breakfast comparison - 3 choices out and about

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day", so I've heard since I was a kid. And while I totally agree with that sentiment, it's not because of what you might think - not so much because I want to fill my body with nutrients so I can start my day off right...

No, I can start my day off just fine without eating first thing in the morning. I've even written about the benefits of delaying eating breakfast.

For me, breakfast can be the meal that makes or breaks my calorie numbers for the whole day. A moderate breakfast of 350 calories (or so) leaves me a lot of flexibility in my choices for lunch, snacks, and dinner. On the flip-side, I usually break my calorie budget on days when I put down a 600-calorie breakfast. So, eating a "good" breakfast goes a long way in determining whether or not I'm going to win that day.

Here are some calorie comparisons of common, quick breakfast options while you're out and about:

Einstein Bros Bagels - Sesame bagel (300) with a shmear of cream cheese (150-300). Eating a full bagel with a big shmear of cream cheese is going to cost you 600 calories! However, eating half of that meal while saving the other half for tomorrow gives you a very reasonable 300 calorie breakfast.

Eating half a bagel with a big pile of cream cheese is one of my favorite eating-out (or people bring food to work) breakfasts. It's a filling use of 300 calories - enough that I don't need to eat again until lunch, but without giving me that full-belly, need to take a nap feeling. Unfortunately it can be difficult to stop at half, especially when it tasted really good and there's another half just staring at me.

Will power goes a long way on this one. Eating half for 300 calories is a great breakfast; eating the 2nd half for 600 calories - not so much...

McDonald's - Sausage McMuffin w/ Egg. This little treat isn't too far off the chart at 450 calories. But be mindful of the 860 mg sodium content, and reaching for the side of hash brown will cost you an additional 150 calories.

This is one of the few items I can eat at McDonald's without feeling a heavy gut after eating, but I still don't have a craving-desire to eat one of these very often. Plus, it's hard to not order a hash brown with it, and once I do that I've just used up 600 of my daily calorie budget.

Krispy Kreme - Maybe you stop for a melts-in-your-mouth donut on the way to work, or maybe somebody brings a box of them into the office. Either way they're pretty hard to resist. An original glazed provides 200 calories' worth of goodness, while a chocolate iced glazed will set you back 250 calories.

Eating 2 Krispy Kreme originals for 400 calories isn't the worst thing in the world - especially as a once in awhile treat, but I find they aren't the most filling calories, and I'll be hungrier sooner than I would be when eating other breakfasts. Plus, it can be hard to stop at two, and that third one's a budget-buster!


The biggest takeaway here is that knowledge is power. Knowing how many calories are in your breakfast budget, and how many are in your breakfast, is a key ingredient for a successful day.

- Chris Butterworth


300 posts ago: running in the cold is hard
200 posts ago: portion sizes have become gigantic
100 posts ago: catching up to your goal - the tortoise or the hare?


30,000 steps

Last month we did a lot of walking on our vacation - a lot of walking. My wife's pedometer read 30,000 steps one day, and I'm not even sure that was our longest walking day.

The walking site tells me I walked 15 miles that day, which means I blew through about 1,875 extra calories, if we assume 125 calories per mile. But that doesn't tell the whole story of the day - I could still have either gained weight or lost weight, depending on how much I ate.

So, let's see how I did:
  • Breakfast (600 calories). I brought a bagel with me and grabbed a mocha from the hotel's Starbucks.
  • Snacks (900 calories). I ate a few energy bars during those in-between times. (mid-morning 225, noon-ish 225, 5:00ish 290.) I also had a few handfuls of some of my boys' sweets.
  • Lunch (500 calories). We ate a late lunch, and I split a plate with my wife.
  • Dinner (1,200 calories). We ate dinner at a restaurant, where I enjoyed a full meal - and licked my plate clean!
  • Total Consumption for the day: I consumed about 3,425 calories.
  • Total Calories Burned for the day: I walked off 1,875, plus my normal 1,900 calories per day at rest. Overall I burned about 3,775 calories.

This means I burned off 350 more calories than I ate. 350 calories - that's all - on a day when I walked 15 miles! This helps to make a few points:
  1. It takes a lot of exercise to outrun your daily eating, but it's possible.
  2. I was able to slow-drip food all day long, so that I was neither hungry nor full throughout the day.
  3. Restaurant meals are too big. Even with 15 miles of walking, splitting lunch was the difference between net loss and net gain; I would have eaten more than I burned if I had ordered my own lunch. And that restaurant dinner.. I would have been way on the good side if I had eaten a non-restaurant dinner.

Most of us aren't able to walk 15 miles in a day; it simply takes more time than we have available. But the lessons learned can be applied to our everyday lives.

Move a little more. Eat a little less. Snack strategically. And be careful in restaurants!

- Chris Butterworth



just because it's there

Does your office supply bagels and cream cheese in the mornings, or have a table-full of snacks in the lunchroom?

Bagels, muffins, and danishes show up in my office's kitchen like magic every other Monday morning.

Does your significant other love baking desserts? Brownies, cookies, apple pie a la mode? Yum!

Maybe lunch was catered and there's a full spread.

Or a candy jar at your co-workers desk, always beckoning. You don't want to offend her, right?

Or you could have another helping of that terrific dinner, or an extra slice of pizza.


You don't have to eat it - just because it's there.

- Chris Butterworth


200 posts ago: Fit-20 Workout - sprints, renegade rows, squats

100 posts ago: choosing the right workout partner


pizza for lunch on a diet?


Success comes more from how much you eat than what you eat, so you just need to eat the right amount.

Trying to find the exact calorie count for a slice of pepperoni pizza is an inexact science - I'm finding numbers ranging from 300 - 400 calories per slice at most places (330 for a large slice of Papa John's.) I usually eat slices from Barro's - they're near my office and they have a great lunch special, but since their slices are thicker and heavier than average, I'm going to ballpark a 400 calorie number from the high end of the range for my example.

