03 Feb

To Fat and Back: Weight Loss Philosophy

Posted by Jenna, Under Personal

After I read the book, I went several months without actively trying to lose weight. I actually had to go back and read through my journal to figure out what the catalyst for change was. This is why you should keep a journal, or have a blog. Either one, you choose.

Sometime during the Fall of 2006 I won the lottery. The breast reduction lottery. I remember Nordstrom measuring me as an H cup. H! After sending off pictures of my naked watermelon shaped breasts my insurance agreed to cover 80% of the costs if I went under the knife. That Christmas my sister got a laptop, and I got a pretty new chest. If you are ever given the choice, choose the chest.

My parents agreed to pay for it on one condition: I had to set a goal and lose a certain amount of weight before the surgery. I believe the goal was 10 lbs.

Don’t worry friends, we are finally to the point where I tell you about my methods. If we were living in a dream world, this would be the point where I tell you about my ridiculously easy method for losing weight. All you  have to do is take a pill infused with the root of an organic onion and stand on your head for 10 minutes every morning. The weight will melt off your body like a fudgescicle on a hot summer day. Because life is easy like that.

WRONG

Silly readers, you should know by now that diets don’t work. So whatever I did, it wasn’t a diet. It wasn’t a “nutrition plan made up by some know it all doctor who just discovered a break through system that somehow no one else had ever heard of or tried”. I decided that whatever I did, it had to follow the guidelines I had set for myself after reading the book (listen to stomach hunger, not mouth hunger, no limitations on what foods I can eat, etc) Want to know what it was?
It was science baby!

(That Husband must be so proud, I’m using science and math together in the same post)

thehealthplan

Let me tell you how the conversation goes when I see someone who last saw me at 200 lbs:

Old friend: Wow Jenna, you look fantastic!

Jenna: Thanks. I’ve lost about 40 lbs.

Old friend: I have to ask, how did you do it?

Jenna: Well, I counted my calories.

Old friend: Oh.. okay bye now.

I’ve come to realize that the term calorie counting is a terrible phrase to use on people. They want the conversation to go like this:

Old friend: Wow Jenna, you look so great!

Jenna: Thank you very much. Yep, I’m down almost 40 lbs now.

Old friend: I just have to know how you lost so much weight.

Jenna: Did you see that episode Oprah did on the “Totally Fake Diet”? I followed every step, eating 17 green grapes at exactly 3.47 every afternoon, and now I look like this!

Old friend: I’d heard about that and my friend did it and her mom and the results have just been so amazing. I mean, it’s so easy it shouldn’t even work right, but it does! I heard Oprah lost 13 lbs in a week doing it.

Calorie Counting? It’s so boring! There is nothing flashy, or new and improved, and it’s never been proven to help you drop 20 lbs in 10 days. It’s the kind of practical thing your family doctor or your nutritionist would suggest. Want to know why? Because it works.

That Wife’s Philosophy of Calorie Counting as Calorie Budgeting

I’m going to give you $1400/day for clothes. You have to buy a new outfit (bra, underwear, pants, shoes, socks, shirt, dress, umbrella, purse, earrings, all of it) with that money every single day (dream world, right?). You get to keep the money left over, but never the clothes. How will you spend the money? Will you spend all $1400 every single day? Will you shave off a hundred dollars for a few days to build up your supply so you can splurge on that Vera Wang dress? Will you spend more than your allotment and only get $900 the next day? Staying out of debt isn’t always about what you do in one day, it’s what you do with your money over a period of time.

Now turn that money into calories. 1400 calories/day. With those calories you are going to “dress your mouth”. The challenge is finding a way to keep feel full without overspending. You can spend 350 for breakfast, and 500 for lunch, but that only leaves you with 550 for the rest of the day. What if you want to splurge on the weekends, where will you shave off the extra calories? Save up 100 calories Monday-Friday and you have 500 calories to blow over the weekend. It’s about your caloric balance over time, not your balance day to day.

I realized throught his process that I can’t budget my money worth anything, but budgeting my calories and watching those numbers rise and fall was thrilling for me. That Husband does not find this ironic or funny I don’t think.

Things That Wifes believe fervently about calorie counting, and will argue passionately about with you if you attempt to refute them

1. Unless you are weighing, measuring, and tracking your calories, I would bet my life savings that the majority of you are understimating the amount of calories you eat. It was not until I really sat down and counted and measured every single thing that went into my mouth that I began to see results. Which leads me to believe that my “guestimates” are much more off target than I realize. I do not think I am alone in this. I believe this is why the majority of people who try to lose weight, can’t. Actually I believe it’s why 100% of the people can’t. I believe this principle is based on science, calories in versus calories out. Your body can only work with what you give it.

