Some people are really good at riding the trainer and maintaining a good diet over the winter months. I am not one of those people.
I have put on exactly 10 lbs. since last fall, placing me just at the edge of the clydesdale class.
The thought of lugging myself up all those signature Colorado climbs this summer is just depressing, and ‘diets’ don’t tend to work for me; not even that no-carb fad.
If any of this sounds familiar, here’s what we can do about it.
Setting aside fad diets and gimmicks, weight loss is about one thing: burning more calories than you ingest. It sounds simple, right? If only! Of course exercising ups the calorie burn for a given day, but depending on your schedule and locale, it may be difficult to get in a workout this time of year. That leaves cutting your calorie intake as the best way to fit back into those race-cut jerseys.
On the flip side, starving yourself is also a bad idea and generally results in a major setback and then quitting. This is the reason most diets fail.
So what we really need is a personal dietitian to plan all our food intake, track what we do eat, and help keep us accountable. Easy, right? Virtually speaking, it actually is. A number of websites have popped up recently that allow you to enter your demographic stats, your current and target weight, and your desired weight loss time frame. From this data, the site will calculate the maximum number of calories you can consume in a day and still lose about 2 lbs per week, which is the generally accepted safe amount.
Disclaimer: Always make sure to see your doctor for regular exams, and tell him or her if you plan on starting a weight loss program, or any training regimen for that matter.
How it works
All nutritional planning / weight loss websites use what is called the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) to determine how many calories you can consume in a day. In plain English, your BMR is how many calories you burn just existing. Yes, this means that you can lose weight by sitting on the couch playing video games, as long as your calorie intake is less than your BMR. It takes discipline, but it is doable.
Tracking the data
There are a number of nutritional planning sites out there and I have tried a couple. One that I really like is LoseIt.com. It is free, simple, and even includes an Android app to help you keep track on the go.
The concept is very simple. You enter your age, height, gender and current weight, along with your desired weight, and the site then sets your targeted daily calorie intake and the date you will reach your weight goal. (The site can also be used to maintain your current weight, or even to gain weight, if that’s what you need.)
Once you have input your baseline data you need to learn to eat the recommended number of calories in a day, which can be difficult at first. Throughout the day you can log what you eat and the site will keep a running tally for you. How much you’ve consumed and how much you can still eat is displayed on a graph for at-a-glance updates. If you have the Android app, you can simply scan the barcode on a package of food and it will automatically enter it for you. The database is extensive and even includes popular restaurant items, or you can enter a food by hand if it’s not listed.
In addition to calorie intake, you can also add exercise. Pick your category and duration, and it will enter the average amount of calories for that activity. It will also deduct the calories from your chart of total calories for the day. (So that you can eat more )
The Bottom Line
Nutrition tracking websites are a handy tool, but it still comes down to discipline and learning healthy eating habits. Once you start tracking your caloric intake, it quickly becomes clear that fast food, junk food and soda are a bad idea. One meal at the drive-thru or a restaurant like Chili’s can exceed your recommended calories for the whole day. Snacking can also be a killer as even a small bag of chips can have 300 calories or more. The trick is to find healthy alternatives. Grilled chicken, potatoes and a vegetable make an excellent meal with a moderate calorie count. The same goes for spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread. For snacking, popcorn has about 1/4 the calories of potato chips. Also make sure to drink plenty of water and limit your soda or beer.
For me, what separates a ‘diet’ from basic nutritional planning is this: with most traditional diets you either completely deprive yourself of something (like carbs) or you limit your calorie intake so severely that you are set up for failure and binge eating. With nutritional tracking however, you don’t really give up anything specific, but rather just eat smart. You quickly learn what is loaded with calories, and you also learn to plan ahead if you’re going out to dinner or having a few beers with the guys…all the while dropping that excess winter hibernation weight!