Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keeping Myself Accountable

The nice thing about training for a marathon is that I burn about 3000 extra calories a week. To put that in perspective, that's roughly 20 scoops of vanilla ice cream, your own pie of New York cheese pizza, or 15 bottles of Pepsi.

I don't use the excessive calorie burning as an excuse to forget everything I've ever learned about eating healthy, but I definitely indulge and don't stress over it. Recently, I have discovered that most runners have a weight where they run their fastest times. This weight is somewhere around a BMI of 18 for men and 19/20 for women, and depends on each individual.

My current BMI is nowhere near that number. It's somewhere in the mid-20's (I don't have to tell you people everything, ok!), but I have no doubt that taking it down will increase my speed. Just last week, I bought a new pair of tennis shoes which were mere ounces lighter than my old shoes and I immediately noticed a difference. So what would fifteen pounds lighter feel like? Probably, really fast.

How in the world am I going to shed a few more pounds? I can’t exercise more – that’s for sure. (I can definitely work-out better but that’s another post for another day.) What I can do, is eat less. What I can’t do, is trust myself to eat less. In order to really consume fewer calories, I need to keep myself accountable and monitor my intake.

Here are some of the ways that I have tracked my daily calorie intake over the years. Everything is free too unless otherwise noted.

Pros: It’s easy to use and to record accurate consumption because it allows you to choose from many different types of measurements – ounces, cups, teaspoons, if relevant, slices, and for certain items like produce there are options such as medium banana 7 inches long or large banana 9 inches long. Also, it has cool reporting tools like a pie chart showing the breakdown of calories by fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

Cons: The food options are plentiful but they are missing a lot of name brands and prepared dishes. I found Special K but couldn’t find: Luna Bars, Cliff Bars, wasabi peas, and pad thai. I had to create a lot of custom foods to make this site work. Also, it doesn’t allow you to record meals by meal time which can get a little disorganized.

Bottom line: If you cook for yourself a lot, then this might work for you if you have the time and patience to enter in the nutrition information from the foods you are eating or to hand select all the ingredients of your meal. But that’s a whole lot of if’s, so buyer beware.

Livestrong’s The Daily Plate

Pros: Every imaginable food option, brand and combination. I have yet to not be able to find something. I even went through a list of Indian recipes and was able to pull up every single one of them! The site also has lots of graphs and tracking tools to help you figure out how many calories you should eat in a day and how many calories your workouts burn.

Cons: It’s a bit slow and it doesn’t search for food items if you put a space after the last word in the search box. I also had a hard time navigating the site and figuring out how to do things. It wasn’t intuitive as the other two tools, but again, once you figure it out, does that really matter?

Bottom line: This is great for everyone, especially if you eat out a lot or eat a lot of prepared meals. If you won’t take the time to fill it out daily, then the slower than normal search function will not let you easily catch up if you are a day or few meals behind.

Calorie Counter by Fat Secret (the Blackberry application)

Pros: This site also boasts a huge database of foods – prepared and brand names, and on my Verizon Blackberry it works pretty quickly. I figured out how to use the app almost immediately and haven’t encountered any major problems. Plus, it has been so easy and fast to use that I can quickly enter in data.

Cons: If you eat a lot of ethnic foods, then this might not work. There are options but they are limited and so may grossly over or understate the nutritional content. That said, all major food chains, brands, and restaurants are on the app. (The Daily Plate has a Blackberry app you might want to check out but given their technology glitches on the website, don’t blame me if the app disappoints. It will also cost you $2.99 a month.) The design is utilitarian and offers no extra reporting and analysis tools. For example, I have to manually compute my percentages from fat and protein.

Bottom line: Good for anyone on the go and my personal weapon of choice. So far, it’s been pretty good to me. Also, it's available for iPhones and Droids as well.

I’ve only been tracking my food and diet for two days this week and already I figured out that the serving of Mexican Caesar dressing that I had was a whopping 620 calories and 67.8 grams of fat, bringing my lunch up to a staggering 1244 calories. I was able to keep daily calories under 2000, but imagine all the other food I could have enjoyed had I just gotten vinaigrette. My calories from protein are in the 15% range both days, which is about 10% lower than my goal. I'm already trying to incorporate more protein in my meals.

A few more weeks of this calorie counting business and I hope to be able to safely trim down my waistline and dial up my speed. It’s always worked for me in the past and it allows me to indulge without going over total daily calories. Whether your goal is to lose weight or speed up, keeping track of calories is the most important step in achieving a smaller number on the scale.

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