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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Counting Calories: An Exercise in Self Awareness and Accountability

We found this snail in the garden, Grandma.
We think it moves faster than you do! 
I've never paid much attention to my weight and have rarely dieted in my life. During Advent and Lent I've often given up sweets, alcohol, between meal snacks, and other calorie-laden goodies. I once gave up chocolate for an extended period for one of my children who was going through a hard time.

But I decided after my annual physical two weeks ago that I really need to drop some pounds because I'm exhausted all the time and the extra weight is no doubt a big reason. I decided I needed to get serious about it.

It's frustrating because I pretty much eat the way I always have: three meals a day and only a rare snack with a cup of decaf tea and honey in the evening. (Honey is a sleep aid and it really works for me.)  But being on prednisone for 18 months and the natural, metabolic slowdown from age seems to have reset my metabolism to that of a snail.

So I decided to see how much I'm really eating by counting calories. It's been interesting. I keep a little notebook and write down every single thing I put in my mouth including the cream in my coffee and the splash of cherry or cranberry juice I mix with my water.

First thing I noticed is that I'm more aware of everything I eat. And I think about it. Do I really want that little bag of chips with my lunch at 150 calories or would a 6 calorie stalk of celery or a few carrot sticks give me as much satisfaction? Would I rather have a handful of cashews or lower-calorie almonds? Am I really hungry for that dessert or would it be better to save it for when I'll enjoy it more after a small meal?

Camping at the beach we enjoy
the bounty of fresh seafood. 
Americans eat too much and exercise too little. So I'm also trying to walk more even if it means going to YouTube to "Walk with Leslie" for fifteen minutes. If I feel really sluggish I stand up at my computer or fold wash at the table while I walk in place, side step, kick, and knee lift. Hey, every little movement helps. And then there's gardening and yard cleanup this time of year.

I've only been doing this for a week, but I'm gaining insight into how many calories are in that extra bite. I haven't eliminated sugar, but every cookie gets its count and I'm more likely to eat "just one" instead of three or four. My goal is to reach a calorie count that either doesn't surpass the "maintain" level or is geared to slow weight loss. I certainly don't need more stress in my life by giving myself unrealistic goals that will just end in discouragement.

And then today, while working on a different writing project, I stumbled on my colleague Chriss Rainey's article from two years ago about the power of prayer and fasting. (Terrific article; I hope you read it.) It's a good reminder to never waste a sacrifice. So every time I make a decision to by-pass some food I want, I offer it up. I have nine brothers and sister, five children and their spouses, 25 grandchildren, and nine godchildren, and a multitude of friends and acquaintances (including those who have entered eternal life). There is always someone in need for whom I can offer my tiny sacrifices. When united to the sufferings of Christ they aren't so tiny any more.

I've kept my notebook for a week now. I'll let you know after a month whether I've made any progress on weight loss. I'm being totally honest with myself. I ate a mini-cheesecake with lunch. No guilt -- I just counted it on my calorie list. We went out to dinner once and it was a "Yikes" meal that I didn't even try to count. But I'm feeling pretty confident that awareness will end up giving results. And I'm just as interested in the spiritual progress this little "fasting" project provides as well as in the weight loss goal. After all, sins weigh a lot more than pounds and burden us much more than extra weight. So I've spiritualized this exercise to make it serve the greater purpose -- eternal salvation. After all, I think the most important work is to develop a "light" spirit, one that can be an encouragement and help to others.

Have a blessed day!


Susan said...

Thanks for this great, encouraging article!

Saint Joan of Arc said...

I just turned 80 and losing weight is a challenge. I also realized, I ate too much. So just eating smaller portions is positive. I started exercising again and my arthritis isn't as bad. I gave up alcohol totally because both my boys were having troubles and I thought that was a way I could help them, and I don't even want it anymore. God bless you for the affirmation you give us who read your columns.

Gigi said...

Your article is great inspiration! About five years ago I did the calorie counting exercise for a 40-day diet. Boy, it sure works. The big lesson for me was portion control - I couldn’t believe how small the portions had to be to keep the calorie count down. I’ve been mulling over another round of calorie counting as my summer endeavor - you have inspired me with your “offering it up.” I too have plenty of intentions that need offering. :)

Raymond Schneider said...

As you know Mary, I've been doing this calorie counting thing for many years and actually put the data in a spreadsheet. It's fun and if you're gaining weight you can tell why and if you're losing you can tell why. There is that annoying water variation which can be as much as plus or minus a few pounds, but aside from that it's an interesting exercise. I can really tell I need more exercise because my metabolism number (number of calories per pound per day to just maintain your weight) is running about 11.5 which is really low, not all that far above basal metabolism. So I really need to do more exercise myself.