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Simple Low Carb Weight Loss: Food Journaling

Posted Jan 06 2013 7:12am

[Here's the setup for those of you new to the site: formerly fat guy loses 80 pounds on Atkins, and gains back 20 and has been bouncing around this number for maybe 8 years now. Fat guy gets in the groove in 2012 and in the fall, gets himself below 200 for the first time in years, only to have a run-in with his vacation and holiday season where reckless abandon and the pleasures of food and drink bring him right back to where he was last summer. Fat guy then starts his 2,920th low carb diet on New Year's Day and shares with readers just what a lousy low carb dieter he is. That's the shtick of this site, folks. If that turns you off, stop reading now.]

‘Food journaling’ – the act of keeping a daily journal of what you eat has been proven in a number of studies to help with weight loss. Most successful dieters do it – or so I have read. I’m a big advocate of it – I think it has helped immensely as it forces you to bring awareness and accountability to the food you eat.

If you don’t know what you’re eating, you can’t change it – can you? And I know how easy it is to forget – even though I practice food journaling daily, I still am sometimes amazed when I look at what I’ve written down: I ate all that?!?

There is no one right way to do a food journal. The only requirement is that it contains the types and quantities of food you eat on a daily basis.

Some people keep their journals short and sweet. At 10am I ate this. 2pm I ate that, 7pm I ate the other. Done.

Other people make their journals long and boring – like me.

In the past I have posted my food journaling – I call it ‘eating practice’ – for the amusement and disdain of the entire world, but without much in the way of an explanation of ‘why’. This introduction is the ‘why’ I do it, and what follows is an example taken from the January 1st, 2013 to this morning’s weigh-in on January 6, 2013.

If you are following along at home on this New Year’s Diet Resolution thing, you might want to consider something along the lines of the following example – though I would not criticize you if you made yours shorter and less boring.

Introduction: my plan

On January 1, I woke up first and foremost with the aim to get my carbs between 20 and 40 grams per day. Don’t try to do everything – just focus on that one thing. Once you’ve got that, then go on to bringing all the other numbers in line.

The numbers I’ve calculated for myself, based on my height, age, and desire to get back into a ketogenic low carb diet – also known as Atkins Induction are:

Carbs: 20 to 40 grams per day. This range almost guarantees you burn fat as you are not bringing in enough glucose to run on that.

Protein: 80 to 160 grams per day. 80 is about the minimum as per my calculations for me, and while 160 is high, it might be good, especially if I am getting a lot of exercise, feeling run down, or getting sick. Too little protein and your body can’t manufacture the glucose your brain needs and your muscles start to break down to compensate – too much and your body can manufacture enough glucose to mess up your low carb diet.

Calories: I calculated between about 1,500 and 2,000 a day is probably ideal – but I don’t sweat going over as much as going under. Putting your body in starvation-mode and stopping weight loss is the least of your worries on a diet: inadequate nutrition is not good for long-term health.

Fat: I will now scare the bejeezus out of you and tell you that I like my fats saturated. Yep – the most demonized type of fat is the one I actively search out. My fats are mainly the most expensive grass-fed organic butter I can find and organic unrefined coconut oil (I freeze them into 1-tablespoon portions using a silicone ice tray and use them in my coffee).

I also eat avocados and use cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil. My fresh meats are mostly ground beef as I can buy better quality (no hormones or antibiotics) and still be able to afford my mortgage. Actively seeking out the 80% lean – the fattier version – also saves money. This is one of the big pluses of being on a low carb diet in a fat-phobic world – the fattier stuff is often cheaper. I also eat deli meats though I try my best to go for the ones without antibiotics, hormones, and nitrates.

I also loves me my pork rinds – almost the only ‘cracker crunch’ a low carber can have without going into low carb fake foods.

I also I stay away from all seed oils except canola (because I am a slave to mayonnaise, too lazy/stupid to make my own, and Whole Foods makes a store-brand mayo with canola). As to quantity, I try to back-fill my remaining calories with fat after I’ve gotten into my range for carbs and protein.

