The Ali Edwards Diet

The last few weeks have been interesting for me around here. When I published my post critiquing fad diet gimmicks as all hiding calorie reduction as their actual mechanism of weight loss, I wasn’t expected to ignite a fierce debate over “calories in, calories out.” But I did, which led to my attempts to clarify my position, which led to more debate.

So I thought it was time to put up or shut up. I’m a believer in simple, calorie-based weight loss. Do I practice what I preach? And does it work for me?

I began dieting in February of this year, after a trip to the doctor’s office convinced me that I needed to lose a lot of weight in order to be healthy. I was generally consuming, I later estimated, more than 3000 calories each day. The result was a weight in excess of 300 lbs, borderline hypertension, and a warning that if I didn’t do something soon I would be on the fast track for Type II Diabetes, which runs in my family.

Over the course of the last decade I have tried “dieting” about once a year. First it was Atkins, then it was SugarBusters, then it was Weight Watchers, then it was low fat — or was it Atkins again? I can’t remember exactly. Some years I’d just be like “that’s it! I’m swearing off bread and pop!” or “I’m eliminating these 10 foods from my diet for good!” But these menu schemes never worked for me. I’d lose some weight, but then fall off the wagon, feel guilty, and go back to my old ways.

This time, I forewent any menu scheme. My “diet” was built along one simple mantra: calories in vs. calories out. Or really “eat less, move more,” which sounds more motivational when I say to myself.

Once that premise was established, I simply starting “thinking on my feet” when I ate. As a rule of thumb, I have been allowing for X number of calories for each meal — currently, it’s 400 for breakfast and lunch, 600 for dinner, and 400 for snackage. Whatever I ate had to fit in those slots; if I ate more at one meal, it had to come out of another’s allotment.

How I filled those calorie allotments was not something I developed a strict plan for. Instead, I really started with one question: How can I eat what I like and still reduce calories? That always seemed to be the problem with those fad diets and menu schemes: I couldn’t eat this or that or the other thing, and inevitably would begin craving those things until I gave into the cravings. Not this time. I would aim for reasonable restriction only. For some foods, the answer was as easy as portion control. For others foods it meant changing the brand or the recipe. For still other foods it meant reducing the frequency at which I indulged. For some foods, it was a combination of these.

As a result of this approach, I have more or less stopped consuming soda, juices and other sweetened drinks. Not because they have HFCS, or because of aspartame or whatever, but simply because sodas and juices hide a lot of calories yet are rarely consumed alone. It’s too easy to blow half my lunch calories on a can of Coke! This isn’t to say I won’t drink these things; just that the portion size and frequency of consumption have reduced to almost nil.

Eliminating sodas was not the only unintended consequences of this approach. I’m eating less meat and dairy than I would otherwise be eating. My vegetable consumption has risen dramatically. I am eating less variety during the day (especially at work, where it’s easier to brown bag) but more of a variety in the evening (when I have the time to cook). My kitchen has produced whole meals that could be called “vegetarian.” The milk in my fridge is made of soy. Baked goods are something I try to avoid because I know I’m weak for them. None of these dietary changes was deliberate, or made for some specific nutritional reason. They are simply the changes I needed to make for reducing calories while still putting enough in my mouth to satiate.

That’s not to say I am not eating things that I love. I have at least one piece of chocolate every single day. A case of Sam Adams beer is currently chilling in my fridge. I routinely snack on cheese and crackers. But it’s one piece at a time, one bottle at a time, one ounce at a time.

The “move more” part of the equation was effected mainly by getting a gym membership and trying (some weeks more successfully than others) to hit the treadmill four times a week. My goal is always two miles, which I can do in about 40 minutes at a comfortable pace. In addition, I have been reminding myself at work to stand up more, to use the restroom on the other side of the building, and to take the stairs every time. I was a very sedentary person before. I am aiming to change that all day, everyday.

