Tag Archives: weight loss

The Grand Finale


And here it is, my final post of this entire project.  What a year it’s been!  I recently read back on the “About” and “The Beginning” posts that I wrote over a year ago in order to re-familiarize myself with the reasons why I embarked on this journey to begin with.  What I learned from reading those posts is that my posts have gotten A LOT longer over the year (sorry about that) and that most of my goals for the year were achieved.  I had wanted to learn what it was like to follow a regimented diet, to learn new cooking techniques, to be able to answer questions about popular diets, and to improve my will power.  I would say I wasn’t a total success on the will power portion, but I also realized, through a year of “failing” on the will power game, that it’s not a battle that should even be fought.  More on that in a minute, but first, my “awards” for this year.

The Dow Diet Awards
These are obviously just based on my opinion, except the “Most Expensive” award.  That one is based on cold hard facts as witnessed by depletion of my bank account.

  • Most Hated: Winner – Fast Metabolism Diet. Runner Up – Paleo
  • Most Forgettable: Low Fat
  • Best for Weight Loss: Although I didn’t really lose any weight on any of those (remember: that was my goal), the ones I would recommend would be 1) Volumetrics Diet and 2) Weight Watchers
  • Most Expensive: Sustainability
  • Enhancing the Culinary Prowess: Mediterranean, Vegan
  • I Can’t Wait to Quit You: Paleo, Low Fat, Fast Metabolism Diet
  • Favorite: Too tough to choose just one. Three-way tie between Vegan, Mediterranean, and Mindful Eating.

My Dietary Recommendations for Health and Happiness, in a very specific order

  1. Eat mindfully- Taste your food, free from distraction.  Cook it and savor it with all of your senses.  It will work miracles on your relationship with food, and is by far the best thing you can do for yourself.
  2. Cook your food – Here is a video narrated by Michael Pollan, which really hammers home the importance of cooking your own food.  This doesn’t mean “preparing” a meal, i.e. a box of macaroni and cheese. It means actually cooking from scratch.  When you do that, you don’t have to worry so much about the fat, carb, and protein content of your food. It’s just nourishment at that point, and it will balance itself out over time.
  3. Don’t be a dick about it – It’s hard to put this at #3 because I want to put it at #1, but the other ones are probably more important.  I’ve always just rolled my eyes and been annoyed when people are super pretentious about their food, but these feelings were strengthened this year by trying all these different eating approaches and also by moving to Boulder, CO (the most uppity place I’ve ever experienced).  My friends back in Tucson have something called the “In-N-Out and Casa Molina” test for people.  If you aren’t willing to ever eat a tasty cheeseburger and some delicious, greasy, unhealthy Mexican food, there may be a larger underlying issue.  If you disagree with this statement, you’re probably that pretentious person I’m referring to.  Stop being a dick about it.

regular donuts

  1. Eat more produce – Everyone could stand to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Incorporate them into more and more of your meals until you eat them constantly and start to crave them.  Then, get creative, try new ones, and try preparing them in different ways.  The possibilities are endless.
  2. Whatever approach you use if you’re trying to lose weight, choose one that can be maintained long term – At the end of the day, all of the diet trials and myriad of studies that have been performed ultimately lead to the same conclusion: the diet that works best for weight loss is the one that you can maintain.  Try out different ones to see what works for you, and don’t get discouraged when the first thing you try doesn’t work for you, but it worked for your cooler, hotter, sister who everyone likes more and who has never struggled with anything. It’s so unfair! We’re all individuals.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss.
  3. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid – Literally, but also figuratively.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  4. Stop freaking out about it – It’s not nearly as complicated as the media and all the snake oil salesmen want to convince you it is.

What I Learned

As I previously mentioned, I really struggled this year with will power, until I realized that there is no point to will power if there isn’t a larger goal in mind.  One of the most important lessons I learned this year is that curiosity is only a good short-term motivator.  I struggled nearly every month to stay on track with the allotted dietary pattern because I would either lose sight of why I was doing this or, when I would remind myself of the goals listed above, they didn’t seem like good enough reasons.  This was particularly true in months like Paleo and Fast Metabolism Diet when I had never felt hungrier and that transcended into some mental and emotional imbalance.  Those months were the only time that I ever got a glimpse into what it’s like to be on a diet.  One of my goals was to attempt to understand the psyche of a person undergoing a diet (thanks to those two aforementioned diets, I succeeded in that goal), but also to understand why people put themselves through the torture of a diet.  I never got to the place where I understood that, and that comes back to the curiosity thing.  Curiosity was my motivator, but the need to feel normal when you feel terrible trumps curiosity.  I imagine a person with a dire health concern or a need for weight loss has a different motivation, and that’s something that I can’t relate to at this point in my life.  Maybe if I ever need to change something about my lifestyle I’ll be able to relate to that issue more, and I’ll see the need for will power.  But right now, I think will power is a silly thing to get caught up on, and I think it’s an issue that prevents people from reaching their health goals.

