By Dr. Jean Harvey, Ph.D., R.D., The EatingWell Diet (2007)
Getting to know where you are is essential in figuring out where you want to be. The EatingWell Diet is full of tools to help you on the way.
Keep a food diary: a place to record all the foods you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat, as well as a tally of the calories each item contributes. In The EatingWell Food Diary (click to download pdf) there is also space to jot down thoughts and feelings that contribute to your eating habits.
Why keep a diary? Being more self-aware helps tip you off to behaviors and calories that contribute to weight gain, and helps you break bad habits. By writing something down you become accountable for it, and that can be incredibly motivating. In fact, food diaries are so important, we consider them essential. Get started on yours, and you’ll see why in just a day or two.
What is your weight now, and how far is it from where you’d like to be? Most experts determine healthy weight ranges with a calculation that takes both weight and height into account to give you a single number called a Body Mass Index (BMI) value. Knowing your waist size is also helpful, since studies show that people who have more fat around their abdomens have greater risks of heart disease and diabetes. If your waist size is over 40 inches (men) or 35 inches (women), your risks of developing health problems are increased, and losing some weight might help bring your numbers into a healthier range.
1. EatingWell's Interactive Menu Planner provides calories for your favorite recipes and common foods. Drag and drop your choices into your weekly menu and the planner tallies calories for you.
2. The Calorie King Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter (Allan Borushek & Assoc. Inc./Family Health, 2007) is pocket-size and packed with listings.
3. The USDA's free database includes complete nutritional breakdowns for 7,412 commonly consumed foods.
How many calories do you need daily? Multiply your weight in pounds times 12 to get your weight maintenance number. That’s how many calories you’ll need to maintain your current weight, staying in energy balance at your current exercise level. Download our Goal Setting worksheet (click to download pdf) to set some goals now.
To lose weight, you need to create a negative energy balance—that is, decrease the calories you take in (eating less) and/or increase the calories you burn (exercising more). The best method is to do both.
One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories—so to lose 1 pound of fat, you need to create a negative energy balance of 3,500 calories. Do the math: Cut 500 calories per day from your weight-maintenance number, and you’ll lose approximately 1 pound per week. Likewise, a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories each day will add up to 2 pounds of weight loss per week.
Note: Do not go below 1,200 calories per day. Below this amount, it’s hard to get adequate daily nutrients. Don’t worry, you’ll still lose weight!
Recording your weight regularly is a powerful motivating tool. It can give you valuable feedback on how your weight-loss efforts are paying off and what’s not working. Moreover, studies suggest that keeping track of your scale readings over time might help prevent you from gaining weight. Since your weight can fluctuate greatly from day to day, it’s not important to weigh yourself daily—but some people find it easier to remember that way. Weighing once weekly is fine too. Use the Weight Tracker Chart (click to download pdf) to give you a good long-term view of your weight loss. The path to losing weight is never a straight line, but the long-term trend will show the pounds headed south.
Regular physical activity comes pretty close to being a “magic bullet” for weight loss. Besides burning calories—which makes it easier to achieve that all-important negative-calorie balance that leads to weight loss—exercise also helps curb appetite. Becoming more physically fit makes your body more effective at burning calories, even when you’re not moving. (And of course, it’s not easy to eat ice cream when you’re running.)
However you choose to be active, you’ll need to make changes in your daily habits. One of the most powerful tools for mastering change is keeping a diary. In the same way that a food diary helps make you aware of (and accountable for) what you eat, an Activity Log can help you build more activity into your days. It’s motivating as well: by writing down each time you get moving, you give yourself credit for being active—and each activity adds up!
Starting today, take a few minutes to write down any heart-pumping activity you’ve completed, using the Activity Log (click to download pdf). You’ll find space to list a week’s worth of daily activities, the time and duration of each, as well as space to write thoughts and feelings.
For the first week, just concentrate on writing everything down and learning what you’ve noted about yourself.
But next week, start making an effort to track your exercise calories too. It’s terrifically motivating to add up all the calories you’re losing—and to see your progress in becoming fitter. How many calories you burn off depends on your size: people of different weight burn calories at different rates. Use the Calories Burned in 10 Minutes chart to help you calculate.