A Certain Lack of Focus

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Real Living on a Diet

If you're following my blog at this point, you probably know me in person, and you probably know I've been on a diet for a while. One of the curses in any diet attempt is the pitfall of eating out. Especially while traveling. It seems like even when you think you're being good, you gain weight while traveling.

Probably that's because you aren't being as good as you think. Things that seem healthy might be loaded with calories and things that really are healthy might surprise you. One tip I've heard from Weight Watchers and other diet sources is to ask for a box at the beginning of the meal. I pretty much always do that when I eat out now, unless I'm sharing with someone. BTW, if you're sharing two dishes, even if one is a salad, it doesn't count as a half portion anymore.

SteakCutting your meal in half from the get-go can certainly help, but even half a meal can be upwards from 1000 calories depending on what you order. Don't assume it's healthy just because you're eating less of it. Yeah, and salads are OFTEN more than 1000 calories just by themselves.

A tip I got from South Beach is to swallow a spoonful of Metamucil (mmm fiber) five minutes before meals so you'll feel full. Personally, I find that idea repulsive, but hey, whatever works.

Snacks are a big help. and I usually take granola bars and fruit leathers (kinda like fruit rollups that are actually made of fruit) to keep us going during the day. On South Beach fruit leathers are completely out and granola bars are limited to the South Beach granola bars (which are GROSS) so I usually stick with nuts. Yes, I do count them out. 30 of the little ones like pistachios and peanuts, 12-15 of bigger ones like walnuts and cashews. Surprisingly, that's usually enough to make me happy. Snacks should help keep you from feeling like you need to inhale your dinner.

Here's one tip I came up with on my own: figure out what your ACTUAL caloric intake should be. The FDA, or whoever it is that makes recommendations, claims that average daily intake should be 2000 calories. This is total crap.

First of all, 2000 calories is probably a good average intake for a MAN from the 1960s. We're generally less active now so some guys might be around 2000 (and athletic guys will be above) but I'm betting most guys are a little bit below that. That, mind you, is to maintain weight. If you're actually trying to lose weight you should be eating less. And unfortunately it's not even CLOSE for women, we need far fewer calories in general to maintain weight. There are online calorie counters all over the place that can tell you about how many calories you need. It's good to get a ballpark of that before you start estimating how many calories you should spend for a meal.

The most helpful thing I've found for traveling on a diet is chain restaurants. I know it's completely counter intuitive, but bear with me. This also applies to eating out locally, though in that case you can usually afford to test your favorite places to see ones have you gaining weight and which do less damage. The trick is that many chain restaurants have their nutrition information online so even though the majority of their meals may be atrocious, you can pick over it ahead of time and fine those one or two items that are healthy. Deciding what you're going to eat ahead of time does take out some of the excitement, but it also cuts back on the temptation to get something REALLY bad, because hey, it's not like there's anything healthy on the menu, right?

Here are some menus I've found online: P.F. Chang's, Bob Evans, Ruby Tuesday, Denny's, Macaroni Grill, and Chilis. As far as I know Applebees, TGIFridays, and Outback don't provide nutritional information, so while they may have acceptable food on their menus, I'd just avoid them since you can't be sure. Olive Garden ONLY provides nutritional information on their "healthy" items, and that information is incomplete (it doesn't tell you calories or fat for low-carb items and doesn't tell you carbs for low fat items. SHADY) so I'd travel with care there, and make sure to limit your portion sizes. As for all the rest, many of them are in pdf format, which I'm pretty sure is a ploy to discourage people to get there, but never mind. It also means they're very easy to PRINT. And then tuck into your travel journal, so wherever you go, you have a few things you know you can eat. Be careful to notice that most meals sneakily don't include sides, so you have to add those in too. I usually aim for no more than 500 calories for my big meal, maybe 300 for a smaller meal. That is going to vary.

It's not perfect. When I'm traveling I don't even bother to worry about salt or carbs, I'm just looking at my net calorie intake. Planning ahead helps a lot though, it can keep you from throwing up your hands and giving up, and, if you actually follow your pre-picked meal, you might even lose a pound instead of gaining five.

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