So here is a larger spiel on will power, and I realize as I’m writing this, that these ideas are not something I’ve ever been taught in any nutrition or health class. They go against many of the recommendations that students are taught regarding diet counseling.  But here it goes.

The most important lesson I learned this year involves the concept of moderation.  I know, you’ve heard it a million times before – everything in moderation.  And maybe you’ve decided that moderation doesn’t work for you because you haven’t found that grasp on it – it’s either gorge yourself or go without, and if you are working on losing weight, the “correct” option is to go without.  I really REALLY learned the fault in that kind of logic this year (the caveat to this, of course, is people with addictive behaviors or personalities, which I can’t really comment on because I don’t have any kind of extensive knowledge or training in that area).  I’ll use the example again of FMD.  That was truly a “go without” month for me, and I HATED it.  Not only did I feel physically unhealthy, but I felt mentally unhealthy.  And there’s the crux of it all.  Physical and mental health are so intertwined that they can’t and shouldn’t be separated, though our current system attempts and is often successful at convincing us that they should be.  Typically things that are good for your mental health are good for your physical health, so focus on that.  You will never see the full benefit of a healthy lifestyle approach if you only focus on the physical health aspect of it.  This whole time I’ve thought that my will power issues could be rectified by taking away the stimulus.  This is the basis of nearly every fad diet and every dietary recommendation.  “Don’t keep chocolate in the house so you won’t be tempted.”  “Snack on fruits – it will feed your sweet tooth.” I call bullshit on all of that.  While this may lead to weight loss, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your mental health because you a) feel deprived and b) never learn how to have a healthy relationship with these foods that you consider unhealthy/evil.  And what is the point of physical health if mental health isn’t riding shotgun?  I don’t know what the meaning or goal of life is, but for me it has something to do with finding peace in the midst of a hurricane.  Removing a stimulus doesn’t improve will power – it weakens it.  We need to find ways to achieve balance, and we do this by being in the midst of a room full of crispy French fries, the most decadent chocolate, a succulent cheeseburger, the deepest of deep dish pizzas, the creamiest ice creams, with a littering of fruits and vegetables and other health foods… and then we choose to have a few tastes of each of those things.  We really savor them and appreciate them, and then we carry on with our day, never feeling deprived or engorged.  It’s being able to control a situation instead of letting a situation control you.  This clearly isn’t just about food.  It can be applied to nearly every situation you will ever face in life, but your relationship with your body and your body’s fuel is a foundation that needs to be built, strengthened, and continuously re-patched in order to live a long, healthy life.


I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that taps into the issues with how we eat in America.  Eating a diet that supports the beautiful vehicle that is your body needs to be a priority if we want to prosper and see progress on both individual and societal levels.  The path to get there isn’t as difficult as it seems.  It’s just straight into the kitchen.

“…it turns out we don’t need to declare our allegiance to any one of these schools of thought in order to figure out how best to eat.  In the end, they are only theories, scientific explanations for an empirical phenomenon that is not itself in doubt: people eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Thank you to everyone who followed this project over the past year.  There’s no way I could have done this on my own – I would have quit so many times if I didn’t have followers. Thank you for your attention, your comments, your questions.  

Live Beautiful!

P.S. If you’re looking for another health blog to follow with posts that will take a lot less time to read than mine, check out my friends Dezi and Matt’s blog: Simple Fitness Blog.


Fat Free and Carb Crazy


The past month I’ve been following a low fat diet plan.  For those of you older than me, you likely remember the low fat diet craze of the ‘90’s (shortly followed by the low carb craze).  I think that fad did a lot to damage the utility of a low fat diet for various health outcomes, because there certainly are a number of benefits of low fat eating.  As with all diets, though, it can be misused and abused.

The Science

Low Fat for Weight Loss- The most common reason to follow a low fat diet is to lose weight.  The reason low fat works so well for weight loss involves simple arithmetic.  In order to lose weight, your energy intake needs to be less than energy output.  Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 kcal/g, whereas fat contains 9 kcal/g.  If you cut out an equal number of carbohydrate grams as fat grams at separate times and were to change absolutely nothing else, you would lose more weight on the lower fat diet because you’re reducing your energy intake more than the low carb diet.  Easy peasy. However, a common misconception is that you’ll lose fat mass by just eating a low fat diet.  Unfortunately, fuel utilization is more complicated than that, and your body is happy to turn carbohydrates into fat if you’re eating excess carbs (i.e. if you’re still eating too many calories, but they’re coming from carbs instead of fat).  Bottom line: your energy intake needs to be less than your energy output, no matter what you’re consuming.

