Calorie Budgets and Holiday Stress

During the holiday season it’s usually a very stressful time to try and lose weight. There always seems to be an infinite amount of food, candy and sweets no matter where you go, and people always wanting you to try their favorite (read – fattening, caloric, un-needed) food. Everyone’s favorite excuse is to delay making any sort of weight loss pledge until the holidays are over. “I’ll start after new year’s”. We all know how it goes, “This year will be different…” or “I’m going to get fit this year!”.

It’s always so relevant and decisive to be past the holidays, but people usually don’t stick to their new year’s resolutions for more than a month at best. That’s why I’m telling you now, don’t let the holidays be an excuse. If you can get through the tempting holidays while continuing to consistently work towards your weight loss goals, imagine how empowering that could be. It’s huge, and a testament to working hard, controlling your eating, and winning over your emotions.

Turkey on GrillThis Thanksgiving I was exactly in that position. And while I did eat more than I should have, it wasn’t repugnant like holidays past. I wasn’t sick-to-my-stomach full. The thing I noticed is I was eating because the food was available, not really because I was hungry. It was just there, and so easy to snack on. I snacked (a small amount) pretty much all day long. When it came to dinner, I was hungry, but not starving, I took a reasonable portion of turkey, a small amount of mashed potatoes, and some green beans, that’s it. I splurged a bit and had some wine too, probably 2-3 glasses. I was probably around 2400 calories for the day just about 800 – 1000 calores over my budget. When you figure most men eat 2000 – 2200 calories per day, that’s not that far out of whack.

The next day I woke up, kind of scared to get on the scale. I had gained two pounds. I was so disappointed. It was a setback, I kept thinking how long it takes to lose two pounds and I just undid this in one night? My (awesome) girlfriend said I was being too hard on myself, she was right. I used to let something like this be enough to derail me and send me packing. Not this time, I decided I was over-reacting and headed to the gym. I drank tons of water, and went back to my calorie counting regimen. The next day I had dropped those two pounds, and a little more. Sure there’s probably some ‘water weight’ in play, and it’s normal to fluctuate a bit, but my point here is realize there will be setbacks and failures, make sure you don’t let these bumps in the road over power you.

My holiday advice is pledge to lose weight now. Don’t wait for the holidays to be over. Create the challenge for yourself and excel at it. Realize that on the holidays you may go overboard a little, have a reasonable amount of snacks and candy, but don’t make that be the norm. Keep focused in your goals and fight everyday to ensure you get to where you want to be. It’s all in your control, it’s all up to you. Now go and do it, because you have the ability, desire, and drive to accomplish whatever you decide to do.


Losing Weight and Eating Right While Traveling

Airplane landingWhen you’re traveling for work, or vacation, there’s so many difficult things to deal with if you’re trying to eat healthy and lose weight. It’s especially hard when you’re doing it for work because your meals are typically paid for by your company or client; all of a sudden almost anything you want to eat is an option. Often work trips or vacations include more alcohol than you would normally drink on your dime.

While it’s hard, it’s sure not impossible. There’s several things to remember when you’re away from home, and you’re roving from restaurant to restaurant.

Know how your food is prepared – Remember that you’re in control of what your put into your body. When you’re at an eating establishment that you’re unfamiliar with, ask questions. How is the meat prepared? What kind of oil do you use? Is it grilled? You have every right as a consumer to know what you’re eating.

Stay away from fried foods – I’ve found that almost every place I’ve ever eaten on the road usually has fried food. Even when you’re in places like this, there are generally healthier options. Look for grilled foods, look for “lighter fare” portions. So many places are now offering healthier options, sometimes you just have to dig deeper and look.

Ask for calorie/nutrition information – A lot of restaurant chains are starting to publish their calorie information in their menus. Pay attention to this. Sometimes things I’ve thought are healthier, have more calories and fat that a burger and fries! Ask how many calories are in the food that you’re ordering, sometimes it’s just not something printed in the menu, but most places have this information available.

Stick to what you know – If you see places you know, and you’re familiar with healthy options they have, stick to those places! Do what works for you. When you frequent places that you know from home, you’ll be a step ahead, and using this approach can save you time and stress dealing with restaurant staff.

Breakfast – Breakfast is one of my favorite meals. I used to love getting a big plate of eggs, hash browns, toast, and meat. It’s an awful way to start the day, tons of fat and sodium. Try sticking to yogurt, a whole grain cereal, or just some eggs. A lot of the places I’ve stayed in have free continental breakfasts that offer a lot of great options, like yogurt, fruit, and oatmeal.