Now, how much pizza can I eat?

400 calories for a thick slice of pepperoni pizza.

600 calories if you can stop at one and a half slices.

800 calories if you eat both slices.

You have to start by knowing what your calorie budget is for the day.

I burn about 1,900 calories per day without exercising, so allowing for 2,200 (give or take) on a day when I run is a fair number. If I drink a 350 calorie fruit juicee for breakfast, I can eat 2 slices of pizza for lunch, and still have over 1,000 calories available for snack, dinner, and dessert. This also gives me flexibility to adjust how much pizza I eat according to how much I'm going to eat for dinner, or whether I skipped a workout, or even if the scale showed a bigger number than usual that day.

If I was trying to lose weight, or if I was a 5' 3" woman trying to maintain weight, my daily calorie budget might be about 1,500. In that case, 2 full slices would probably be too much pizza on a regular basis, but 1 slice should be ok. I could even get away with 1 1/2 slices if I managed the rest of my day really well.

On the other hand, someone trying to keep their daily calorie intake down to about 1,000 calories would find a 400 calorie slice of pizza as their large meal of the day - a feast of a meal. But even in that ultra-restricted scenario, a half slice of pizza would be a filling way to spend 200 precious calories..

What I like about pizza - other than that it tastes awesome! - is that it's a filling use of calories. It's a good blend of carbs, protein, and fat, which gives your body plenty of short-term and long-term fuel.

So go ahead and eat some pizza. Enjoy it. Savor it. Just don't eat too much. And don't wash it down with a large soda!

- Chris Butterworth


200 posts ago: running for time or distance

100 posts ago: Happy Thanksgiving - my mental, physical, and emotional approach


keeping a food journal

The only way to be sure you're eating fewer calories than your body burns is to know exactly what you're eating (and how many calories your body burns at rest). And the only way to know exactly what you're eating is to keep track of it.

This is especially true when you are just starting out on your road to losing weight. Your internal, "gut feeling", of how much to eat is out of balance - writing down what you eat and paying close attention to it will help you re-calibrate your gut feeling.

It doesn't matter what format you use; it only matters that you know, with absolute certainty, that you've eaten fewer calories than your target number.

Here are a few types / options to consider:

Spiral ring notebook. It's a little old fashioned, but it still works great. Boot-up time is zero; just open it and start writing.

Computer program. Your computer may not be portable and always at your side, but if you sit in an office all day this can be a great place to keep your food journal.

Spreadsheets, word processing programs, or a note taking application like Evernote or Onenote all work equally well.

Many of these programs are easy to integrate with your phone, so you can use your phone as well as your computer.

Smartphone app. Your phone is always with you, just waiting to do your bidding. You can input the details of your lunch as soon as you've finished eating, wherever your are.

Most of the apps I've sampled also come with a food-lookup option, so you can determine how many calories your lunch had from within the app itself.

Many of the apps have online access as well, so you can view and edit your food journal from your computer, and keep track of your history, from that larger screen in your office.

Bottom line

There are many different methods you can use to keep track of what you're eating. It doesn't matter which one you use, only that you use one.

Can you splurge a little bit at dinner, or have a brownie for dessert? Guessing at the answer could be the difference between losing weight and not.

- Chris Butterworth


mediocre is the opposite of excellence

Terrible seems like it would be the opposite of excellence, but terrible is easy to fix.
  • You didn't workout last week? Pick yourself up and get back on track.
  • You've been eating everything in sight? Stop. Take a breath. Regroup. Re-assess your plan. And get back on track.

Mediocre is much more difficult, in part because you might not even notice it.
  • You've been working out, but maybe not with your desired level of intensity. Or maybe you're getting to the gym sometimes, but not as often as you had planned.
  • You're eating pretty well, paying attention to what you order, where you eat, and how often. But you're not losing any weight. Maybe you're rounding up on your calorie counts, or you might be grabbing a handful of snacks without even realizing it.

It's hard to get down on yourself when you're trying, and mediocre masks how hard you're trying.

Mediocre is frustrating. It robs you of your results. It fills you with hopelessness, and makes you want to give up, because you think you're doing the work but you're not seeing the results.

Changing your habits, and your body, and your health, is hard. It takes commitment, and it takes excellence.

Pay very close attention to your actions, and to your results. Keep a journal. Be reflective. Are you reaching excellence, or merely mediocre?

- Chris Butterworth


delaying breakfast for good effect

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" - at least that's what I've been told my entire life.

I'm an early riser, and rising early usually means eating breakfast early. It also means, if you're a high energy person, that you're ready for lunch early. Or more to the point, that by the time lunchtime rolls around, you're starving (and ready to eat gigantic portions!)

Recently I made a conscious effort to delay eating breakfast, eating closer to mid-morning rather than earlier in the morning. And it's had a dramatic effect...

Early Breakfast
  • 6:00 - Eat breakfast shortly after waking up.
  • 9:00 - Get hungry. Either eat a mid-morning snack, or fight off hunger the rest of the morning.
  • 12:00 - Lunchtime! By now I'm really hungry, so it's easy to over-order, or to lick my plate clean and start searching for what to eat next.
  • Afternoon - Since I've over-eaten lunch, the same problem is going to persist between afternoon snack and dinnertime; I'll be hungry but I've already eaten too many calories to justify a snack. Then I'll probably over-eat at dinner...

Late Breakfast
  • 6:00 - Drink a small glass of juice, and some water. Let my body start working with whatever energy is still available from yesterday, or it can start converting fat into energy if I'm tapped out of reserves.
  • 9:00 - Eat breakfast, usually a fruit juicee. Plenty of easy to digest carbo calories to give my body a boost of energy.
  • 12:00 - Lunchtime. I'm starting to get hungry again, but not enough to make bad choices. Now it's much easier to order a reasonably sized lunch and be satisfied with it.
  • Afternoon - Since I stayed within my calorie budget, I can eat a small mid-afternoon snack, which should hold me over until dinner.

