A Dietitian’s Personal Account of Losing Weight
People often assume that because I am a dietitian and remain fit, that I must not have to watch my weight. That is not true. I struggle a little to lose weight and I have to plan in order to maintain my weight instead of gain weight over time. I love to eat good food, socialize over food and alcohol, as well as dine out. I love to bake and I have a sweet tooth. Fortunately, I also enjoy exercise since it relieves stress, helps me feel energetic and flexible, decreases arthritic pain, and allows me to burn a fair number of calories.
If I do not pay attention to what I eat, then I gain weight. I have a good appetite! If I stop exercising, then I will also gain weight since I tend to eat more, not less, when I am sedentary.
I thought it would be helpful if I shared some of my strategies for weight control. At the time of this writing, I am trying to return to my preferred weight of 130 lbs so that I feel my best when I run, dance, and ski. I have been using MyNetDiary to monitor my diet and exercise since January 2009. It is now early June 2009, and I am still losing weight.
How I Use MyNetDiary
I use MyNetDiary to set goals, track my daily calorie intake and output, adjust goals based on charts and reports, and share ideas and information via the “Community Forum.” I review my running calorie total every time I enter a meal or snack so that I can better plan my dinner, which is the largest calorie meal. If I dine out for lunch, then I try to have a light dinner that night. At the end of each day, I review the “Day Bottom Line” calorie statement and note the total calorie loss or gain. If I sustained a calorie gain, then the next day, I try to ensure a calorie loss great enough to make up for the gain on the previous day. Typically, I do this by slightly decreasing calorie intake and increasing calories burned from exercise.
I weigh myself once a week on Monday mornings and record that measurement in “Plan.” I review MyNetDiary charts and reports weekly. If I am losing weight as planned, then I do not reassess my goals. If I am losing weight more quickly than planned, then I review my average intake in the “Daily Summary Report” and average calories burned in the “Activity Report.” I rarely drop my calorie intake for long periods of time, so for me, losing weight faster than planned is typically related to burning more calories from seasonal sports. For instance, when I started to learn how to ski in powder this spring, I noticed that I lost weight more quickly simply because the average calories I burned increased during those weeks. This was despite a higher intake of calories at that time — the deficit was still great enough to increase the rate of weight loss.
When I do not lose weight as quickly as planned, then I review the same reports as above. For me, it is usually a combination of a slightly higher average calorie intake combined with fewer calories burned from exercise. This is not unusual for me when I am in-between seasonal sports (e.g., after the ski season and before the hiking season). This can also happen when I travel, when I do not track my intake and output daily, or when I am eating and exercising as desired and recording after the fact to see how the numbers pan out.
My favorite chart includes the “30-days” time period with weight, food calories, and activities all on one graph. This gives me a quick visual overview of how my weight relates to food intake and exercise as compared to set goals. The red flag for me is an increase in calorie intake without a compensating increase in activities burned from exercise. When I see that kind of discrepancy, I dive into the detailed “Food Report” and identify foods that are causing the high calorie intake. For me, the offending foods usually come from dining out too frequently during the week.
I do not follow a particular diet for losing weight, since any eating style that allows me to create and maintain a calorie deficit will result in weight loss. However, I do try to eat healthfully. I eat mostly whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean protein, fish, healthy fats and oils, and low fat or fat-free dairy products. I typically avoid deep-fried food, junk food, convenience meals, and most sweetened beverages. I try to follow nutrition and lifestyle guidelines that are supported by research, specifically, those from the American Heart Association, http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/119/8/1161, the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf, and MyPyramid Food Guide. Many of these guidelines are included in my article, “Foods to Meet Nutrients Needs.” http://www.mynetdiary.com/foods-nutrient-needs.html
Although I do not follow any particular diet, my eating style is closest to that found in countries bordering the Mediterranean. This style of eating emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, whole grains, small portions of nuts, red wine, very little red meat, and lots of olive oil. For more information about the Mediterranean diet, please visit the Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011, for a brief description and WebMD http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-mediterranean-diet, for a more detailed description of this tasty eating style. I do fall short of the ideal Mediterranean diet when I eat full-fat dairy products (e.g., cheese, sour cream, and butter), since they are high in saturated fats. Also, I only consume about 1-2 glasses of wine per week because of a preference for less alcohol.
Meals & Snacks
I eat about every 2-3 hours, alternating between a smaller meal and a generous snack, with a total of three meals and three snacks daily.
