The hardest part about dealing with my newly-imposed-and-mega-weird dietary restrictions is trying to ascertain exactly how much sugar, carbs and fat I'm taking in ("healthy" fat, like what you get from olives and avocados, apparently being something that I need because I don't naturally have what is required to metabolize "white stuff" - my shorthand way of referring to refined flour and sugar). Now I no longer have to guess, because (thanks to a shout-out from the Wall Street Journal) I have discovered MyFoodDiary.com. $9 per month, and it's $9 SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO well spent. Step one: I plug in the foods I eat as I eat them. (MFD maintains a database of 70,000 food items and counting, so you can search for specific food items - and even save frequent food choices to a virtual "fridge" - or you can enter nutritional information from a package label or other source.) Step two: several times a day I hit the "run report" button. And that's it. MFD keeps a running count of my calorie, fat, carb and protein intake. It assigns percentages to those categories (as in, 19% of my calories came from fat, and a healthy percentage for me is 20-35%). It also gives me notes, which also change throughout the day as I update the log of what I have eaten. These notes might include factoids like: "You have already ingested 124% of your minimum daily allowance of Vitamin C." Or: "2.9% of your calories come from saturated fats, which is well below your 9% maximum." (I guess I skipped "step one-half": before you can begin keeping your food logs, you have to enter personal information like height, weight and frame size - the site walks you through the process of measuring your wrists and elbows - and your healthy minimums and maximums are customized based on this info.)
When you get a positive note, it is flagged in the left margin with a green smiley face. When you get a negative note - like when my sugar gets out of whack - you get a red frowny face. The great thing, though, is that you can use MFD as a meal-planning tool. Examples: I got a cholesterol-related red frowny face on a Tuesday after I had an egg for breakfast, so I watched my cholesterol intake the rest of the day, and by dinner time the frowny was gone, because based on what I had eaten for the entire day, the egg put me within healthy parameters. The Thursday after that, a group from my office went to PF Chang's, and I used MFD to plan what I was going to eat in advance. I was impressed by the fact that MFD had everything on PF Chang's menu broken down into its component parts. It was truly an education to compare, side by side, the relative benefits of chicken lettuce wraps versus tofu lettuce wraps versus the Buddha's Feast with white rice, brown rice or no rice. By the time we got to the restaurant, I knew that I could have the Buddha's Feast without rice, plus egg drop soup, plus a side of garlic spinach, and leave the table feeling totally (but not uncomfortably) full without having to worry about a sugar spike.
Likewise, last Friday, I knew that I could have three slices of Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza and still keep all of my numbers where they needed to be. And it took me all of five seconds to ascertain this. Wow. Can I get an amen, and also a what-what? In the battle to understand and master my wacky body chemistry, MFD has already proven a powerful weapon - and all-around "reliever of stress."
I recognize that a lot of these features are offered by other Web-based programs, including Weight Watchers. For whatever reason, WW has never held any appeal for me. Probably because I retain the memories of my mother and her friends walking around with cardboard slide-rule-style calorie counters or later, with their little "point books," lamenting having to go in for their next weigh-in. Yes, WW supporters, in anticipation of your next comments, I know that you don't have to go to meetings anymore and that points are passe - but the stigma of how things used to be has, fairly or unfairly, colored my opinion of the program. So I needed to find something that was not my mother's diet tool - and something that was not targeted to weight loss, although you can use MFD for that, for sure. As your day progresses, the computer tells you how many calories you have left (1) to maintain your weight, (2) to lose a pound a week and (3) to lose a pound and a half a week, which is the maximum amount of weight loss that MFD deems safe. I like that little bit of level-headedness. I also like the fact that, when you complete your reporting for the day, MFD tells you, "If every day were like today, you would lose X pounds per week, you would be at your goal weight by Y and in one month you would weigh Z." Highly motivating information, for sure.
But the real motivation for me - ahem - flows from those danged smiley faces. Isn't that pathetic? Yet there it is - my sense of self-worth is, increasingly, tied to little green emoticons that pop up on my computer or Blackberry screen. (Forgot to mention that, yes, as is true of most good things these days, there is an app for that.) On particularly good days, I get bonus smileys . . . for having so many OTHER smileys. (Seriously, a note will pop up that "You deserve another smiley for having so many smileys." And this smiley makes me, actually, factually, smile. For reals.)
I am thinking of starting to give myself MDF-style smileys for other, non-dietary-related things. I thought of a few as I walked to Subway for a six-inch turkey on wheat with all of the vegetables, including 2 tablespoons of avocado spread, plus extra peppers and red wine vinegar. (If you would like to know the exact caloric, fat, carb, protein and sugar count of that meal . . . I have an app for that.)
"Congratulations! You have managed to go an entire nine months without losing your overpriced designer sunglasses." (Yes, I realize that by typing this I have jinxed myself and probably will discover that they are missing tomorrow.) "If you continue to keep track of your sunglasses and do not have to pay to replace them, you will have saved enough money to buy a Tory Burch cosmetic bag by June 15, 2011."
"You remembered to print off the March school lunch menu before you left the office, and you also remembered to take it home with you and put it on the bulletin board. This will result in a 7% increase in efficiency tomorrow morning as you get your children ready for school."
"You have not honked or tailgated or attempted to blind a discourteous driver with your hazards since Thursday."
"You deserve another smiley for having so many smileys."