Tag Archives: counting 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 231: Shaken and stirred

Day 231 - front

  • Weight: 139.0 lbs.
  • No workout today; next: Workout C, April 20 (makeup for today)
  • Total inches: 124.5
  • Protein: 131 g (0 g over target)
  • Calories: 2,100

The numbers from the last 220 or so days are all lies. Lies, I tell ya!

I screwed up royally.

I bragged about my daily protein shake to a friend last week: “Three cups 2 percent milk, a banana, 3 tablespoons of peanut butter, one scoop of protein powder …”

Friend (who happens to know a lot about building muscles and changing weight): “Just one scoop? Really? That doesn’t sound like enough.”

Me: “Oh, sure it is. I’ve been using that recipe since Day 1.”

Friend: “Are you sure?”

I was. And then the next day, I was not.

I checked.

Recipe version Protein (g) Calories
“The 4-Hour Body” [Amazon | iTunes aff. links] 75 970
My screwed-up version 48 880
My corrected version 74 1,180

Yikes. The actual recipe calls for “30 g whey protein isolate,” which I thought meant 30 g of protein powder or about one scoop. I really needed four scoops of protein powder to yield 30 g of protein.


The scary repercussions …

  • I overcounted for each of the first 225 days by 90 calories and a whopping 27 g protein.
  • That means I took in 20 percent less protein than I thought, slowing my muscle growth by a possible 20 percent.
  • My measurements for protein and calories are inaccurate from Sept. 1 to April 13.

Using four times as much protein powder per shake means …

  • The cost of protein powder has quadrupled, since I’ll use it up four times faster.
  • The shake tastes much more chocolatey.

Sunday, I started using four scoops in the shake. I didn’t even think about the additional calories. I am that stupid.

After noticing the 1.2-pound gain in the last 7 days, I needed to double-check all of the recipe’s nutritional stats. I realized today, after running the numbers, that I had accidentally consumed 300 extra calories a day, a 15 percent jump from the 2,000-calorie target.

Sigh again.

I am extremely grateful my knowledgeable friend raised the red flag. It allows me to make the corrections and have more accurate numbers.

The first decision is to leave the pre-April 14 numbers alone. I’ll add a note to the spreadsheet, but trying to revise all the numbers in all the posts will be too much work for me.

The second decision is to revise my daily calorie target immediately. Because the protein shake costs 210 more calories than previously assumed, I am dropping from 2,300 calories a day to 2,100. We’ll see if my weight remains steady (as it has been for the past 3 months) or goes up with more muscle growth from sufficient protein.

It’s tough to face a mistake like this, a simple miscalculation that I could’ve caught months ago. But I feel better knowing that I might actually be on the right track, even if I can’t follow a simple recipe.

I can’t lie to myself.

Day 231 - 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 25: Calorie cavalcade

Day 25

  • Weight: 127.4 lbs.
  • No workout today
  • Total inches: 118.6
  • Protein: 127 g (7 g over target)
  • Calories: 2,824

I have never worked so hard to put things in my mouth. Hmm, that didn’t come out right …

In starting calorie counts 10 days ago, I’ve had to calculate twice as much before when just counting protein. But I have found two ways to make the chore more bearable.

1. Show it. As much as I love numbers, a visual component helps me a lot. With protein, my spreadsheet cell lights up green once I hit the minimum for the day. (Nerd alert!)

The first few days of calorie tracking, I winged it. I knew my basic maintenance requirement for my age and my size was around 1,700 to 2,000 calories a day. My gut (ha!) tells me I probably used to hit the low end of that figure (ha!) when eating normally.

As my weight gain stalled, I looked at the calories and saw they were inconsistent. I made a chart and realized I should shoot for 2,500 to 3,000 a day to put on pounds.

Calories Sept. 25, 2012

Chart: Calories through Sept. 25.
Note the target zone of at least 2,500 a day. 

Easy enough: Make sure the blue line hits at least 2,500 by day’s end.

2. Use an online recipe calorie calculator. Calories are an imperfect science. An approximation is what you get, but it’s still better than flying blind.

This wonderful calorie calculator allows me to copy and paste recipe ingredients and generate an official-looking nutrition facts label.

For example, I’m making the Pioneer Woman’s excellent macaroni and cheese this week. But instead of looking up the data for each ingredient, I can do it much more quickly with this tool.

recipe calorie calculator

Paste in the ingredients, tweak them for analysis
and receive your nutrition facts chart.

Tip: Food bloggers, include nutritional info with your recipes. Bonus points if you style it so it looks like the official label but uses text instead of an image, as I did above.

I can spend less time crunching numbers and more time crunching nuts. Still didn’t come out right …

Macaroni and Cheese
from the Pioneer Woman

  • 4 cups dried macaroni
  • 1 whole egg beaten
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons (heaping) dry mustard, more if desired
  • 1 pound cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • (optional) Cayenne pepper, paprika, thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook macaroni until very firm. Macaroni should be too firm to eat right out of the pot. Drain.

In a small bowl, beat egg.

In a large pot, melt butter and sprinkle in flour. Whisk together over medium-low heat. Cook mixture for 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Don’t let it burn.

Pour in milk, add mustard, and whisk until smooth. Cook for 5 minutes until very thick. Reduce heat to low.

Take 1/4 cup of the sauce and slowly pour it into beaten egg, whisking constantly to avoid cooking eggs. Whisk together till smooth.

Pour egg mixture into sauce, whisking constantly. Stir until smooth.

Add in cheese and stir to melt.

Add salt and pepper. Taste sauce and add more salt and seasoned salt as needed! Do not under-salt.

Pour in drained, cooked macaroni and stir to combine.

Serve immediately (very creamy) or pour into a buttered baking dish, top with extra cheese, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Wade’s tip: I like to make this spicy, so I use pepper jack and extra sharp cheddar, along with generous amounts of paprika and cayenne spices. Also, be sure to read The Pioneer Woman’s post and admire her step-by-step photos.