It’s pretty apparent that I am very ‘lucy-goosey’ about my numbers. This keeps me sane. I don’t like counting, so I keep it simple. I have an electronic scale which I use to weigh the more calorically-dense foods and as a tool to teach myself to ‘eyeball’ specific foods better, so it’s more a training device than a weighing device.

Just because I have a plan, my tools, and the motivation to use them, doesn’t mean that I am instantly going to get in the ‘diet groove’.

Nope – this first week ain’t gonna be pretty as I slowly, slowly get myself back into the routine.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013 – 209.4

I woke up that weight but soon shed a lot of the retained water. By 11am I was a much more reasonable (though still crappy) 206.0 pounds. We ate good, and I ate more than I wanted to, though I very much enjoyed our New Year’s dinner. We had a prime roast and I would have been a perfect low carb dieter if I had not gorged myself and also eaten the potatoes that were also set out.

It takes awhile to get back in the groove, and while this day was not a banner day by any means, it was an OK start.

Calories: 2,965
Fat: 208g
Net Carbs: 81g
Protein: 174g

Wednesday, January 02, 2013 – 208.0

Back to routines and to do lists – oh, joy. I must say, however, that routines do help in my losing weight. I have feasted well and enjoyed my food. Now is time for the feasting to end and a simple daily routine to take it’s place.

The routine for the day is one that works well for me from a number of standpoints: roast beef and butter for lunch, yogurt as a first meal in work, and coconut oil for my coffee. It is very simple and requires little thought to count, yet I find it satisfying and can eat it over and over.
I’m still not in the ‘diet groove’ and the evening was a fail from a low carb standpoint. A handful of dried cherries and two clementines made sure of that.

Calories: 2,152
Fat: 139g
Net Carbs: 98g
Protein: 24g

Thursday, January 3, 2013 – 206.4

I did the ‘stick to the script’ regimen of cream, coconut oil, roast beef, butter and yogurt during the day, but at home, things took a strange turn. I was hungry when I got home and my older daughter was looking for horseradish. She found a jar that said it expired in 2010 – was it still good, Daddy?

I took a taste and it was fine. Wonderful even. Long story short I ate the entire jar – 23 teaspoons – slathered on roast beef with some mayonnaise and salad vegetables, the roast beef used as a roll-up.

Curious what happens when you eat an entire jar of horseradish that expired over 2 years ago? You get a stomachache – that’s what. Wasn’t in the mood to eat after that.

Calories: 2,070
Fat: 166g
Net Carbs: 36g
Protein: 107g

Friday, January 4, 2013 – 203.6

Despite the odd menu items the previous day I did manage to get my numbers within range for the first time – it took me 3 days of trying.

Feeling *very* out of it. Given what I was eating, it was about the time that induction would start to kick in. I am used to this feeling that occurs – headachy and tired without being sleepy – actually, a low carb diet leaves me feeling more mentally alert in general.

Another day of coffee with cream in the AM at home, then coffee with coconut oil at work. I met someone in the lunchroom who eyed my heart-shaped ‘cubes’ of coconut oil and said nothing. I didn’t volunteer information.

I had my 2 Greek yogurts and about 4-1/3 ounces of roast beef with 3-1/2 tablespoons of butter. This satisfies as far as my hunger is concerned. The oil in the coconut oil also seems to address the hunger.

That left me consuming about a 1,000 calories for the day by the time I came home a little after 7 pm.

I decided to make what I call ‘Whatevs’ – cook a bowl of whatever low carb vegetables are getting past its prime, along with a pound of 80% lean ground beef. I tried this with random ingredients last time and it was actually pretty good. It’s always a crapshoot as to what the result is like, though.

This time I had a lot of aged jalapeno peppers in this, so whatever it was going to taste like, it was going to be hot. I also had maybe a liter total of vegetable and chicken broth stock so I threw these in as well. There was a small bit of some Rao’s pasta sauce – that went in, too. I also found half an onion, 1/3 a head of cauliflower, a red bell pepper, a single, abandoned plum tomato, and a small head of bok choy. These also went into the pot.

