"My fellow nerds and I will retire to the Nerdery with our calculators. We should have something for you by this afternoon."
(Name that movie quote - title and who said it - and I will smooch you all over your face. No Googling!! Cheaters!)
So I did okay last week with food and tracking and stuff. This weekend I was traveling to visit family and my bffs from high school. There was a lot of eating and no tracking. I'm not annoyed because I feel guilty, I just miss the momentum I used to have.
Back in the winter when I was going like gangbusters (and losing weight like mad) everything Spark related was the center of my universe. I want to take back some of that hardcore attitude - just because I still have boxes to unpack doesn't mean I can't dedicate a couple evenings to shopping for and prepping some healthy food! Screw unpacking, I have vegetables to wash!!!
But I want to have a plan. I do best when I plan. So of course, Nerdery wise, we're revisiting December. The month where I kicked the most butt and took the most names.
Not only am I looking at WHAT I ate during that time, but when.
If the labels are hard to read, this is 21 days (end of November through December, not including holiday meals & holiday parties. Just the "good" days) and it's graphed for calories (on the left axis) for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and total for the day, and on the right axis is grams of protein for the whole day (because that's something I was working on during Kick August - getting more protein).
From bottom to top, the lines are red = snacks, yellow = breakfast, green = lunch, blue = dinner, purple = total day calories, all on the same scale on the left; "brown" (looks red on here) = protein in grams, for which the scale is on the right.
I think I've both quantitatively (math!) and qualitatively (descriptions!) identified some factors for success:
A) Breakfast is not something to worry about. I easily stabilize into a breakfast routine and stick to it. Trying to eat more calories for breakfast does NOT help me eat less at other meals or for snacks! Especially eating more carbs for breakfast is not helpful. The most successful breakfast for me is 7oz of Fage 2% plain greek yogurt and between 1/2 and 1 cup of cooked sweet potato. I like it, it satisfies me, it starts my day with a jolt of protein + some complex carbs, and it's a good amount of calories for my breakfast.
Data: in this successful period I had this breakfast (sometimes + coffee or tea) 13 times. That's more than 50% of the time. A few times I also had fage + something else (PB toast, a banana, grapes). Not as successful but still good. Not having yogurt for breakfast usually resulted in a day that was too low in protein.
You can see from the graph that breakfast is my most stable meal - the slope of the trend is very close to 1, so it's not trending up or down. The intercept is 318 so I was eating on average 318 calories for breakfast. Hence Plan Piece #1:
1) Eat greek yogurt + sweet potato for breakfast, of ~300 calories.
2) Cut back on coffee (this is not reflected in the data, just anecdotally I feel better and am less hungry when I don't have coffee every day. It affects me more at certain times of the month, also.)
B) Even when I was very successful, snacks are highly variable. The relationship between snacks and dinner is clear in a couple places - where I have more calories in snacks during the day, I eat less at dinner. HOWEVER, this is only true during this month when I stayed within my calorie range very well!!!! During less successful times eating more calories for snacks just = eating more calories period. Cutting way back at dinner to compensate for too much snacking takes a lot of willpower, plus I just hate doing it. Plan point #3:
3) Keep snacks to less than 200 calories per day. I was most successful at this when I ate raw veggies and small servings of nuts and seeds; I also was successful having a high fiber snack bar (Gnu bars!) in the afternoon as my one and only snack item. (140 cals/bar). I do not need a morning snack, but I often need an afternoon snack to keep me from being STAAAARRRRRVING when I get home from work and eating junk before dinner.
C) Lunch is more variable than breakfast, but still pretty stable. My overall lunch range was about 300-600 calories; I seem to do best with less than 500 for sure. Also lunch needs to include lots of vegetables and protein; I *LIKE* to eat lots of fruit but that isn't as helpful.
4) It would be best to keep lunch below 500 calories; my average is ~414. My #1 lunch during this time was chicken salad, with greek yogurt + a small amount of low fat mayo as the dressing, and veggies & a few other things on the side. I also had lentil soup or stew + green salad very often. Chicken salad = 10 days, leftovers + green salad = ~7 days. Alternating these is probably a good plan.
D) Dinner is my least stable meal, but I was working on dropping the calorie count (notice the negative slope to the trend!). Dinner is the driver of both "off" days and recoveries! Notice when dinner calories go way up, so does the daily, and ditto for huge drops down. Spikes (up or down) in any other category do not have as large an effect on daily total. This means planning dinners is very important! I also notice when I planned well that the main meal would have a lot of veggies, relatively low calorie for a big portion. This was most successful. I do really well with veggie soups and stews and salads + a bit of lean protein to finish out my day, and leaving some calories for a bit of a "treat" - half a grilled cheese, dessert, a beer, whatever. When I've been including these treats all along, I do better at making good choices at parties and restaurants because I don't feel deprived.
My average here was about 769 calories, but dinner was trending down.
5) ~700 calories at dinner would fit well in my day - INCLUDING whatever the "treat" will be. So I need to plan my entrees and sides accordingly to leave that wiggle room, depending on what I'm in the mood for. This also gives me breathing room to "go over" to 800 and still be in my range.
E) Protein - whenever protein dropped low, calories would go up. Bringing protein up always helped as part of bringing calories back down. I was most successful when protein was near or over 100g.
6) Aim for at least 100g of protein daily. I'll probably have to plan my days in advance to make this work, but I need to do that anyway, so...
So my ideal day looks something like this:
Breakfast = 300 calories
Lunch = 400 calories
Snacks = 200 calories or less
Dinner = 700 calories
All including at least 100g protein
Daily total = ~1600 calories.
My average during this time was ~1700 calories, so I'm aiming a little lower.
This gives me some breathing room for 1) going over because I ate more snacks, or dessert, or a drink or whatever, or 2) needing to eat lower calorie because I'm burning fewer calories.
Which I am right now. During this period I worked out 12 days. 100-130 fitness minutes a week and burned 1600-2000 calories per week. This was mostly cardio (12/17 activities; 5/17 was ST). Right now I'm working out maybe 1 day a week and not for as long, because I'm still not settled into a routine.
My goal is also to increase exercise, but I think it's important that I first get the diet under control. If I get back into a strong exercise routine then I'll up the calories of each meal a little to compensate, but for now I need to meet myself where I am.
Enter The Plan Part II - the details and to do list.
1) Leave work at 5pm. --This is a perpetual problem for me. I'm a procrastinator with no sense of time, so I often work late because I'm focused on something or reading and I don't realize what time it is, or it gets to be 4:30 and I decide to "just finish a couple things" before going home and before I know it it's 6:30.
2) Put away all pantry items and unpack silverware and cooking utensils.
3) Grocery shopping!
-all stuff for chicken salad
-2-3 quick dinners that fit the above criteria. probably curry turkey burgers + frozen vegetables, and chicken sausage + frozen vegetables for now.
4) Prep: Cook chicken & make chicken salad for the week. Cook sweet potatoes & portion out breakfasts for the week.
5) Somewhere in there have tonight's dinner - frozen "meal in a bag" plus extra veggies.
6) (unpack more if I have time!)
7) Go to bed early
Tomorrow: Get up and exercise. Continue with numbers 1, 5, 6, & 7, but with different dinner food.
This week I need to finish unpacking the kitchen so I can devote more time to food prep going forward. Every week, meal planning needs to include 1-2 "make from scratch" more time consuming meals, and everything else QUICK meals, because I know from experience I will not prepare 5 from scratch recipes each week. It just doesn't happen. I have to combine my idealized concept of what I would eat & when and how much I would exercise with the reality of my life.
I'm feeling good about this. Off to organize my kitchen.