The golden rule of calorie counting is: "3,500 calories = 1 pound".

The corollary of the golden rule is: "Every 1 pound of fat in your body is 3,500 calories' worth of energy, just waiting to be released."

Give it a try. Delay your breakfast and let your body use all that extra energy being stored as fat. Then see how much easier it is to get through the rest of the day..

- Chris Butterworth


my diet starts next week

Have you ever heard someone talk about next week's diet, while gleefully shoving another piece of cake down their neck?

It's one thing to choose a future dated starting point because you want to get your ducks in a row before you start. Maybe you're spending time this week:
  • Researching calorie counts of the foods you eat most often.
  • Researching ideas and building a menu of foods you should be eating, or re-calibrating portion sizes of foods you already eat.
  • Tracking your current eating habits, to be more aware of potential pitfalls.
  • Clearing your pantry of the worst offenders and shopping for better alternatives.
  • Taking the first step forward with a 1, 2, 3 workout program.

It's another thing entirely if you're treating your future diet like a death sentence, and you need to get as much "living" in while you can. This sets you up for failure before you even start:
  • The 3-5 pounds you're going to gain this week is just that much more weight you'll need to take off later.
  • By making a big deal out of each glorious dessert, you're strengthening your desire for "bad" foods, which will make it that much harder to put them down later.
  • You're treating the upcoming diet as a temporary diet, rather than a long-term modification of eating habits to a more healthy lifestyle.

Treating a diet like a diet - like die with an extra t on the end of it - is a mindset doomed for failure. If that's your gameplan, save yourself the complaining and just forget about it.

You'll be successful when you can embrace a new, healthier lifestyle - one that you're planning on keeping for the rest of your life. Think slow and steady, small changes, and an overall healthier and fitter you. And then get started - whether that's today or next week doesn't matter.

- Chris Butterworth


the scale tells the truth, and the scale lies

When you're trying to lose weight, or even when you're trying to maintain your current weight, one option is to weigh yourself regularly, so you can see the progress you're making towards your goal.

The Scale Tells the Truth

Regardless of what what nutrition plan you're on, or how much exercise you did, or how hard you're trying - the scale tells you how much you weigh, and that number is a fact. The scale is the final arbiter of measuring your success. Whatever the scale says, goes. You're either successful, or your not.

Ultimately, if you're consuming fewer calories than you're burning, you will lose weight and the number on the scale will be smaller over time. Week after week, month after month - one of the great pleasures is to watch the scale honor your efforts by rewarding you with smaller numbers.

The Scale Lies

HOWEVER, if you weigh yourself everyday, you may see large fluctuations in the numbers that seem completely random - in no way related to the work you did yesterday.

You ate perfectly yesterday and worked out for 30 minutes? This morning the scale is up 1 lb.

You ate ok yesterday, but not great? Today the scale is down 1 lb.

You binged on a big dinner yesterday and skipped your workout? The scale shows no change.

My Scale

I step on the scale every morning, first thing. I wake up, hit the restroom, and step on the scale. This way my body is always in the same state - no extra food or fluids, no sweating, no change in clothing weight - just me at the beginning of the day. And my weight fluctuates 2-3 lbs over the course of a week!

my bathroom scale, ordered earlier this year from

I'm in maintenance mode right now - I'm exercising a few times a week and I'm not trying to gain or lose weight, and yet my weight fluctuates from one day to the next. This used to bother me, because in my mind I wanted to weigh X pounds, and I rarely seem to land on X. I'll be a pound over X on one day, and then 0.4 lbs under X the next day, but almost never X.

So I've gotten used to living within a range of X-ish, and I'm satisfied as long as I'm within that range. When I'm near the low end of the range for a couple days in a row, I give myself permission to eat a little bigger. Whenever I bounce to the top end of the range, I double-down and eat smaller for a couple days.

But over the long term, week after week, I keep the number within that range, daily fluctuations and all.


The scale might fluctuate over a range of a few pounds from day to day, to the point where you might question your diet and exercise regime. Don't get discouraged, and don't change you're approach. If you're patient, and continue to do good work, the scale will reward you on a weekly and monthly basis.

Count your calories. Pay attention to what you eat. Eat real foods in moderation. Move your body with active and passive exercise. And watch the scale over the long term; it'll tell you the truth.

- Chris Butterworth


Mexican food - ordering small against peer pressure

We ate out for Mexican food this weekend. Ah, Mexican food - one of my favorites, but I don't think there's a more gluttonous menu out there! Eating out at a Mexican food restaurant can be a big setback; it's one of those meals where you can get to 3,000 calories without trying too hard.

image clipped from Ajo Al's website.

But I had a plan. I ate small for breakfast and lunch, saving myself some extra calories in my daily budget. And I knew we'd be cooking at home the next couple days, so I'd be able to eat smaller and healthier portions as a follow-up if necessary.

I also planned to order small, knowing there's always plenty of food on the table anyway, in case I needed a little extra. I ordered a shredded beef taco with a side of beans, estimating 300-400 calories for the taco and 150-200 for the beans. Add in the chips and salsa before the meal and whatever I sampled from my wife's and kids' plates, and sticking with water to drink, and I shouldn't be too far past 1,000 calories for the meal.

  • Dieting Note - If you limit yourself to 10-12 chips w/ salsa, then eat the beef taco w/ beans, you can walk away from the meal at about 600-700 calories - totally doable even when dieting, as long as you budget for it within your day. Just make sure to avoid the dips and heavy sauces (guacamole, sour cream, queso dip, baja sauce), combo plates, and sugary drinks (sodas, margaritas).

The hardest part about the whole meal was not succumbing to peer pressure when ordering. I ordered an a la cart beef taco w/ a side of beans, and everyone at the table (including the waitress) looked at me like I had a 3rd eye. "Is that all you're going to eat?" was the common question.

