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Pete's Better Eating Guide

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Like many people my weight has crept up slowly through adulthood. Lately it seemed like things would "go bad" at a holiday and that became the new normal. Nothing dramatic, a pound here 2 there, only a few per year. I had managed to move the needle down a few times in the past, nothing dramatic maybe 10 pounds and thinking back it was coupled with some sort of routine change or high activity distraction. Along the way, going out to eat became something of a cultural recreation activity and the amount and diversity of restaurants has exploded in my lifetime. This eating out gig is fun!

Meanwhile life got busy. I'm an 8-5 type. I have a 45-minute commute each way and often have an errand or 2 to do on the way home. More often than not including now my wife worked an evening swing shift. Coming home to a meal or cooking for myself when I finally get home just isn't in the plan very often. Mornings come soon, off to work. We have extended family in the house and I try to make special time for a grandson that is with us. And I almost forgot a hobby that has turned into a small business that can tap me for 1-3 hours daily. Eating, especially on weekdays is a survival activity and if I got calories that were enjoyable that was foremost.

So, I'm not an idiot, I can see where this is going and I'm not making lightning happen. My employer happens to offer an onsite nutritionist. So, I make an appointment and wait nearly 2 months, apparently she is in high demand. I get a stack of forms and get to the question of how many times I eat out in a week. I decided it was hopeless when I wrote 15+ meals out per week. The day comes, I need help, I'm an open book and apparently I'm not unique. We talk for an hour, I leave with a list of action items and some high level thoughts like;

  • Build on what you do that is good
  • Take advantage of the good foods available at work
  • It's hard to lose weight if you don't let yourself be a little hungry before eating.
  • Make more good foods available.
I'm starting this page 9 days after we first met so this is no epic accomplishment but the results have been so stunning and easy I wanted to capture them before I pollute them with shortcuts and screw it up! I have dropped over 6 pounds and do not feel deprived nor have I turned my life upside down. My eating style isn't perfect sodium, processed, fiber may not be perfect but it's a big step up!

What am I doing right? My mornings have seemed pretty good so I decided to tally things and make sure. Having numbers for the overall equation is a good thing, right? Before heading off to work I have a glass of Ovaltine (with 12 minerals and vitamins). I measured it as I consistently prepare it.
1% Milk, 14 ounces, 206 calories
Ovaltine powder, 34 grams 124 calories
I leave the house with 330 low fat calories, I could do a lot worse.

Mid-morning, I have a 40 calorie fruit cup and I indulge with a 16 calorie shot of sugar. It's a 66 calorie snack. All in all, it's a 400 calorie morning. I enjoy what I eat and as noon approaches I am ready to eat.


The cafeteria has been offering healthier entrées so I take advantage of them when it's something I like. I now make more of an effort to say no to the calorie bombs.

  • They make some really good pizzas and I indulge in 1 slice. To balance things out I make a garden salad to go with it, greens, match stick carrots, green peppers, a few grape tomatoes and raspberry vinaigrette, yum. I have bulked the salad up a little. The calories are low and I may burn more processing them than I take in. In any case I can't go wrong. This may be a 1-3 day a week meal.
  • Finally, I have a few entre salads that will make from scratch. Caesar with grilled chicken chunks goes down nice. Another gets the cheese, croutons, sweet chillie popcorn chicken and a hearty balsamic vinaigrette on the basic pizza salad base. It may not be the leanest meal of the week but life is short and it's balanced.
  • I had been bringing a can of caffeine free Diet Coke to wash lunch down. I don't drink coffee and decided that a little caffeine mid-day may give the metabolism a shot in the arm. I'd like to think it helps me burn more calories and offsets some faux hunger. It seems to be helping but that's very subjective.
  • If I get a sandwich made I go for wraps over breads, load them with vegies and lean protein. I avoid the mayonnaise laced salad filling. Pickles and pepper add a pop of flavor.
Weekday lunches are really a best effort attempt to eat healthier. It's usually my big meal of the day and I'd like to think not being stupid will be good enough!

I almost forgot desert! Yea they bake good stuff and I walk past a smaller eatery that has warm cookies coming out as I head back from lunch. Two for a buck is hard to say no to. Then there are the whoopee pies, brownies, mint frosted brownies and it goes downhill from there. Barring some extreme celebration an occasional single cookie will do. Honestly, the success of these early day has made it easy to "just say no" more often than not. Success breeds success they say.

I have started to bring an apple or banana along for that 3:00 slump. They replaced a bag of popcorn, dish of pudding with whipped cream or more cookies, maybe one of the big chocolate chunk ones! If I do feel hungry in the 4:00 hour I tell myself that it is OK, I will survive.

EVENING - My nemesis

Then it's out of work and off to find dinner. The evening meal is turning out to be a lot of gratifying fun. I faced the fact that an exquisite lite meal will not be on the table at home and I don't have the time to prepare one. I decided to see what I could do with the resources at hand. Meals needed to expedient, have big flavors and leave me feeling fed for the evening. The seat of the pants goal I set was to keep the meal around 500 calories. Here are some of my choices;

Panda Express
If I happen to be in the Mall or driving by and wanting a fix this was n easy place to drop into. I figured out a while ago that the fried stuff like orange chicken while delicious not key to becoming svelte. What I didn't want to know is that the noodle and vegie chow mein first item was a deal breaker with 500+ calories! Here is a meal that went down easy, was full of flavor and satisfying;
  • Mixed veggies, done fresh to order, 80 calories
  • Beef & Broccoli, 150 calories
  • String Been Chicken, 190 calories
  • Total: 420 calories

My standby for years has been the turkey breast sandwich. Do I need to mess with it?

