I like to listen to podcasts and audiobooks from Audible.com while commuting to and from work. I can catch up on tech punditry, learn more about a subject in which I’m interested, or just listen to funny people being funny. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear an author reading their own words (although there are a lot of great audiobooks read by voice actors).
Beginning with this very post, I’ll be publishing an audio version of each blog post on Clean Livin’. Rather than putting out a supplemental podcast, these audio blog entries will be like the audio book version of this blog, for those on the go, or the blind or sight impaired. You’ll get to hear me stammer through what I’ve written. Maybe from time to time I’ll sneak some extra content or commentary into the audio version, especially for older posts.
Over the next few months I’ll fill-in previously published posts with their audio versions, working backwards until I reach the beginning. If you want to listen to them as they’re published, you can subscribe to the podcast feed, stream or download each episode right here on Clean Livin’, or subscribe via iTunes.
There’s no magic formula to losing weight (other than
calories in < calories out), but there are some shortcuts, tricks, and tips that I’ve discovered through my four years of Clean Livin’ that could help you navigate the broken glass that’s hidden in the grass. These tips may not work for everyone, but they work for me, and if you can try them and not mind the changes, you get the added weight loss benefit for free.
Think about it this way: if you can substitute one thing for another that’s just as good (or sometimes even better) it’s one small step toward cutting out a small number of calories, but those small numbers add up over the course of a day, week, or year.
Stupid Human Tricks
- Downsize Your Plate – Since you’ll likely be done eating before you end up feeling full, most people will know that they’re done eating by looking down at their empty plate. You can reduce your calorie intake simply by making your plate smaller. It sounds stupid, but it works. I usually eat most of my meals on a salad or small dessert plate.
- Pre-Portion Everything – Don’t eat from a container or bag unless you intend to eat the entire thing. Sure, you may stop when you’re full, or when you’ve had a serving, but you’re far more likely to over-eat when you can’t see the portion that’s going into your stomach. Place what you intend to eat on a plate or bowl prior to eating it. If you decide you want more, at least you’re deciding to eat more and not just mindlessly shoving food down your craw.
- Measure Your Food – Unless you’re eating something that’s prepared and individually portioned, the only way you’re going to know just how much meat, beans, or soup you’re having is to measure it out with a measuring cup or weigh it on a food scale. Studies have shown that people underestimate the portion size of even something as simple as a chicken breast by 30–40%. It only takes a moment to put your plate on the scale, tare it (i.e. zero it out), and weigh a portion. You can even keep taring the scale between adding additional food to it. Weighing your food is the most accurate way to measure the calories in that food, because the volume of solid food items can vary between measuring depending on how the food is oriented or packed.
- Slow Down – I’m as guilty of eating too fast as anyone. Studies have shown, however, that people who eat more slowly also eat fewer calories than people who scarf down their food. Not only does it take about twenty minutes for you to start feeling full after you start eating, but by chewing your food more you taste it more, and will find that smaller portions won’t leave you feeling hungry afterwards if you eat your food more slowly.
- Pay Attention – My wife and I still eat while watching television sometimes. We almost always eat official “meals” at the dining room table, but will often eat an evening snack while watching a movie or TV show. We try to combat overeating by portioning our snacks (usually fruit or air-popped popcorn) in the kitchen and then taking our bowls to the sofa, but it’s probably still a bad habit that promotes mindless eating. Have you ever finished eating only to discover that you didn’t even notice you were eating by the time you were done? This is especially frustrating when you’ve been eating something unhealthy, because now you’ve not only eaten a large number of calories, but you didn’t even get to enjoy them. That doesn’t sound like fun. If you’re going to eat potato chips, at least eat them mindfully so you can enjoy the experience.
- Mustard Instead of Mayo – Mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil and egg, but it’s mostly oil. Mustard is usually comprised of ground mustard seeds (mustard is a plant), vinegar, and salt. Unless you get honey mustard or mustard mixed with some other sugary concoction, it’s usually zero calories, whereas mayo is 100 calories per tablespoon, which is about as much as you’d put on a sandwich if you don’t use a lot of mayo. You get the added benefit that mustard is tastier (although I do admit a love of mayo on certain types of sandwich).
