Author’s Note: This is one in an occasional series on how I lost weight – almost
30 40 pounds so far. Most of the principles I followed are based on The Okinawa Diet Plan. While these methods worked well for me, please see a doctor before embarking on ANY weight-loss plan. I explain more about dieting here.
For most of my adult life, I have lived by the mantra, “If I gain weight, it’s because I’m not exercising enough.” That was fine and dandy when I was biking 100-200 miles a week in my 20s. Or even running 20 miles a week in my 30s.
But the folly of my mantra came clear after the birth of my son Seth two years ago. Actually, I kept running for several months, but fires in the Angeles National Forest, a huge project at work and repeated bouts of Seth-delivered flu interrupted my regular exercising routine. I slowly slid up about 10 pounds in addition to the 10 pounds I was already overweight.
At 5-foot, 10-inches, many Americans would argue that weighing 198 pounds isn’t the worst thing in the world. But to me, it was sheer hell. I frequently felt out of breath, and I literally felt uncomfortable most of the day. I could only run a fraction of the mileage I was accustomed to.
I knew I needed to lose weight, but most of the diet adjustments I made didn’t help. So it was sheer dumb luck that someone threw a copy of The Okinawa Diet Plan onto the pile of free giveaways where I work. I picked it up and put it in my pile of books that I never have any time to read. Only I did start reading it. A chapter here and a chapter there. Eventually, I absorbed most of the book’s concepts, even though to date I haven’t even looked at the recipes.
But the one I kept coming back to was this: “Making Caloric Density Work for You.” This chapter, more than any other, provided the key to losing weight. And it verified my belief that something was wrong with the food pyramid, and it made the Atkins Diet Plan look absolutely stupid.
Caloric Density is calculated by dividing the calorie count per serving by the serving weight in grams. Take one of my favorite foods, dark chocolate, as an example. A single serving has 230 calories and weighs 40 grams. So, 230/40 equals a Calorie Density of 5.75.
The Calorie Density of a cucumber, another favorite food, is a mere 0.1. Essentially, you can eat 57.5 cucumbers before reaching the total calorie count of 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate. That’s a lot of cucumbers; you can guess which leaves me feeling more full.
So here was my revelation: I could eat LOTS of food with a low Calorie Density but VERY LITTLE food that is high in Calorie Density. It seems so obvious now, but I was pretty surprised to see the densities of some foods. Down the road I’ll post a table of some common foods and their density levels to give you an idea of how I made my choices.
The Okinawa Diet Plan has a simple way to determine how much to eat of any type of food, based on the Calorie Density ranking:
Density // Ranking
0.0-0.7 // Featherweights (eat freely)
0.8-1.5 // Lightweights (eat in moderation)
1.6-3.0 // Middleweights (watch portion size)
3.1-9.0 // Heavyweights (eat sparingly)
So my chocolate is a heavyweight at 5.75, while cucumbers are a featherweight. In case you were wondering, red meat and bread are both on the same level – sorry Atkins – as middleweights. Heavyweights include most cheeses, oils, cookies, potato chips and nuts. Featherweights include asparagus, tomatoes, grapefruit, many soups and grapes.
I immediately changed my diet to exclude all heavyweights except two: chocolate and nuts. But rather than eat an entire serving of chocolate, I take about five days to finish one 3-ounce bar. That’s not much at a time, but folk who love high-quality dark chocolate know that one small bite is satisfying.
I decided to eat nuts on occasion to boost up my protein levels, since I planned on cutting way back on red meat. I’ll get more into that in later posts.
I completely limited all other junk food that is considered a heavyweight and many of the middleweights. No chips, no cookies and steaks are now reserved for special occasions.
Instead, I started eating huge quantities of vegetables and fruit. I know this is tough for a lot of people to do, but I’ve always loved fruit and vegetables. I just didn’t realize I was eating far too few of them. Down the road I’ll discuss how I keep fruit and vegetables interesting.
But cutting portion sizes just doesn’t work well. Here’s a quote from The Okinawa Diet Plan:
To many people, dieting means eating things like meat and mashed potatoes, beef lasagna, or macaroni and cheese in small microwaved portions, and attempting to limit each meal to a few hundred calories or less. But … (these meals) usually have a Caloric Density of 2.0 or higher. Eating them sets you firmly in the middleweight territory. Where you want to be is in with the featherweights and lightweights – meals with a Caloric Density of less than 1.5.
No wonder I couldn’t exercise the weight off. Even though I was eating lots of fruit and vegetables, I still was eating just enough meat and cookies to push me into the slightly overweight category. Cutting down on calorie-dense food quickly took the pounds off.
Update: Here’s the chart I promised.