I can add a bag of Baked Lays chips and keep my honor! Maybe that Jared guy was on to something.

They are regional chain that we had been frequenting, was there hope?
  • Small Angus Cheese Burger Sub, Small, 350 calories
  • #9 Chicken Sub, Small, 240 Calories (spring for a medium at 350 calories!)
  • Chicken Teriyaki, Sub, Small, 360 calories (pictured)
  • Chicken Bomb Sub, Small, 350 calories.
A small is really all I need. Add the baked chips (140 calories) for some crunch, extra bulk and to extend the experience and I can have a warm flavor rich sandwich without doing harm.

General Note:
Many items come with different proteins. Chicken is our friend in this effort.

Elevation Burger
Honestly I'd be at FIVE GUYS if calories didn't matter but the burgers have more calories and they don't seem to know what a salad is. Back to Elevation burger… I never liked their cheddar cheese so scratch that stuff. Add elevation sauce for some pop and caramelized onions to dress it up. Put a side salad next to it for bulk and balance.
  • Small Burger (single patty) 330 calories
  • Elevation Sauce, 5 calories
  • Caramelized Onions, 25 calories
  • Pickles, tomato, lettuce, 0 calories
  • Side salad, 30 calories
  • Fat Free Ranch Dressing, 40 calories
  • Total: 430 calories

Charley's Philly Steaks
Small steak or chicken cheesesteak sandwiches Are 390 / 370 calories respectively. Add a 35 calorie garden salad and even with conservative salad dressing you can be true to the 500 calorie threshold.

Their Italian Sandwiches are a local staple with knock-offs at most sandwich counters in the state. The classic "real Italian" has ham for the meat and keep it that way, salami kicks the calorie count up. Also calorie counts EXCLUDE OIL which they dispense in copious volume. Just say no to the oil and ask for extra pepper. The soft bread and all of the juices of the ingredients will carry the day.

Deserts can be a big opportunity. Where I work, I walk by fresh baked cookies that come out of the oven on my way back from lunch. How do you spell temptation? Fifty cents for one, only a buck for two and they go down so good! Those cookies come with about 160 calories each, that's about 7% of where the days intake should be, two cookies are close to 15% just for a few non filling globs of goodness. Desert serves a real culinary purpose, a little sweetness following a savory meal. Most days I do still treat myself to 1, never 2, and once a month I indulge in a special desert that strikes my fancy. ….. 7% for that cookie… I need to ponder that one. Things happen when I see facts like this like this written down.

When we're out to eat we avoid deserts at the restaurant unless we're out with others and the goal is to extend the stay to catch up on conversation. What we do say is that "we'll look for something latter on". Often the desire is forgotten and the desert is avoided. When we do have something it is a conscious choice. Who wants to go through the summer without the occasional ice cream cone? A single scoop answers the call. Some places do have neat little petite / shot glass deserts that can be an occasional compromise.

An apple and banana are with me each day to fill any between meal hunger.

Weight control isn't magic, it's arithmetic. We take in energy and we burn energy. The difference is weight loss or gain, end of story. Assuming activity level is a constant the solution seems to come down to a pair of complimentary strategies.

If you can't eat less, then eat better.
If you really want to fill up, choose lean meats in modest portions and load up with veggies.

If you can't eat better, then eat less.
If you want a treat like pizza consider splitting the pizza or going personal but add something like a salad to round out the meal.

In the end there is a lot of overlap between the 2 strategies but the different points of view help me make better choices. An occasional treat or cheat will be a rounding error lost in the noise of daily biometrics. A string of good or bad choices will cause a change for better or worse.

I chart my weight daily. I have chosen to do so as I dress, before breakfast. This seems to be the most normalized time and it's easy to keep the clothing factor consistent. I use a digital scale that displays in 2/10 of a pound increments. There is no interpretation of the needle and if I don't believe it I can repeat. Some sources discourage daily charting, to me it is important. I know that day specific activity, eating and body response will cause fluctuations in body weight. If I were charting weekly I could see some very discouraging data points. With daily data points I do see the fluctuations and if there is an upward trend of more than a few days I make sure I am still on track. When I look at the chart it will be saw tooth pattern but it is trending downward and that is what matters. I use Excel on my computer, a smart phone ap or even graph paper will do.

Goal Setting
For most of us this weight thing is something that snuck up on us when we weren't paying attention or chose to look other way. When I thought back there were certain life events that I could associate with a weight. Armed with those recollections I can say that right now I have rewound back about 8 years. I'm 3 or 4 pounds from the 11 year benchmark. 200 pounds will be a nice round number on the way to 185, half a lifetime ago on my wedding day. For me the rewind to a time and weight makes it less abstract and bases the goal in reality, my past reality. I can't get my hair back but this I can influence!

Pace of Loss
The first pounds came off fast and provided phenomenal encouragement. The pace has slowed but I have avoided any statistical reversals. Circumstances at times have curtailed physical activity while other periods have made it easy to shed some calories. It's all about calories in and calories out. If the day is spent in airplanes, conference rooms and restaurants it's hard to burn the calories. When I travel I make the goal to come home neutral. When life hands me a sedentary period I look for chances to be on the move and watch what I eat a little more.

The goal is to get to the end of this journey with a sustainable lifestyle. As weight loss slows it simply means my calorie intake and burn rates are closer to equilibrium. Even if my intake stays the same, it is taking less and less energy to haul my body through the day's activities. As long as there is a detectable trend on that chart I'm good. If I can continue to drop weight, even at a gentle 2 pounds per month I'll be at my ultimate goal in less than a year. That should be a soft landing with a year of better habits established.



Created May 13, 2016 **** Updated August 26, 2016