- Fat Free Singles Cheese – If you’re going to eat processed American cheese anyway, switching to the 25–30 calorie variety versus the 60 calorie per slice regular is a no-brainer. They’re also usually individually wrapped and melt really well, so they’re great in omelettes, on sandwiches, and as a cheesy additive to beans. I actually prefer the taste of the fat-free vs. the regular slices of my local supermarket’s brand. The Kraft fat free singles are generally available everywhere, though, and are also very good.
- Reduced- or Non-Fat – I’ve been drinking 1% or 2% milk instead of whole milk for so long that the whole milk (typically 4% fat) tastes too creamy to me now. However, skim milk just tastes watery and thin. It’s amazing what 1% of dairy fat can do to the taste of milk. Switching from whole milk to 1% will save you 60 calories per cup. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but adding up a few 25–75 calorie substitutions in a day can mean an extra pound lost per month. Cheese is another area where you can get reduced or non-fat varieties of some cheeses. As with the fat free singles cheese, skim-milk (which is sometimes harder to find than “part-skim” varieties) mozzarella is another example where if you’re mixing it into a recipe or using it to top a baked dish you won’t even miss the added fat and the calories that it brings. Easy substitution.
- Leaner Cuts – You probably already consider boneless, skinless chicken breast a diet food, but did you know that the more succulent pork loin is ounce-for-ounce less caloric than chicken breast? Believe it, bucko. When eating red meat, like steak, you can probably switch out a fattier ribeye or sirloin for a leaner filet mignon or New York strip steak. Ground beef is usually labeled with the percent of lean meat that’s in the container, but with steaks it’s harder to tell, especially when you’ve been trained to look for good marbling (the white marble strains in the otherwise red meat is the fat). Barring buying a leaner cut of beef, grilling it so that the fat drips between the grates is a healthier option than pan-searing it so that it reabsorbs its fat while cooking. Pro tip: while letting the steak rest for a few minutes, take some marinade and pour it over the steak to make it juicier. Yes, after cooking. While the meat fibers cool and the protein strands relax they’ll wick up that flavorful juice and make even leaner cuts of beef taste fantastic. Just be sure to use a low-calorie marinade or you’re just substituting beef fat calories for calories in the marinade.
Easy Foods To Cut
This one is harder to provide examples for, because the high-calorie foods that you eat often but don’t really enjoy that much will be different for you than they are for me, but I can at least share a list of foods that I’ve cut out or those of which I’ve drastically reduced my consumption.
If you’re eating something out of habit or just because it’s there (for example, snacks that are available in the office) and you wouldn’t miss them, just cut them out. Not eating something you don’t even like isn’t a sacrifice at all. If you examine what you’re eating every day and really think about it, there are probably at least a few foods that you can give the pink slip.
While I haven’t completely barred any food from my diet (because I’m not on a diet, I’m just eating better), there are a bunch of things that I hardly ever eat anymore.
- The Offender: Soda/Pop – Of course, as I list soda as a beverage I rarely consume, I just finished drinking a tiny plastic cup of Coke Zero while I type this on an airplane. I used to drink a few cans of regular Coca-Cola Classic while at work (because it was there) every day, and switching to coffee and then water made it easy to remove hundreds of calories from my daily intake. I don’t miss it at all, although I did buy a SodaStream carbonator to make fizzy water for when I want some bubbles, which is hardly ever.
The Lower-Calorie Substitute – I usually drink plain old filtered or tap water (I know, I’m boring).
- Offender: High Carb Breakfasts – I used to eat a lot more bagels, pancakes, and waffles than I do now.
Substitute: Usually yogurt with a bunch of nutritionally-strategic additives – granola, berries, walnuts, flax seed, chia seed, or other foods that I’m getting into my diet by adding them to my morning mélange. I’ll have eggs for breakfast once or twice a week (and then maybe once again for lunch or dinner). I’ll have oatmeal once or twice a week (which I should increase but I like my yogurt more).
