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THE DIET DETECTIVE, A COLUMN BY CHARLES STUART PLATKIN

Tips for tracking your dietary habits

Ready to lose weight? Here’s some advice on how to set yourself up to succeed.

Saturday, May 24, 2014 - 9:56 am

Here are some tips you will find helpful in learning how to be your own nutritionist.

Assess yourself

Do you need to lose weight? Check your Body Mass Index at http://goo.gl/wjIN1G to see if you are overweight or obese. Take the Weight Loss Readiness Evaluation. Not everyone is ready (mentally or emotionally) to lose weight. See: http://goo.gl/q7guHK. There are six categories — complete them all.

Ask yourself why

Why do you want to lose weight? I've found that people often convince themselves they're losing weight for one reason when it's clearly about something else. People don't always understand the motives that are driving them, and their lack of understanding prevents them from being successful. (See www.dietdetective.com/weekly-column/seeing-why.)

Set very specific, targeted, achievable, motivating goals. Write down your long-term goal and outline in detail the steps you'll take to carry it out over time.

Don't say simply, “I'm going to lose 25 pounds.” Devise a thorough plan of attack, complete with strategies for dealing with all potential stumbling blocks, and then track your progress consistently and thoughtfully. See: www.dietdetective.com/weekly-column/getting-smarter and www.dietdetective.com/ weekly-column/get- back-diet-track.

Review your medical scores

Do you have high cholesterol? (240 mg/dL and above is considered high.) Are you pre-diabetic? The most common and reliable test to determine whether a person has diabetes is called a fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test, which measures your blood sugar after an overnight fast. Normal is considered 99 and below. If you are pre-diabetic, you more than likely need a diet that is low in carbohydrates and added sugars, and you need to exercise.

Do you have high blood pressure? If so, you probably need a DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). See www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ health/public/heart/hbp/ dash/introduction.html.

Find your calorie level

While it may seem old-school, calories are still important. So, find out your calorie level by going to www.cancer.org/ healthy/toolsandcalcula tors/calculators/app/cal orie-counter-calculator.

Once you find out how many calories you need to maintain your weight, you want to decrease that number by about 250 to 500 calories per day, mostly by decreasing foods that have any added sugar and increasing your intake of healthfully prepared vegetables. Keep in mind, not all calories are created equal; nutrient density also matters. Nutrient-dense foods provide a lot of nutrition for relatively few calories.

Examine your past successes and failures

Many people who have lost and then regained weight feel disconnected from what has worked for them or failed them in the past. Take a look at what worked and what didn't work with your past diets. If you're not sure, ask family and friends.

Ask yourself about your drinking behavior

Alcohol packs on the pounds. Do you drink alcoholic beverages? If yes, what do you typically drink? How many times per week do you drink? The amount? Keep track.

Stay on top of eating out

Eating out typically means higher calories and lower nutrient density. Ask yourself: How many times per week do I eat out for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? When eating out, remember to read the menu and look for any of the following cooking techniques that use less fat and are generally lower in calories: baked, grilled, broiled, poached or steamed. Get a free pocket guide here: www.dietdetective.com/ free-downloadable- pocket-guides.

Create a weekly eating guide/meal plan

It's best to use a spreadsheet program to create a form. Planning your meals in advance is extremely important, because it leaves less room for things to go wrong, which is usually when people fall off the wagon. Put down everything, including where you plan to eat out and what you'll order. You can also use meal-planning applications such as sparkpeople.com; www.supertracker.usda.gov/default.aspx; or www.eatingwell.com/eatingwell_menu_planner.

Keep a food diary

A food diary will provide a heightened self-awareness, which is an early step toward behavior change and a really effective “self-monitoring” tool. There are now many smartphone apps and other tools to help you keep track even those for taking photos of everything you eat, such as Meal Snap. Also try MyFitnessPal — it is well regarded.

Weigh yourself every week, and take measurements

Weighing yourself once a week tells you at a glance if you're heading in the right direction. Write it down or use an app to keep track. There are several scales that will also keep track of this for you. Also measure your waist around the belly button.

Look for eating alarm times (EATs)

EATs are the one or two hours when you consume the majority of your high-calorie and high-fat foods. (Midmorning munchies? Prime-time TV snacking? Late-night noshing?) Look for calorie bargains (see below) to substitute at those times when you tend to overeat.

Learn the art of the swap (I call them calorie bargains)

“Calorie bargains” are low-cal foods you can eat in place of the higher-calorie snacks you're currently eating. Each bargain must be delicious, satisfying and simple. It's very important that you like what you're eating that's the key to losing weight and making it last forever. The idea is to find a food you really like that's also good for you.

Think about your diet busters

Diet busters are foods or events that can throw a monkey wrench in your diet routine those circumstances or situations that are, and probably always have been, most difficult for you. Once you know what they are, you'll be able to figure out how to control them. Decide beforehand what you're going to eat and how much you're going to have that way you won't be caught off guard.

Get social support

It's helpful to have someone to talk to, help you analyze your diet and discuss pitfalls and successes. Try myfitnesspal.com and sparkpeople.com — they are good examples. Or, ask around at the office and among your friends to see if anyone wants to eat healthy with you.

Create a feedback loop

Examine your food diary, look at your weight and see what's working and what's not. Analyze monthly.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.