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Week 3 – Document What You Eat, And Watch Your Portions

This is the third in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.”  If you missed Week 1, you can go back and catch up on “Drinking More Water,” or  Week 2 which provided instructions to oust unhealthy food from your pantry.  Follow this path, build healthy habits and adopt them into your lifestyle.   And, get yourself off the dreaded, rotating wheel of dieting!

Do you know what you eat?  I mean really know?  Most people think they do until they write it down.  A bowl of cereal for breakfast…ah but wait, I did pour another half bowl of flakes.  Did I measure the milk – was it a ½ cup or closer to a cup.   I know I had a salad for lunch…uh but I did steal a half-dozen fries from my boyfriend’s plate.  And how much dressing did I put on the salad.

It adds up.  Quickly.  Write it down and you’ll be amazed at what you are really consuming.

By documenting what you eat you introduce awareness and accountability into your nutritional lifestyle. Awareness of exactly what you ate, how much of it, when you ate it, and, if you use one of the many internet based food trackers, the nutrient composition of what you ate.  This will give you objective data to help make adjustments as you evolve your diet.  And you’ll be accountable, to yourself of course, for what you are recording in your tracker.  Want that milkshake at lunchtime?  OK, but remember you’ll be logging its 600 calories later today.  You’ll find you’ll be much more judicious in blowing off your diet if you are responsible for recording your transgression in black and white.

Tracking also lets you see the breakdown of your foods.  Are most of your calories coming from carbohydrates, fats, protein?  You’ll be able to say; “I felt great today.  I was strong during my workout.” You can see if this happened to be a day with higher % of protein.  Having the data helps you make smart adjustments.

And if you do fall off the nutrition wagon, having the data helps your climb back on be a bit easier as well.   Maybe you’ve had a day that you really wanted that milkshake.   And you wrote it down!  It’s blip on an otherwise consistent calorie chart.   Just one point – among 20 other “perfect” points in your running 3-week chart.  Not a big deal.  Tomorrow’s total can come back down.   Of course, if your daily calorie chart starts looking like a heartbeat monitor, you may need to rethink some things….

I find the easiest way to track eating is to use one of internet trackers. MyDailyPlate, FitDay, myfitnesspal, and many others offer free tracking profiles that reference databases of literally thousands of foods complete with nutrient breakdowns that quickly and easily calculate your calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other nutrients based.  Spend about 10 minutes every day entering your food and these tools do the rest, giving you an instant view to your intake and your trends over time.  Most have apps for your mobile device that let you record on the fly while you are traveling or in a restaurant.  Check these tools out.

If you can’t seem to master calorie logging there is another way, and perhaps much easier and your hand is all you need. Use can use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb to practice calorie control – while avoiding the hassle of logging your calories. Here how it works:

  • Your palm determines your protein This is meat, fi­sh, eggs, cottage cheese, and greek yogurt. One palm usually contains ~20-30g of protein, or 80-120 calories. For simplicity round to 100 calories per palm of protein.
  • Your fist determines your veggie We are talking about broccoli, spinach, peppers etc… A serving of these vegetables contains little calories, so no need to estimate here.
  • Your cupped hand determines your carb The dreaded carbs. These should be “heathier” choices such as rice, beans, or grains. One palm usually contains ~20-30g of carbohydrates, or 80-120 calories. For simplicity round to 100 calories per palm of carbs.
  • Your thumb determines your fat Think oils, nuts, and seeds. These are calorie dense so we limit the intake accordingly. One thumb is ~7-12g of fat, or ~63-106 calories. We’ll use 80 to keep it simple.


Using this method, you can easily gauge what you are eating and with some simple math estimate your calories for a meal or per day. Let’s use an example for a woman trying to lose a few pounds and is targeting 1,200 calories for the day.

