The Spreadsheet Diet: Calorie Counting Made Easy
A new diet that really works (for me)
Most successful diets work on the simple basis that fewer calories entering your system will reduce your weight (or at least the rate of weight gain), but what differentiates the diets is the way in which you are motivated to reduce the calorific intake or the method of determining what you can eat. E.g. Points for different types of food or as much as you can eat of one (low calorie) food etc. There are some very successful diets, such as Weight Watchers, which support and motivate you to lose weight.
My method uses a spreadsheet (e.g. Microsoft Excel) which could be on a home computer or more conveniently on a Smartphone or PDA (or synchronised on both) to monitor your intake and even motivate you. This really works for me. A diet for geeks perhaps or another great way to use your iPhone, but also a fun way of monitoring you diet.
After the birth of my son a few months ago I realised that I had put on quite a lot of extra weight and was struggling to shift it. I was eating for two, but that is no excuse as I am a man. My wife however, lost the baby weight quite easily without resorting to spreadsheets.
The XL Plan Diet
(i.e. Microsoft Excel)
Stage One: Where do Your Calories Come From? - Build a spreadsheet and monitor the calories...
Calorie controlled diets do work. If you reduce the number of calories below a threshold you will lose weight. That threshold will vary depending on your gender, height and weight and the amount of exercise you take, but recommended daily allowances of 2000 k calories for women and 2500 for men are a good guideline (I'm aiming for less than 2500 k calories) Exercise will burn calories, but it takes a lot of exercise to burn off just one cream cake. It is important however to exercise for general fitness as well as weight-loss and to have a balanced diet (i.e. protein, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins etc.), not just a low calorie one.
The first phase of this diet is to work out where your calories come from in a typical week. You may think you have a good idea, but only when you type them into your spreadsheet will you actually see for certain. Once you know how many calories each item contains and you have added it to your spreadsheet each time you eat the same item you simply record it in the spreadsheet, rather than having to remember how many calories it has, or read the label etc.
How to Build the Spreadsheet
A spreadsheet with a column for each day and row for each food type is very simple to make. I found it easier to type in the number of each item eaten, rather than the number of calories (e.g. 1 slice of bread rather than 80 k.calories) the number of calories is then calculated lower down the column simply by multiplying the number of items by the number of calories per item (in the first column after the item name, before the first day) them simply sum these totals to get the total calories for the day.
(If you don't know how to use a spreadsheet please read this article which gives the basics for Microsoft Excel and most other kinds of common spreadsheet: Microsoft Excel SpreadsheetBasics)
If you group similar items together they can be summed and analysed by type (e.g. All types of bread grouped together, green vegetables, pasta etc.) so each food-group may be analysed and averaged over the week. This will identify which group is providing more calories than you expected and which items you may want to cut back or substitute for a lower-calorie version. In my case mayonnaise and other high fat sauces, beer and wine. The mayo was easy to substitute and cut back on the wine and beer had to be reduced. Cutting out booze in general is good because it is highly calorific and makes you less likely to follow the diet.
If you want to really analyse your diet you could include fat, salt, protein etc. in the calculations customised to your requirements, but don't make it too complicated otherwise you won't follow the diet.
Stage Two: The Diet
Cutting Back on the Problem Foods
The second phase is to cut out, cut down or replace the problem items in phase one and keep monitoring your progress (including your weight and perhaps the amount of exercise you are getting)
I find an area graph of food groups each day (with a target total drawn on) and a pie chart of averages, and the average totals for each meal are useful
If phase two is working after a few weeks you could move onto phase three.
Pie Chart of Meals in Diet Plan
Stage Three: Change of Lifestyle
I'm still on Phase Two - still monitoring, but once the problem areas have been identified and reduced theoretically monitoring could be stopped. Make sure however, that you really do have a balanced healthy diet and haven't cut out important things in exchange for things you like.