Tools are important to the plan, and three of them have been invaluable to my process. I wear a FitBit Flex everywhere I go; it is set for 10,000 steps a day, a goal I almost always make on the days I visit the gym and sporadically on the days I don’t. I use the MyFitnessPal service to track and log calories; its food database is the best I’ve found, and it’s super easy to enter meal information. And finally, my iPhone ties the two together. Their apps are both installed — FitBit delivers my steps wirelessly to its app, and the MyFitnessPal app lets me log food quickly on-the-go. The apps also talk to each other, with FitBit loading calories burned into MyFitnessPal and MyFitnessPal delivering calories consumed back to the FitBit. I’m wired in, I’ve got data when I need it, and the FitBit is always there on my wrist to remind me of my goals.

The best part about this plan is that, for once, I feel in control. When I strayed from Atkins or South Beach or Weight Watchers, I always felt guilty afterwards. I had tried the system and failed. But with nothing off-limits and no complicated menu scheme to follow, I can play it fast and loose when I need to without breaking the rules or eating something forbidden. For example on Thanksgiving I ate as many calories in one day as I normally eat in three — but I logged every last bite, just to keep myself honest.

Has it worked? It has. As evidence, I offer my three month weight progression chart, as logged in MyFitnessPal:

photo

All told, I am just about 60 lbs down from my February high. In addition, my blood pressure is down to normal levels, my appetite has actually settled into the new routine so that I don’t get hungry as much, and frankly I look great. 

I won’t say that my specific eating habits will work for everyone.  I had so much extra weight on my body that my sole goal was to drop weight at a quick but not dangerous pace. Will I eventually focus less on weight and more on other, longer-term bodily measurements? Probably. Will I look to vary my exercise, maybe do more strength training? It’s possible.

But for now, I’ve met my goals. I’m losing weight. I look better and I feel better — not through some gimmick or complicated diet scheme, just through good old “calories in, calories out” and all that stems from it.

About Alison Hudson

Alison is a writer and educator living near Ann Arbor, MI. She blogs regularly about skepticism, games, and the transgender experience.
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19 Responses to The Ali Edwards Diet

  1. Julie says:

    You go, girl. I had a lot less to lose but I used the same tools and tricks, and I friended my mother on MFP, and she reminds me to eat more vegetables after she reads my sometimes-lacking diary. I think as much as we can look at population weight and health and correlate it to HFCS and screentime, we can take the same look directly right at every one of our diets and face the truth about what we eat and how little we move, and find that the simple solution IS calories in-calories out. Skeptics should maybe give it a shot 😉

    • Siobhan says:

      You mention keeping a food diary – this is a pretty important part of any diet change. Just the mere act of recording what we eat can lead to making better food choices as we are prone to improving our behavior when observed. Having someone check out your diary from time to time is even better.

      • Alison Edwards says:

        Yes, the diary is a huge part of the mental game when it comes to controlling eating. And MFP diaries are actually public — anyone can see what we’re up to …

        http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/diary/ariamythe

        • ES/CarbShark says:

          “MFP diaries are actually public — anyone can see what we’re up to …”

          http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/diary/ariamythe

          When I follow that link I get to a page that says:

          “This Food Diary is Private
          This user is not allowing others to view his or her diary.”

          Just a few comments on your anecdote. First, it seems like you’ve eliminated most simple carbs from your diet. I would say (as would Taubes, Lustig, etc.) that it’s that reduction in the amount of carbs you’re consuming (especially simple carbs) that is responsible for your success. Which is pretty much the opposite of your position (that all diet success is due to calorie restriction).

          Also 60 pounds since February is excellent progress, and not easy. But be careful. Studies show that most dieters end up putting their weight back on, and then some. This is true for all diets, but more so for calorie restricted diets than low-carb diets. (Low fat diets have the worst record for rebound). Let’s see how well you’re doing after two years or more. Right now it’s too early.

          One thing to watch out for is dietary stalls and plateaus. They happen to everyone and they can last weeks or months or indefinitely. At 10 months in you haven’t been on this diet long enough to encounter a stall.