I try to spread out my calorie intake throughout the day, but I do not force myself to eat a certain number of calories at each meal and with each snack. Breakfast is typically 300 calories and is the lightest meal of the day since I simply cannot eat more for my first meal. My snacks vary somewhat, but they are typically close to 200 calories each. Dinner is the meal highest in calories since I eat with my husband. When my husband is away, my heaviest meal of the day is lunch.
I have not found that eating after a certain time in the evening will cause me to gain weight. However, when I eat too few calories earlier in the day, I often find myself eating too many extra calories at night.
I prefer to eat a mixture of protein, carbohydrates (with fiber), and fats at every meal and snack to help me feel satisfied. Since I have been using MyNetDiary, my daily average intake (as a percentage of total calories) from each macronutrient is: 29% from total fat, 54% from total carbohydrates, and 18% from protein.
I do not eat a low fat diet but I do limit my intake of saturated and trans fats. I feel more satisfied when I eat enough fat. I also want the heart-healthy benefits that come with the consumption of the omega-3’s and monounsaturated fats.
I try to include plenty of vegetables with my lunch and dinner. I have noticed that when I am too lazy to include a salad with dinner, I am much more likely to eat two servings of an entrée or I might overeat at dessert.
Why I Eat a Lot of Calories
Some people notice that I consume a lot of calories. Currently, my calorie intake goal is 100 calories above my Weight Maintenance Calories (which is the amount needed to maintain my body weight) even though I am trying to lose weight. How can I do this and still lose weight? It is simple- — I still maintain a calorie deficit. There are three factors that I consider when I set my calorie intake goal:
Exercise. Although I could lose weight without any physical activity, it is important to exercise for other reasons in addition to weight control. Therefore, I exercise daily. It is important for overall health, muscle and bone strength, stress reduction, healthy blood lipid (cholesterol) levels, blood glucose control, and for relieving pain associated with arthritis. For me, exercise is not an option — it is a necessity.
Hunger. I am active every day, so I burn a fair number of calories. If I did not eat the amount of food that I do, I would lose weight fairly quickly and feel overly hungry during the day and before sleeping. I think experiencing some hunger before a meal is appropriate, but excessive hunger that distracts me from working or sleeping is not. Also, I am more likely to overeat when I am excessively hungry.
Rate of Weight Loss. My goal is to lose 1-2 lbs per month until I meet my
target weight. That means my average calorie deficit needs to be only 120 — 230 calories per day. I burn more
than that from exercise so I am able to adjust my intake upwards to keep the rate of weight loss to 1-2 lbs per
If I decide that I want to speed up the rate of weight loss and I do not want to increase the calories burned from exercise, then I would adjust my calorie goal downwards and perhaps drop to my Weight Maintenance Calories.
If I was unable to exercise, then I would drop my caloric intake goal below my Weight Maintenance Calories by about 120 — 230 calories per day. If I felt too hungry on that lower intake, then I would increase my intake until I reached a level that still allowed me to lose weight without excessive hunger. I would also make a huge effort to ensure that I was eating enough vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grains to help me feel satisfied with a lower calorie intake.
Vitamin & Mineral Intake. It is much easier to obtain a well balanced and generous intake of essential dietary nutrients when a diet provides enough calories. Making healthful food choices (choosing nutrient dense foods) is important at all calorie levels, but becomes increasingly important as your calorie intake drops. Watch how your nutrient intake changes on the day that you eat very little versus the day that you consume 1800 calories or more. It is much easier to meet your vitamin and mineral goals with a higher intake, is it not?
I think it is accurate to say that I spent the majority of my allowance at a local candy shop when I was a teenager. At home I ate well since my mother cooked healthful, tasty meals from scratch, and provided easy access to healthful snacks and very little junk food. However, as soon as I was in an environment filled with sweets, I found myself completely at their mercy. I still love sweets, but I now have better control over my intake.
I have strategies to trick my brain into accepting more healthful substitutes. These sweet shams are not always low calorie options, but they ultimately serve to minimize damage since I am better able to control my portion size with these items. I have also included tactics that help me control external or environmental cues for eating.
- I do not buy foods that I know I will overeat (e.g., cookies, cake, and candy).
- I do not visit candy shops or bakeries “just to browse.”
- I do not go shopping when I am hungry.
- I buy certain types of energy bars to eat instead of the higher calorie candy bar equivalent.
