Pretend someone is forcing you to eat at McDonald’s.
Fact: fast-food restaurants over serve their customers. Knowing how many calories and how much sodium in each menu item when you approach the counter will help you navigate this minefield.
I have eaten at McDonald’s exactly once in the last nine years, when a dental problem made eating painful. I got my hands on a vanilla milkshake and it was darn good. Prior to 2003, I saved visits to McDonald’s for severe weekday hangovers. Those hangovers were thankfully rare.
I can’t say I will never eat at McDonald’s again, nor must I have the proverbial gun to my head to enter the golden arches. But I would have to have a severe shortage of options.
Driving down I-95 or across I-80, one of those shortage scenarios might arise. I will be headed down both those interstates next week. If I run out of food options on the road, and am faced only with fast-food restaurants, which should I pick?
Posting Calories Helps Make Better Choices
I checked the nutrition information for both Burger King’s and McDonald’s menus. Reading the long lists of calories of every sandwich variation made me numb to the calorie counts. After a few pages, 500 calories didn’t sound like so much.
If I navigate the menu carefully, I could order a reasonable meal at each house of worship. Even though the lowest calorie sandwich at both McDonald’s and Burger King is the humble hamburger, I don’t eat red meat. So that option is off the table.
I don’t do deep-fried either, so the Filet-O-Fish is also out. The cheesed-up, tartar-sauce slathered Filet-O-Fish is worse than a burger. But I ate Filets for years thinking it was a better choice. At McDonald’s, I might opt for the Grilled Chicken Sandwich (350 calories, 820 mg sodium). The grilled version is just over half the calories of the Crispy Chicken option (620 calories, 1200 mg sodium). In a previous life, I would have considered the two interchangeable.
If the sodium level of the Grilled Chicken Sandwich scares you off, try the Honey Mustard Grilled Snack Wrap (250 calories, 670 mg sodium).
Over at Burger King, the Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich is 470 calories with 1330 mg of sodium—too high. But you can save 110 calories if you hold the mayo.
Breakfast: The Most Fattening Meal of the Day
Surprisingly, fast-food breakfast meals can be much worse than the lunch fare. Judging by the name, I would know to stay away from the BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter (1450 calories, 2920 mg sodium). But the sodium content of the Southwest Burrito (1790 mg) makes a sensible-sounding choice not so sensible.
At McDonald’s, if the breakfast includes hotcakes, stay clear. The Big Breakfast with Hotcakes has 1,090 calories and 2150 mg of sodium. Here’s where the Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait (150 calories) can be a life saver.
I may have to walk into a McDonald’s and see what’s on the menu. Or at least, see how many calories are posted on the menu.
McDonald’s announced that its 14,000 US restaurants will post the calories in its sandwiches, shakes, fries and other food or non-food products. The change will go into effect next week. The announcement may surprise people, but the decision is logical and smart.
The fast-food chain is already required to post calories in New York City and Philadelphia. Calorie counts have always been available to customers who dine in and have the strength and will to flip over the paper placemat.
But McDonald’s, as fried and fatty as most of their food is, has led the effort to provide healthier options. McDonald’s introduced salads in 1985, way ahead of the obesity-awareness curve.
ACA Mandates Calorie Posting
Yes, you cynics, McDonald’s is just getting a jump on the Affordable Care Act’s 2014 requirement that food chains post calorie information. But give McDonald’s points for accepting the inevitable and incorporating it into their philosophy.
McDonald’s is giving posted calorie counts a positive spin with signs listing “Favorites Under 400,” according to a New York Times article.
Some people are still unhappy—McDonald’s may be a happy place, but it’s still not a healthy place. But incremental change is more likely to be lasting change. Yes, McDonald’s may be milking this for some good PR, but so what? Calories are still being posted; customers are free to make better choices. Or not.
Studies have shown a minimal amount of change in customer behavior when calories are posted—from little to none. Real change is slow, and small percentages still add up to a lot less calories being consumed. Also, these studies appear to examine the behavior of low-income customers. People with low incomes are not McDonald’s only customers, nor are they the only ones fighting obesity.
If McDonald’s and other fast-food chains use their advertising campaigns to promote their healthier choices, then the needle will move faster. They deserve a break today.
We will always know it as the September 10th diet, but we stuck to it despite—or because of—how life changed the next day.
