Jessie Raymond: If size really matters, calories count

The other day I pulled on my winter jeans, which fit snugly because of my long johns, and then realized I wasn’t wearing long johns.
It wasn’t just the overabundance of cookies at Christmas that has led to my recent uptick in weight. It’s been a gradual process over the past year or so, when my portions have grown incrementally larger — think deli platter — and my snacks more frequent. I haven’t been paying attention.
Thank goodness I have a smartphone now (yes, I do and I rarely put it down; I’m holding it in my teeth while typing this). I’ve downloaded one of the dozens of calorie-counting apps out there and I’m loving it.
An app, for you smartphone holdouts, is any of hundreds of thousands of specialized software programs for your phone. Apps do things you otherwise would have no way of doing, such as checking the current weather conditions or playing solitaire. Or keeping a food diary.
I told the app my age, weight and exercise habits, and it told me how many calories I should shoot for each day in order to lose 9 pounds by Memorial Day. It’s an arbitrary goal but a doable one, seeing as it means dropping fewer than 8 ounces per week. I can come close to that just by shaving my legs and giving myself a good exfoliating scrub now and then. I log in my workouts and meals and at the end of the day the app gives me an analysis of my day’s nutrition, including calories consumed, and a long view of how likely I am to meet my goal.
Of course, in order for the app to be accurate I have to enter everything I eat and how much. There’s an extensive database but it’s not much help with homemade foods, which, despite being wholesome, lack labels. I’ve toyed with switching to an all fast-food diet, since those calorie counts are easily obtainable, but without a Taco Bell, Wendy’s or Pizza Hut in Addison County, my menu would be pretty limited.
Even though I have to guess at some calorie counts, the app is helping me re-learn what “a portion” is. It turns out “a portion” is approximately one-third of what I consider a normal serving size. That explains why my winter jeans make my feet go numb if I sit down too long.
I wouldn’t call my experiment with calorie counting a diet, exactly. It’s more of a consciousness-raising experience. In fact, my recommended daily caloric intake is surprisingly quite generous, which makes me wonder: How is it possible, based on my former food intake, that I wasn’t qualifying for sumo wrestling competitions years ago? I must be more active than I give myself credit for.
Speaking of which, I’m skeptical of the app’s voluminous list of activities. I only count the ones that I consider actual exercise, such as running, strength training, putting on a Spandex jog bra or gator wrestling. I don’t bother with vacuuming, for example, which is listed as 232 calories per hour (or about 60 calories a month, the way I do it). I also leave out things I do a dozen times a day: climbing the stairs, running from the car to the house and back and crawling on the floor to look under the couch — all because I forgot something or can’t find my keys.
Similarly, I have opted not to track “quietly watching TV while lying down” (the fact that this is actually in the database tells you a lot about the state of America’s health), but the app says it burns 35 calories for every grueling half hour. Reading will tick off 23 calories in 15 minutes. Hey, you’re in the zone right now. Can you feel the burn?
Let’s face it: Attempting to track every calorie and every activity is time consuming and full of guesswork. But I don’t care. The app has inspired me to be mindful of my food intake and workouts, and I needed that.
I can’t see myself measuring my bananas and counting my peas forever, but at least I’m learning to eyeball proper portions. It all comes down to paying attention: Exercise, eat a reasonable amount — including a modest allowance for beer and dessert — and gradually, over the course of several months, drop a few pounds.
Thank goodness for the app. I never could have figured that out on my own.

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