          I think what trips up many calorie restricted dieters is they hit a stall, and limit calories even more, and that doesn’t help and they get discouraged, hungry and miserable and give up (similar things happen with LC dieters).

          Good luck!

    • Alison Edwards says:

      I can’t even imagine friending my mom. I don’t think I could take that amount of raw scrutiny.

  2. Castielstar says:

    Well done! I say this simply because you are sticking to it, and that in a way is the biggest problem with ANY weight loss regime (and my biggest problem!). Keep it up, and please keep us posted…some of us need the motivation and inspiration. =)

  3. Moral Dolphin. says:

    290 pounds??? That is almost two average humans

    I’d give up blogging for a while and have a serious rethink about what is skeptworthy.

  4. Doug Mathias says:

    once you accept how little you may eat without consuming more calories than you need (unless you are a farmer or a logger), then your approach is the only one. I find that even amongst my “skeptic friends”, it is surprising how many people still are looking for that magic bullet that will do the work for them . . . and it IS work, pure and simple, to change life-habits.

  5. gonzojoe says:

    I’m currently on Weight Watchers because, frankly, I grew tired of too much manual entry for items not included in most calorie tracking databases, and the Weight Watchers points database is fairly comprehensive (it better be for the monthly cost). While the formula for their “Points Plus” system is obfuscated, it’s almost certainly a means of converting calories from various sources into points. As such, I don’t believe it’s much different than a pure calories in – calories out plan, as it also accounts for points in daily activity.

    Good luck on your plan!

    • Christian says:

      If it works for you, do it. It did not work for me, largely because I thought the meetings patronising, and the food awful. Plus, they follow the ‘low fat’ mantra, as widely disproved ( fat is not what makes you fat, sugar is ). How do they make low fat food edible ? Lots of sugar. Weight watchers food has plenty of sugar in it.

      • gonzojoe says:

        I’ve never been to a meeting and I don’t eat the food they brand. I just use the points system as a means of tracking what I eat and keeping it at a manageable level. I had been using WebMd and other various calorie tracking programs and I just found that their food databases weren’t as robust as I would like. The weight watcher database is much more comprehensive, and I use it for the convenience that brings as opposed to any special significance to their point calculation algorithm. Their points are basically calorie tracking, no matter how much their marketing would suggest otherwise.

  6. Reg. says:

    Ali, as you know I’m a long term advocate of Atkins’s and I recognize and sympathize with your dilemma. I’ve decided that we are all attracted to things we like. Like sitting in front of the computer or TV for so many hours a day or/and eating lemon butter cake with lashings of butter cream icing.

    It has occurred to me that besides rationing our time at this stuff we need to find attraction in the challenge of opposites. Now I’m not advocating moving a deep hole around the front lawn, besides I believe it’s winter where you are and people fall into holes, instead we should consider moving a mini-mountain around the front lawn.

    Ok Ok hang on.

    As you know a couple of cubic metres of top dressing can be easily dispersed in a full on afternoon. WHAT A WASTE!!! Why not get it dumped at the North end and then with concentrated planning and aforethought, shift it to the South end. Then shift it back to the North end again but slightly South of last time. And so on until the shifting has reduced the pile by the amount left behind at each shift. What-ever you do, don’t explain to the neighbors, just keep shoveling and shifting. The sense of achievement will leave you gasping and ready for a Squires Golden Ale. 345mL and only 4.5% alcohol.

    I estimate we could do this every day for a week or two. Then ask the neighbor if you could do theirs. There are ten houses in our veracity, that’s a full Summer’s effort and they could pay you in cold Squires which is legitimate fluid replacement. Seriously.