Our Diet Guide
By September 2001, I was fatter than I had ever been (no numbers, please!). I wore G’s discarded jeans every day because they were the only pants that fit. I had attempted to lose weight a few times, but I always caved at the slightest temptation.
But by September 2001, G. was ready to join me in losing weight. He found this book, 32 Days to a 32 Inch Waist, and said this was the diet to try. I said I didn’t want a 32-inch waist, but since I needed some shared willpower, I went along.
We gave ourselves one more weekend to indulge in pizza, bagels and cocktails. We would start the program on Monday.
This book must have been written in the 70s because it allowed “ice milk,” frozen, white stuff sold as diet ice cream back then. There’s a reason ice milk disappeared from the grocer’s freezer. It was nasty.
On Monday, September 10, I fixed my breakfast while G. still slept. Breakfast is 100 calories of cereal. The book suggests Frosted Mini-Wheats. One hundred calories of Frosted Mini-Wheats is THREE mini cereal biscuits. THREE.
I laughed hysterically at the sad little cereal biscuits in the tiny dish. I woke G. up to show him breakfast. He laughed too and we got through the first day.
Tuesday, September 11
On the second day, a sunny, dry Tuesday morning, two planes hit the World Trade Centers. I saw the two flaming towers when I emerged from the subway at West 4th. I walked the rest of the way to work stunned.
At the office, no one knew what to do. I sat at my desk, then I listened to the radio in the conference room and then went back to my desk again. Eventually, I walked across the Manhattan Bridge home to Brooklyn with thousands of others.
One of the first things I said to G. when I got home was “are we still on the diet?” He said he was wondering the same thing. In those two sentences, we acknowledged that the world had changed and nothing would be the same. But without ever articulating why, we decided to stay on the diet.
We spent three days watching the news ceaselessly, eating our allowance of Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast and the graham cracker-and-peanut-butter snack. We lost weight and kept it off mostly, but I never got that fat or complacent again.
Moving doesn’t have to be a nightmare
Taped and Labeled
Before I moved to New York, I moved to a new apartment every year. I’ve settled down since—just eight apartments in the last twenty years. I have learned a thing or two about packing along the way.
Follow my hard-earned practical packing tips to minimize the inevitable stress when you move:
Purge and Purge
Before a single cardboard moving box enters your home, purge your unused or unwanted possessions. Better to toss on the packing end than on the unpacking end. As you unpack, you will look at old, chipped stuff in your clean, new home and wonder— why on Earth? You’ll toss Grandma’s vase without a second thought, I promise you.
Start with clothes. If you live in New York, call the Salvation Army. They will pick up your outdated or outgrown clothes if you have at least three full bags. Trust me, you have that much. The Salvation Army gives a pick-up date about two weeks out, so make an appointment early.
Next, purge books, CDs, DVDs and, if you have any, VHS tapes. If you have vinyl, okay, I won’t go there. If you have a vinyl collector in the house, you know that’s sacred ground.
Finally, tackle the hardest place to purge: under the bed and on top of the closet. Here’s where I find broken cameras, outdated electronics, Christmas cards and letters. Rule of thumb: if you don’t recognize the kid in the photo, throw it out.
Be tough on yourself, but don’t adopt a take-no-prisoners attitude. Grab that unread Kennedy biography and put it in the “Toss” pile. If it doesn’t feel right, retrieve it. As you get bored and exhausted with the purging, you will find tossing feels more and more right.
Collecting discarded boxes from behind the grocery store is free, but if you are older than 25, please don’t. If you own quality stuff, you need quality boxes. Abandoned fruit boxes are rickety and hard to stack in a moving van.
You can order boxes from Uline, U-Haul or Uboxes, among other places. All three sell kits designed for different-sized dwellings which will help you estimate how many boxes you’ll need. U-Haul makes the comforting promise to repurchase any unused boxes. Despite the promise, I recommend ordering a minimum number to start. Once those boxes are packed, you can better assess what you still need. Then order more.
Boxes are expensive. Suck it up. Resolve to give the boxes to someone to reuse.
Make sure to reinforce the boxes with plenty of tape. Tape is the cheapest thing you’ll have to buy, so don’t chintz here.
Whatever amount of bubble wrap you think you need, quadruple it.