I wavered, just for a moment, thinking about how good the tacos would be and whether I should order a 2nd, or maybe add a chicken enchilada (covered in sauce) to the plate. Nope - my order was good, and I was sticking to it. Funny looks or not.

Make a good plan, and stick to it - even under peer pressure, and you'll be successful.

- Chris Butterworth


knowing when to stop eating

If you're bummed after eating your last bite, because your food tasted so good and you wish there was more to eat, that's good.

If you push your plate away while saying you can't eat another bite, that's bad.

Even better is to learn to understand how much food your body really needs, and to be able to *feel* when you've eaten enough.

1,400 - 1,500 calories per day (while losing weight) isn't a lot, and it's really not a lot when eating restaurant food. Being able to eat a small portion, and to end the meal while it still tastes great (or to have a smaller portion served) is the key to weight loss victory.

Eating slowly and chewing your food really well helps. So does walking away from the table once you've eaten your 500 calorie meal.

- Chris Butterworth


don't fall for justifying eating big

Yesterday I took my family to a theme park. The park was not quite a mile from end to end, and we cris-crossed the grounds several times over the course of the day. I wouldn't be surprised if we walked 8 miles or more around that park - at 140 calories per mile, that's about 1,100 extra calories we were burning!

So if my body normally burns 1,900 calories per day (not including exercise), I could have eaten somewhere around 3,000 calories yesterday without adding any extra surplus to my fat reserves.
3,000 calories sounds like a lot when you're used to eating 300-calorie sandwiches, but they add up fast when you're eating fast food and snacks.

Unfortunately the theme parks don't make it easy to make good choices; we were constantly walking past vendors selling churros, giant pretzels, ice cream, frozen fruit smoothies (with plenty of added sugar I'm guessing). Add in the "value" combos for lunch and dinner, and we could have easily eaten more than 3,000 calories while we were there.

In fact, I'm guessing there are a number of people who would justify that chocolate covered churro and strawberry fruit slushy by thinking to themselves "I've walked so much today, I deserve a little extra snack." What a bummer that would be - to spend the whole day walking around and then to end up gaining weight.. No thanks.

We were fortunate enough to have planned ahead. We brought a backpack with plenty of snacks and water, which helped us to avoid eating gigantic amounts of calories while we were there. (and spending gigantic amounts of dollars to do so!)

Just because you're on vacation, or because you're doing something out of the ordinary, isn't a good reason to close your eyes to what you're eating. You're body doesn't know the difference, and processes the calories the same way it always does.

- Chris Butterworth


dinner made easy - turkey burgers and sweet potato fries

Sometimes you need a quick and easy dinner that doesn't require much in the way of prep work or cleanup, but you still want to eat healthy, and you'd prefer it if the food tasted good too.

We had one of those nights last week. Late meetings at work and homework that needed help left little time for a big dinner, so we turned to the freezer: Trader Joe's Frozen Turkey Burgers and Alexia Chipotle Seasoned Spicy Sweet Potato Fries (purchased at Fry's; rated 4.8 stars on 1,733 reviews on the Alexia website) answered the call.


The turkey burgers went straight from the freezer to the grill. I let them cook a few minutes to thaw before adding seasoning, but otherwise I grilled them the same way I normally grill burgers and turkey burgers. Then I melted cheese for those who wanted it, and everyone is welcome to grab a bun and add condiments to taste.

The fries are even easier - turn on the oven, spread the fries out on a cookie sheet/pan, and in they go.

Add in a salad with some freshly cut tomatoes and cucumbers, and the whole meal took less than 10 minutes of prep time. (plus cooking time.)

Food Quality

We all know that fresh food is better than frozen, and packaged food is never as good as the food you prepare yourself (both in terms of nutrition and taste.) So how bad are these burgers and fries?

frozen turkey burgers
photo of the box - Trader Joe's Turkey Burgers

Well, the ingredient list looks safe: Turkey, Salt, Rosemary extract. We could get nit-picky about how much salt, and why didn't they just list rosemary / why extract? But compared with most pre-packaged foods that is an awfully short list, and there's nothing in that list I can't pronounce or tell you what it is.

From a calorie standpoint - 180 per burger will fit into just about any diet (unless you're trying to gain lots of weight!)

Now let's take a look at those frozen french fries..

alexia chipotle sweet potato fries
photo of the front of the bag

photo of the Nutritional Information

close-up photo of the Ingredient List

First I considered the calories, listed at the top of the Nutrition Facts.

  • 130 Calories per serving with 7 servings in the bag. However, we get about 5 servings out of the bag - we each eat a portion with dinner, and then one of my boys brings the extra fries in his lunch to school the next day.
  • 130 calories per serving * 7 servings = 910 calories in the bag.
  • 910 calories / 5 servings in our family = 182 calories per serving for our family (give or take for each person's portion.)

Next I read the Ingredient List, and while it's a longer list than I would have preferred, it's mostly powdered spices, and it's mostly things I've heard of and can pronounce. Even the things I wasn't sure about were short words and easy to pronounce, but I did have to look a couple up online:

  • Dextrin - this sounds like it could be man made, but then I found an article titled "8 benefits of dextrin" on a website called Global Healing Center, which made me feel better. Turns out dextrin is a natural fiber which can act as a binding agent. Hmmm, ok.
  • Gluconic Acid - the good news is that this is the last ingredient listed; the bad news is it shows up on a website called GMO Compass. However, even this website points out it's a naturally occurring fruit acid which accrues during the decomposition of carbohydrates. I don't know whether the gluconic acid in my sweet potato fries came from GMO carbs or not, but I'm not going to worry too much about it either. It's the only potentially bad ingredient and it's last on the list - I'll take the trade-off for my easy to prepare meal. (It's ok to just be healthy - you don't have to be perfect.)