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs (about 1.5 palms, or 150 calories), 1 slice toast w almond butter (about 1.5 palms, or 150 calories + 1 thumb of fats, 80 calories) = 380 Calories
  • Lunch: Spinach salad with 1 palm grilled chicken (100), 1 palm quinoa (100), 1 thumb olive oil (80) = 280 Calories
  • Snack: 1 palm Greek yogurt mixed with a palm of mixed berries (100 + 100). 200 Calories.
  • Dinner: 2 palms fish (200) crusted with a thumb of almonds (80), 1 palm broccoli (0), 1 palm rice (100). 380 Calories.

This gives us 1240 calories for the day. Since these are estimates we are well within our target of 1200 calories. It can really be that simple.

Now notice our example didn’t include any liquid calories like soda or alcohol, and certainly no “fly by” snack you grab while passing the refrigerator. That is where all the unaccountable calories add up and your discipline needs to win out. Use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb and practice calorie control

Whether it’s logging your food or using the hand method, try these and you’ll start eating better right away.

Why You Should Stop Dieting – Week 2

This is the second in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.”  If you missed Week 1, you can go back and catch up on “Drinking More Water.”  Follow this path, build healthy habits and adopt them into your lifestyle.   And, get yourself off the dreaded, rotating wheel of dieting!

Week 2: Clean out your pantry and refrigerator

You might remember last week we talked about drinking more water.  By now, you’ve hopefully purchased a new, cool, stainless steel, insulated, crash resistant water bottle that set you back $109.   Ok – just a plain old tumbler, some ice and maybe a slice of lemon or cucumber are just as effective.   Whichever your drinking vessel, you are likely reading this blog on your phone, as you rush down a well-trodden path to your closest water closet to complete the final step in the hydration life cycle.   Think of all the extra daily steps that result from adding ounces of water consumption!  Seriously, if you have taken just a small step in consuming more water you probably feel better, are less hungry, and already starting to appreciate the benefits of proper hydration.  Now take another sip and we’ll get to our second “end-dieting” strategy.

Of course the next challenge gets a little tougher.  That’s because it’s about “taking something away” rather than adding something.  Adding, for some reason best known to psychologists, is easier for most people.

Most of us have some “less-than optimal” foods hanging around the house.  Their very presence on your pantry shelf leads to unnecessary snacking and renders the calorie burn from this morning’s workout moot.  We have to remove the temptation.  We must get the Milky Ways, Twinkies, and Doritos out of reach.   Get them out of the house.  If they aren’t there you won’t eat them.  I know, you buy them “for the kids” or “<insert spouse/partner name here>.”  But you know that if they are there, you eat them ….sometimes.  And sometimes can turn into more than just a little.  Those mini snacks of processed food are empty, calorie-dense, nutrition-deficient, foods you don’t need.

Let’s use an example of something almost everyone has in their pantry or cupboard, especially if you have young children. Sugary cereals. Most of these are simply junk food plain and simple. Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops or the like contain roughly 10 grams of sugar per 3/4 cup serving.  Even some of those with healthier sounding names: Raisin Bran, Smart Start, Frosted Mini Wheats, Banana Nut Crunch top the 10-gram mark.  

Serving size is another important concept here.  Studies show that the average American eats 30 percent more cereal than the ¾ standard serving size, and 10 percent of Americans heap more than 2-1/2 times the standard serving size into their over-sized cereal bowls!  Think of it like this—in a 12-ounce cereal box there are supposedly 15 servings. Have you ever in your life gotten 15 bowls of cereal from a single box?  Probably not. This calculates out to your typical bowl of cereal having 15-20 grams of sugar (not including the milk). You, or your beloved family could be starting your day with as much sugar as you’d get in a can of soda, along with a good amount of fat and sodium.