  7. Jon Richfield says:

    Ali, never mind all the extra advice; you are on the right track. I also am very impressed at your graph, which shows that apart from merely succeeding in losing weight, you are in control, which is just as important. In case you are in a mood to tolerate remarks (free of charge, like the ten commandments) from someone who never has been near 100 kg, a few comments.
    1 The most important thing you have achieved so far is not weight loss; it is lifestyle. Adopting the right lifestyle is the most important thing firstly to consistent success, but also TO PREVENT BACKSLIDING or yoyo dieting, so never mind the weight so much — hang onto the lifestyle when you get where you wanted to be. The weight will follow the lifestyle.
    2 So far so fine, but once you get close to your target, begin to tune your gym program to muscle as well as weight. I know that sounds like beefcake talk, but let’s not get confused. I regard “bodybuilding” (especially the competitive forms) as significantly less pernicious than coke or heroin addiction, but not a lot more sensible. I would almost as soon play golf. What I am talking about, and I recommend you discuss this with a suitably intelligent gym consultant or some similarly qualified trainer. Muscular strength and control are key to a lot of aspects of both health and safety, and some aspects are surprisingly important, for instance calf muscle strength is probably the most important aspect to avoiding broken hips in falls. I live in a retirement “Village” and we have our understandable turnover in population, but we also have a high rate of hip and knee replacements, plus cases where this is no longer practical. Most of the folks, even those who are not particularly overweight, live unconsciously at risk because if they trip they fall. Forty years ago, instead of falling, they would have skipped over whatever had tripped them and if that were not possible, would have broken the fall with their arms. Nowadays they can’t do that. Snap!
    Now, you are not in that age group, and you have done a lot of treadmilling, which is one fairly good calf exercise, but if a gym man who knows his stuff can give you a once-over and steer you both into the right direction and the right mode, it can do wonders for both your general health and your bodily tone, which in turn will work wonders for your grace of movement and general presence, as well as your prospects for avoiding unnecessary crippling injury.
    3 Make sure that your diet (meaning what you eat, not what you eschew) and your exercise program promote good bone density. Don’t wait till some doctor says tsk tsk! It is a lot harder to recondition deficient bones than deficient muscles or excessive flab.
    4 Be constantly alert for joint, tendon and bone damage from your exercise. Shoulders, knees, hips, back etc can do crippling and insidious things to you if you are not alert for signs. I am still recovering from a so-called “bruised heel” that I developed on the treadmill about two years ago!!! I simply did not realise at first what was going on. I had to totally redesign my program to accommodate it.
    There is no end more to that sort of thing, and a lot of it can be very interesting, but most of it will be stale new to you, and I hope most of what I said already is stale, so meanwhile, congratulations once again, and GO IT!

    • Reg. says:

      Now that’s what I call a slab of text. Neigh-on 800 words will barely a sanity break.

      Ali is looking for support so it’s a bit rich to suggest that she ignore all the extra advice. If she did that she may just as well lock herself in the dunny and kick the wall. And from one who has never suffered the pangs of exceeding 100kg too.

      I reckon once you’ve laid down the little fat cells no matter how you burn the fat, the cells are only waiting for you to lapse so they can fill up again. I dunno how you can immobilize these standing threats. I take a strong message from the ex super-fatties that they would rather lose a leg than be that way again.

      Another thing I read the other day was about how in pre-electric times it was regarded as normal to sleep at night for three hours / wake for three / sleep for another three. I mention this because I have long felt that broken sleep helps lose weight but also leaves you feeling like death. Social conformity at work again and I don’t think it would be acceptable to slap on the hearing protection and run up the Victa four-stroke at 2am.

  8. freke1 says:

    Real impressive chart, I’m trying to loose weight / get in shape myself and is investigating how to eat. Very confusing, can’t even google how many calories I need. Getting a lot of info from different sources though and came upon this from one of them:
    http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/david-berreby-obesity-era/
    While the calories in / calories out works perfectly for You (and me I think) it may not be the whole truth about people (and animals apparently) putting on weight. Seems like there could be chemical / biological / light / stress / societal factors that could work against us. How to, what and how much to eat is quite complicated. Leaning towards a starch and plant based diet so far. Maybe some intermittent fastening. Cutting down on sugar. The official guidelines are crap I think. Anyway interesting (and important) journey.

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