2. Your body knows how much food it needs. Your mouth will try to confuse you (asking for sugar and cakes and cookies), but your body will tell you when you are truly hungry. Learn to listen to it. Learn that whole grains and vegetables make you feel good, and that lots of fatty and sugary sweets make you feel bad.

3. It is not your daily caloric intake that matters. Only what you eat OVER TIME. I cannot stress this enough. You will be seeing charts below which solidified this belief of mine.

4. If you are hungry, eat. Always. If you are truly hungry, you can eat carrots, or dry popcorn, or drink fat free milk to satiate your hunger. Never, ever, ever go without food because you “spent” all of your calories. Tomorrow is a new day, and over time, your body will start to regulate in its desires.

5. Remember that all food is legal. So buying the Vera Wang dress on sale with no return policy would be like getting the cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake. You can’t return the dress, and you can’t return the food. You can eat whatever you want, but you have to work off your choices somehow over time. If you go too deep into calorie debt, you get fat. It’s that simple.

6. The goal is to feel healthy and strong. Eventually, you should reach the point where you find your body enjoys eating vegetables and whole grains as much as it tells you it wants cookies. At least mine did. In fact, I started to enjoy my avocado, lettuce, tomato, and chicken sandwiches on whole wheat with a wedge of laughing cow cheese even MORE than a cookie. Oh those were good.

7. For me, there were days when I ate 600 calories, and days when I ate 2600 calories. In the end, all that matters is that it evens out to your goal intake in the end.

8. I have one freebie, and that is sodium. I don’t count it, I don’t worry about it. I can’t be perfect, and so I give myself some wiggle room. Pick your own “wiggle” area, and let it go. If you keep up with regular physicals and you notice a problem, change, otherwise, enjoy yourself a little bit.

9. Focus on getting the most fiber, the most protein, and the least amount of saturated fat possible and you will lose weight.

  • If you are focusing on getting as much fiber as possible, you will naturally be eating whole grains, because that is the best way to get fiber. Eating more fiber will also keep you full, helping you eat less.
  • I shoot for around 70 grams of fiber/day. This is a lot, but if you fill up your diet with protein, you don’t have the calories left in your budget to fill it up with fat. So your fat intake naturally stays low.
  • You can never keep your sat fat intake too low. Ever.

I’m not a Nutritionist, or a Dr., or anything else even close. Heck, I don’t even have a college degree. But I have experience, and I think experience means a lot.

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I am really not trying to drag this out into a ridiculous wait for you all, because I know this last post on how I actually lost the weight is what you are really interested in. But it was too long to put the two together. The finale will go up later this afternoon.

18 Comments


  1. Jenna this is great! I’ve really appreciated your honesty.

    I have never dieted in my life. I have never had a weight problem (woohoo awesome metabolism). But just b/c the weight isn’t there, doesn’t mean the icky feeling isn’t there either. I often finish dinner feeling so bloated and gross. I think my issue is portion control and I eat to pass the time. I’m really inspired to start a healthier lifestyle, if only to feel more energetic at the end of the day.

    Thanks for your tips!!!

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  2. Counting calories really is the only thing that works. It gives me an idea about what time of day I feel the most hungry and when I crave certain foods. Keeping track of it also keeps me accountable because I don’t like writing down food that’s not good for me. And as far as limiting what I eat? I just try for it to be in as natural a state as possible!

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  3. I counted my calories for a while to make sure that I got enough calories. I stuggle to eat enough with my diet lacking all those high calorie foods that I am allergic to. I learned what my body was saying, and now at the end of the day I can tell if I did not eat enough, so I make myself eat a little more and hope that I got enough calories. My Nutrition book agrees that calorie counting works. It is legit.

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  4. Love this post! I also dropped a bunch of weight and when people ask me how I did they don’t like hearing that I simply ate less. I usually add that I was going through a tough time and wasn’t into food but ultimately, I just ate less and that’s how the weight dropped.

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  5. What about exercise? Did you add that to the equation and, if so, do you deduct “burned” calories?

    Also, thank you so much for your honesty. I hear you when you say it is NOT rocket science. But making the connection between knowing what to do and actually doing it is the emotional/difficult part.

    Looking forward to more from you …

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  6. I’m so happy to read that your method is exactly what I’m going now :) Thank you for sharing your story – it very reassuring.

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  7. This is precisely why I like Weight Watchers. It just makes the math easier. I love 16 pounds in about 3 months before I got pregnant. I didn’t give up food I like or starve myself, I just ate better. And when I wanted to eat something crazy I ate it and instead of crying and feeling guilty I got on the treadmill.