Low Fat for Health- There are a number of reasons to eat a lower fat diet for long term health.  The American Heart Association recommends eating <35% kcals from fat and to reduce saturated fat (SF) intake to <7% of intake (down from the old recommendation of 10%).  This highlights the importance of the type of fat consumed, as SF is packaged and transported via LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and as SF intake increases more LDL circulates in the blood. LDL is overall causal in the pathway for heart disease.  (The Mediterranean Diet style of eating is characterized by up to 40% of intake from fat; however, most of this fat comes from olive oil, which is rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.  I won’t go into any more detail about that now as I will be following the MedDiet later this year, but once again, this supports the role for type of fat for heart health).

There has also been some work in the field of fat intake and cancer incidence and recurrence.  The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification trial enrolled over 48,000 postmenopausal women and randomized over 19,000 of those women to a low fat diet (20% kcals from fat) with a focus on increasing fruit and vegetable and whole grain intake.  After 8 years of follow-up, researchers saw a reduced incidence of ovarian and invasive breast cancers in those following the diet modification.  There is also work focusing on risk of recurrence of cancer when a low fat eating plan is followed, so keep your eyes peeled for that work in the future if this is something that you’re interested in.

My Experience

This was an interesting month for me for a number of reasons.  Instead of dropping my fat intake low and immediately, I gave myself some time to get acclimated to low fat eating.  I started at 30% kcals of intake for week 1 and reduced my fat intake by 5% every week.  I tracked my fat intake using the FatSecret app (available on iPhone and Droid platforms.  My Fitness Pal is also a great mobile app for diet/physical activity/weight tracking). Weeks 1 and 2 were really easy for me and served to just get me familiar with the fat content of the foods that I eat regularly.  I didn’t have to change anything at all to eat 30% and 25% was an extremely attainable goal.  I grew up eating foods that aren’t particularly high in fat – lowfat or nonfat yogurt, 1% or skim milk, tuna in water instead of oil, etc., so there weren’t any significant changes that needed to be made.

Things got interesting at 20% and 15%, and I actually had to make some real changes.  I usually eat peanut/almond butter on toast every morning for breakfast, I’m pretty heavy handed with olive oil when I cook, and I could eat avocadoes every day if someone would provide ripe, reasonably priced ones for me.  There are nothing wrong with these foods, but when you’re trying to curb fat intake, they become an issue.  I calculated my fat gram goals based off my average intake (1500 kcal/day and 2000 kcal/day), which equated to 25-33 g of fat/day.  To give you an idea of how that works out, 2 Tbsp of peanut butter (a standard serving for me) will give you 16 g of fat, ¼ of an avocado has 7 g of fat, and 1 Tbsp of any oil has about 13.5 g of fat.  Clearly, it wouldn’t take much to surpass my fat goals, so I started to get stingy with my peanut butter in the morning or use jam instead.  I used olive oil/canola oil sprays when sautéing veggies instead of just pouring oil into the pan, and avocadoes became a treat that I would allow for dinner when I had been really good all day. I never successfully got down to 15% kcals from fat, and 18% was where I bottomed out.  I found that I was especially hungry on those days, and would get stressed over everything I was eating.  I’d find foods that were low fat, but every gram mattered at that point, and low fat just wasn’t cutting it.  You have to go down to nonfat for almost all products at that point, and I’m not crazy about that (see recommendations below).

The most interesting thing that I saw with low fat intake that I hadn’t really predicted was how incredibly hard it was for me to maintain my overall kcal intake.  Since I’m trying really hard not to lose weight, I had to supplement my diet with more carbs or protein in order to reach my necessary calorie goal.  Adding protein without adding fat was a challenge as my primary sources of protein (nuts, protein bars) are also fairly high in fat and lower in carbs.  I don’t eat much meat, but when I did, I would use chicken and boil it instead of cooking it in any oil.  Beans were another option, but beans are also high in carbs, so my overall carb intake went up. My carb intake also increased in ways that were not healthy. A lot of days I ate way more fruit than I normally do, and I replaced a lot of veggies with fruit since most fruit is higher in calories than veggies, and I had a calorie goal I was trying to meet.  Wanna know what else is high in calories, but not fat? Candy.  Like Mike and Ike’s.  So are bagels.  So my diet became supplemented with shitty food like that occasionally just to maintain calorie intake.  Moral of the story: go on a low fat diet if you’re trying to reduce calorie intake.  It’s easier than I realized, and since you’re trying to reduce calorie intake, you better not be supplementing your diet with a lot of excess sugar.

Recommendations for Reducing Fat Intake

Frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of ice cream- Sorbet doesn’t do it for me, personally, because I like chocolate for dessert, but frozen yogurt works and it’s way way lower in fat than it’s creamy counterpart.  I’m also mildly lactarded, so frozen yogurt is a great switch since the little bacteria friends in yogurt have already digested the lactose for me.  Thanks, guys.