Pack the right-sized item in the right-sized box. Books go in small boxes. Period. If you pack boxes too heavy, your movers will get stubborn fast and may make you re-pack some things. Large boxes are for fluffy, light stuff like comforters and pillows.
Resist the urge to throw unrelated items in the same box for as long as possible. You will appreciate this rule as you unpack. In the final stages, you might have to stuff a teddy bear in with the dishes to top off the final box. Unpacking is done in stages too. If you did too much cross-pollinating, you may have to open ten boxes to find your alarm clock and a pillow. If you packed well, you separated the stuff you will need the first night.
Photograph your furniture. If any piece arrives damaged, you’ll have proof of its original condition. Make an inventory list. A list of the boxes and their contents may be invaluable during the chaos of unpacking. You will also know if a box goes missing.
As you build towers of boxes, create paths and don’t block stuff you’ll need. Consider how many days until moving day and keep your place livable as you go. It’s hard to stay organized in a half-packed house, but it is worth the extra effort.
G. (the vinyl collector) and I are moving again in 16 days—halfway across the country this time. Keep your fingers crossed.
Purging clothes from your overstuffed closet is difficult.
My Closet: Ready for the Purge
You throw out more than just clothes—you discard memories. The questions below will help guide your decisions as you go through the painful process.
Have I Worn It in the Last Year?
Despite the ubiquity of the “have-I-worn-it-in-the-last-year” criterion for keeping or tossing clothes, this yardstick should be a guideline, not an iron-clad rule. Discarding clothes is not a black-or-white decision, especially when considering a piece that is black, or white, or black-and-white. Remember, neutrals remain stylish longer than any other color.
Just because you haven’t worn it in the last year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep it. Maybe a two-year guideline is more viable for special-occasion outfits. The black dress you bought for last year’s New Year’s Eve party may still be viable.
But when you hold up a pair of flared jeans to the light and you try to decide, consider the last time you wore them and felt good about it. But don’t let that answer back you into a corner.
Does It Fit?
Something that doesn’t fit should be easy to toss out, but in reality, it isn’t. But “does-it-fit” should carry more weight than “have-I-worn-it-in-the-last-year” in the painful exorcism of your wardrobe.
If your weight fluctuates, you understand why this isn’t easy. You don’t want to get rid of the Skinny Clothes you plan to get back into. You don’t want to get rid of Fat Clothes either because—if history repeats itself—you will need them on a not-too-distant day.
Be rational. If the Skinny Clothes are more than one size too small, throw them out. Do the same for the Fat Clothes. If you’ve reduced your body mass by two sizes or more, you deserve congratulations. When—I mean, if—you regain the weight, your current wardrobe will be out of style anyway. This logic works better for the removal of Skinny Clothes. Fat Clothes are more likely to be basic and black.
Can It Live in Limbo?
The Purgatory Pile method of purging is the most comforting method.
To create a Purgatory Pile, put the clothes you think you should discard in a trash bag. Let the bag sit in the garage for a few months. It’ll take you a few months to get to the Salvation Army anyway.
When Salvation Army day is imminent, go through the pile again and allow yourself to rescue one or two items. I’ve made some wise rescues.
The Purgatory Pile method allows you to excise the clothes without feeling there is no turning back. Yet the clothes are out of your closet, in a trash bag, and one step closer to the door. You will be able to make the final decision with more detachment.
Can I Afford to Buy Something New?
Of course you can. Buying new clothes, when you are supposed to be reducing the contents of your clothes closet, sounds contradictory. But a new blouse or new shoes improves your wardrobe just as purging the dingy blouses and beat-up shoes does.
Something new makes you more willing to let go of the something old.
Once you’re done, look around at all the room you’ve made. Just in time to curl up with the 652-page Sept issue of In Style.
When do birthdays and all the trimmings become insignificant?
The answer is 23. Twenty-three sounds rather random, but it’s not random at all. When you’re a little kid, every birthday is significant because your little (big) ego (and parents) tell you it is so. When you’re a teenager, every birthday is still significant, but now each is significant for a reason.
Thirteen: When you turn 13, you’re finally a teenager. At 14, you can get your Learner’s Permit (in most states). 15 is Quinceanera for girls in Latin America. For girls in the United States, 15 is significant because birthdays that are multiples of five are automatically significant. Each half decade is an era in your life.
