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Counting Calories

by Tom Johnson on Dec 11, 2011
categories: family

A couple of weeks ago, I had to calculate some metrics at work to gauge volunteer efforts. I realized that when I tallied up the metrics, I came to some astonishing revelations about productivity versus management efforts. The experience turned me on to the idea of metrics, and I decided to start keeping track of the food I eat. I downloaded a great iPhone app for this: Fitness Pal. It allows you to keep track of all the calories you're consuming.

I've been carefully tracking the calories of all the food I've been eating pretty much the entire week. Fitness Pal even has a barcode scanner, so you don't even have to do keyword searches for the food. You just scan the barcode and voila, you have the exact food and all the calories per serving.

I have become somewhat obsessed in counting calories. My plan is to lose two pounds a week. To do this, I have to stick to about 1,600 calories a day. If I exercise, such as playing basketball for an hour, it allows me to add about 800 calories to my food intake. (This is called "net calories" in the app.)

In counting calories, I quickly realized that some food gives you better fuel than others. For example, if you eat a bar of chocolate, it has a high number of calories but burns quickly, so you'll be hungry in a short period of time. In contrast, if you eat broccoli, spinach, or some other high-fiber food, it not only has fewer calories but also provides longer lasting fuel, so you won't feel as hungry.

Today I cooked dinner and made creamy potato soup that included sausage, corn, and spinach and also baked several plantains (note "baked," rather than "fried"). The plantains turned out to be delicious (not so much the soup, though Callie said it was the best she'd ever tasted). The key to cooking plantains is to let them ripen until they turn black on the outside (not entirely black, but as much as you can tolerate). When you peel them, they're still good on the inside.

If you slice the plantains diagonally and bake them in the over for about 25 minutes, they're pretty much perfect. I also dipped them in sour cream, which adds calories of course.

Overall, I'm kicking myself for not keeping better track of calories earlier in my life. It's not really that hard. Now I am trying to realign my eating habits after 20 years of eating whatever foods whenever I wanted.

A memory sticks out to me. One time when I was at Columbia going into the gym to play basketball, I was eating a slice of pizza. An older guy (fellow basketball player) paused and said to me, in a light jovial way, "One day you'll realize you can't just eat whatever you want without paying for it." I brushed off the comment, but he was right.

Shannon is also doing the diet, tracking food with Fitness Pal. The great thing is that good eating habits trickle down to our children. For example, sometimes I used to eat ice cream in the evenings, and the kids would watch me and do the same. Now they don't.

My goal is to get down to 200 pounds by May or so. I think 200 pounds is probably my ideal weight. The longer goal is to simply track my calorie intake. At the very least, sticking to 1600 calories a day is persuading me to eat healthier, higher-fiber foods.

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