Nonfat/reduced fat dairy products- I’ve never eaten full fat yogurt.  I did for the first time that I could remember a year ago, and I was amazed at how delicious it was.  Luckily, that didn’t trick me into doing it regularly because I have a girlish figure to maintain, and I don’t want to waste calories on something like yogurt.  I prefer nonfat greek yogurt over any other kind of yogurt because it’s REALLY high in protein, so you’ll feel fuller than just eating normal low/nonfat yogurt.  For cheese, I can do reduced fat cheeses, but nonfat cheese is gross and it doesn’t melt well, so you’re better off introducing a small amount of fat to maintain some of the flavor and consistency.

Get down with the Greek- Whenever I make any kind of cream sauce, whether it’s adding it to a tomato sauce or more of an alfredo, I use plain greek yogurt, and I’ll add plain almond milk if I need more liquid.  Cook on low heat, and it’s delicious.  I also use plain greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

Lean protein- your best options are skinless chicken, fish, turkey, or very lean cuts of beef.  Minimize the amount of oil you cook them in- try boiling, grilling, or broiling instead of deep frying or pan frying.

Condiments- Start experimenting with other toppings on sandwiches other than mayonnaise.  If you like the taste, you can replace mayo with Miracle Whip as it’s much lower in fat and overall calories.  You can also try mustard.  I think yellow mustard is gross, but I love spicy brown mustard, and it’s especially low in calories (3 kcals/tsp).

Nonfat processed foods- I’m not recommending that you eat nonfat processed foods. My recommendation is to stay away from that shit.  There is lowfat peanut butter, and I hope that makes your furrow your brow and be suspicious of how the hell that works.  They replace some of the fat with maltodextrin (a carbohydrate used as a filler in a lot of foods), and I don’t like that.  Granted, I don’t buy peanut butter with other weird fillers either- just plain peanuts and salt for me, thanks.  My recommendation is to just eat less of it because you’re not going to make it lowfat and not weird.  The same goes for salad dressing.  I actually don’t buy salad dressing because I don’t eat much salad at home and because there are too many preservatives and things I can’t pronounce on the label. The number of those words increases by about 30% when you go nonfat because they fill it with a lot of science experiment results in order to make it taste somewhat close to normal.  Sure you can buy these nonfat foods and reduce your fat intake, but what else are you eating? No one knows for sure. Just reduce your portion size or make your own (salad dressing, at least) with less oil.

Steer clear of all of Paula Deen’s recipes.

paula-deen-butter-1Final Stats and Remarks


Baseline Data







Low Fat


















































W:H Ratio










Blood Pressure










Total kcal










Protein (g)









Protein (%)










CHO (%)










Fiber (g)

at least 25









Fat (%)










Sat Fat (%)










Sodium (mg)










Potassium (mg)










Fruit/Veg (servings)


















I chose the lowest fat intake that I reached this month, 18%.  As you can see, I struggled to eat enough calories, but all in all, not a whole lot to report.  My blood pressure went up a bit, probably because my fruit and veggie intake went down.  I no longer have a way to measure my percent body fat, so that won’t be reported any longer.  And my ass is disappearing.

Next stop: sustainability month! It’s about to get real…expensive.

Track Your Intake → Lose Weight


I’ll start off by apologizing (again) for my lack of posting.  It still doesn’t look like this will change any time soon.  The good news is that I submitted my dissertation last week!! But I’m not out of the woods yet – two weeks from now, I’ll be defending my dissertation.  Assuming all goes well, I’ll be a DOCTOR! All very exciting, but as you might imagine, all very time consuming and requires a lot of mental preparation and stamina, which is why I haven’t been posting much.  But enough about me and my future.  Let’s talk about me and my present.

My month on Weight Watchers was fantastic.  I honestly cannot give it a better recommendation than I already have in my previous post, and I will recommend it to anyone who asks me my opinion on the best weight loss program.  However, I did run into some obstacles and challenges along the way, which is to be expected.

My Biggest Issue: Trying to do WW without access to the online tools is time-consuming… frustrating… cumbersome… I really wanted this to not be an issue because our society’s dependence on technology is frightening to me.  For example, no one knows how to read a map because everyone is used to Siri telling him/her how to get from Point A to Point B.  And then they get lost when their phone doesn’t have service because they never thought to read the actual street signs and pay attention to their surroundings.  And this is how present day horror stories are made.  I digress.  What I’m getting at is that I wanted to be different from all that and be OK with using equations and calculating the points of the food I ate because I thought it would teach me how to look at a meal and estimate its nutritional value more accurately than what I can do now.  It probably would have done just that if I lived in a world where dissertation writing, traveling, writing, commuting, writing, cooking, writing, sleeping, writing, exercising, and writing didn’t take up all of my time.  But my life doesn’t consist of skipping through meadows and picking flowers or sipping a cup of coffee whilst reading the morning paper and pondering the meaning of life (right now).  Right now my life is chaotic, which is an issue that nearly everyone reports, and I need all the help I can get.  Calculators don’t really count as help.
Because I wasn’t willing to pay for WW, my day would go like this: I would eat breakfast, google the food that I ate, record the points in a journal, and repeat these steps for lunch, with the intention of doing this throughout the day.  Then my day would get away from me, and all of a sudden it would be 10:37 pm and I’m trying to remember what I ate, guessing the serving sizes, googling the points of said food (much of which has not been calculated, so I’d end up using a poor-excuse-for-a-substitute), and calculating my points for the day.  Like most people, I am great at starting the day with good intentions and acting upon them until the day starts to get hectic and whatever is occupying my mind takes precedent over what I’m eating.  This really gets away from the purpose of WW, which is to track your points throughout the day, so that you can make adjustments accordingly.