After simmering for a while, I had a taste: hot as all get-out, but I like heat (as yesterday’s horseradish situation proved) and I ate 3 small bowls of the stuff.

Later my wife came in with takeout from PF Changs and I had a taste of the fried tofu, 3 tablespoons of the fried rice, and a few strips of the stir-fried chicken.

I guesstimated as best I could – again, the point here is to keep an eye on calories and not obsess over the number. It can never be exact no matter how you try – so don’t try hard – just take your best guess and get on with your life.

For example: the soup is impossible to calculate, so I used a ‘garden vegetable’ soup from my calorie-counting app and added in 3 ounces of 80% ground beef. Close enough.

Calories: 2,965
Fat: 125g
Net Carbs: 44g
Protein: 88g

Saturday January 5, 2013 – 203.4

Just as I start go get a groove around a weekday routine, along comes the weekend to mess things up. Weekends have a different rhythm and have their own perils distinct from weekdays. So – if’ you’ve actually made some headway during the short week, you now have the weekend to navigate.

I was up early as usual, and had my coffee sans cream for no conscious reason I can think of. At 9:30 it was time for my younger daughter to go to her ballet class and Dad got himself a Dunkin Donuts coffee with cream. I drank my coffee and read my Kindle while she danced.

When I came home I recalled the soup I made the night before. I warmed up and ate maybe 3 cups of the ‘whatevs’ – I’ll count that as 3 ounces of the ground beef and the garden vegetable soup like I did the night before. The fire had mellowed a bit and while there still was a lot of heat from the jalapeno peppers, the flavors had melded and I thought it quite tasty even though the only seasoning I added was salt.

I think the wheels really began to fall off the diet late afternoon. I made my younger daughter pasta while I had some rib roast from Christmas and some goat cheese wrapped in ham. I was still hungry and didn’t take my own advice and give my hunger a little time to subside. We had whipped cream – the kind in the aerosol can – which is actually a great treat as it is very sweet and very low carb as the sweetness is carried in a foam filled with gas. The problem, however, which I have noticed in countless experiments on myself is that the sensation of ‘sweet’, irrespective of it coming from high carbs, low carbs, or no carbs like artificial sweeteners, can set me off.

The cream set me off and it was all downhill from there as far as the diet was concerned.

There was cake that I had not even looked at leftover from New Years – I had some of that. It wasn’t measured and certainly didn’t have a nutrition label, so I put in to my calorie-tracking app a chocolate cupcake instead – close enough.

Then the kid’s pasta, which she didn’t touch. Oh…*I* touched it…then recorded it.

Some roasted garlic potatoes leftover from New Years? Not anymore. I recorded it.

A ‘Fun-Size’ pack of Skittles from Halloween I found while helping my daughter clean her room? Poof! Recorded.

Are there any leftover dried cherries? Not anymore! Recorded.

The problem most people don’t openly acknowledge about self-defeating behaviors is that they can be so darn fun – right?

Calories: 2,406
Fat: 113g
Net Carbs: 231g
Protein: 100g

Sunday, January 6, 2013 – 204.2

Despite my crappy performance this short week, I still managed to pull off 5.2 pounds. The relative ease that I did this at, however, means that this is the ‘easy weight’ – water-weight is a cinch to take off on a low carb diet and recent gains of fat seem to mobilize more easily. Given the overindulgence in carbs, I’m probably still retaining water and since I was maintaining under 200 for a while before the Christmas holiday rolled around, I expect the next 5 pounds to be harder than this 5 pounds, but – if I am able to get through a solid week of consistent low carb – I am pretty sure it would come off straight-away.

I have no complaints with where I am at the conclusion of Week 1. Week 2 will provide the opportunity to further ingrain my reacquaintance with low carb habits, which even for an old pro like me, take some time to adapt to.

On to week 2…


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