The same applies to chips, candy bars, cookies, most juice, and of course, soda. You get the idea and we need to get them out of the house. Here is a short list of stuff that needs to go:

  • Any kind of chip. I don’t care how healthy the front of the bag says it is, read the nutrition label. I bet it has plenty of sugar, sodium, fat, or both. A small 1-ounce serving can have 160 calories, 250 mg of sodium and 11 grams of fat with zero valuable nutrients. And don’t eat that last handful before it goes in the hefty bag. Close your eyes and chuck them out.
  • The aforementioned breakfast cereals, basically any with more than a few grams of sugar. That will be most of them. You can keep the toy surprise!
  • White bread. It’s basically birthday cake in a loaf and has virtually no nutritional value.
  • Processed pasta. Sorry guys but just like white bread processed pasta has almost no nutritional value. Not to mention that Rigatoni feeds pathogenic yeast in your intestines and inhibit growth of necessary digestive bacteria. So out go the Ramen Noodles!
  • Soda. The worst food on the planet. Seriously.
  • Candy bars, Pop-Tarts, Twinkies, Ho-Hos, basically anything in a box that is processed or high in sugar or has high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list.

By now I think you get the idea.  Do I expect you to get it all on the first try?  No, not a chance. It’s an evolution and over time you’ll progressively dispense of these things and replace them with healthier alternatives. Think one thing at a time if you must. But remember, a typical human can change an eating pattern in about three weeks. So, as you take these items out of your pantry and out of your life, be strong for just 21 days! Eventually you’ll start to lose your desire for theses sugary calorie bombs and replace them with healthier options. Need a healthy snack to tide you over? How about some almonds or a hard-boiled egg.  Something before bed? Maybe a bit of non-fat Greek yogurt with a few blueberries. Morning breakfast? Steel cut oats are a great source of fiber if you feel the urge for grains. Have an orange, or some snap peas, or slice a red pepper and keep it in the fridge ready for when you need a snack.

The point here is to remove temptations that are close at hand. If it’s not there you can’t eat it. Get rid of it and don’t buy it again. Start to build a new appetite for healthier options that make you feel better, keep that weight under control, and lead a healthier life. Plus, you’ll have a lot more room in your pantry.

Why You Should Stop Dieting

Hey I know what you’re thinking “Aren’t you a nutrition guy? And you’re suggesting to stop dieting? What gives? Have you been inhaling too much hemp protein lately?” Well easy now gang, it’s not what it seems. I am not suggesting we all run out to Ben & Jerry’s for a quart of Cherry Garcia or go inhale a few McRib sandwiches at Mickey D’s. We just need to alter the mindset a little when it comes to the diet concept. Let me explain.

You see I ran into a friend the other day and he started to relate his exasperation in trying to lose weight, again, for what seems like the hundredth time. He’d been on a number of diets off and on for years and nothing seemed to work. Maybe you’ve been there, the feeling that no matter what you tried or what you did, or how much you starved yourself, you were still going to resemble Jabba the Hutt at a pie eating contest. Frankly I had my reservations given his track record, but he seemed staunchly determined this time and I had to admire his renewed sense of conviction. That is until he proclaimed “Monday I start the diet and this time I am going to stick to it.”

I started to think about what he said. I mean literally. Like why we always start something on “Monday”. I understand it’s the proverbial start of the week, and psychologically it signifies a starting gate, but wasn’t he talking about improving his health and well-being? And up against a challenge that has beleaguered him for years? Why wait? Why not do it now, today, immediately. Go ahead and get started. If you were being chased by a Grizzly Bear, would you wait until Monday to start running? It seemed he had already had positioned procrastination square in front of his journey. And “stick to it”? Why have the previous diets been so hard to stick to? Is it so hard that he cannot hope to carry it out? Did he have an achievable plan? And what happens if he does stick to it, does he ever go off this diet? What happens if he does?

