I’m dieting. Again. Both my husband and I are, but I’m clearly the expert. He’s only had to start watching his weight in recent years, as he grew up thin and lanky, never to be bothered by the number of calories or the latest diet. (The Ice Cream diet was one of my early favorites.) It’s only aging that has him keeping an eye on his intake—damned aging—otherwise he’d be scarfing down pasta unregulated by those pesky portion sizes or calorie counts. I, however, have been dieting since I was about two. Adolescence was not my friend and even during my first pregnancy, my doctor put me on an 1800 calorie a day diet. There was no eating for two for me and I had to say good-bye to the Snickers bars that I had thought I’d be able to munch on to my heart’s content.
I’ve been on the Drinking Man’s diet, the Eat Right for Your Type diet, and the aforementioned Ice Cream diet. I’ve been a Weight Watcher and a Calorie Counter. The medical community has encouraged me to diet and discouraged blaming my weight on a poky thyroid or genetics. Genetics wasn’t much of an excuse though, because both my brother and sister are thin. And so, for most of my 52 years, I’ve battled getting into my jeans on a daily basis. When my friends would declare—after their babies – that they were going to “get back to when they were thinner” I had no such declaration. I was never thinner. They could drop a penny on their newly taut stomachs and it would bounce happily off while if the same penny were dropped onto my stomach, it would disappear into the depths, never to be seen again. It’s been frustrating, to say the least.
There has always been one strategy that has come up over and over again, but which I’ve disdained each time. Keep a food journal. Nahh. I know what I’m doing – I’ve been dieting forever. I know about portions, calories, exercise. I know not to eat after 8pm and I know never to skip breakfast. I didn’t need to write anything down – I already know it all. It’s ironic, too, since I’m a writer and I keep a (somewhat) daily journal. I just didn’t think I needed to write down everything that I put into my mouth. Until now.
Ever the trailblazing techie, it was my husband who found an app for his iPod to keep track of his daily calories. “I want to show you something” he said to me one day. I thought he had bought me a present, so I bit. “What is it?”, I asked coyly anticipating a new electric blanket or tickets to Italy. “Look at this app!” he said breathlessly. “Just download it on your iPod and you can enter in all the food you eat each day!” I tried to contain my excitement. “That sounds like so much fun” I said, mentally unpacking my suitcase for Rome. “No, really, it’s so easy…” and he went on—and on – to show me how you can look up practically any food you eat, because it’s connected to an online database containing thousands of entries. No more fudging on calories or fat content because it’s all right there. “I can’t wait to start”, I said and I slid my iPod screen over to my Sudoku app and started ignoring him.
But later, when he wasn’t looking, I went ahead and downloaded the app, perkily called My Fitness Pal, and entered in my information, obviously lying about my current weight. According to my goals (ha! goals…I had to put something down!) I was “allowed” 1200 calories a day. Total – not for each meal. The first day I went over 1500 calories. Not a great start. But as the days went by I was able to stay within my limit and not feel like Tom Hanks on the island in Cast Away. After a couple of weeks of this torture, I realized two things: Number one – I wasn’t losing any weight and Number two – I must have eaten a whole lot of food before I started writing it down. As long as I’ve been moaning about not being able to lose weight, I’ve also apparently been oblivious to how much food I’m eating. It’s very easy to eyeball a plate of pasta and decide that yeah – it’s probably about six ounces…or whatever the recommended dosage is. Now that I’ve been actually writing stuff down, the rate at which it adds up is startling. There’s nothing like looking at a tote board of calories for my meals for the day and realizing that I’ve been able to eat three times that before and still consider myself “on a diet”.
But I’m still me. I will never bounce a penny off my stomach and have it spring back off like a trampoline. In fact, last night, because my husband was out of town at a workshop, I indulged in my favorite dinner—popcorn, wine and cheese and crackers. For dessert – chocolate covered pretzels. Yum. But I entered it all into my iPod and grimaced as the total for the day came up – I was over 1100 calories. And then a funny thing happened. I didn’t feel guilty. And not only that, I was looking forward to today when I’d be back on track, weighing my portions and having my daily total be in under-1200 green instead of way over-1200 red. Because I do like to have a nice meal, with wine and dessert every once in awhile, and if I keep this up, I can. Without guilt and maybe with a little success.
After the first few weeks, the daily documentation started to work. To date, I’ve lost 11 pounds. I don’t want to re-lose them, so I think I’ll stick with the program. It’s changed the way I look at “dieting” and has expanded my awareness about what I tell myself I’m doing as compared to what I’m really doing. My Fitness Pal now joins my husband and me at dinner as we punch in our meals and see how many calories we have left over. Or not. Writing this stuff down really keeps you honest. Who knew?