Tag Archives: calories

Month 28: The end of numbers

Wade - apple pie pizza

I had a checkup of sorts Tuesday. I went for a Bod Pod assessment, my first since May 2 and starting a maintenance diet.

In the 2-plus years I’ve been on Project Bulk, it’s been trickier and trickier to get the test. Lakeshore Foundation (which now does the pricier and more robust DEXA scans), Samford University and St. Vincent’s One Nineteen no longer offer Bod Pod. The University of Alabama still does at a very reasonable $20, but that’s a 2-hour round trip to Tuscaloosa.

Fortunately, PhysIQ Lifestyle Medicine in Homewood has one for $40. Contact them to get an appointment on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

May marked a successful conclusion to Project Bulk, with a 15.7 percent body fat reading, very healthy for my age and gender.

Today, after 8 months of a slightly looser maintenance diet, I’m at 16.8 percent body fat.

That is very good news. I strongly encourage you to get a Bod Pod or DEXA scan to determine your body fat percentage. I learned from watching the documentary “Fed Up” how even people without weight issues can have serious problems with high body fat.

I’m going to take a big step (for me) in 2015, starting in 24 hours on New Year’s Day.

No more food diary. No more measuring ounces and counting calories.

I will continue my exact same boring workout routine and record my results. I will continue to eat the same slow carb diet 6 days a week and indulge in a cheat day once a week, with a little cheating during the week.

The only change is I won’t have to weigh every meal and calculate the calories and protein. After more than a year, I know how to shop and cook and eat within the plan. It’s super easy.

Besides, my calorie and protein calculations were often estimates. I was winging it all along.

I’m comfortable with the road ahead. Maybe in a year or two I’ll check my body fat percentage again. But I’m going to return to eating like most normal people do, without the fuss of a scale and a calculator.

I call it a big step only because the numbers, even not perfectly accurate, have been reliable and comfortable. If I need to gain or lose pounds, or gain or lose muscle or fat, I could work on the intake numbers. This has been my life since September 2012.

But I have to remember a couple of things. First, I’ve lived most of my life without this obsessive pre-meal measurement. Second, I can always restart the record keeping. I’m not throwing my kitchen scale in the trash.

Step by step, I have dialed back the major time-consuming efforts: daily photos, weekly weigh-ins, protein shakes, daily/weekly/monthly posts. And I haven’t fallen down. I haven’t screwed up.

I’ve become stronger, more confident and comfortable in this lifestyle. It’s now routine.

I hope you’ll try some of the crazy things I did from “The 4-Hour Body” [Amazon | iTunes aff. links]. They worked for me most of the time, and I’m happy to help you with advice and answers and encouragement. Just ask.

I hope you’ll simply try. I did, and my life is better in ways I never imagined.

Day 308: The hiccup

Day 308 - front

  • Weight: 140.0 lbs.
  • Workout C: 29 minutes, 46 seconds; next: Workout C, July 8
  • Total inches: 125.5
  • Protein: 133g (0g over target)
  • Calories: 2,148

I am not prone to mistakes. That’s the upside to being a nutty perfectionist.

So last week, when I passed out from exhaustion, I awoke to a horrifying realization: I skipped my protein shake. Oops.

I have skipped the shake on many days, but always made up for it with extra food. Now, I was in the hole by 83g of protein and some 1,400 calories.

Usually, when I miss my daily targets, it is by minuscule amounts. This was the first time in nearly 300 days that I had come up short.

It took 4 days to make up the deficiency. I just couldn’t let it go until I got it to average out.

I am a slave to the numbers. Keeping a daily record of my diet has been one of the key factors in Project Bulk, the other being regular workouts of increasing intensity.

All mistakes can be fixed. Some simply take longer to correct than others.

Day 308 - side

Day 175: The myth that is the Nutrition Facts label

Day 175 - front

  • Weight: 137.0 lbs.
  • Workout C: 22 minutes, 40 seconds; next: Workout C, Feb. 25
  • Total inches: 123.3
  • Protein: 145 g (16 g over target)
  • Calories: 2,308

Reading the Nutrition Facts label on food is a waste of time. Unless you’re looking for a lovely fairy tale.

Video: New York filmmaker Casey Neistat investigates
calorie data on foods for the New York Times.

As we’ve explored before, counting calories is more art than science. You must estimate the calories in cooking a recipe, or evaluating portion size. You must, with every bite, guess.

How woefully inadequate, whether trying to gain or lose weight.

Casey Neistat, a filmmaker based in New York, looked at foods he ate on a typical day in a report for the New York Times. The city requires restaurants to post calories on their menus.

Neistat bought five things from both stores and restaurants. With the Times’ journalistic resources at his disposal, he had those foods analyzed at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center in a bomb calorimeter.

(You could do it yourself, after spending several thousand dollars on the equipment, not to mention the training needed.)

Four of the five foods tested had more calories than reported on the Nutrition Facts label. Of the four, two were packaged items, while the other two were made at restaurants upon ordering.


He would’ve accidentally consumed 20 percent more calories than expected, some 549 calories.