Calorie Count

How many calories did my whole meal contain?

  • Turkey Burger - 180
  • Turkey Burger bun - 150
  • Cheese on Burger - 110
  • Condiments (ketchup, mayo, pickles) - 100
  • Chipotle Fries - 182 (per my revised calculation)
  • Salad - negligible
  • Ranch Salad Dressing - 75
  • Total Calories - somewhere in the neighborhood of 800, depending on portion sizes
    • If I was trying to lose weight and limit my calorie intake, I would skip the cheese, mayo, and ranch dressing, and I would have eaten a smaller portion of fries. That would keep the meal closer to 500 calories.
    • As it was, 800 calories for dinner works great for me as part of a 2,000 calorie diet in maintenance mode.
    • Either way, if you know what you're eating, what your daily goal is, and how much you've already eaten that day, you can plan and budget accordingly.

Meal Review

This was a good meal - maybe not something I'd crave in the mid-afternoon or travel across state lines for, but a good, fresh-tasting, full-flavored meal. It left me satisfied without feeling stuffed-full, and happy that I had eaten a reasonable amount of healthy calories. Prep work and cleanup are a breeze, too, which is a big bonus.

We'll definitely replenish our freezer and keep this in the rotation of "once every couple months when life is more frenzied than normal and we need to get dinner going in a hurry" meals.

Cheers to another easy-healthy meal.

- Chris Butterworth

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Tortoise and Hare - the tale of two diets

Here I sit on the other side of losing 10 lbs in very short order, and I've had a chance to reflect on the process. This time was a lot different from the method I used last time, and while I was successful both times, I had to ask some deep-thinking questions.

Mercedes Benz tortoise and hare

My first question to myself was "why did I have to lose 10 lbs again?" (ie: why wasn't I able to keep the weight off?) It turns out I have a weakness - I'm not very good at re-adjusting my diet after a big race or event.

The last time it happened I had spent the fall training for a 10-mile run. I was running a lot, and I was eating a lot of food just to maintain my weight. I was able to shove pretty much anything and everything down my neck without consequence. Unfortunately, once my race was over and my workouts tapered down, I continued to snack at my desk all day, and the net result was inevitable.

This time it was because I had been training to hike the Grand Canyon - down and back up on the same day, and the same thing happened. In the spring I was doing a lot of trail running and eating at will. Then, due to injuries and time commitment changes, my workouts slowed down to nothing, but my eating did not. And once again I found myself carrying a dumbbell's worth of extra weight around.

Note to self - stop doing that!

Most of you probably saw the much-hyped Mercedes Benz ad in yesterday's Super Bowl - The Tortoise and the Hare. (if you didn't, click here to watch it on youtube.) That's a great way to describe my two diets. Let's compare the slow and steady tortoise diet with the rapid weight loss hare diet..

Tortoise Diet - Slow and Steady

This was a marginal change diet. I removed the worst offenders and the easiest to find problem spots, such as snacking on sun flower seeds and red vines, and then I ate pretty much whatever I wanted, but I modified my portion size to about 2/3 of what I would normally have eaten. Read the full details here.

The plan was to not have to put a lot of energy into food - counting calories, preparing all my meals, eating specialty foods, changing my behaviors. I kept eating the same foods, only I ate less of them. I guestimated that I was eating about 1,700-ish calories per day, and I expected to lose a couple pounds per month.

  • No major food or lifestyle changes required - eat most of what you ate before, but less of it.
  • Not a lot of hunger pains.
  • Easy to modify over time - a little less or a little more is ok.
  • Sustainable - can eat this way the rest of your life.

  • Thinking about food a lot - you're constantly thinking about what you would normally be eating right now, and then you have to limit yourself to less than that amount.
  • Slow weight loss - spending all month long thinking about food, and then only losing a couple pounds, doesn't feel very rewarding.
  • Not an exact science - you might not know at the end of the day whether or not you've run a calorie deficit for the day.

Hare Diet - Rapid Weight Loss

This was a diet predicated on a severe calorie restriction, eating less than 1,000 calories per day. It required counting calories (I rounded and estimated a bit, so my count wasn't perfect) and an insane amount of willpower. The plan was to lose weight quickly - more of a rip the band aide off type of plan.

  • Rapid weight loss - I loved seeing the scale move lower almost every day, and my clothes fit better each week.
  • Rewarding - A quarter-pound here and a half pound there; it was easy to know my hard work was paying off, especially when I graphed each day's weight in Excel. For me, this was enough to push through the tremendous amount of will power required.
  • Food tastes awesome - every meal tasted like the best meal ever. A slice of pizza was sent from heaven. A ham and cheese sandwich on toasted sourdough was a culinary masterpiece. I ate very slowly and relished in the gift of every bite.
  • Quality food - you learn very quickly which foods give you more satisfaction for fewer calories, and you end up spending your calories on nutrition rich foods, simply because they make you feel more full than the empty-calorie foods.

  • Hunger - you're body is hungry for food, all the time.
  • Will Power - it takes an extreme amount of will power to not power-binge on whatever happens to be closest at any given time.
  • Socially awkward - going out to eat with friends and ordering a small salad and a glass of water (or sharing a meal with your wife) is a little socially awkward. (and requires more of that will power stuff.)
  • Food headaches - the brutal food headaches lessened somewhat after awhile, but they were miserable at the beginning.
  • Physical and Mental changes - your body reacts to the natural environment of not having enough food/energy, so it starts diverting resources from activity it deems to be less important. (sort of like your phone shutting down radio contact when the battery gets down to 5%..)
    • Short attention span - over time I started noticing I wasn't able to focus on a task for more than about 20 minutes at a time. This had a negative impact at work, at home, and as a soccer coach.
    • Exhaustion - I found myself running out of gas at night. I would sit down on the couch at about 8:00, and it was game over for the night. Truth be told, I'm always tired at night, because I run hard all day long and I don't get enough sleep, but I can still motivate myself to be productive for another hour after the kids go to sleep. That simply wasn't the case on this diet.
    • Reduced sex drive - enough said here, but this ties into the exhaustion phase.
  • Water aware - while I'm always aware of hydration, I was almost hyper-concerned about getting enough water to stay safe. (plus it filled my belly and staved off hunger for a few minutes.) Water became almost an obsession.

