Saturday, 14 January 2012

Diet Report 1: Dials And Gizmos

I'm sitting here on Saturday morning enjoying the sunshine, coffee and a bowl of porridge. I feel better than I have in a long time and I'm pretty sure I haven't coincidentally caught a dose of anti-flu. When I decided it was time to draw a line in the sand I was expecting a long term benefit but so far I am also enjoying the short term benefits of rationalising and trying to consume a balanced diet. Here are my first observations.

Say Hello To My Little Friend

I've been recording my foods this week with the help of CRON-O-Meter an online diet tracker that has access to American and Canadian food databases.

The good things about using CRON-O-Meter are many. You can make your own foods, which will be essential if you live in the UK as none of the brand names match except for the most megalithic food titan of them all McDonald's. Foods also come in two main varieties, plain foods like oats, bananas, lettuce and you can blend them together into Recipes so you can list the ingredients and nutritional content of a meal once and then just drop it into your diary whenever you make it.

You can also record exercise in the diary at the same time. I'm not really using that feature at present as, in the first instance, I would like my weight loss to be relatively unsullied by conversion of lean mass. Once I'm under way, maybe after the first stone or so, I'll put up with the fluctuations that's bound to put into my weight but right now I'm just after shrinkage, not toning. However, I have been out for a couple of brisk walks this week thanks to the excellent weather and just because I wanted to see how the whole mechanics of that worked.

You feed your activity, in my case walking, 3.5 mph, brisk, into CRON-O-Meter, signal the duration, and it tells you how many calories you burned, in my case a quarter pounder with cheese one day and about half a sausage and egg mcmuffin the next (one day I did forty five minutes and the other I did about twenty five). Walking's not really going to have much of an effect on body shape but the burned calories were definitely a bonus. Obviously, given that the effect is to burn off about one fattening food item you still have to be sensible with your diet but every little helps.

The dash board of CRON-O-Meter by default is a bewildering array of metres telling you how much of each amino acid found in your protein intake, and what constituent parts of vitamin A you've managed to inhale. Thankfully you can switch these off if they mean nothing to you, I guess that the designers of the app figured it's better to have something and not need it than the reverse. Here;s a screenshot of how I've got my dials set up:

Obviously, it isn't 100% effective when it comes to things like Vitamins because I don't know the vitamin breakdowns of things I enter from the supermarket or whatever. The food databases do contain the breakdowns of these food elements for most generic foods from apples to canned tuna, although these are obviously weighed in US portion sizes or raw grams.

In using CRON-O-meter the gram will become your friend. Everything is measured in grams, even, bizarrely, measures of liquid although some conversion has been done with liquids into another arbitrary measure, the fluid oz. I'm finding it livable with but might be slightly overestimating measures at the moment.

I'm finding that the benefits of this fiddling far outweigh the drawbacks. I stated at the beginning of this blog that I was aiming to diet like a geek, treating food like a variable in a science experiment and that's exactly what I've done. My observations so far have been remarkable.

Chewing The Fat

The most amazing thing I've noticed is how difficult it seems to be to consume pure fat. In the first couple of days of the diet the Fats metre tended to leave the day at between 65-85% of my recommended daily intake whilst my Carbs went through the roof.

What people who recommend a balanced diet are not going to tell you is that it's really, really difficult to consume pure fat to the extent that three times this week I had to eat blocks of cheese before bed just to come within a whisper of the top end of the target (no nightmares subsequently I'm happy to report). Meanwhile as you can see from the screenshot above 27g of oats deliver a third of the necessary carbohydrates my body needs in a single day.

The problem would seem to be that almost every food item is largely composed of carbohydrates. If it's not meat and it's not butter then you can guess what you're eating is probably full of carbs. Not only that but if you eat a sausage that's 67% meat guaranteed what do you think they bulk it out with? Fat? No. Carbs.

To have started dieting and found that my old, unhealthy diet was probably too heavy on the carbs and often not heavy enough on fat is a massive shock. Not only that but I have observed a definite uplift in my mood and energy levels as I attempt to lose the carbs but meet the required fat levels.

It seems anathema to a diet but it would appear that avoiding fats and not taking the balanced amount could account for the bad moods and despair usually associated with dieting. Obviously, I've only been at this a week but as my mood has substantially increased in pleasantness so my appetite has substantially decreased. Knowing that a massive packet of snacks is adding nothing to my dietary needs for the day actually puts me off it, and knowing that my peckishness is probably caused by a lack of double cream is a happy discovery indeed!

Portion Control

I think portion control is something people do have difficulty with. I know I always have. The problem is exacerbated by the general feeling that eating too much means eating anything fatty, anything pleasant, anything that makes us feel better. A lovely, greasy lamb chop is the devil to dieters, bake don't fry, run away from lipids in all their forms!

What I'm beginning to realise is that doing that is what makes portion control so difficult. Your brain is craving fat, not carbohydrates, fat. But as most food is actually a bunch of carbs and salt and your conscious brain, uninformed, believes that a tube of posh crisps is full of fat you neck them and then you still feel hungry. If you'd gone for a nice bowl of peaches and thick cream you'd have had a little and actually, ironically, saved the conversion of those carbs to fat that your body then becomes keen to hold hostage.

Net result, you get fat, you feel awful and you keep eating.

Like I say I've only been at this a week so come back on Feb 14th and you may find me craving giant bags of crisps and massive trays of fried rice but so far I'm tending to think that won't be the case. I'll be back after six with my weekly weigh in.

Until then go and eat some cheese, you know you want to!

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