“Take control of your calories: Eat less”

December 6, 2007

No, this is not my advice to you, readers. It is, in fact, the text of a lamp post banner that I happened to see while riding down Broadway in a cab this evening, on my way back from dinner with a friend. Apparently it’s one of several such banners posted around upper Manhattan, part of a new public health initiative. From a press release about the program:

“Put down cigarettes, pick up a hobby.” “Exercise your brain, take a brisk walk.” “Take control of your calories, eat less.” These are a few of the new messages that will be popping up on lamp posts throughout the Upper East and West Sides and the Greater Harlem community of Manhattan as part of a new campaign— Prescriptions for Healthy Living— just launched by The Mount Sinai Medical Center. The campaign, which runs through May of 2008, is designed to get residents and others passing through the neighborhoods to think about the importance of a healthy lifestyle to help prevent and manage chronic diseases.

I’m happy that Mount Sinai is trying to improve the health of the community, but I have to admit, when I read the banner quoted in this post’s title, I was a little turned off. On the one hand, it seems completely random: less than what? Less than whom? And isn’t this the same useless advice that fat people have been getting from thin health care professionals for decades now? “Just eat less”? As if it were that easy. Plus, the whole thing seemed a bit, well, bossy. Who are you, lamp post, to tell me what to do about my calories? “Eat less,” you say. Well, that’s nice and all, but were you aware that it’s the holiday season?

On that note, while I have maintained my 30 lb loss (actually 31 lbs), I have not lost any more weight, mostly because I have not really been “controlling” my calories lately. There was some downright crazy bingeing on and around Thanksgiving weekend (mea culpa, and DAMN was that sweet potato pie good). But while I have chilled out on the overeating, at least, in part because my new, thinner body can’t really handle that much food at once anymore–score one for the diet!–lately I have not exactly been sticking to the strict diet plan I’ve been on for the past six months.

Here’s one reason: delicious, delicious peppermint bark, king of all holiday treats. Every night for the past four nights I have had an ounce or two of it for dessert, and it is the height of wholesomely minty chocolate deliciousness. SO good! (P.S., if you have never tried peppermint bark, never fear. I was just like you at this point last year, before G bought me a tin for my birthday. My advice is to hie yourself to the nearest W-S and pick some up. Or order it. You won’t regret it. I think Crate and Barrel sells it too, though I cannot vouch for the quality of their product)

Another reason I have not been following the calorie-cutting plan: recently I’ve been drinking a small glass of wine with dinner most days. I have to say, it’s really made these past few stressful weeks at the end of the semester easier to bear, lingering over a few ounces of vino in the evenings. But it does add around 100 calories to my day. And peppermint bark is 140 calories per ounce, so lately I’ve been eating maybe 1700 calories per day rather than my usual 1400.

Surprisingly, though, my weight has pretty much stayed in the same place. I’ll admit to an upward bounce immediately after Thanksgiving (see crazy bingeing, above), but now I seem to have stabilized. I haven’t been counting calories at all for the past few days, but I’ve actually gone down a pound since I stopped.

Why do I think this is? Well, I think the months of counting religiously have affected my sense of appropriate portion size, and helped me to be more aware of my own satiety signals. I also think that sticking to my workouts–no matter what I’ve eaten, I’ve still been doing 20-30 minutes of cardio intervals and 30 minutes of full-body weight training at least twice a week–has elevated my metabolism. The weight training, especially, I think has made a difference in how many calories I burn even while at rest. Being more fit and stronger has even helped me feel more motivated to include other activity in my daily life, stuff like taking the stairs at work, or walking the escalators rather than riding in the subway station.

In any case, I’ve adjusted my goals–until January 1st, my plan is just to maintain my current weight. This will give me a little breathing room to enjoy holiday treats, and a clear time frame for when I’ll need to get back on serious track. I am actually quite happy at my current weight/size, but I would like to take off at least 10 more pounds before I’m done with this weight loss project.

Perhaps I’m pressing my luck, but I’m also conducting an experiment in non-counting. I want to know: can I maintain, or even lose, by eating healthfully but not writing down every morsel, and not counting actual calories? I’m about to find out. I weigh myself every day, so I will pretty quickly see if this is a bad idea. If Mount Sinai’s lamp posts are right, though, maybe all I need to do to “take control” of my calorie intake is “eat less.”

Um… whatever that means.

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