Thursday, March 3, 2011

What I learned when I started counting calories

I just discovered this awesome food blog: See Jane Cook and the recipes not only look delicious but also very easy. (This place is also awesome) It's funny because since starting this whole diet/workout/eat right thing, I've really been missing some things (the pizza last night that made me regain the pound I had just lost for example) but in general my relationship with food has actually gotten better. Because foods that are more wholesome and less processed automatically have less calories than ones that you buy pre-made, I'm much more inclined to eat healthier and more natural foods.

For example, the other day I got some of those "Grandma's recipe" chocolate chip cookies out of the vending machine in a moment of weakness: over 300 calories. Five bites, and it was over. That's pretty crazy when you think about it. If I had made cookies at home though, it would have been nearly half the amount.

Also, I can stock up on vegetables like crazy without having to worry, so because I want to maximize quantities I can have a massive salad and not feel bad. Ranch dressing, however, is the bane of my existence. I LOVE ranch dressing, but it really doesn't love me. Neither does Kraft in general. One tablespoon of ranch dressing is a whopping 74 calories, and while that doesn't look like much, that's about the same amount of calories in the entire salad. Yikes. The sad thing is that I absolutely hate light. It's disgusting. I'm not sure how I'll get around this... maybe homemade ranch would be less fattening? You'd think the girl from the land of vinaigrette could just go with that, but ranch dressing has played a solid role in my acculturation... If you want some vinaigrette though, here's my recipe:

Half and half olive oil and balsamic vinegar
A clove or two of garlic crushed
Salt and Pepper
Herbes de Provence. This is a mix of herbs native to southern France, but if you can't find it (I don't know if they sell it here, I had my dad smuggle a whole bag through airports) just mix the following herbs*: 
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon chervil
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon summer savory
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 powdered or chopped bay leaves

*This makes a 1/3 cup mix. Don't put the whole thing in your vinaigrette!

And keep in mind it's OK to only use some of the herbs, you still get a nice flavor with just thyme, rosemary, oregano and bay leaves.Many people also put in a tablespoon of Dijon Mustard (the gritty kind with plenty of texture, not the nasty yellow goo you put on hot dogs) which is good, but that makes a different taste. I really like the vinegar. You can really mix and match the ingredients to make it what you want.

Anyway. Where was I?

I think fruit juice was the biggest surprise. An 8 oz glass of apple juice (it's just water with some apple in it right?) is nearly 120 calories. In fact some scientists are saying that it's basically as bad as soda (minus the caffeine). Might as well just have some strawberries in that case.

A lot of this is common knowledge, stuff you hear about all the time, but it's not until you start really tracking your intake and reading labels closely that you realize just how much junk there is in your food. Or how sneaky the food companies are: lobbies are very, very powerful organizations... ahem. (Speaking of lobbyists, have you seen this article? That must be terribly awkward)

So for example, those chocolate chip cookies I was talking about:

Did you notice the serving size? Who buys a pack of two cookies, eats one and throws out the other? So you read the list, and while the entire package contents are on the right, it's easy to not notice it. And again, who really only eats one cookie at a time. Seriously?

I'd like to see a law passed that forces companies to not make the serving size "a quarter of a cookie" (think I'm joking? Go to the Twilight Zone and read the nutrition information on those jumbo chocolate bottom cookies. I can't remember the name at the moment, but I'll go check it out). There is a very serious portion problem in this country (and yes, I recognize that it's spreading to Europe and Asia as well). Honestly, I wish vendors would just make things in 1-portion sizes, because it gets really frustrating... On another level, it's really sick that we're buying 4-portion packs of popcorn when some kids get a cup of goat's milk for the day. Hey, here's an ethical business plan: copy Toms' business model only for food. You buy a (1-portion) pack of cookies and the company donates the other portion (of something a little healthier hopefully) to a child from a third-world country.

Ok, off my soapbox.

So far it's been about trade-offs and rationing. Last night, I really wanted a PB&J, but one look at the nutritional information on the back of the jar nearly made me hit the ceiling, so I compromised. I only used one slice of bread cut in half, and therefore got half the calories--with the taste I was craving. I didn't feel as guilty because I was still letting myself indulge, but reasonably. And because I've been eating smaller portions lately, I didn't feel like I was starving after that.

Unfortunately, Andrew came home with pizza later that night, but oh well... If you do slip up and go crazy on lunch, it's OK to just have a cucumber and a big bowl of broth for dinner. It's not the end of the world. (Ok first, calm down, I am eating real food. Also, I've often heard that it's better to eat a light dinner and use up most of your calories at lunch.)

I've also finally been getting myself to the gym. I realized that the only way I could make myself go was to bring a change of clothes to school/work and stop off on the way home. That way it doesn't require an extra trip, and I've already lugged my shoes around campus all day so I darn well better end up using them! It's all about tricking yourself :)

I'm aware that people have different metabolisms, body types, genes, health issues, etc. but this is what I've found has been working for me. I don't know the first thing about nutrition (OK, I do know a little) but I
know that I've developed something that works for me:  

"eat real food, eat less of it and exercise"

(See this NYT article. The author also talks about the FDA and food lobbies...) 

Revolutionary, no? I feel so much better now that I'm not shoving junk down my throat and that I'm not overeating anymore. I'll make one thing very clear: it's absolutely been about aesthetics, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I want to slim down and tone up: I'm a dancer, so my body is part of my art, and a huge part of my "career" is appearing on camera.

I have a weight loss goal at the moment, which is why my caloric intake for now is pretty low, but I have a very specific target weight and as soon as I reach it, I plan on readjusting my daily goal for weight maintenance.

And dang it, I've already lost weight and I'm proud of it!

1 comment:

  1. I have been struggling to eat better too; its so hard sometimes! My main problem is that I could buy 1 apple or 5 boxes of Mac'n'cheese, and right now we have to get as much food for as little money as possible. ~sigh~

    I just read this in a diet book: "Researchers at the University of Washington recently estimated the cost of a diet based on high-calorie foods versus one based on healthy, low-calorie foods. The high-calorie diet you could eat for $3.52 a day. The low-calorie diet? A whopping $36.32..."

    Jeez. Anyway, I'm not trying to be a drag; I applaud your goal and understand your frustrations :)