Sixteen is significant because you can get your driver’s license. For girls, “Sweet Sixteen” parties are a rite of passage. Seventeen marks the age of high school graduation for at least half the population.
Eighteen is the age of majority, when a teenager is officially an adult. An 18 year old can exercise the right to vote. (Thank you, all you 18-year-old voters of 2008!) At 18, new adults used to be able to drink legally. But a few rowdies of my generation ruined it for future generations.
Nineteen represents the last year of a person’s teens, but few teens feel sentimental about leaving the teens behind. Sucks to be a teenager and an adult at the same time.
The numbers stop adding up
When embarking on your twenties, even 20 year olds realize their twenties are special. Just how special, you’ll find out later. (Thank you, Mary Schmich.)
At 21, you are inarguably an adult. You can finally drink. Legally. But of course you have been indulging for at least a few years now. Twenty-one is the most significant birthday at all.
People might argue that 22 would be the first insignificant birthday. They are right technically, but 22 is significant just because it is the first insignificant birthday. Therefore, 23 is the first truly insignificant birthday.
Twenty-five is a milestone year and the year I had my one and only age-crisis. Twenty-nine is significant for women because that is supposed to be the ideal age, the last a woman admits to. No one makes that wisecrack anymore, but unfortunately the weight of 29 is in the female DNA.
Thirty is thirty, new decade significance. 33 and 1/3 used be significant for yuppies trying to be ironic. Think vinyl.
The significant birthdays are passing quickly now (remember the multiple of five rule). Forty used to be over the hill, but 5o is the year of the black balloons.
And now here it is: 52, finally playing with a full deck. I like that. I think 52 is the truly the last significant birthday.
Thanks to my old friend Jim Barrett for this birthday philosophy he shared with me when I was 21.
Four Reasons Olympic Athletes Are Better Inspiration than Fashion Models
Forget the runway bodies in fashion magazine— it’s the bodies of Olympic athletes that should inspire awe. Watch swimmers, intense concentration on their faces, cutting through the water with eagle-like wingspans; admire photos of gymnasts captured in mid-air, defying gravity. This is art.
#1: Olympic Bodies Are Healthy Bodies
Olympic bodies are human machines trained to reach its top athletic potential. Olympians won’t win the gold medal unless they train relentlessly and eat enough calories to have the energy and body mass needed to be the best. Olympians have to eat nutritious, balanced diets for maximum energy.
Here is a fun calculator to see which Olympian body is most like yours.
Watching athletes from all over the world and hearing stories of their struggles to reach the Olympics raises global awareness. Despite being one of the fattest nations on earth, the US athletes are leading the pack in medals. Why is there such a gulf between our Olympians and the average American?
Here’s where I am on the Global Fat Scale. Where are you?
#2: Olympians Don’t Need Photoshop
Photoshop can be a girl’s best friend, but photoshopped images are not reality. Even knowing that fashion spreads are touched up, we still, in our hearts, believe that gaunt look is good and attainable.
Most of us don’t look like fashion models OR Olympic athletes. Nor are we likely to ever attain an Olympic or fashion-model body.
An 8th grader petitioned Seventeen magazine to run one unretouched spread per issue. The media heralded her when she appeared to score a victory. But the magazine did not pledge to abandon Photoshop; they pledged not to alter body size or face shape. That gives the magazine a lot of wiggle room to clear up skin, brighten eyes, smooth wrinkles (on models and clothes). A victory?
#3: Olympians Can Inspire Your Personal Best
We can’t all be Olympic champions, but we all can strive to be the best we can be. But, as much as girls are influenced by the glossies, girls and women should be more inspired by the athletes parading around the London games than the skeletons on the catwalk.
Olympians are never finished training and practicing. Athletes cannot be the world’s best if they approach their sport haphazardly or practice only when they feel like it. Athletic success is mental as well as physical.
Adopt the Olympic discipline to change they way you eat and exercise. Don’t starve yourself in anticipation of a special occasion and stuff yourself when it’s over. Don’t join a gym and exercise like mad for a month, then let your membership lapse. Just raise your game in increments you can maintain.
In the Olympics, medals are won and lost in the final seconds–even split seconds. This late-inning failure happens in diets too. When I am close to my goal weight, I often indulge in high calorie foods too often.
