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Shelley Bassett

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Chickpea, sausage and spinach

Counting Calories: Week 1


February 20, 2018

The very beginning of my calorie counting journey.

Managing my weight has always been a struggle. I can swing from being borderline underweight to incredibly overweight in a matter of months. And while everyone’s advice and concern is nice, it’s never really made a difference. But now I need to actually start paying attention. After the shock that was standing on the scales last weekend, I made a choice to start figuring out why my weight fluctuates so much. The simplest rule I could find was that the energy going into my body should be proportional to the energy I use each day, with a deficit if I plan to lose weight. So with this in mind, I started counting my calories.

I chose calorie counting rather than a gym membership for a few reasons. While the obvious weight loss tactic is just to exercise more, this doesn’t help me yet. I don’t know what I’m putting into my body to know how much I need to burn off. And if the data I’ve collected is even somewhat close to the truth, I’m going to have to work out a lot to cover for how much I’m eating.

The other problem I face is rewarding my exercise with more food. I don’t want to accidentally undo all my hard work. So learning to manage intake and portions is more import to long term success. I used to run every morning, and I really enjoyed doing that. But for the minute, the extra weight I’m carrying is making that  dangerous and will do more damage to my already not-great joints. So, fix the diet, then fix the exercise.

Logging the data

All this would be pointless without a system to record the data points, including weight and caloric intake. Towards the end of last year, when I noticed my jeans becoming unreasonably tight again (side note, they’re now too tight…) I bought a Fitbit to start tracking things for me. I also bought real scales (that also measure percentage fat and other useful things) to try and record the weight loss, not that any has happened yet! This isn’t a shout-out post to Fitbit, any smart watch would probably do the job, I just chose the one in my price range that had all the features I wanted.

Fitbit Alta HR promo image

Fitbit Alta HR promo image

The Fitbit app has a nifty little area that tracks my calories in, provided I remember to enter the data! I must admit, there were a few days that I missed and had to go back to enter (here’s looking at you, Wednesday), but on the whole, for the first week, I got into the habit pretty fast. And having foods I eat regularly for meals, especially at work, made inputting the data at a later time easy.

I didn’t change my diet much this week. I really just needed a baseline of what I was eating, and how that’s impacting my overall intake. So what was my daily average? 1800 Calories. This is less that the adult recommended diet of 8700kj (2080 calories), but is clearly too much for my current lifestyle, as I’m gaining weight rather then maintaining my current figure. It’s also possible that I’m still underestimating portion sizes. So this might not be totally accurate  buyback it’s a good place to start learning.

The Good

There were a few nice surprises with logging my food. Some meals I eat regularly and quite enjoy are actually low in calories. Chicken salad for lunch is only 250 calories. And a small serving of Nigella‘s chickpeas and spinach (with sausage added for some extra protein) is about 330 calories. This is welcome news for my diet, because I live for the lunch break at work. And it seems that bringing my own every day has actually been really good for me.

Chickpea, sausage and spinach

My take on Nigella’s chickpeas and spinach

The other nice little bonus I found was that my love of soup translates really well into diet food! A mug of cauliflower soup is like 80 calories. And to get fancy, chicken and corn is 113. Score!

The Bad

With every rise there comes a fall. And mine came in the form of breakfast. I’ve been having a muesli mix for breakfast most mornings. Turns out, this is a terrible idea. Coupled with a few cups of coffee, this one meal, early in the day, was more that 400 calories! That needs to change. Thankfully, if I make a simple switch for yoghurt, or back to the instant porridge I was eating over winter, I can halve this total back down to about 200 calories, without ditching the coffee!

Eating out also wasn’t great. I generally have a meal or two out every week, and this week wasn’t an exception. Not making the food myself makes it trickier to add up the calories, but in general, I think it comes down to portion size more than anything. I get really excited over good food, and then tend to eat too much. While this contributes heavily to my daily totals, it’s not the worst problem in the world, an dem is easily changed. It’s going to be a case of mind over matter (or stomach!).

The Just Plain Ugly

Compared to this, breakfast was just a little stumble. I snack. A lot. And none of it is good. Lets start with work, shall we? Or maybe not, because my morning snack of muesli bars and coffee was more than 300 calories. Yes. A snack had more calories than most of my lunches. And several of my dinners. This is not a good start.

Then I get home from work. And lord have mercy on my waistline, the amount of calories I can consume then is terrible! We’re talking more muesli bars. Toast. Nuts. Leftovers. If you follow my Instagram, you might have noticed this very delectable looking cheesecake. Now. I’m not saying I’ve eaten a lot of cheesecake this week. But, there is significantly less cheesecake left in my fridge… Oops.

The offending blueberry cheesecake

“Dessert” isn’t too bad. It wasn’t every night, and often consisted of things like frozen mango, which had a reasonable amount of calories. Just as long as I don’t overdo it, something sweet in the evening shouldn’t do too much damage.

Creating a calorie deficit

So, on the whole, there isn’t too much work to bring down my total daily calories. The two biggest changes will be ditching the muesli in the morning, and fixing the snack issue, which is starting to feel like a whole big thing. I’m going to hide the junky snacks for a rainy/desperate day, and try to find something that is filling and yet won’t blow the calorie budget. Maybe apples? I used to eat a lot of apples.

I’m going to aim for 1200 calories per day. And while this doesn’t sound much, remember that I have a desk job, sitting in an office all day. I don’t spend much energy on just living, and need to change my diet to reflect this. Gone are the days of eating whole blocks of chocolate and not caring. Actually, that might have been what got me into this mess in the first place…

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