walking with the kids, hiking, jogging, jump roping, doing bicycle crunches (and other variations of these), and skiing.  One day I even plugged in "mopping" and entered the calories burned after scrubbing the floors.  :)  My standard exercise that I can always do, no matter if I can't leave the house with the kids or if I'm doing it late at night when the kids are asleep, is jogging in place.  I usually watch tv or a movie rented from the library while doing this, so I don't get bored.  I'll either do it for half an hour or an hour, depending on how motivated I am.  The best exercising I've done since I started this was skiing, because doing any activity for several hours a day has got to be good for you -- too bad I can't go skiing a few times a week my whole life.  :)

One thing I've done with this is change lots of the foods I eat.  I've found that often low fat foods have lower calories (but low fat doesn't mean calorie free).  Since I've never been aware of how many calories were in foods or even how many calories a person should be eating a day, I've learned a lot from this stuff.  

One day I went to the grocery store alone and spent a couple hours  just walking around and seeing how many calories were in different foods.  I made a list of foods that appealed to me that were lower calories, and I compiled a shelf of healthy food so I would have something on hand at all times.  I also compiled lots of snacks that were healthier than other foods (if I wanted chocolate, I wanted to have something on hand that wouldn't be as bad as something else -- so having one or two of those tiny mini snickers bars or maybe a low fat chocolate ice cream bar would be a good alternative to a big slice of birthday cake at one of the kids' parties or something).  So my idea is that I'm not cutting out everything unhealthy, and I'm leaving room each day to have at least one thing that isn't just spinach, egg whites, oatmeal, etc.  I've tried a number of low fat ice cream bars, and found a few kinds that are awful, and a few others that I like and are really nice if I'm craving something sweet.  Instead of using other cheeses, I have found that I really like the Laughing Cow spreadable swiss cheese wedges (they sell packs of these at the Costco here) -- they are fewer calories even than the low fat baby bell round cheeses from Costco, and they have so much flavor!  Other things that I have tried for snacks are fat free pudding cups, maybe a low calorie granola bar, fruit leather, a piece of bologne, fat free yogurt with frozen blueberries mixed in, fat free cottage cheese, a little beef jerky, these apple chips they have at Costco in a red bag with a picture of a bear on the front (the only ingredients are dried apple slices and cinnamon, and I like the flavor a lot), raw almonds, fresh berries, roasted butternut squash, etc.  

One thing that surprised me with all this is how much I needed to decrease my portion sizes.  I mean, I knew I was eating too much, but I always kind of figured that if a food is healthy you should be able to eat as much of it as you want and it would be fine.  Some things you probably could do this with, like fresh spinach or blueberries, but things like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, chicken, etc. I couldn't just eat my fill of.  So one thing that this has done is make me more aware of the nutrition in what I eat, and how much I should be eating.

Myfitnesspal.com also has a feature where you can enter recipes.  This takes a little longer, since you have to measure each ingredient you cook with, but it's nice for me since I do the Once A Month Cooking for the family, and I re-use recipes that we try and like, so I only have to enter it in once and if I make the recipe the same way the next time it's already entered and ready for me to use.  One thing about the recipes that I've done is you enter in the amount of each ingredient, and then it asks how many servings it makes so it can calculate how many calories per serving.  But instead of saying that a casserole makes 8 servings, I use my kitchen scale to weigh the meal after it is all made (minus the weight of the dish) in grams, and I enter that number in the "servings" section on the site.  It looks kind of silly, because it says there is something like 24,372 servings for the meal, but then when I go to eat some I don't have to worry about trying to figure out how many equal servings it made and how much I ate, I just weigh how much I put on my plate, and I enter in the grams (so I would eat something like 398 servings of the enchiladas, for example) and it will then calculate the calories based on how much of the total recipe I ate (this is a lot of measuring, but I figure it's a pretty accurate number.  I started doing this because figuring out how many servings there are in a casserole dish is relatively easy if you cut all the pieces about the same size, but how are you supposed to figure out how many servings are in a crock pot?

I don't eat out too often, but a website that is helpful with finding out calories for restaurants is calorieking.com.  I also checked out a book from the library called Eat This, Not That, which had some good info about making healthy selections.  The part I liked best from the book was in the intro where it talked about a few foods that you should try to eat each day, and it had alternates to those foods that were similar and also healthy.  It listed things like oats, spinach, blueberries, tomatoes, black beans, walnuts, and a few others.  It said to try to get some healthy protein in with these things each day, like salmon, chicken, etc.  I've found that for me it's helpful to have some protein with breakfast and lunch, to make it so I'm not so hungry later -- I'll often do eggs for breakfast or a hard boiled egg with a meal, or a couple pieces of bologne or a handful or almonds.  And I've found that it's better for me to have a large lunch and a smaller dinner, although that doesn't always work out with the schedule.  

So for me a normal day's worth of meals might look like this:
Breakfast: 2 packets of instant oatmeal (I prefer cranberry flaxseed or raising, date, and walnut flavor in the Wegmans brand)
Lunch: 2 cups of spinach, 1 T Kraft fat free zesty italian dressing, 1 wedge laughing cow spreadable swiss cheese, 1 piece bologne
snack: 10 almonds
Dinner: 1 serving whatever freezer dinner we've taken out from my Once A Month Cooking at home

another day might look like this:
Breakfast: 1 whole egg and 4 egg whites cooked, 1 Thomas English muffin with raisins
Lunch: 1 cup fat free vanilla yogurt, 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1 cup jello temptations strawberry cheesecake (like a pudding cup, but better tasting)
Snack: 1 low fat chocolate ice cream bar
Dinner: 1 can Progresso light soup (I've tried several brands, and I think the Progresso soups have a better flavor than other light soups)

I try to switch it up a lot so it doesn't get boring.  Anyway, that's probably a lot more info than you needed.  :)  I started this mid-December, and I've lost about 25 pounds so far.  And it feels like it's actually something that I'll be able to keep up for good.  The biggest surprise for me is that this has been so easy -- not that it's really been easy, after years of not caring about eating really healthy or exercising regularly, once I started thinking about getting healthy it took several months for me to actually commit to doing it, and then it's taken a lot of motivation to stick with it, (especially on weeks when my weight increases for 3 days in a row even though I've been doing things right, before going back down again).  But I've been surprised out how it has worked -- for some reason I had the idea in my head that doing a little exercise daily and eating pretty healthy but not eliminating every unhealthy snack wouldn't be enough to make a real difference, but it has.  So, it's pretty exciting for me.  


Beth said...

Stephanie, thanks for posting this! I am trying to loose weight from having the baby and can't really afford the weight loss programs or a gym--you have great tips in here or weight loss on a budget! It seems relatively simple, I love that, and I love how you haven't cut out ALL the sweet treats you love, just moderated it quite a bit. Thanks for posting this, I hope it makes a difference for me!

Beth said...

Stephanie, thanks for posting this! I am trying to loose the baby weight and can't afford a weight loss program. This had some really great tips on dieting on a budget! I love that you don't cut out ALL the sweet treats, just moderate it, and that you can still eat what you are feeding your family for dinner. Very awesome! :)Thanks, I think this will help me a lot!