- Assess my Figure: I use the Accumeasure Body Fat Caliper & Myo (Measuring) Tape along with a scale and swimsuit photos and record the details in a notebook. Repeat weekly, before eating or showering, wearing the same swimwear/ undergarments, after using the restroom -- keeping variables the same as much as possible. The measurements I choose to track are neck, arm, bust, narrow waist, waist at navel, low waist, hip, thigh, plus Caliper pinch. Photos I do at 3-month intervals (which means I haven't taken the next set yet).
- Accurately Calculate my Caloric Need: I use the calculator at www.freedieting.com and use the "Advanced Option" to calculate using Bodyfat % from the calipers (Katch-McArdle formula). I generally try to eat no lower than the "extreme fat loss" calculation and somewhere below "maintenance" on any given day. I find that my appetite naturally zig-zags by the day, some days higher and others on the low end.
- Accurately Track the Food I Eat: Key here is accurately. Any form of diet-tracker works. I personally use the SparkPeople website. Guesstimating, even with the best app, does NOT work. Precision counts when a mere two hundred calories makes-or-breaks the burn. I use a kitchen scale, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and follow the serving sizes on labels: if it says "Serving Size 10 chips = 100 calories," I count out the chips onto a plate. I always, always, always check the label. One brand of tortilla chips is not equal to another, and companies alter their own products all the time. It sounds like a lot of work. Actually, it's a lot more work to not keep accurate records and thereby waste exercise expenditure over and over again. Apps & online trackers make the process far less intimidating than it sounds -- and chain restaurant entrees are often already in the databases, which is enlightening when eating out.
- Assess my Fitness: I wrote about this in my entry, Running in High Heels. Most fitness programs and books have some form of base guideline to start. Though I haven't done this, there's always the gym trainer or physician's official assessment.
- Track my Lifts: I lift weights because I believe it's more effective for fat loss than cardio. And I journal every weight training session as well as injuries, sickness, or bumps in the road (like Aunt Flo's timely visits). Apps are great for this, too. I now have a comprehensive picture of what I can do, can't do, and need to do. Watching the progress on paper is encouraging, and feeling it is even better! Unlike treadmills and exercise bikes, I don't track individual exercises as "calories burned" events. The calorie calculator factors in my exercise and lean muscle needs, so exercise is not burning "on top" of what I eat. It's already factored in. And no extra jog can undo the China Buffet!
I don't adhere to any health guru's diet. Instead, I think of the food tracker apps as an "online banking" to my calorie checking account: some things I spend calories on are regrettable, some are beneficial, and the overdraft fees are high. It's a self-correcting system. I see that one puny "McDouble" took over 400 calories and left me hungry...what a little scam artist! A whole baked sweet potato with pat of butter alongside a baked chicken breast is the same calorie cost as that baby burger. This freedom of choice and control is sustainable for me; I can eat well and enjoy doing it. Any sacrifices I make stem from my personal desire to obtain my goals and keep my "accounts" in balance, and never from obligation to the "diet" (which I would compare to living off allowance money kept in mommy's wallet). The tracking also allows me to see if I'm eating enough protein to build lean muscle, or if I'm just burning through the muscle by exercising. These are all things I see for myself, no guesswork necessary.
A final reason I record everything: I have the female body. Unlike men who train, I have cycles that make my body fluctuate in all kinds of crazy ways. I can see specific food cravings, abdominal bloating, water weight, fatigue, and joint flare-ups in relation to my cycles. Patterns emerge and I can see and expect temporary "setbacks" or weak times while hormones run a different direction. This allows me to differentiate between fat gain/fat loss and water gain/water loss and other fun phenomena. The net effect is that I'm not discouraged by measurements that are temporary, and I can anticipate times of vulnerability.
It's rightly said that knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge of myself is the power to get results! And that, simply, is how I did it. And I thankfully refer anyone to the contest's author, Tom Venuto, for his book that gave me these principles and a solid start.