- If I am going to eat a high calorie sweet, then I eat the best quality that I can afford. I do not feel guilty about it, I just do it. However, I do not do this often.
- If I am able, I will adjust my calorie intake or output to account for the calorie cost of the treat.
- I am careful not to skip meals since I am more likely to crave sweets if I do.
- I typically do not order dessert at restaurants. If I do, I share it.
- When I have a craving for something sweet earlier in the day, I look at my fruit options first. If a piece of fresh fruit is not going to work, then I consider a small portion of dried fruit.
- Sometimes I will choose one ounce of dark chocolate as a snack. I never overeat dark chocolate, so despite its high calorie cost (about 150 calories per ounce), it can be a very satisfying treat.
- If I am craving cookies or cake, I’ll eat one Nonni’s Biscotti (typically 100 — 120 calories each), animal crackers (120 calories), or Anna’s Ginger Thins (140 calories) instead.
- I typically do not buy 100-calorie pack cookies since these portion control packs do not work for me. I will simply eat 2-3 packs of cookies. Instead, I do not buy them at all.
- For ice cream treats, I will typically eat 1 bar or sandwich, so I do buy these only occasionally.
- At home, my dessert is typically ½ cup of light ice cream with fresh fruit (about 150 calories). I use a little Pyrex bowl or custard dish since everything fits in there perfectly, and it prevents me from overeating. I tend to eat more ice cream when I use a cereal bowl instead of a custard cup.
For holidays, my birthday, or other very special occasions, I simply eat what I wish and do not worry about the calorie surplus for that day. However, I do not eat until I am stuffed. Instead, I eat until I feel satisfied but not over full. If I am cooking at home, then I request that friends and family take home leftovers to help me use up high calorie items. I freeze extras so that they are not sitting on the counter or in the refrigerator within my line of sight.
If I am traveling to a place known for exquisite or tasty food, then I plan both my calorie intake and output before and after the trip so that I can eat mostly what I please. As with special occasions, I do not eat to the point of feeling stuffed and nauseous — I only eat until I feel satisfied and not too full.
No matter where I travel, I usually manage to exercise every day. If I’m stuck traveling all day by plane, I’ll walk the airports.
I try to choose restaurants and fast food joints that have smaller portions, low fat options, whole grains, plenty of vegetables, and the option to have dressing or condiments on the side. My favorite fast food places are Tokyo Joe’s, Noodles & Company, and Subway.
For long flights and snacks at hotels, I often bring jerky, nuts, dried fruit, animal crackers, whole grain crackers, light string cheese, a few pieces of fresh fruit that do not bruise easily, and energy bars.
I try not to “drink” my calories, but there are exceptions. I find skim milk and soy milk to be particularly filling and that helps me control meal calories. I drink coffee and tea for caffeine and pleasure. Juice can sometimes please my sweet tooth but I typically limit myself to one small serving a day if I consume it at all. Stout and wine are very pleasurable to drink for taste and socializing. I try to avoid sweet mixed drinks since they are very high in calories (e.g., Margaritas). Here is calorie information for my favorite beverages:
- Cup of skim milk or soy milk (80 — 100 calories, great source of calcium and protein)
- Cup of lightly sweetened coffee or tea (20 calories, provides caffeine and enjoyment)
- Small 6 fl oz serving of juice (80 calories, calcium-fortified, Vitamin C, and sweetness)
- One pint of stout at my favorite pub, once per week (200 calories, just because I enjoy it)
- Five ounce glass of wine, once per week (100 — 120 calories, just because I enjoy it)
As a dietitian, I do not lay claim to superhuman acts of willpower. I simply know my trigger points really well so I am able to manage my weight effectively. This came with time, knowledge, patience, and practice.
The challenge is to individualize your calorie intake and output so that you feel good, your health is promoted, disease is avoided or managed, and you meet your weight goals.
Be sure to read my article on “Hidden Cues to Eating” (link here) to identify factors that could be causing you to eat too much. Please feel free to view my data since I am also a MyNetDiary member. I have allowed access to all members so that if you are curious, you can see what I eat, and how I meet my calorie, activity, and weight goals.
Visit the “Community Forum” if you have questions about nutrition or simply want to share ideas or get ideas from other MyNetDiary members. There are some great posts on topics such as snack ideas and cravings. I moderate the forum and answer nutrition questions.
Good luck to you and congratulations for investing the time to help yourself.
This article can be found at http://www.mynetdiary.com/dietitians-personal-account.html