- Offender: Sugary Desserts and Snacks – I used to eat a lot of cake, pie, or ice cream for dessert.
Substitute: – I’ll have some fruit or popcorn. Sometimes in the summer we’ll splurge and have some frozen yogurt or kefir, which is about 100–120 calories per 5 oz, as opposed to the 200ish calories in the same volume of ice cream.
- Offender: Cheeseburgers – Man, I loves me a good burger. Add cheese, bacon, and katsup to really kick things up a notch, especially if you throw in a side of crispy french fries and a tasty cold beer.
Substitute: – There is no substitute for a burger. I just eat them less frequently. I enjoy them a whole lot more when I do eat them now, though, and will grill up the burgers myself rather than get them at a restaurant.
- Offender: Sausage – Most sausages are loaded with fat (and other things).
Substitute: Chicken Sausage – Before you close your browser in disgust, just hear me out. I used to be like you, scoffing at the idea of a chicken sausage or some other ridiculous hot dog substitute, but in the past few years chicken sausages have really kicked it up a notch. At one-half to two-thirds fewer calories than their pork or beef counterparts, chicken sausages can be well spiced and mixed with healthy alternatives to fat, like apples, peppers, or even low-fat cheese. Living in Chicago, I’m particular partial to the new chicken sausages from Vienna Beef. They’re so good I actually prefer them to their hot dogs (although I do miss the natural casing snap of the standard dogs).
- Offender: French Fries, Rice, Bread Stuffing, Pasta, and other Starches – Growing up most meals would consist of a well-rounded plate of some meat, fish, or other protein, some vegetable, and some starch like macaroni & cheese or rice. The problem with these starches is that they provide a ton of calories without providing that much in the way of nutrition.
Substitute: Beans – Beans also contain a lot of starch, of course, and with that, a lot of calories compared to vegetables or proteins. However, beans are also loaded with dietary fiber and vitamins, and are thus really good for you. I usually don’t eat more than a half-cup serving of beans at any given time, but they’re excellent (and if you spice them up, much tastier than boring ol’ white rice).
Small changes to your eating habits add up over time to big weight loss. A few calories here and there don’t seem like much, but you can easily lose a pound a week by reducing your calorie intake by just 350 calories a day; reduced because you’ve found ways around starving yourself by eating lower-calorie foods that taste just as good (or better) than their higher-calorie culinary equivalents.
Truth be told I don’t eat that much red meat these days, but sometimes a nice grilled flank steak or filet mignon is a nice side dish for a big salad. Yes, I’ve flipped the portions. The meat isn’t the main course, it’s a side dish to vegetables. You won’t miss the difference between 4oz and 8oz of meat, especially if you’re eating it slowly, don’t have it very often, and savor every bite. If anything, you’ll probably enjoy it more when you do eat red meat. ↩
I was interviewed by WalkJogRun.net for their podcast a few weeks ago, but there were audio issues so today they posted a transcript of the interview along with some photos from Clean Livin’.
I’ve previously written about WalkJogRun and it’s a great site for plotting the distance and path of my walks, and better yet, finding a great walking or running route when you’re traveling. They also have a fantastic iOS app and their podcast is always full of great information. I talked to Caitlin of WJR about Clean Livin’, my history of being a fat guy, and about my weight loss success over the past four years.
Being interviewed has given me the bug to start a podcast. Any interest in hearing me prattle on about Clean Livin’ for 15–20 minutes a week?
You can read a transcript of the interview at the WalkJogRun blog.
Now that I’ve lost more than 189 pounds, I’ve crossed another (minor) milestone and have lost more than three-fourths of the total amount that I need to drop (250 lbs from my highest weight of just over 451 pounds).
