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Original Post:

As expected, the holidays wreaked havoc on my already-gargantuan proportions. Christmas photo:

And like so many other Americans, I started off the New Year by swearing I'd regain control of the diet. Of course, since I've been chipping away at my Jabba-the-Hutt-ness for a couple of years now, I'm starting to get the hang of it.

One of my first diets was vegan, which did some really good things for me. I can actually recommend it to just about anyone who isn't doing serious weightlifting. I know there are vegan bodybuilders out there, but honestly I can't see how they do it. Powerlifting on a vegan diet made me feel like my body was eating itself. I momentarily experienced a small glimpse of what hyperphagia patients must feel like; I could eat a ginormous vegan meal, be unable to cram another bite in, and still feel like I was starving. The instant I started back on meat, I felt fine.

I also tried the Weight Watchers thing, several times, and the P90X diet plan. They both do the same thing: trick you into counting calories by calling them "points" or representing them as little colored boxes. Unfortunately, something about the way I think makes me obsessively min/max these diets, finding ways to cheat while still being technically within the rules.

I've never been truly opposed to counting calories, so long as I had technological assistance. The idea of doing it on a notepad with a pencil just makes me want to claw my eyeballs out. On several occasions I've considered writing something of my own to use, but I've got so many other projects going on that I just don't see how I could get everything done that I wanted to do.

Fortunately, the software is out there, mostly in the form of various websites, but with some downloadable apps. The websites tend to use a subscription model (big surprise), and while the "universal access" is appealing, I really don't feel like I need another monthly bill at this juncture. I happened upon a few that I really liked, in that they graded the quality of your diet or made recommendations, but I'd rather just have a piece of software I can download and purchase and keep, thank you very much.

I happened upon DietController, which seemed to fit the bill rather nicely. It's not exactly cheap for a downloadable app ($40), but it runs on both Windows and the Mac, has a fair database of foods and exercises, and seems to sport a fairly easy to use interface. They do not yet have an iPhone companion app, more's the pity, but everything else about it is pretty much what I want.

The main features I was after were the ability to enter and easily recall custom food items (because no prefab database EVER has the things you need), and the ability to enter exercise calories burned. Features that I didn't consider, but which come with this app, are weight tracking (can't see how I forgot that one), and an absolutely glorious unit conversion feature for both foods and exercises. Let me explain.

Say you enter a food where "1 serving" is 25 grams. You enter all the information for 25 grams, then enter into the conversion table "1 serving" = "25 grams". Now when you want to record the food, you don't have to remember grams, you can just say "1 serving", and the program will figure out the rest.

It gets better.

Say that for whatever reason, you have some of this food you've entered, and you're pretty sure you're eating more than one serving, but all you've got to work with is a primitive little kitchen scale. You weigh the food, and you've got 2 ounces. So you enter "2 oz" into the "amount" column, and the program automatically figures out how many grams this is and multiplies out the calories and nutrients for you. Pretty slick, right?

Even better, by using the aforementioned conversion table, you can enter weight/volume conversions. So if your granola is 3 oz to the cup, and your nutrition info is in grams, you can enter that you ate half a cup of granola, and the program just figures out the rest. Now THAT is cool.

On the exercise end of things, if you don't have one of those fancy heart-rate monitors, you can find exercises in their database or look on the internet for readings that others have taken. I did this for the P90X workouts. The problem is that calorie burns are a function of bodyweight, and the 120-pound personal trainer who reports her values for the P90X Plyometrics workouts is not going to have the same results I do at almost a hundred pounds heavier. Fortunately, when I enter an exercise into DietController, it asks for the reported calorie burn and the time spent, as well as the reporting person's weight. When I say that I've done the exercise for X number of minutes, the program looks at my last reported weight on the weigh-in chart, converts the time and weight, and spits out an adjusted calorie count for the exercise.

Have I mentioned that I love this program?

It does have a few shortcomings… drag and drop isn't fully implemented, and some of the data entry is a pain, but for the most part it's everything I've wanted to write for myself, so hey -- if it only costs me forty bucks and saves me a lot of headaches, I'll take it.

In other diet news, I am still thoroughly enamored of Clif Builder's Bars. I eat these things just about every day, though I'm getting a little tired of the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mint flavors. They've recently announced Lemon, and I've searched high and low in the Norman and Moore area, but can't seem to locate them. I finally broke down and ordered some online, tossing in an order for the Cookies & Cream flavor as well, since they're relatively rare but not impossible to locate. I'm not much of a fan of Chocolate or Vanilla Almond, so no need to stock up on those.

I find that eating a Builder's bar right around 3:30 or 4:00 puts me in good shape to do my workout at 6:00. Too much earlier, and I crash halfway into the workout. Too much later, and I start to fight a case of the queasies.

I've also moved on from Optimum Nutrition whey protein. I've discovered SEI Pharmaceutical's Max Protein, and holy cow is this stuff delicious. I've never wanted to just eat protein powder with a spoon, but Max Protein sure makes it tempting. My current shake recipe is a cup of soy milk (regular milk tends to upset my stomach), a frozen banana, a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of vanilla. Blended together, it makes one incredible tasting shake -- kind of a strawberry-banana sundae sort of taste. I'm not a fan of chocolate, but if their chocolate flavor is anywhere near as good as the strawberry and vanilla, chocolate lovers out there ought to give it a try.

Despite all this, I'm struggling to get enough protein into the diet, and have started trying things like lean beef and turkey jerky, though I'm somewhat concerned with the high amounts of sodium. Jack Link's seems to make the best tasting product, and most of the time I don't remember to get any, but when I do I really enjoy it.

As previously noted, restaurants are the bane of any dieter's existence, especially the sit-down family restaurant. Want to eat healthy and know what you're getting? Go to McDonald's or some other fast-food restaurant. All of the major fast-food chains have comprehensive nutrition info available on their websites and often within the stores themselves. Family restaurants, on the other hand...

We recently went to BJ's Brewhouse for lunch, and I could not find a single item that wasn't deep fried, covered in butter, cheese, or oil, or just plain wrong. Whipping out the ol' iPhone, I found this lovely statement on their website:

At this time, BJ’s Restaurants does not provide nutritional information for each menu item. We prepare each and every dish with the freshest and finest ingredients available. Every item is prepared daily to ensure the highest quality food.

As my brother likes to say, that's about as handy as a soup sandwich.

I eventually ordered their grilled chicken baked potato, minus cheese and alfredo sauce (and broccoli because -- well, that's another rant). Honestly, who puts alfredo sauce on a baked potato? When they brought it out to me, it had all that crap on it, so I sent it back. The second time was the charm, and at least I got something I could work with in the diet program.

So there's a lesson: going out to eat at a family restaurant? Baked potato with grilled chicken or turkey, and everything else on the side. Then you can measure and portion and try to control how much crap you're eating.

There's the state of things. It's all going pretty well, considering, and using the DietController software is becoming second nature now that I've done it a few weeks. The only problem on the horizon at this point is an upcoming vacation, where we'll undoubtedly be eating all sorts of stuff that's not good for us, and I won't have my computer handy to log it all. I guess I'll just try to survive with a notepad for a week, and hope that when I enter it all in afterwards that I don't destroy my progress thus far.

PS: Oh yeah, I totally forgot... I made this sweet little spreadsheet for cooking at home, to figure out how many calories/fat/carbs/protein are in the stuff I like to cook. Check it out: RecipeCalc.ods (OpenOffice spreadsheet). The data entered is for a homemade pizza we had. The dough was a killer!