Obviously, I am being a bit facetious, but the implications of this one sentence made me think about how we approach the concepts of losing weight and dieting. Buckle down, watch what you eat for a few months, hit the gym a couple times a week, drop a few pounds (hopefully), declare success (or failure) and go back to your old habits. This of course after a few months puts you right back where you started (or worse). It’s an ineffective, predictable pattern that dominates our society.
The point here is that we generally take on “dieting” as a singular, temporary action when it should be about changing lifestyle permanently to maintain a healthy and desirable level of fitness. Not many humans are genetically capable of eating the typical western diet without slipping into obesity. And going thru the dieting cycle over and over, losing 10lbs here and gaining 15lbs there, is just not effective long term. Like a Ponzi scheme, it may look great short term, but ultimately the strategy will fail. But there is an answer, a time-tested solution that is practically guaranteed to work every time. Suspense killing you? It’s easy stuff really: a permanent change in eating habits focused on nutrient-dense foods, adoption of regular exercise, and making these an integral part of your lifestyle. That’s it. Nothing to it.

So now you are saying “Yea right, no kidding. But that’s easier said than done. I can’t make those kinds of changes forever. Too hard, too limiting, too much work.” Well maybe for some. But isn’t all the off and on dieting hard too? All the mental anguish of short term success with long term failure. The agonizing feeling you have every time you look in the mirror? The legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said “If you do not have time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?” Isn’t that what all this cyclical dieting and sporadic exercise is? We don’t want to limit our eating, we don’t have time for the gym every day, but every few months we force this into our lives, probably give up, and then end up just doing it over again.
Now I am not saying that this is something you can do overnight, and it’s certainly no piece of cake (pun intended). It’s a journey, an evolution. But it’s achievable. And you don’t have to do it all at once, but you should absolutely start today. Don’t wait, make the commitment now. After all, that Grizzly Bear is right on your heels.

To begin your journey, I have laid out seven simple steps you can take to begin your transformation. I’ll introduce them weekly so you’ll have plenty of time to adapt to these changes without doing too much at once. None of these are particularly challenging and I am sure you have heard of, if not tried, most of these before. But follow the plan, stick to the changes, and make them part of your lifestyle. These simple steps will get you headed in the direction of a change that will transform your life. So why wait until Monday, let’s get going!

START TODAY: Drink More Water

Simplest first, and, unless you happen to be reading this in the Sahara, you can start right now. Drink water, lots of water. It’s easy and essential. How much should you drink? The rule of thumb is 1/2 ounce for every pound of body weight. So, a 150 lb person should target at least 75 ounces (or about 10 glasses) daily. More if you exercise a lot or work outside in the heat.

So how do you know is you are getting enough? A good gauge to determine your level of hydration is the color of your urine. Generally speaking, the clearer the urine the better your hydration. Proper hydration should reveal a gradually lightening shade as you go thru the day (it’s always darker in the morning) resulting in a very pale shade of gold by midday. You’ll want to keep this shade throughout the rest of the day. If it’s too dark, just adjust your intake. Eventually you’ll get a feel for the amount of water you need. Practically speaking you can’t drink too much, so get yourself a water bottle to carry around with you and drink up.

Drinking that much water can get a little tedious so add some lemon or lime to juice to give your water some flavor. Mint is also great, and it doubles as a natural appetite suppressant. And add some ice to keep it cold. Cold water always tastes better.

An advanced trick is to add apple cider vinegar to one cup a day, preferably around a starchy, high carbohydrate meal. Research shows this can help level out blood sugar spikes because it interferes with starch and carbohydrate absorption, reducing glycemic response and decreasing post-meal glucose levels, which can also reduce inflammation. It’s a little sharp tasting, but a couple teaspoons in a glass of water around a meal can be really healthy.

Staying properly hydrated is critical. Studies show that most people in our culture suffer from some level of dehydration and yet are unaware. Dysfunction as a result can start when you are as little as 2% dehydrated, effecting brain function, digestion, muscle and connective joint regeneration, nutrient absorption, and practically every other critical function in your body. Water is critical to your well-being.

Another plus of regularly sipping water is you’ll feel more satiated and will be less likely to snack and/or binge when given the opportunity. Often times when you feel hungry you’re really just thirsty, so unless it’s time to eat drink up.

Next week we’ll introduce some kitchen habits to help you avoid temptation. Until then, like the most interesting man in the world, stay thirsty my friend.