I was really close two weeks ago, and then my wife and I went on vacation to San Francisco. In my hubris, I was planning to try to lose weight while on vacation, but the best laid plans often go awry when you’re faced with eating every meal out. I figured that I could eat an extra 500 calories a day without gaining weight, since I usually maintain a deficit of 800–1000 calories. Sounds easy, no? I started out okay, but those bowls of cioppino, loaves of sourdough bread, and mission burritos aren’t going to eat themselves.
So I can’t say that I did my best. Sure, I continued to log what I ate and count the calories, but after the first few days I stopped worrying about it. When I came back I logged my weight and found that I’d gained three pounds (although I lost the first pound a day later after I flushed out all the salty restaurant food and lost the water I was retaining).
It took me a few more days to get back into the swing of Clean Livin’, but as of this morning I weighed-in at 261.8 lbs, which put me down below the ¾ mark.
You’re in my sights, 250 pounds.
Plus, there’s all that great Napa Valley wine that needed drinking. ↩
Sometimes you’re going to miss one of your goals, overeat, not have time for an exercise session, or otherwise screw up. Once you hit one of these failures to your fitness routine you may as well just give up, right? Cry yourself to sleep, shake your fist at the sky, and lose any hope of ever being in good shape. It’s over.
You could just shrug it off, go for a walk, and eat better next time. Everyone has a favorite unhealthy food – their own personal kryptonite. For me, it’s hamburgers, beer, Chinese food, pizza, and other savory, often fried, things. My wife is really into noodles. You may have a sweet tooth for ice cream, or like salty snacks like potato chips and pretzels. Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever your vice, let’s say you ate some of it and now you’re feeling bad about yourself.
Embrace the Process
When you eat too many calories at a single meal, you’re not failing at the process. Occasional slipping is part of the process. So don’t despair and think of it as a setback or problem. You’re not on a diet, you’re making better choices for the rest of your life. Depriving yourself of any enjoyment of food is only going to last so long. Rather than eliminate everything you enjoy eating, you just want to cut back on the unhealthy things. Then eat them sometimes. It’s okay.
How well you’ll fare with your healthier lifestyle in the long-term is largely dependent on how you handle failure in the short-term. The good news is that unlike most things in this world, how you think and feel about things is entirely within your own power (although it doesn’t always feel that way). Seriously, you’re in complete control of your own attitude. So you can either choose to despair and gain weight again or shrug it off, do the right thing most of the time, and succeed. You fall down. You get up. And so it goes.
Bruce Wayne: I wanted to save Gotham. I’ve failed.
Alfred: Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.
Bruce: You still haven’t given up on me?
– Batman Begins
Hair of the Dog
So, you had a few drinks, appetizers, dinner, and dessert out with friends last night and now it’s the sober light of day and you’re beating yourself up about it. You’ve totally blown it, right?
Maybe not totally. While your body is still processing all of those extra calories you can force it to burn those first by exercising the next morning. So don’t wallow in guilt, get out there and walk, run, or lift heavy things. That extra energy hasn’t yet been stored as fat, so you can burn it off by exercising your muscles which will consume those calories rather than make you fatter.
Even if it’s too late, it’s never really too late. Just eat better next time. One meal’s not going to hurt you. The worst part about restaurant food is all of the salt anyway, so give yourself a day or two to recover from the excess sodium that makes your body retain fluid.
My wife and I went to the Chicago Botanic Garden on Saturday to walk around, look at flowers, and take pictures on a gorgeous Chicago summer day (sunny, clear, a little breezy, low 70s). As we were exiting the vegetable garden I saw a giant pumpkin and remembered having my picture taken with it the last time I was at the Botanic Garden back in April 2007. I remember being shocked and ashamed to discover just how fat I’d gotten when I first saw the photo.
Here’s that photo from 2007 and another one that was taken on Saturday. Sure, that was five years ago, and I actually gained more weight between April 2007 and when I started my Clean Livin’ in June 2008, but I’m still probably over 150 pounds lighter now than I was when that first photo was taken.
It’s helpful to consider how far you’ve come whenever you slip a little. One meal isn’t the end of the world, and you can usually make it up or at least try harder later. Give yourself a pass now and again so you don’t have to feel like a failure.