Lunch – Lunch is one of those meals when you’re traveling that you may be eating with other co-workers, clients, or if you’re on vacation, looking to indulge. One of the things I’ve done when I’ve traveled is found local grocery stores, and bought fresh salad by the pound, a bunch of spinach, some chicken breast, a little egg and balsamic vinegar, it’s a delicious lunch, and you can take it back to where you’re working, or eat it at the store. I love Whole Foods’ readily available foods.

Dinner – Dinner can be perceived as one of the meals that if you’re not paying for it, you should splurge. I say, challenge yourself to spend less, pretend like it’s your money. I try to eat a smaller portion of steak or chicken, maybe a potato and a small salad with the dressing on the side. They KEY with restaurant salads is to make sure to ask of the dressing on the side, and then use as little as possible. One of the things I like about balsamic dressing is that it’s low in fat and calories. Use a ton of it!

Subway sandwiches is a great place to go because they focus on low calorie sandwiches, and they are EVERYWHERE. They’re in just about every major city across the US. They also publish and make readily available all of their calorie and nutrition information. They also have gluten free options available and are very conscious about cross contamination, although they say they can’t guarantee 100% gluten free dining.

Airports can be brutal. Sometimes you have VERY limited choices. That’s why I always carry some good snacks with me. I have almonds, cashews, beef jerky, and other snacks that I can dig into if there are only fast food places available. If you don’t plan ahead, and you’re forced to eat fast food, be sure to stay away from “King” or “Super sizes”, order grilled white meats instead of red meats or fried items. A lot of fast food places now even ofter salads and things like yogurt. Just be aware of the portions and calorie counts of what you’re eating, and make good decisions despite the fact that you might not be eating at your first choice of restaurant.

Just remember, that YOU are ultimately in control of what happens. Everyone slips once in a while, everyone indulges, just make sure that you’re not making that the norm. Don’t let being away from home create an excuse to sabotage the work that you’ve done. When you do decide to stray from your course, remember to get at it strong the next day, and don’t let your faulty step become a habit.

HCG & Other “Fad” Diets

Let me just start by saying, this is my opinion, I’m sure there’s plenty of people that swear by their approach to weight loss, and I say do whatever works for you, seriously. If you love The South Beach Diet, and it works, go for it. If you are doing Jenny Craig, HCG, Weight Watchers, the Paleo diet, or even Atkins, and you are having success, I applaud you. What’s working for me is math, hard work, and determination. Technically, I can eat whatever I want as long as I stick to my calorie budget. But I don’t, I’m trying to be smart about it.

I have a friend who’s a nutritionist, and her words to me when I asked about no carb dieting was that it was never good to cut all of something out, it’s just not healthy. Her approach was similar to what I’m trying to do, eat well, and control portion and caloric intake. One of the fad diets that I have a hard time with is HCG.

When I first heard about the process I was skeptical, but I saw people that were getting FAST results. Dropping 10+ lbs. in a week with no exercise, it sounds great, right? The extremely hard part of it is, you’re limiting yourself to 4 oz. of meat for two meals. I would literally skip breakfast (never a good thing) have a small salad at lunch with some chicken, and then an equally small dinner. HCG wants to limit you to 500 calories per day with no sugar. They want you to try and do it for 40 days. I lasted 14, but lost over 20 pounds.

HCG Drops

Diet advice from a gas station?

It sounds great right? 2 weeks, 20 pounds, sure it was awful at times, I was literally starving. I know what you’re thinking, I was losing muscle. Well they claim that there’s an amino acid you take as a supplement taken on a strict regimen several times per day that prevents this. I don’t really know if it worked, but I did a LOT of research prior to doing it, and SO many people raved about it.  In retrospect, it was another one of those times where I should have listened to that voice in my head, “It’s too good to be true”. The weight all came back.

I don’t know how fast all the weight went back on, but it was just a super unrealistic approach to losing weight in a healthy manner. I think what I’m doing now is a way more grounded and healthy approach. I feel more in control and I’m generally not hungry at all. Sure the weight is coming off slower, but it’s consistently coming off and I can directly correlate it to the calories I eat, and the work I’m doing in the gym.

