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Monday, May 9, 2011

Counting Calories--in support of a Healthy Lifestyle

Losing weight is never easy. When I was younger it did seem that the pounds came off faster when I went on a diet. Now it seems painfully slow! What I really want is to live a healthy lifestyle which includes watching the quality and quantity of what I put in my mouth. With all that I have read and all that I have learned over the years I not only realize but recognize this is not something I can do occasionally or only when I am on a diet. For someone like me who has been more or less overweight all her life, I have to count calories. I have not a clue what eating the right amount is. My eyes do not naturally see and measure what should be "enough" or the "right amount" for me to eat. All my years of overeating, reinforced by a "super-sized" society has obliterated any measuring cue I might have been born with or once had.

For years I kept resisting the need to measure. I was lazy and rebellious. I also made no head way towards my ultimate goal of a healthy lifestyle. Instead, I have continued to gain weight.  For once it would be nice if there were an easy or "natural" solution. There just isn't. And, if we are brutally honest--what is "natural" about being obese? My personal truth, which I think rings true for many, is that I have to count calories. What doesn't occur as it should on the inside as an internal mechanism for eating enough in order to feel sated will have to be figured out externally through measuring and counting. Hopefully with enough practice, consistency of same amounts and daily visual reinforcement, I will become familiar with what is a "right amount" for me to eat.

Calories and portions go hand-in-hand. A specific measurement of a food, let's say lasagna, will have a certain amount of calories. A bigger or smaller portion will change the total calories for that lasagna. Choosing to eat the same sized portion of lasagna with the same amount of calories each time you choose to eat it is very important when trying to understand "right-sized" eating.  This seems so obvious but has come to me as a true revelation! Consistent amounts of the same food for an appropriate calorie count is part of learning to eat right. It is part of the visual cue we need to relearn as part of healthy eating and living. My experiment with myself is to do just this for a prolonged period of time, at least a solid year, to see if I can start to choose amounts that are "right-sized" for healthy living, without the need to always measure it. Regardless, I know for the rest of my life I will need to portion my food to ensure I am eating just "enough".

What is enough, you ask? There are many great resources to help us answer this question. The ultimate resource is the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Their website called ChooseMyPlate.gov is an interactive site meant to help individuals figure out a plan that will work for them. Key to me was figuring out what amount of calories I should be consuming on a daily basis. The Guidelines provide a helpful matrix which shows you how, according to your age and your activity level, the amount of your calorie intake needs to change over time. Another truth--as we age we need less calories to maintain a healthy weight. The more sedentary we become, the less calories we need. The counter to that, especially for those of us who love to eat, is to build in more consistent exercise. According to the grid, a person of my age (54) whose exercise is moderate, should be eating between 1600 and 1800 calories a day (dietaryguidelines-dailycalorieintake). Left to our own calorie counter, most Americans eat between 2800-3500 calories a day...way more than we need...which is why the obesity rate has increased dramatically over the last few decades...one person at a time. That is why, for me, I am making a conscious choice to live on 1600 calories a day. What does that look like? Clearly, I haven't a clue! Let the journey to "enough" begin!