Issue Number Two: Traveling.  I went to New Orleans for a conference, and I had such a great time, both at the conference and touring the city and surrounding areas.  But what was equally fun to all of that was all of the food in NOLA.  For example, I ate a gator poboy sandwich, gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, red beans and dirty rice, and drank sweet tea, and beer, and bourbon, and hurricanes (whatever those are), amongst other foods and spirits, which I’m surely forgetting.  Needless to say, this wasn’t a “diet” friendly adventure.  I calculated my WW points on only one day while I was there, which came out to a whopping 50 points! (Remember, my goal was 26-33/day).  I gave up after that, for a couple of reasons.  1) I didn’t want to miss out on all that unique food by freaking out about the point total, which I knew I would do if I tracked it. 2) I rarely had my not-so-handy journal with me. 3) Type in “alligator poboy, weight watchers points plus” into google and you won’t find anything useful. This food was hard to track, so I just didn’t.  I was positive that I gained weight after that trip, but as you’ll see below, that was not the case. This is likely attributable to the amount of walking I did – according to my pedometer on my phone: between 15,000 and 20,000 steps/day (10,000 is an arbitrary goal with really no scientific evidence to back it up, but you’ll see it out there.  It’s actually pretty hard to meet if you’re not a super active person).
I don’t think the fact that I went to New Orleans, specifically, makes this situation unique in any way to traveling.  I think we all are more inclined to let loose and not worry about what we’re eating when we travel, because, “Damn it! I’m on vacation!”  However, if you are trying to lose weight, it’s not smart to completely forget about your diet while you travel, because you’re likely to undo a lot of the hard work that you’ve done.  In all honesty, if I had the online tools and the WW phone app, I probably would have tracked my diet more while I was traveling, not so much for trying to curb and control my intake, but really just out of curiosity because I always learn something when I track my diet, and it’s interesting to me.

The Final Issue: Drinking.  That makes me sound like a lush, and I only sort of am, but not to any extreme.  I enjoy imbibing on occasion, but what I like most is just having a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, especially when I’m with friends.  However, I never think of the calories in alcohol when I drink (like most people), but this can be a major downfall if you are trying to control your weight.  Honestly, I was surprised at how many points are allotted for alcohol.  And they’re not unreasonable at all.  Alcoholic beverages are empty calories, and they should be treated as such on a weight loss plan. (**As an aside, it is recommended by the American Heart Association to drink one alcoholic beverage/day, as this amount confers cardiovascular benefit.  And no, you can’t “save” all of them for the weekend and drink all 7 drinks at one time and expect to see any benefit.  In fact, binge drinking is linked to poor cardiovascular health.  Physiology doesn’t care about your weekend plans.**) Here’s a breakdown of the points:

Light Beer (gross) = 3 points
Regular beer=5 points
Beers over 200 kcals/pint (this includes a lot of porters, a lot of the Flying Dog and New Belgium beers… which of course are some of my favorites) = 7 points
Wine (4 oz glass)= 4 points
Hard liquor (1 oz)= 4 points + whatever you mix it with

As you can see, this can add up quickly, which is why people get fat when they drink all the time.  This isn’t rocket science.  And ignorance isn’t bliss unless you think of bliss as a spare tire sittin pretty around your midsection. Check out this site if you want more info about WW points allotted for beer: http://www.justdietnow.com/weight-watchers-points/points-for-beer.html

Let’s move on to the stats:

Goal/Normal Baseline Data Jan-Vegan February-
Weight 121-60 127.5 127.5 128.5 124
BMI 18.5-24.9 20 20 20.1 19.5
PBF 21-32 21.4 21.2 20.6 21.3
WC <35 27.5 27.5 27.5 27.5
HC 38.5 37.5 38 38
W:H Ratio <0.8 0.71 0.73 0.72 0.72
Blood Pressure <120/80 113/77 101/69 105/72 110/70
Total kcal 2000-2200 1975 1809 1965 1900
Protein (g) 77.5 57 100 75
Protein (%) Oct-35 16 12% 20 16
CHO (%) 49-52 51 39-50 47 54
Fiber (g) at least 25 26 42 32 27
Fat (%) 20-35 29.5 44-54 47 30
Sat Fat (%) <10 7 8 8 7
Sodium (mg) 2300 2587 2138-2527 2132 2370
Potassium (mg) 4700 3479 3959-4109 3742 3628
Fruit/Veg (servings) 5-9 3-7 8-12 6-8 5-7
Cost 192.59 206.38 120.97

There isn’t anything remarkable here, though I think two things are noteworthy.

