June 7, 2012 2 Comments
I’ve not blogged in a long time for a variety of reasons. First I’ve been working on a couple of other projects which have kept me quite busy. My editor instructed me on quality over quantity and since my mind was occupied with things I couldn’t share, I used that to excuse me too. Mostly though outside of those projects, what has been on my mind weren’t necessarily under the umbrella of topics that I had limited this blog to. I decided to liberate myself from that limitation and create a category called “The Rest of My Life”. Widening the scope would then permit me to write about my other passions, motherhood, running, dancing and my ever-elusive weight loss i.e. the whole me. After all, the only thing that requires more creativity than business is parenting.
Funnily enough, my last entry was entitled Create Your Own Free Lunch which had nothing to do with food. This one conversely is about the high cost of food, the caloric cost. As the parent of a teenager, the things I worry about are her safety, values, education and nutrition. If you’re the parent of a teenager feel free to share what you worry about. Try not to freak me out.
My daughter will soon be leaving for college and it made me wonder whether I’ve armed her with the kind of education about food that would allow her to make smart choices. Did I provide her with a good enough formula? I’ve been on a weight loss quest for most of my adult life. If you’ve shared this journey, you’ll know how much this is something that you don’t want for your kids. I want her to have a healthy relationship with food. Far beyond it being fuel, but something to be enjoyed within the confines of providing her body with what it needs to perform optimally. When you read about childhood obesity and the other challenges plaguing children in the developed world you can’t help but wonder how you can help to guide them. In pondering this point, I had a bit of an epiphany as to how I could teach her about making the right food choices.
Let me first declare that in this quest my only qualification is that I’m a mom and in my humble but superficial experience, foods higher in calories have lower nutritional content and vice versa, generally speaking. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association similarly said that energy density (high calorie content) and nutrient density (dense concentration of vitamins, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and good fats) score were negatively correlated.
So it occurred to me that what I needed was some way for her to develop an interest in these parameters, look at food labels or look up the content of food and consider the nutritional values. My hope was that by understanding what her body needed, it would lead to more nutritious choices, which would be a great start. If I could keep it sufficiently simple and correlate it to something she already understands, even better. Teenagers for the most part understand money, how much they have, need and want.
According to the American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, a 16 year old girl needs between 1,800 to 2,200 calories per day. My daughter and I settled on 2000 since she’s moderately active. We embarked upon a 2 week experiment. Here’s how it worked: She got a daily caloric budget of 2000 calories. Each calorie ‘cost’ her one penny. She had to ‘buy’ her food out of her daily budget, which at a penny per calorie worked out to be $20.00. We didn’t use actual money, instead it was more of a debit system that we worked out verbally. The win in it for her was that I wouldn’t automatically say no to junk food. She would get to make her own choices, she liked that aspect.
If she had a simple cereal and milk for breakfast, that could cost around $2.00 (200 calories, one cup of Cheerios and a cup of low fat milk) which would leave her with $18.00 left for the rest of the day. Fruits were cheap, a half cup serving would be about 50 cents, unless it was something like mangoes which she loves which was a little over a $1. If she wanted a glass of juice, it would normally run over a dollar, and she’d have to pay close attention to the serving size to understand how much she had left of her $20 per day. If she was craving something crunchy, she’d look at the chips and look at the carrots, and think, “yeah, the carrots are cheaper, I want to save up my calories for something better.” She got to eat whatever she wanted, but it was a tradeoff. After the first week she was far more aware of nutritional content, serving sizes and calorie count. While she’s not necessarily a soda fanatic, now that she understands the relative calorie cost of soda, she’ll not have one unless she really truly wants one. To her, for the most part it isn’t worth it, she’d rather have another mango. Today she wanted a KFC chicken sandwich for lunch. Although the experiment phase is over, she calculated and decided on her own that she had more than the $5.40 calorie value left in her daily budget. She opted for no fries, and water, because she really just wanted the sandwich and the other bits weren’t worth it.
The most important thing that it developed for her during our two-week trial was an appreciation for the nutritional details of everything including calorie count. Secondarily she developed the ability to keep a running tally of her total “spend” for the day. If she really wanted a high calorie treat, she could have it, provided that she had the budget for it.
I’m hoping this works and she understands that it’s not about fad diets, but understanding the content of food and making wise choices based on that content. Some of the things that astounded her were foods like Nutella, delicious but very calorie dense. Certain salad dressings that she thought were healthy turned out to be mostly sugar and fat and thus not necessarily what she wanted nutritionally. Food is an experience, and it should be fun. It would be unrealistic to say never eat junk food. She’s a teenager, she’s naturally drawn to it as are her peers. Her mother (me) loves food, so she has my passion for it. She has grown up in a home where there has always been lots of cooking, baking, creating and entertaining. What I needed for her to leave with is a healthy outlook and a thorough understanding of how foods work to fuel her body. What I didn’t expect was to learn through her questions (or her odd obsession with sodium content being too high). There were times when she’d ask, “Which has more calories, prunes or dates?” And I didn’t know offhand. Turns out its dates but only slightly. My triumph is, at least she cares. We use a fantastic app called Calorie Counter by FatSecret available on Android, iPhone and Blackberry platforms. It makes it super simple to look up foods and understand how each meal contributes to your daily calorie, protein, fat and carb profile. It also tells you how much you burn in each of your activities during the day so that she understands when her activity level demands more fuel.
As for my current weight loss journey, I’ll write a blog about it when I get to my goal weight. Well, right after I get back from the beach strutting my stuff.