In the End

If I was designing a diet from scratch, I would take the best of both diets. I would base my long-term diet on the Tortoise, but I would mix in the Hare for a week or so once in awhile. The Hare Diet has too many disadvantages to make it practical for the long term, but it offers two things the Tortoise doesn't:
  1. Quick Rewards - getting almost instant feedback that you're doing it right might be enough motivation to keep you going.
  2. Calorie Conscious - if you really pay attention to your calories, and live on 1,000 per day, then 1,700 Tortoise calories will feel like gluttony.

I think the Mercedes Benz commercial got it right - the Tortoise's slow and steady approach, supplemented by a turbo speed boost now and then, is the winner.

Mercedes Benz tortoise and hare

-Chris Butterworth

Like this article? You might also enjoy:

On Amazon - 
  • Magic Bullet - terrific smoothie maker and juicer, a best seller
  • Kitchen Kahuna - spiral vegetable slicer-grater, 5 stars on 3 reviews


the Starvation Diet

Imagine not having enough food to eat. I'm not talking about saying no to that third slice of pizza; I'm talking about literally not having any food to eat. Think of being lost in the wilderness, or stranded on a deserted island. My guess is you'd get pretty skinny, pretty quick.

deserted island
image credit to idr solutions (I couldn't find the original source of the image.)

Experts say that as long as you can stay hydrated, you can live for a long time without food. (which makes sense, since every pound of fat inside your body is 3,500 calories' worth of energy just waiting to be released from storage.) You could survive for 1-2 days per pound of body fat, depending on personal factors and your physical exertion rate.

I bet it wouldn't be fun, and it wouldn't be by choice either, but if you didn't have a food source available you would lose weight, very fast.

Is there any way we could take that concept and apply it to the real world?

I don't think any expert in the world would advise that actual, long-term starvation is a good idea, and I'm not suggesting otherwise. But what about a very low-calorie diet? You could still feed your body healthy nutrients and keep normal body functions in place, but force your body to burn fat for fuel. I decided to give this a try.

My Goal

I wrote not long ago about gaining some weight in the second half of last year, which culminated in my right knee aching badly. I was about ready to go see an orthopedic about my knee, but I decided to try losing weight first, and given the pain and annoyance involved I wanted to lose the weight quickly.

I set a 2-step goal for weight loss: First I wanted to lose 9.5 pounds as fast as possible, which would put me at 1 pound less than my normal carrying weight. Then I would lose an additional 3 pounds more gradually over the course of the spring. The result would put me at my super-trim racing weight from when I was running triathlons.

My Plan
  • I would try to limit myself to less than 1,000 calories per day. (Hopefully this would lead to rapid weight loss, which would be self-reinforcing.)
  • I would weigh myself everyday, using the brand new high tech scale at the gym, and chart my results. (Hopefully a downward sloping graph would be an exciting reward.)
  • I would continue with moderate exercise. (Hopefully this would keep my metabolism high and help my body keep processing normally. I didn't want my body to shut down functions or slow down my metabolism.)
  • I would drink A LOT of water, since all those survival guides say hydration is far more important than eating for short-term survival. (Hopefully this would help keep my body functioning properly.)

My Process

The process involved being hungry, pretty much all the time. A typical day looked like this:
  • Breakfast - a bowl of frosted mini wheats, without milk, and a cup of coffee. This gave me 200-300 calories in the morning, depending on the size of the bowl. I sometimes substituted half a bagel w/ cream cheese or a couple pieces of fruit.
  • Drinks - I added 2-3 oz of cranberry-grape juice to 12 oz water, and drank several of these throughout the day. I probably consumed 150 calories of fruit juice per day.
  • Lunch - a slice of pepperoni pizza, a small plain cheeseburger, or a small ham & cheese sandwich (or something similar - yummy, small, and not necessarily a "healthy" option), worth about 350 calories.
  • Water - a couple glasses of water w/o fruit juice in the afternoon.
  • Dinner - a few bites of whatever our family's dinner was, along with a medium sized salad. (I skipped dinner on nights when I went straight to coach soccer practice.)
  • Snacks - none, most days.

pepperoni pizza

My Result

As of this morning I am 1/2 pound away from achieving my first-stage goal. Hopefully the scale is cooperative tomorrow or the next day, and I'll finish this thing off. Then I can add food back to my diet and drop the last few pounds over the coming months. I'll probably settle in at about 1,800-1,900 calories per day, which should still allow me to lose about a pound per month.

I lost about 1/2 pound per week during the Holidays, and about 2 pounds per week since then. (Note - I couldn't stay under 1,000/day during the Holidays - too much good food and good family cheer.. Whatchagonnado?)

Oh yeah, and that knee pain? It's pretty much gone. I don't have the knees of a 20-year old anymore, but I did put away the orthopedic's phone number..

What I Learned:
  • This was very difficult to do - having the will power to simply not eat when there is food everywhere you look (and you're really hungry), is not for everyone.
    • Knowing that it was only for a short time period helped; I don't think I could have held up for an extended battle of wills against all food.
    • Seeing the rapid weight loss on my daily tracking sheet helped a lot; looking forward to tomorrow's weigh-in was enough to help me power through some of those tough decisions.
  • This is not a lifestyle change, since it's not sustainable. And if you don't have a game plan for what comes next you'll be very likely to put all that weight back on. And that would suck.
  • Your body does become more efficient at burning fat. I had big-time hunger headaches at the beginning, but they mostly went away as time progressed. This was my body realizing that it couldn't trick me into feeding it a bagel, so it just went to work at burning some fat cells instead.
  • Your body doesn't function exactly normally on so few calories. I noticed some changes - both mentally and physically - that I had to adjust to. (More on that in a future post..)

