Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stage 2: Calorie Count One Day a Week

The next important point is to learn to extend your ability to delay gratification with food beyond a quarter hour or so. The point of having one day in which you calorie count and restrict your eating is not to lose weight or to learn to be on a diet, but to condition yourself psychologically to “wait” for food you want to eat. Most people who eat too much have a lot of trouble delaying food-based gratification. They want the pleasure now and can't resist.

Choose one day of your week in which you can exercise strict control over your eating because you can plan the day's meals and prepare food. It’s imperative that you have this control all day. Plan out a 1200 calorie* meal plan. It helps to break up the meals into pieces. For instance, you can eat a piece of whole wheat toast with reduced calorie margarine for breakfast then have a piece of fruit (bananas work well) two hours later. Eat a small lunch when you're hungry (after the first snack) and another snack two hours after that. Have a salad two hours before dinner and eat only the carbohydrate (potatoes, rice, pasta) and protein (meat, fish, etc.) as dinner.

Fragmenting the meals makes this a bit more bearable. That being said, this day is going to be very, very hard. You’re going to feel terribly hungry, may suffer headaches or stomach pain and generally become irritable. You’re also likely to crave foods you like (or even strange foods) rather strongly. When you desperately want to eat, tell yourself that you can eat absolutely anything you want tomorrow. And this is not a lie you’re telling yourself. If you want some sweet, salty snack, or large meal tomorrow, you can eat it. You can eat anything you want for the next 6 days. You are not lying to yourself or tricking yourself about anything.

At this stage, it’s important to be able to measure your food and locate and track calorie counts. I realize this is an odious task, but it is important. You can find a number of free on-line calorie counters at Fitday, The Daily Plate, etc. or you can find an application that will allow you to track calories on your computer or cell phone. You’ll need a food scale and measuring cups at this point to help you with calorie counting.

In addition to helping you learn to delay your eating and endure hunger, this stage will also help you get a feel for how many calories are in various foods, get you used to the task of tracking calories, and give you some idea of what you can eat on a low calorie diet. The number of calories for this day is quite low, but rest assured that you will not be eating this number everyday or indefinitely. This is only part of the process and calorie counting days will get easier as time goes by. I'm not saying they will be easier because you'll get used to it, but because the total number of calories will gradually increase, so this is the most restricted day you will have to endure.

Follow this stage of counting once a week for a month or two. You can move on to the next stage when you feel a sense that you have “mastered” this day. Mastering it doesn’t mean that it is easy, but rather that it is bearable and you feel content that you have a good command of the habit of dealing with your hunger by telling yourself you can eat what you want tomorrow. Whether or not you actually eat what you want the next day is actually irrelevant at this point. You can “pig out” if you want the next day, or you can choose to eat modestly. This is about psychology at this stage, though obviously it would be best if you ate in moderation in accord with the efforts to reduce portion size in stage 1. Also, frankly, eating a lot at this point may make you feel sick.

If you eat a lot, do not think you are a failure or are sabotaging yourself. There is no such thing as "failure". You are just adjusting and slowly taking some control. Part of that process is knowing you can do what you want most of the time. True control comes from having the freedom to make whatever choice you want, not from depriving yourself all of the time.

Remain in this stage as long as you feel is necessary.

*Originally, I did 1200 calories, but I now feel it's too restrictive.