Finally, #4: Olympians Can Outrun a Supermodel
July 14: Sounds Worse on Paper
Don’t Allow Vacations to Derail Your Food Diary
Many people don’t take their food diaries on vacation. Most of those people never restart their food diaries once they return home.
Don’t allow vacations to disrupt your food diary, and don’t allow your food diary to disrupt your vacation.
Avoid using these excuses for abandoning your food diary during a holiday:
1) “I won’t have time to write to write everything down.”
2) “I know I’m going to overeat, so why bother?”
3) “I just don’t want to know how much I am eating on vacation.”
Excuse #1 No Time
Depending on the nature of your vacation, this may be an excuse or or it may have some basis in reality. But remember, the no-time excuse is the same excuse people to avoid food diaries in the first place.
Most people have MORE time on vacation. Will you be lying on a beach? Will you be lingering in a cafe? Will you be in a hotel room without all your usual gadgets? These are perfect times to update your food diary.
Lack of time should not be an excuse when documenting your daily consumption takes no more than five or ten minutes.
On vacation, you might temporarily change the detail level of your food diaries. Even if you fall to Level 1 or 2, you have not failed and it will be easier to get back to normal once you return home.
Excuse #2: I Know I Will Overeat
This excuse plays on the typical feeling that if the news is bad news, you don’t want to know. Accept that you are going to overeat on vacation. Make quantifying, not judging your task.
If you are digging into the bowl of mixed nuts at the Tiki Bar, just take relatively uniform handfuls and count as you go.
Yes, count them. Just counting what you eat non-judgmentally will give you a measure of control. If all counting means is you stop at four or five handfuls rather than draining the bowl, you have shown some restraint. Be satisfied with this small measure of restraint.
Excuse #3: I Don’t Want to Know the Damage
Perfectionists only want to complete a task when the outcome is what they want. Not wanting to know the caloric damage is what makes a person unable to start a food journal in the first place. If you have overcome this hurdle and started a food diary in the first place, don’t let THIS be the excuse that thwarts you during vacation.
Use your journal as a gastronomical travelogue during this period. Jot down where you were, what you ate, who you were with and make it a happy memory.
You will not have broken the number one rule of keeping a Food Diary and the ultimate goal of weight control. Do not stop.
A Page From the Book
A food diary can be kept at seven rungs of detail. The level that is right for you is whatever level you are able to maintain.
Beginning with the most in-depth, here are the levels or ways your diary may look.
Level 7: Is that OCD on Your Sleeve?
This OCDer (see image) itemizes each food very precisely, measures portion sizes and calculates calories all before a single bite is in her mouth. She also calculate how many calories she has left to eat for the rest of the day.
Level 6: Determined and Disciplined
A food diarist at Level 6 keeps the same detail as Level 7, but calculates or estimates calories after she has eaten a meal. She encounters an occasional “whoops.” When you count up the calories of a meal, you almost always find more than there should be.
Level 5: Better Have a Good Eye
A food diarist at Level 5 itemizes each food, but eyeballs the portion size and estimates–not calculates–the calories. We tend to underestimate portion sizes (thank you, restaurants of America!). Remember the classic deck of cards rule.
Level 4: On the Board, But No Bulls-Eye
At Level 4, she writes down the name of the dish (example: Chicken Marsala) rather than itemizing each food (same dish: 4 ounces chicken, 1/2 cup mushrooms, 1/4 cup Marsala wine sauce) and estimates the calories. This level of record-keeper is a C student, but sometime that’s enough.
Level 3: You’re Shooting in the Dark
This gunslinger writes down everything she eats at the end of the day and just estimates the calories. At this level, she will hear the sad Debbie Downer trombone when she sees her calorie total at the end of the day.
Level 2: Hanging By Your Fingertips
This diarist writes down everything she eats at the end of the da,y but neglects to estimate the calories. This is just a list. If a dieter can only do this much, I predict the diary will last only days.
Level 1: Take Off Your Rose-colored Glasses
Writes down what she ate today and yesterday at the same time, because she pretty much can remember everything she had yesterday. Do I need to explain the failed logic in this scenario?
When I first started my food diary, I sometimes fell to a Level 1 or 2. Not great, but falling any further than a day behind pretty much means the end of the road for your food journal. But Level 1 or 2 you can still muster the “I’ve come this far mentality that drives success. Just barely. But don’t give up! Here are some tips and tricks for keeping a successful Food Journal.