If you’re looking for a miracle pill, or a solution that requires no exercise, it’s not going to happen. The only healthy way to lose weight, is to create a realistic caloric deficit, and add good habits like working out, drinking lots of water, and getting plenty of sleep.

Spicy Chipotle Tomatillo Salsa

I’m not a huge vegetable eater. I don’t like the textures and the chunkiness of them. So when it comes to salsa, I typically like the kind that’s totally blended. I first really discovered that I liked this when I found Chipotle’s spicy red tomatillo salsa. I’ve asked them if I could buy it in larger portions, but they won’t sell it anything but a 2 oz. cup.

So I set out to find what the recipe was, and replicate it as best I could. What I found is that Chipotle is very secretive of their recipe. Everyone online has claimed to have replicated it, but reading the comments and looking at the vast ingredient differences it’s a sea of confusion. After much discovery, I finally found one that sounded right. I am not taking credit for the ingredients, just reviewing the recipe. It’s not quite the same as Chipotle’s, but it’s so darn good. The thing I like best about it, is that it’s ALL vegetables, except for a dash of sugar and salt.

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Here’s the recipe that I used. I made some variations on it, which I’ll discuss. The ingredients I used are:

      • 12 small green tomatillos, husked and washed
      • 4 vine ripe tomatoes
      • 10 cloves of garlic – left in the skin
      • 1 onion – cut into strips
      • 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
      • 4 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
      • a pinch of sugar
      • salt – seasoned to taste

It’s very easy to make this salsa. Start by taking a rimmed baking sheet, line it with aluminum foil, and spray the foil with pam, or lightly rub with olive oil. Turn your oven’s broiler on high, and move the rack about 4″ from the broiler. Put the tomatillos, tomatoes, garlic (in skin), and onion on the baking sheet. Place under the broiler, and roast the veggies turning them often until they start to brown or slightly darken, they will almost fall apart. Remove from the oven, and peel the skin from the garlic. Put all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend to the consistency you want. I personally like no chunks. If you want to add more spice, you could add two cans of peppers.

I like it with corn chips (in a measured portion) or on eggs, low calorie crackers, or on salads its good too. But the thing I like is that it taste great, and I don’t feel like I’m choking down veggies. The flavor is sweet, smoky, and the acid from the tomatoes with the flavor of the garlic and heat from the peppers all blends really well. It’s not quite a clone of Chipotle, but I like it enough to keep making it at home!

The finished product!

Kid Dinner Challenge – Second Installment

If you didn’t read my first post about the kid dinner challenge, you can read it here. The general synopsis is cooking for six is hard. Making sure we create meals that are healthy, exciting, and relatively easy to make is not a simple chore for four kids and two adults. This is the second installment in what I’m calling the Kid Dinner Challenge.

The requirements of “kid” prepared dinners are this:

    • A budget of $20 to feed six.
    • They plan, research, and determine what is to be served.
    • The meal has to be healthy, protein, starch, vegetable, fruit. They can include dessert if there is budget. (No macaroni and cheese, with chips)
    • Everyone has to like it.
    • They have to do the shopping (we take them).
    • They have to do the cooking.
    • It has to be Gluten Free.
    • They have to serve the meal.
    • They have to do all of the cleanup.

This week we were served a wonderful meal, better than we make sometimes! It’s a meal that should be eaten in moderation, but is simply ok to have once in a while.

Dinner consisted of: Fresh Broccoli, Fruit Kabobs, Gluten Free Lasagna, and a Layered Jello Dessert. The kids pulled it all off for $19.10. The Lasagna was delicious, gluten free noodles, ground turkey instead of beef, ricotta, mozzarella, monterey jack, and parmesan cheese. While not a meal you’d want to eat every day, in moderation, and watching portions, it was a great change.


Snacking is tough when you’re counting calories. When you have way less calories to consume for a day, snacks can cut a huge dent into your overall calorie allotment. I’ve been trying to come up with better snacking ideas, I used to love having chips, cheese, and crackers. I think I’m finding better choices to not feel like I’ve lost those things, and doing a way better job at portion control.

Good stuff, 35 – 50 calories depending on flavor.

Cheese is my number one vise. Love it. When I got my food scale I started to weigh the cheese I would eat, and it was crazy to know how many calories I used to consume. An ounce of cheese is about 110 calories.

