10 Feb

Calorie Estimation

Posted by Jenna, Under Food

I had a really great response to my Food Diary post yesterday, and I’m definitely going to keep doing it. I think some of you thought I was going to post like that every single day. Are you crazy? I can’t even imagine how much work that would take. But one day a week is hopefully going to be good for both me and you. Good for you, because you might be able to glean some ideas to incorporate into your own life, and good for me, because I will be calorie counting at least one day a week! Using Fitday is really tough, it takes an incredible amount of dedication and right now I’m sitting at a mediocre weight. I look fine, I’d like to look better, but I’m having a hard time taking that next step to really commit to weight loss once again. Right now I’m stuck in the stage of weight maintenance.

The reason for this post is to answer some questions a few of you brought up. Really great questions that all calorie counters face over and over. Julie asked:

So what would you do about things you do not make yourself? Like say, a coworker has a birthday so another coworker brings in a homemade rhubarb pie to celebrate? And you have absolutely no idea whatsoever went into said pie?

and Stef K asked:

My problem is if I have one thing and can’t figure out the content – say, our monthly office luncheon, or a celebratory dinner out with friends for her bday, etc…- then I get really discouraged and bummed out and feel like I’ve failed. I mean, what’s the point of putting in the 1000 calories I did count if I went out and got something and have NO idea how many calories there are in it? Is it better to guess and include it and just log it in as best you can? Or don’t count at all that day? B/c 1000 calories only for that day is inaccurate (obviously), but guessing and keeping it at 3000 calories is better than not guessing at all, ignoring fitday, and consuming 10,000, right?

Essentially they are both asking “How do I estimate calories when I don’t know what is in the dish I am eating?

I employ three different strategies when I run into these situations.

1.  A principle I like to call “Overestimation”.

  • Fitday does have one fatal flaw, and it is that the program can’t handle decimals. So if the package says 1.5 grams of fat, I can’t put in the exact number. I have to round up, or round down. With things I should eat less of, like fat, sat fat, cholesterol, etc, I always round up. With things I should eat more of, like fiber or protein, I always round down. In my life, I tend to eat too much fat/cholesterol, and not enough protein/fiber and this ensures that when I sit down to figure out what my calories have been over time, that I’m always headed in the right direction.
  • I use the same principle when I eat out, or have a treat baked by someone else, or any other situation where I don’t have control over or knowledge about what went into the food. My rule of thumb, is to overestimate everything. I assume real butter, real sour cream, extra oil, all of those things. It might throw my calories off, but at least it throws them off in a way that encourages me to eat less the next day. Keep in mind that the principle of overestimation is only good if you tend to overeat and overindulge in fatty/sugary foods. If you are one of those people that can’t eat enough (like my husband), this is probably not the best system for you.

2.  I make use of websites like calorieking.com and allrecipes.com.

  • Let’s pretend Julie’s situation was really happening to me. My coworker (Ohhhh, what job do you think I am working? It’s fun to pretend I have a job sometimes) brings in a rhubarb pie that smells divine, and I have a slice. If I’ve been really diligent at my tracking for the last few days it can be really frustrating to think that all the work I just did went down the drain. (I tend to get all crazy when I calorie count for extended periods of time because I find it thrilling to be really exact with my measurements. Don’t even think about eating off of my plate if I’ve measured out my portions! )

Instead of giving up on my counting for the day (or week, or month), I go home and look up a recipe for rhubarb pie on allrecipes.com.  I look on the right side of the page and there are some nutrition facts!

Nutritional Information
Rhubarb Pie IV

Servings Per Recipe: 8

Amount Per Serving

Calories: 407

  • Total Fat: 15g
  • Cholesterol: 27mg
  • Sodium: 290mg
  • Total Carbs: 64.4g
  • Dietary Fiber: 1.8g
  • Protein: 4.4g

VIEW DETAILED NUTRITION

About: Nutrition Info

Powered by: ESHA Nutrient Database

I decide if I think I ate 1/8 of the pie, plug in the stats, and then I do something magical: I let it go. I tell myself that I’m not perfect, that I can’t have absolute control over every morsel that goes in my mouth if I want to live a social lifestyle, and I move on with my life. Allrecipes.com is great for homemade things, and calorieking.com is wonderful for commercial/restaurant items. Over time, you will get better at estimating things.

3. Willpower.

  • The last, and most difficult strategy is willpower. It’s packing a lunch every day, resisting the free doughnut you are offered by your friend, eating out less, making yourself breakfast in the morning instead of grabbing something from the corner bakery. There are always birthdays to celebrate, baby showers to attend, wedding cake to eat, and holidays full of sweets and fat around every corner. These things will always be happening for the rest of your life. You can either choose to shut yourself up from the world and not attend any of those events,  make excuses for why this birthday cake must be eaten or why the free doughnut couldn’t be resisted, or you can exercise willpower and decide if you really want something.

There is no harm in a slice of rhubarb pie, or in going out with your girlfriends to celebrate a promotion, or eating a slice of cake at the wedding. I just had to decide if I would rather pass on the free doughnut and celebrate my lost weight later, or indulge just one more time. I kept saying “But it’s my birthday!” or “But I love things with chocolate!” or “But it’s free!”, and then somehow I was really fat. I had to find a way to balance my desire to splurge, and my desire to save. Oh yes, remember, calorie counting is really nothing more than calorie budgeting.

Oh, and one last thing, don’t be afraid to be the nerdy person who asks for the recipe all the time. Most people won’t have any idea you are calorie counting, and will just assume you like to cake/cook all the time. You might find people are being nicer to you because they think you are secretly baking all the time and they will begin to hope you will bring in your goodies to share with the office. Little do they know :)

6 Comments


  1. Awesome! Thank you, Jenna. You’re so right…there will always be celebrations to attend and temptations at every corner. A combination of will power and not being too hard on myself when I CHOOSE to indulge is good advice.

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  2. Great advice, Jenna! I love what you said about willpower, it really is all about having a specific mindset and sticking to it. After while, it becomes habit, and you naturally make good choices because it’s what you’re used to :)

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  3. Talking about calories, I came across an interesting document that helps to understand the nutrition labels and what you should aim for:
    http://www.umass.edu/diningservices/nutrition/pdf/NNL_April06Single.pdf

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  4. Hey Hun! I Love your posts! You are so cute and informative and good at this blogging stuff! I mean all I ever blog about are my babies! Hehe! I am glad you like the pics, I definitely have hundreds of pictures already and more will be posted soon! I hope you are doing well!

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  5. Jen- You bring up such a good point here. There is ALWAYS an excuse for a treat. A bad day, a party, a breakup, dessert after an evening out…BUT it’s those extra excuses that add to the extra lbs. People don’t realize that their body doesn’t care if it is your birthday or if it’s Halloween. It just cares that you’re packing in more calories than you need, and so it’s going to go ahead and make storage out of it. When people realize that sometimes you just have to say no, and you’ll be ok with out it, THAT is when you’ll start to see some progress. The best way to think of it is moderation in all things…yep sometimes there is an excuse for treats. It just shouldn’t be every day!

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  6. Hi Jenna, fitday question for ya – I’ve been logging calories with fitday since I saw your post on it. It seems to work pretty well and I love that you can add customized foods and then pull them up again later (so I can get really exact on my specific oatmeal I eat every day, etc). So, my question is – what is better about fitday pc? Can you (please) convince me I should spend the $30? I also feel like it’s a little better having it online so I can update it as I eat something for lunch at work, rather than waiting until I’m at my laptop each day/evening. Thoughts on fitday online vs fitday pc? Thanks much!!

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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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