Overall I'm still not a big fan of "diets", as I'd much prefer a long-term change in habits which will lead to a lifetime of better health. But seeing fast results is very rewarding as well - a way to kick-start yourself down the road to a smaller you. Maybe there's room for ultra-calorie-reduction in the weight-loss arsenal after all...

- Chris Butterworth

Like this article? You might also enjoy:

On Amazon - here are a couple diet / nutrition / food books I've enjoyed flipping through:


it's easier to lose weight in the kitchen than the gym

it's easier to lose weight in the kitchen than the gym

Let's say you're having trouble losing weight, or your weight loss has stalled, or maybe you're even gaining some weight. And you decided, right then, to double up your efforts in the gym - more miles, more weights, more everything!

Here's a secret: that's probably not the best use of your energy...

You'll get more benefit by spending 30 minutes reviewing what you've been eating, looking up calorie counts, and planning ahead for what you should eat tomorrow, than you would by spending 30 minutes on the treadmill.

  • Jogging 3 miles burns approximately 350 calories. (depending on your height, weight, and pace)
  • 4 Red Vines contain 140 calories
  • 3 Chips Ahoy cookies contain 160 calories
  • 1 Dozen boneless buffalo wings are worth 1,040 calories! (even if that's all you ate for lunch, that was way too much.)
  • Southwestern eggrolls: 770 calories
  • Even if you've been eating healthy foods, large portion sizes can sink your weight loss ship.

chilis boneless buffalo wings and southwestern eggrolls

Here are some more productive ways to use that extra 30 minutes:

  • Start keeping a food journal. What have you eaten lately? What are your weaknesses? What time of day is causing your failure?
  • Look up the calorie counts of the foods you eat most often.
  • Go online and check out the nutrition guide for the restaurants you frequent.
  • Write up an eating game plan. What could you eat tomorrow for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
  • Consider using a snacking diversion.

Let's look at a real world example:

A 39-year old woman, 5' 4" and weighing 185 pounds burns about 1,800 calories in an average day (assuming little or no exercise).

The math is simple: she can eat 1,500 per day to lose 2.5 - 3.0 pounds per month, or she can eat 1,600 calories per day to lose about 2 pounds per month. (assuming some, but not a lot, of exercise.)

1,600 calories per day shouldn't be too difficult:

  • 400 calories for breakfast
  • 500 calories for lunch
  • 500 calories for dinner
  • 100 calories for snacks, twice a day

Running for 30 minutes to burn an extra 300-400 calories won't do you any good if you're over-eating by 500 calories.

I love exercise and think it's an important part of life. It helps lift my mind, body, and spirit. But using exercise as the primary weight loss tool requires A LOT of exercise - like, the kind of exercise you don't have time for!

Better to work smarter, not harder, and reach your goals by creating habits you can keep for the rest of your life..

-Chris Butterworth


financial incentives help people lose weight

financial incentives help people lose weight

A study, published by Science World Report, had a group of people try to lose 4 lbs per month for a year. At the end of each month, those who lost the weight earned $20; those who did not had to pay $20.

money stacks of bills

"The participants were told to achieve the goal of losing 4 pounds per month up to a predetermined goal weight. The researchers kept track of their body weight every month for almost one year. The researchers told the participants in the incentive groups that they would receive $20 per month if they achieved the goal. And those who failed to achieve the goal would need to pay $20 each month that gets into the bonus pool. Participants in both incentive groups who finished the study were entitled to win the pool by lottery. 
The researchers noticed that 62 percent of the participants in the incentive group achieved the goal, while just 26 percent from the non-incentive group hit the target. The mean weight loss of participants from the incentive group was 9.08 pounds and the mean weight loss for the non incentive group was 2.34 pounds. 
"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives,"

I'm not surprised that having some skin in the game would increase your results, but I am surprised by how big the differences are with just a $20 penalty. ($40 marginal swing). I know plenty of people who pay that much for a gym membership and never set foot inside the place.

So what was the difference? Being involved in the study? Paying money into a pool that somebody else would win? The competition behind it? All of these are factors of public accountability, which is a great motivator towards achieving goals.

Regardless of the reason, the results are undeniable: 62 percent vs 26 percent; 9.08 pounds vs 2.34 pounds.

If you're trying to lose weight, maybe it's a good idea to get a partner involved and put some money where your mouth is...

-Chris Butterworth

image credit: Reuters

Hat tip to Freakonomics' Paying People to Lose Weight, where I first read this story.

the power of willpower

the power of willpower

The last couple weeks have been challenging for my wife and I. We've had evening meetings a few times - which means eating on the run while getting the kids taken care of. We've had meet-ups with friends for drinks, a friend's wedding shower (my wife), which required baking a few trays of brownies, a "boys afternoon" (me), which required a lot of snacks, and helping the kids cook Valentine's Day cookies.. Whew - what month so far..

snack food

On the other hand, is this really that unusual? It seems like there's always another practice, meeting, social event. Another reason to let ourselves down. To overeat, indulge, celebrate...

In the end, our success is up to us. We get to make a choice, everyday - multiple times per day actually. Do we want to be fit, or do we want to be fat?

That's not how the choice presents itself, though..

  • Do I want to sleep in, or get up and work out?
  • Do I want to go out to lunch with everybody, or eat the leftovers I brought?
  • Do I want to eat the brownies I just made, or wrap them up and put them away?
  • Do I want to eat one taco, or lick the combo plate clean?
  • Do I want to eat a Snickers in the afternoon, or drink a glass of water and pop a Tic Tac instead?