1) Weight loss:  I had mentioned in my last post that I lost two pounds when I first started WW, and I made a concerted effort to regain that, and I almost did (regained 1.5 pounds) before I left for New Orleans.  But then I didn’t maintain that weight regain, and I lost 4 total this month compared to last month.  I hope this doesn’t piss off people who are actually trying to lose weight.  I really don’t mean to sound so cavalier about the whole thing, but I am an overachiever to my core, and I tend to go all out when I try something new.  I think what this really shows is that if you track your diet (and you’re honest about it), you will change the way you eat for the better, and this will result in weight loss.  As I said in my last post, the number one behavior that is associated with weight loss and weight loss maintenance is self-monitoring. Done.
2) Look at how much money I didn’t spend this month! I even had a little bit of food left over, which wasn’t true of February.  This just goes to show that you can eat healthy without being a nutcase about health foods and breaking the bank. Done. Again.

Once again, a great learning experience and an overall enjoyable “diet” to follow.  The take home message: track your diet if you want to lose weight.  If you’re going to follow Weight Watchers, pay for it and download the mobile app.  Don’t do it my way because you won’t stick with it.  If you are looking for another way to track your diet, but don’t want to follow Weight Watchers, I recommend “Fat Secret” (free for Droid or iPhones).  It’s got the most complete database and is the most user-friendly out of all the apps I’ve seen.  Now get out there and get trackin’, kids!

The “eat all the healthy food and a little of the unhealthy food” plan


I’ve received a couple requests to post more often, but it’s probably not going to happen. My dissertation is due very soon (in like a week), and then I’ve got that whole dissertation defense thing to do, all of which takes precedent over 2013, With a Grain of Salt (sorry).  However, I have been following the Weight Watchers Points Plus diet plan for the last twelve days, and in general, I feel like this baby elephant:


The Premise Behind Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers (WW) is a commercial weight loss/maintenance plan, in which foods are assigned a point value, and you keep track of your points everyday (or almost everyday…more on that in a minute).

When you sign up for WW, you input some data about yourself (sex, age, height, weight, physical activity level), and it calculates the number of points you are allotted/day.

No one gets less than 26 or more than 71 points per day.  If you’re like me and don’t want to pay for WW, you can figure out your point allowance via many blogs and tutorials.  I would put a link to the one I used, but WordPress temporarily disabled my blog when I did that, so you’re just going to have to do the really hard work of Googling it yourself, much like I did.

No matter what your daily point allowance, you also get 49 extra points per week.  You can spread these throughout the week, or if you know that you have some event coming up (like a big dinner or party in which alcoholic beverage consumption may also take place), you can save them and use them all at once.  I really like this feature because it puts the emphasis on looking at your diet over a longer period of time (week vs. day), and it flexibility is intrinsically built into the plan.

In 2010, WW moved to WW PointsPlus, and some really important changes came with that.  On the old program, the focus was solely on calorie intake, so you could technically eat Twinkies and ramen noodles all day, as long as you didn’t eat a lot of them and remained within your point goal.  In 2010, the program changed to focus on the quality of those calories, and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is.  The new algorithm to determine the points of a food is as follows:


As you can see, foods that are high in protein and/or fiber will cost you fewer points than foods high in fat and carbohydrates, thus shifting your focus overall to healthier foods.

Most fruits and vegetables are 0 points, so you can eat lots of those (as you should).  Potatoes, avocadoes, fruit juices, and dried fruit aren’t 0 points, which means that you can still eat them, but assigning a point value forces you to not overeat them.

Activity also factors into the equation, and the more you exercise, the more points you can add back into your day/week. In general, burning 80 kcals translates to 1 point.  So, for a woman of my weight, 15 minutes of medium intensity work = 1 point, whereas 15 minutes of high intensity work (i.e. running)= 2 points.

There is also the Power Foods List, which is handy for days that you don’t want to track your points, for whatever reason.  The recommendation on those days is to eat from the Power Foods list to the point of feeling satisfied (not full), and you’ll be able to stay on track with your weight loss/maintenance goal.

Why Weight Watchers Works
WW was named one of the best diets of 2012 by U.S. News and World Report.  It was #1 for the best weight loss diet as well as easiest diet to follow.

Ease of Use
When you sign up for WW, you get access to all their online tools and a phone app that calculates all your points for you (I calculate them myself, which is a pain in the ass).  You’re also given an accelerometer which measures your activity throughout the day, and these are actually pretty expensive to come by.  Also, the Power Foods list (see above) makes life a lot easier.

