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Fooducate Yourself

We’re already at week 3 of “Health for the Holidays!” and this week we’re enlisting the help of your smartphone to keep track of calories and learn more about nutrition. If you don’t have a smartphone, no worries; all the apps exist as websites as well. Whether you use a phone app or keep a food diary on your computer, it’s time to “Fooducate Yourself.”

When January rolls around we’ll spend a lot more time talking about specific diet plans to meet your weight loss goals. In the meantime, play around with one of the smartphone apps that can help you track your nutrition and count calories. Even if you don’t count every single bite – and at this point, I’m not suggesting you do– these apps offer an incredible amount of information with very little effort on your part.

My two favorites are Fooducate and MyFitnessPal, in that order. The basic versions of both apps are free; both also offer premium versions that provide additional information such gluten-free foods, sustainable seafood, presence of additives, GMO status and much more. I just use the basic versions, but feel free to poke around and see if the premium features might be worth a small investment for you.

There are several features I find invaluable about these apps. For starters, based on the personal profile I created, they give me a calorie goal that I’m shooting for every day. As I enter foods into the diary, I get a running subtotal and I know how many calories I have remaining to meet my goal. They deliver lots of nutritional information about what I’ve recorded: percentages of protein and carbs, grams of sugar and fat. Stuff like that. No need to overanalyze the data, but it’s really interesting and can help you tweak your percentages in the future.

Maybe my favorite fooducate feature is the letter grade it assigns each and every food I eat. Right there, stamped on the picture of every food I enter or scan (yes, you can scan UPC codes and it’ll enter them automatically!) is an “A” or a “B” or even the occasional “C+” (my cottage cheese, who woulda guessed?!). Or worse. For goodness sake, don’t eat those!

This is where I want you to focus for now. You needn’t record everything you eat, but start scanning foods as you grab something out of the fridge and just get a look at its overall grade. You’re not going to be surprised that the banana you had at breakfast was an “A” but what about the can of soup you were thinking about for lunch? If it’s a “C” or worse, maybe think again. Whether you decide to eat it or not, scan it and “fooducate yourself” about that food’s overall nutrition.

More about this concept next week, but what we’re getting at here is removing the denial that surrounds so many of our food choices. A letter grade, right there on your phone, may not stop you from eating something unhealthy, but it forces you to at least confront your decision. Being honest about your choices is a very important part of the weight loss process.

One ginormous caveat with regard to these apps, or any of the counting programs: do not, under any circumstances, record your workouts! The program will add some or all of the calories you burned back into your total for the day. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Certainly you need adequate calories to fuel your workouts, but getting enough calories is not a problem for most of us, and besides we don’t workout so that we can eat more! We workout for all of the reasons we discussed last week: it feels good, and the more in touch you are with your physical body the less likely you are to do bad stuff to it. So workout because it’s the right thing to do, but don’t bother recording it in your food tracker.

The first part of the “Health for the Holidays” challenge was to commit to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise six days a week. If you’re not there yet, keep plugging away at it. It’s never too late to start! If you have already achieved that goal (or are anywhere close), up the time to 32.5 minutes six days a week. We’re increasing the time because we’re headed toward a goal of 60 minutes of cardio. Oh, stop hyperventilating. It’s totally doable, so hang in there! For now, just go up by a teensy little 2.5 minutes each day this week. You can do it!

We’re laying the groundwork for the very challenging holidays ahead. If you’re tuning into your body and making positive food and exercise choices every day you’re going to be in a much better position to deal with the landmines ahead. Paying attention to this stuff is absolutely fundamental in living a long and healthy life. That’s something worth celebrating 365 days a year!

Losing weight is hard, but it gets easier. And you’re so damn worth it!

Let’s go get it!!!

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