I’ve recently discovered “The Laughing Cow” brand of cheeses, low calorie, but good taste. One type of their cheese is sold in round packages like brie, but when you open it, there’s 8 individually wrapped cheese triangles. Depending on the type you get, they are 35 – 50 calories per triangle. They are good to eat right out of the package, or spread on low calorie crackers.

Just 125 calories!

I love carbs, and by no way am I carb-free right now, but I am eating way less of them. Crackers were one of the things I used to really love. But now I’ve found that I can still have them, but there are way lower calorie options available today. My new favorite thing is Wheat Thins flatbread crackers. You get two long strips of them for 60 calories. Compared to other crackers that are way higher in fat and sodium.

String cheese is another favorite of mine. The pre-packaged ones are about 80 calories for a single stick. I like them because you can grab one and just run out the door with it. Being that it’s a measured portion, unlike a block of cheese that you can just keep cutting more and more off of, it keeps you from eating too much.

Fruit is another great snack. Apples have 80 – 130 calories depending on size, and are great because you can easily carry them with you. You can also eat them just about anywhere.

Fiber one makes some good granola style bars that are about 140 calories for a single bar and is a good source of fiber, taste great, and again, are easy to grab one and go. It’s nice to have several options available to keep things from getting borring.

I’m under the opinion (for me) that snacks need to be 150 calories or less. My 1600 calories for the day can get eaten up quick if I’m not careful. ~300 calories for breakfast, ~400-500 for lunch, ~400-500 for dinner, leaves about 300 or so for snacks. Sometimes dinner can even be more than 500. I really like to finish under 1600 if I can. Adding exercise allows me to subtract the burned calories from my food, and I have some days where I have a NET calorie intake of 400 calories. (Total Calories Eaten – Calories Burned Working out = NET daily calories.)

Red meat is not great for you, but in moderation, I think it’s ok. I keep a bag of beef jerky around and just grab a piece or two when I’m hungry. It really fills you up, and the protein is good to have instead of carbohydrates. I of course track and log everything I’m eating, it’s crazy to see how many calories are in things that I used to eat with absolutely no thought about it before.

Creating a Calorie Deficit – Planning, Measurement, and Success

The key aspect to losing weight is dead simple. You have to create a caloric deficit, burn more calories in a day than you consume. That’s it… there’s nothing really more to it than that. Of course adding habits like eating a low fat diet, adding an exercise regimen and getting good sleep are all things that can do nothing but accelerate the process.

I was told there would be no math…..

The key to planning out this approach to losing weight requires several (easy) steps that you need to do. The first step is to create a calorie budget, and stick to it. It’s just like it sounds, determine how many calories you’ll allot yourself for the day, and then simply don’t exceed it. Use a tool like Lose It to track your caloric intake. Determining how many calories you should budget requires learning a few terms, doing some calculations, and then applying some assumptions. Let’s talk about a few terms that will help you with this process:

        • BMR – Basal Metabolic Rate – Is a measurement of how many calories you would burn during a 24 hour period.
        • Calculating your BMR – Use an online calculator, or if you want, you can do the math yourself using these equations. There’s two schools of thought on this, I’m providing the calculation I’ve seen the most. Find your BMR:
          Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches ) – (4.7 x age in years)
          Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in lbs.) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
  • To determine your caloric needs, multiply your BMR by how active you are:
    • If you are sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
    • If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
    • If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
    • If you are very active: BMR x 1.725
    • If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job or 2x training): BMR x 1.9
  • The number you get from that is the number of calories that your body uses for the day. Subtracting roughly 500 calories from that number, without going lower than 1200 is a good place to start losing about a pound per week.

By figuring out some of the math, this will allow you to better understand where you’re at, it’s slightly different for everyone. Creating a calorie deficit has been one of the key tools to my weight loss so far. I of course couple this with an aggressive exercise routine. Using my calorie tracking application on my phone really helps keep me accountable. Weekends tend to be the hardest, I try to keep busy working out, or doing projects around the house.

Once you understand where your caloric intake needs to be, it’s easier to figure out what kind of deficit you want to create. I’m currently eating up to 1600 calories per day, this should create about a 1 lb. per week weight loss, but paired with exercise 4 – 5 times per week, burning about 500 – 700 calories per workout, I’ve been dropping about 2 – 4 pounds per week. Adding exercise will help accelerate your weight loss. Eating foods that are lower in fat, and cutting down on carbohydrates has helped me too. I haven’t cut carbs out completely, but I’ve drastically reduced my consumption of them.