Weight Loss Effectiveness
There is a huge support system of other people who are following the diet plan, and you can go to in-person meetings or use online forums that allow you to hash out your struggles and share ideas with other people.  Having a support system is one of the main predictors of successful weight loss, in part because you can get ideas from others.  It also makes you accountable to something other than yourself, and most of us know that, if left to our own devices, we typically aren’t always motivated to do what’s best for ourselves.  (My accountability throughout this whole process is to my blog.  Even if no one reads it, I like to pretend there are a lot of you who will ridicule me and hold me in contempt if I don’t follow through with this. It keeps me motivated.)

Weight loss studies have evaluated characteristics of people who are most likely to lose weight and keep it off compared to those who are not successful, and the number one behavior is self-monitoring.  It requires a lot of work to track your diet, but it is extremely effective because knowledge is power and it forces you to be honest with yourself.  It may be a lot of work, but consider any change you’ve ever made, and I can guarantee that the changes that were the most fruitful were also the ones that required the most will power and dedication.

Weight Loss Maintenance
Before I even looked into WW in any real depth, I always recommended it to people who ask me for weight loss advice.  The reasons for this are two-fold:
1) People typically don’t listen to me (or any nutrition professional) when they are given advice because making changes are hard and it’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance.  It turns out that this is the same path that makes you fat and unhealthy. Thus, it’s easier for me to recommend a program that will teach someone everything they need to know. It saves me time, and if people are paying for something, they’re probably more likely to put in the effort to reap the benefits of that service.
2) (This is the less selfish and more important aspect) WW teaches you how to eat healthy, long term.  Studies indicate that weight loss itself isn’t the most challenging aspect of weight control, but maintaining that weight loss is where you have to dig in deep and force those changes to become a way of life.  WW allows you to eat normal food and even unhealthy food, though portion control and moderation are built into the point system.  It also emphasizes healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat or nonfat dairy.  It’s really built for real people who aren’t health freaks. So, if you pay attention to the tools at your disposal while following WW, the transition off of WW will likely be much smoother and you’ll be more likely to maintain the weight loss for which you worked so hard.  Other diet plans like NutriSystem provide all the food for you, so you never really learn how to cook healthy foods; thus, weight regain (also termed “recidivism” in the scientific community) is a huge issue with these diets.

My Life as a Weight Watcher
I’m not paying for WW because a) it’s sort of expensive ; b) I’m not trying to lose weight; and 3) this is an experiment to test how realistic dietary plans are, and I’m getting that information by paying no dollars/month. However, for someone who does want to lose weight, I do not recommend going about it the way I am because it’s way more work, and there are so many tools that support you in your health and weight loss goals that you’ll be missing out on by being a cheap ass.

  • I get 26 points/day, which is the lowest allowance possible.  Makes sense since a person with a BMI of 20 shouldn’t really be trying to lose weight.
  • I track my points in my journal, which really makes me wish that I had the online tools.  I feel like an analog girl living in a digital world.  This is also what we could call a Generation Y problem.
  • I started by just tracking my normal diet to see how many points I typically eat, which came out to 26-30. Again, no surprise there, as I’m a weight stable individual and not prone to binging.
  • I kind of got really into tracking my points though, and I had it in my head that I was only allowed 26 points/day.  I forgot about those extra 49 points/week, so, if I wasn’t planning on using a bunch at once, I could/should go up to 33 points/day.  I also forgot about adding my activity points into my daily allotment.  And because of that, I lost 2 pounds in the first 10 days.  Oops.  BUT, it does show you how easy it can be to lose weight on this plan!
  • I find that I am gravitating towards eating fruits and vegetables more than I maybe normally would because they are zero points, so I don’t have to track them. Almost every snack I eat is a fruit or a vegetable.  Well played, WW.
  • I’ve also started eating from the Power Foods list as many days as I can because that also reduces the amount of writing/point calculating I have to do.
  • Mixed meals are the hardest points to calculate and the most work, but for most things, I can just Google whatever food it is, and someone has probably already calculated it.  Thanks, internet.
  • Another goal of WW is the whole 8×8 trick (drink 8 8-oz glasses of water/day).  This is good for me because I definitely don’t drink enough water, and I do track this everyday because I know it’s the hardest thing for me to do. And seriously. It’s so hard.  I haven’t had a day yet where I met this goal. I’m working on it!

Overall, I am elated to be a Weight Watcher after my month on Paleo.  I get to eat things like black beans, and hummus, and cous cous, and oatmeal, and whole grain pasta, and feta, and I’m just so happy. I was also yogurt sober for TWO WHOLE MONTHS. I’m pretty sure I haven’t done that since I started eating that delicious bacteria enriched dairy treat as a young tyke, and I plan on never doing it ever again. You can’t tame this wild beast.