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  8. I tried calorie counting for a while too, and I was SHOCKED with the results when I tallyed everything up. I always presumed I was eating around 1600 calories/day… but instead, because I make healthy decisions, over a 3 week period, I never once broke 800 calories. I was, by many medical definitions, starving myself, and absolutely not intentionally. I always ate when I was hungry, ate the Oreo when I wanted it, but STILL never consumed more than 800 calories/day.

    I tried to get myself around 1200 calories/day, but I felt like such a slave to the counting, and wound up just miserably depressed every day when I felt stuffed, bloated, and nauseous by forcing myself to eat that much. It was really bad for my mental health, because all I was concerned with was making sure I ate enough, so I stopped.

    I figure, my body knows when it is hungry, I never ever deny myself when I am hungry, and it’s not MY fault that my metabolism was so screwed up following chemotherapy that I cannot consume more than 800 calories in a day without feeling extremely ill, but am still overweight. What’s meant to be is meant to be — I can’t (and won’t) go through the rest of my life force-feeding myself and constantly feeling sick as a result.

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  9. That sandwich idea sounds fantastic. Between that and the bean soup recipe, I think you should post more recipes and meal ideas that aren’t chocolate cake…. though that looked pretty good, too. :-)

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  10. Wow Jenna. This may not be the “easy” way to lose weight, but it is the way to be in charge and healthy for life! I know these are those “blood sweat and tears” posts, that they take a bit of time and effort to produce. Thank you for sharing this with us. I don’t mind it being broken up into various posts– honestly, it holds my interests better. Even though I’m “thin” I’m not healthy, and it drives me just plain nuts. This is a great set of posts to reference.

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  11. It’s funny how difficult the concept of more calories out than in equals losing weight. But good for you for finding out what worked!

    (I’m a bit concerned about someone eating 600 calories in a day – I guess depending on what you ate, you’re starving yourself. But that could just be me.)

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  12. I followed you from weddingbee :)

    I have been eagerly waiting to hear your success story! Thanks so much for sharing.

    I never really had issues with weight…my Mom always cooked dinner, fast food was a rare treat, soda was only consumed on occasion at BBQs or parties, we always had fresh fruit for dessert, and we never had cookies/chips around. But once I went away to college, I indulged in high calorie foods without thinking.

    You are so right that we underestimate the amount of calories in our food…and what constitutes a serving. In college I used to eat a whole bag of soft-batch cookies and was in absolute shock when my friend showed me the serving size was 1 cookie (I had consumed about a lifetime’s worth of saturated fat!). Being eduated about the amount of calories in your food allows you to make smart choices…

    My husband’s family is always on a diet…his Dad, his Mom, and his Sister…so that’s how he thinks about food…there is “bad” food and “good” food. I had to laugh when I read your “last supper” reference…they are always starting their diet tomorrow….

    It’s as simple as you stated – count calories to make sure you aren’t consuming more than your body needs or else it will be stored into fat, but no one is interested in trying something so boring and simple :)

    Can’t wait to hear the rest of your story!

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  13. Jenna, thanks so much for this post. I had a breast reduction about six years ago and it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I had lost some weight beforehand through Weight Watchers (an insurance requirement) but then they ended up covering all but a small copay. Best $75 ever! I ended up losing 50 pounds overall, but have since gained it back. I’d really like to lose about 20 before my wedding this summer. I really think the philosophy of having no “bad” food is really important, and balancing calories over time. Its so easy to think that you blew it, and then continue down that slippery slope. Looking forward to future posts!

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing your weight loss story! I really feel absurdly proud of how you got it together (and I don’t even know you!). Can’t wait for more!

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  15. Great post.

    I think I know one exception to your rule, though. Nate has this *amazing* ability to correctly judge the number of calories in just about anything. It’s a game we play. “How many calories do you think there are in this?” I’ll ask. “210,” he’ll reply. “207,” I’ll correct him.

    Seriously, it’s weird, he’s some kind of calorie estimating genius!

    But yeah, you’re right, most people don’t have a clue.

    Jenna Reply:

    Ah yes, I made sure I wasn’t exclusive in that statement. I’m jealous of those who are so good at it!

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  16. Brilliant. It’s just a good philosophy for maintaining better eating habit, whether you’re trying to lose weight or not.

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  17. You have some really good ideas! Have you tried the “7 on 2 off diet” yet? I don’t know how safe it is, but I’ve lost almost 30 pounds since the first of the year.

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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