Neistat asks in conclusion, “If the requirement to post the information (on caloric content) is going to be enforced, why not also enforce its accuracy?”

Oy, I may have wasted 6 months counting calories, when at best, I was counting pixies.

Day 175 - side

Day 105: Eat like it’s your job

Day 105 - front

  • Weight: 133.2 lbs.
  • Workout C: 11 minutes, 40 seconds; next: Workout C, Dec. 17
  • Total inches: 122.4
  • Protein: 126 g (0 g over target)
  • Calories: 2,261

After 2 weeks of 2,200-calorie days, the next step is simple: 2,300-calorie days.

Surprisingly, my weight has remained stable the last 6 weeks, when I’d prefer it go up. And, of course, with more lean pounds than fat pounds.

A recap:

  • Days 1-14: no calorie counting, no weight gain;
  • Days 15-30: calorie counting, but no target, resulting in steady weight gain;
  • Days 31-61: 2,500 calories a day, resulting in steady weight gain;
  • Days 62-76: 2,000 calories a day, no weight gain;
  • Days 77-91: 2,100 calories a day, no weight gain;
  • Days 92-105: 2,200 calories a day, no weight gain.

The target protein has been a minimum of 122 g to 126 g a day, with the overall average being 136.6 g to date.

The sweet spot would be gaining muscle and losing fat simultaneously. It might be happening now, but I won’t know until I check my body fat percentage again, perhaps in 2 weeks.

It will not be difficult to ramp up calories again. Having already done a month at 2,500 calories, these small tweaks are really nothing. I just didn’t realize that the range of calories I consumed these last 6 weeks would have no effect on my overall weight.

My job continues to be to eat sufficient protein and calories every day. So far, it has been a minor hassle in accounting but enjoyable nonetheless.

Day 105 - side

Day 88: Numbers game

Day 88

  • Weight: 132.6 lbs.
  • Workout B: 16 minutes, 47 seconds; next: new workout plan, Dec. 3
  • Total inches: 122.0
  • Protein: 129 g (4 g over target)
  • Calories: 2,102

Numbers are everything, and yet, don’t always matter.

This dueling set of principles has been the heart of my calorie counting for the past 3 months.

I count the calories every day, weighing every morsel of food. I’m currently shooting for 2,100 calories a day, but will probably go up to 2,200 in December, since my weight has been flat all month.

But I can’t weigh everything. When I dine outside the home, I have to guess. I’m pretty bad at guessing weights and sizes. But I try anyway.

And unless the calories per portion are printed on the packaging, I have to guess there, too. The Internet helps, but any number of sites will give different estimates.

I learned working at Southern Living about how trying to present nutritional information in recipes was a tricky proposition. Readers look for good data, but it’s hard to calculate perfectly. Burning food in a lab isn’t the same as burning calories in cells.

So even that recipe data can be flawed. What’s a numbers guy to do?

Be consistent.

My calorie count for my protein shake won’t be right every day. The size of the banana and the amount of peanut butter varies. But in the long run, it’s mostly right.

My portion sizes of pizza, chicken or taco salad are measured, but again, not perfect. As long as I measure the overall trend (more muscles, more pounds, more total inches), I’m OK.

The fun part about calories is making it a game. I can easily hit 125 or more grams of protein each day. Getting calories to the right number is more complicated.

I have any number of foods I can use at night to zero in on 2,100. And I don’t mind varying portion sizes. I am not cursed with hunger, so eating less on any given day isn’t a problem. I’ve even balanced out high-calorie days with low-calorie days.

It’s mildly annoying to have to weigh food several times a day. It’s mildly rewarding to hit the target number over and over.

I still pretty much eat what I want. Right up until about 10 p.m., when all accounts are settled.

The numbers are my friend, pushing me to keep going and keep tabs on progress.

Day 76: Steady on

Day 76

  • Weight: 132.0 lbs.
  • Workout B: 18 minutes, 29 seconds; next: Workout A on Nov. 21
  • Total inches: 122.0
  • Protein: 132 g (7 g over target)
  • Calories: 2,026

The first half of November has been very steady. Too steady.

calories 11-15

Calories through Nov. 15

Maintaining 2,000 calories a day (down from 2,500) has kept me at between 132 and 134 pounds. No significant gain, similar to the first 2 weeks when I didn’t track calories. (Protein intake has remained the same throughout all of Project Bulk.)

weight 11-15

Weight through Nov. 15

Naturally, my growth in total inches (arms, legs, waist, hips) has also flattened.

total inches 11-15

Total inches through Nov. 15

Starting tomorrow through the end of November, I am bumping slightly to 2,100 calories a day. I’d rather have slow gain with more muscles than fast gain with excess fat.

The workouts have been fairly static, with no dramatic improvements. I seem to be stuck on a couple of the lifts. One way I’ve beaten the lack of progress is switching the order of the exercises, so I can at least try every other attempt.

I’m probably going to switch to kettlebell swings twice a week in December, just to see if it’ll bulk up my arms faster, which have grown about 0.6 inches each since Day 1.

Even after two-and-a-half months, I own the routine. The routine doesn’t own me.