**If anyone from Weight Watchers International, Inc. happened to stumble upon this blog post and wanted to give me access to some online tools for all the great advertising I’m doing, free of charge, I wouldn’t fight it.  Also, if some of the information I’ve said here is wrong, though I’m pretty sure it’s not, you should definitely give me access to all your information, so I can stop misinforming the masses (i.e. all 10 of my followers).

Weight Loss of the Unintended, Vegan-Induced Variety



Over the last few years of studying obesity and chronic disease development/prevention, I’ve learned so many ways to lose/maintain a healthy weight.  Many of these tools include portion control.  By that, I mean limiting the size of the portions of foods that are calorically dense and high in fats and sugars (but not eliminating them as deprivation is the shortest route to binging).  I also eat larger portions of nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, non/lowfat yogurt and cheese, etc.  It may sound neurotic or obsessive, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even think about it anymore – it’s just how I eat.  Over the last 3.5 years of graduate school, I’ve incorporated all these habits into my life and slowly lost about 10 pounds.

When I started this experiment, I was at my lowest adult body weight, and I was happy with that weight.  But I made the mistake of simply taking the way I was eating and swapping out animal products with more legumes, fruits, and vegetables.  In doing so, I probably reduced my daily intake by at least 300-400 kcals, if not more.

The first few days, I wasn’t able to stay full for long.  I found that I was eating a larger volume of food than I ever have. I was eating so many fruits, veggies, and beans, and I was essentially eating all day.  I got on the scale on Thursday, and I had lost 3 pounds since I weighed myself two weeks prior (I may have lost some weight in those few days between weighing myself and starting veganism, but there’s no way of knowing).  What I do know is that I freaked out because my intention is not to lose weight, and I realized my approach has been off.  I talked to my friend Tracy, a registered dietitian, and she gave me some pointers on how to get in more calories. Some tips from the RD herself:

  • Starch it up.  Eat more pasta, rice (whole grains, of course), potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit juice, dried fruits, etc.  I need to max out my glycogen stores so that I can start depositing fat.
    Physiology lesson: glycogen is your body’s storage form of glucose.  Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles, and when your body needs energy, it will break down glycogen into glucose to use for energy.  Your body can only store a finite amount of glycogen though, and when that volume is reached, it will start converting glucose into fat.
  • Go nuts.  I was eating more nut butters, but I got bored with that pretty quickly since I already eat them about once a day.  I’ve started eating more dried fruit and nut mixes.  I eat about a cup a day (normal serving size is ¼ cup), which gives me lots of calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and also supplies healthy phytonutrients.  This has helped me stay full way longer.
  • A vegan milkshake a day helps keep the skinnies away.  Tracy also recommended that I drink a shake at night to help me sock in calories.  There are some soy ice creams out there.  Some people like them — I think they taste like play-doh. I do like coconut “ice cream,” though, so I’ve been making a shake with chocolate coconut ice cream (I get mine from Trader Joe’s), some almond milk, peanut butter, and banana slices. It is awfully tasty.
    Metabolism Lesson: Nutritional scientists used to think that eating late at night wouldn’t promote weight gain as long as calorie intake matched calorie output over the long term, and anything that said otherwise was a myth.  There is now emerging evidence suggesting that activity of hormones and enzymes involved in metabolism and the deposition of fat changes with circadian rhythms.  So, in fact, eating calorically dense foods late at night may cause your body to store said calories as fat.  The verdict is still out as most of the published studies have only been in animal models, but there are studies currently being conducted in humans, so we’ll have to see what those results say.  Given the information out there now, though, my recommendation would be to cool it on the Ben & Jerry’s late at night if you are trying to lose weight.

If it’s not obvious, I don’t incorporate EVERY one of Tracy’s tips every day, because that could lead to too much weight gain.  I choose a few a day, and that helps to keep my diet varied and interesting.  Hopefully I’ll get my intake figured out in the next few days.  Of course, I could put on weight in really unhealthy ways by eating chips, fries, candy, and soda, but that’s not my approach to life.  There are healthy ways to gain weight, much like there are (un)healthy ways to lose weight.

If you are trying to lose weight and get healthier, try small changes like making all of your snacks vegan.  Eat fresh fruits, veggies and hummus, or ¼ cup serving of mixed nuts. Get creative with your options, and you’ll likely feel healthier for introducing so many nutrient-dense foods into your diet.

So far, being a vegan has been surprisingly fun.  I only really miss animal products with regard to the flavor they provide.  A couple of times I’ve cooked a meal and thought to myself, “A little bit of bacon/feta/parmesan would go really well with this.”  I’m trying to use more unique spices and herbs to enhance the flavor profile of my foods so that animal products are just a distant memory.  I’m also learning about cooking with new (to me) products like tempeh, nutritional yeast, and how to make “cream” sauces out of cashews. I’ll post some good recipes here soon, and you can give veganism a whirl as well!