There are thousands of versions of that choice, and they all look like this:

  • Do something FUN, or do something hard?
  • Eat something YUMMY, or miss out on all that deliciousness?

But, if we take a step back and invoke a little willpower, the choice would look like this:

fat or fit

It doesn't matter what diet plan you follow - counting calories, high protein, vegetarian, whatever. And it doesn't matter what exercise regimen you've set up - cardio, cross-fit, long workouts, short workouts..

You are the only one who can make you successful.

Those choices will continue to present themselves, and it's up to you to make the right choice.

Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Think about the path you're on, the direction you're heading, and why.

Win that battle. That little, tiny, seemingly insignificant battle with your desire to pop a brownie in your mouth. Then celebrate that victory in your mind. Savor it. Know that you just took another step towards success. And then get ready to do it again later.

Long-term success is a matter of grinding out these short term victories. Success is a grind. Embrace the grind.

-Chris Butterworth

** image credits:,,, microsoft clipart,


what's the healthiest diet?

what's the healthiest diet?

There are hundreds of different types of diets out there, but what's the best one?

the 4 food groups
image credit - Microsoft ClipArt

Should we eat more protein, or more whole grains? Is saturated fat the enemy? What about being a vegetarian? Maybe we should follow that cave man diet, or that one from the beach. Wait, which beach - Florida or Europe? Or we could just do one of those pre-made diet systems. And we should definitely eat that new superfood - I heard it will solve all our problems..

See where this is going? There is no right answer.

Choosing the perfect plan is like choosing the right religion - if your plan is the right one, offering you salvation in the form of long life, health and happiness, then by definition everyone else is wrong. Lucky for you to have chosen the correct path, while they're all suffering from plagues and chronic disease before dying off in middle age...

Each diet plan has scientific studies to back it up and lots of testimonials from satisfied practitioners who can't wait to tell you how healthy they got, or how much weight they've lost, by following one diet or another.

5 Tips to a Good Diet Plan

The fact that you're considering making changes to your diet is a good sign. Here are my 5 tips for a high quality, common sense diet - one that can help you lose weight, maintain weight, enjoy life, and be "healthy".

1.) Portion Sizes

I wrote about portion sizes a few weeks ago (see size matters - portion size, that is). The only indisputable fact about weight loss and weight gain is that the number of calories you eat will affect your weight.

Start by knowing how many calories your body needs to get through the day without gaining or losing weight. (calorie calculator here - use the sedentary option.) Then keep track of what you eat. If you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you will lose weight. Period. The end.

And, once you start paying attention to how many calories you're eating, you'll find that an average meal has A LOT of calories. Keep your portion sizes small, and you'll keep your body small, too.

2.) Variety

Our bodies evolved over history to use whatever food is available. Meats, vegetables, and everything in between. Proteins, Carbs, and Fats.

Eat a little bit of everything, and your body will absorb the nutrients from all of it.

The more you narrow your menu, the more likely it is you'll be missing out on a particular vitamin or sub-molecule that you didn't even know you needed, but that nature provides in abundance.

3.) Real Food

As a corollary to Variety and eating a little bit of everything - when I say everything, I mean all types of foods. I don't mean all types of chemicals and manufactured products.

Fewer ingredients is better. Ingredients you can pronounce is better. Food that came from food is better.

"Food" that came from a bag in the snacks aisle, manufactured by a big company in gigantic quantities, with a long list of ingredients that are hard to pronounce and you have no idea what they are, that comes in all different types of wild flavors and colors.. is worse.

Sure, an occasional bag of Cheetos and a Mountain Dew (probably) won't kill you, but that's not something I'd recommend as a daily snack.

4.) Food Journal

Each of us is different, and each of us reacts a little differently to various foods. Some foods might give you energy, while others might make you sleep better. And still others might affect your digestive system.

Maybe you have an easy time limiting your calories with some foods, yet with other foods you can't help but to pig out! (that's Mexican food for me..)

Keeping a food journal is a great way to gain an understanding which foods help you operate at your best.

5.) the Top 1%

The vast majority of us do and act within what would be considered normal throughout our evolution. We walk, maybe even jog or run. We might need to lift something heavy, or use a burst of energy. We gather together socially. Nothing more taxing than our ancestors did for thousands of years - without protein shakes and energy drinks!

  suggested reading - 90 percent of weight loss is simple

Professional athletes, endurance training, and power lifting may require you to pay more attention to the food you're using as fuel.

For the rest of us, keeping our calories in check and letting our bodies work as nature intended is the best, and easiest, solution - one we can continue to use throughout our long and healthy lives.

-Chris Butterworth


Daily Diet 09-21-12

Daily Diet 09-21-12

Real world menu choices for real people trying to be calorie conscious throughout their day.

Tips for using the Daily Diet effectively:
  • Have a calorie goal for the day (and every day.)
  • Keep a food journal so you know what you ate (and how many calories.)
  • If you're eating at a different restaurant from what's featured here, do the best with what's available. Look for a similar entre, or read the nutrition guide and order something which fits within your calorie budget.
  • Keep in mind - every pound of fat in your body is 3,500 calories worth of energy, just waiting to be released and burned. If you're still a little hungry throughout the day, that's great - it means your body might just be tapping into that excess reserve.
  • Check out the Daily Diet page for more details, information, examples, and links.

Today's meal plan
  • Breakfast: Cereal w/ skim milk. (Honey Bunches of Oats)
  • Morning Snack: Pretzels
  • Lunch: Paradise Bakery - Thai Chopped Salad w/ cup of low-fat soup
  • Afternoon Snack: grapes
  • Dinner: two ground beef tacos
  • Dessert: 1/2 banana

Total Calories: 1,200 - 1,400 (depending on portion sizes)

It's not easy, but it's doable. And once you reach your goal, "maintenance mode", where you can eat as many calories as you burn,  and which should last the rest of your life, will feel like a change from fasting to feasting!

-Chris Butterworth