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January 8, 2009 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me grade myself on my new lifestyle.

I'm not a new year's resolution person, normally, but this year I turn 40, which has occasioned a fair bit of stock-taking of who and where I am and all that good stuff. One of the things I decided to focus on this year was my diet - it needs improvement, I need to lose weight (the number isn't significant, but it's a larger number than I want it to be, thus the impetus to lose it), and I'm ready to take on the challenge of losing the weight.

There are two things I need to overcome to make this happen - my poor history of food choices (specifically as regarding portion sizes), and my constant beating myself up when I do make bad choices, which leads me to make more bad choices, etc. and so on.

So, I came up with an idea that needs some refining. I'm going to grade myself on a weekly basis, using the standard A-F grade scale (with +/- as needed), on the food choices I make during the week. If I can keep up at least a B average in a given week, I plan on rewarding myself with something non-food (a couple CD's, books, or whatever), and if I fall below that B average, I have resolved...not to punish myself and to spend the time to figure out how to get back to the B level.

So my question is, what in your minds would constitute each letter grade? There are the obvious ones (fast food is a D or an F, eating cheese and crackers for dinner because I'm lazy and can't be bothered to cook would be the same), eating one or two servings of vegetable per meal would be a B or an A, but then there are the "finesse" type questions, like:

1. Today at lunch, I had a six-inch Subway turkey breast (only additions were spinach and green peppers) with no spread - but with cheese. I decided to give myself a B - an A in my mind would have been the same sandwich but with no cheese. But, I thought to myself as I ate, what if I would have gotten a foot-long version of that same sandwich, with chips? Would that be a B or even a C grade, based on portion size?

2. Alcohol. I don't drink a ton, but I like to have a couple beers with dinner two or three times a week - it's not realistic that I cut it out entirely, so if I have one beer with an otherwise healthy dinner, would that require a reduction of letter grade? Does having one or two glasses of wine on a Friday night out also necessitate a grade drop?

Any and all ideas to further refine this concept would be welcome. I don't really need menu/recipe/cooking tips, I've got a pretty good handle on that side of things, I'm more looking for ways to help myself reinforce good eating behaviors.
posted by pdb to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Overly refining this concept is going to doom it. I'd suggest sticking to three ratings: Good, Acceptable, and Bad. Good is cooking a healthy dinner; Acceptable is cooking some prepackaged pasta; Bad is takeout. Or something.

Broad strokes are better for this stage of self-improvement - if you're seriously worried about engaging in D and E and F level activities, it's much less important that you distinguish between A and B. When a "bad day" means having too many carrots and not enough leafy greens, or something, you can start making finer distinction among "good" behavior.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:43 PM on January 8, 2009

Whole grain is +1 letter grade. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on the Subway bread as long as you get the multigrain.

1 beer is -1/3 letter grade. A B dinner becomes a B- dinner. A B- dinner becomes a C+

Eating the big portion (or the bowl of seconds) is -1 letter grade.

If you like this game, but don't want to create the entire universe of rules and modifications to those rules, you might be interested in weight watchers "points" system, some free versions of which are available. There is also the No 'S' diet.
posted by zpousman at 1:43 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you need some more concrete parameters. I would suggest giving yourself a points system.

Say, you start out in the morning with 70 points.

Grade yourself on each meal with 5 points, breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack. Deduct 2 points from each meal for things you feel you should not be eating: Cheese, Chips, too large of a portion size.

Give yourself 5 points for exercise. This way, if you really biff a meal (say you eat a fast food lunch and you give yourself a -5 for the day), you could get back up to where you want to be by being really good with your other meals and exercising.

Obviously, adjust these point numbers as necessary, but it's an idea.

You also might look into tracking your calorie intake during the day. Weight loss really is just taking in fewer calories than you burn, and without some sort of concrete data, you may be grading yourself overly harshly (a 6 inch sub with cheese isn't all THAT high calorie), or you may think that slice of carrot cake was healthy, when in reality, it had as many calories as two servings of Oreos with milk.

Also, never underestimate the glory of exercise. A vigorous workout can not only negate that high calorie dinner, but justify it. :)
posted by pazazygeek at 1:44 PM on January 8, 2009

If you start down the road to a points system, you might as well just use one that's already been developed instead of re-inventing the wheel -- i.e., Weight Watchers.
posted by onshi at 1:50 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. well, yeah, a foot long with chips would make it go down a letter grade, especially since you said one of your big problems is portion control. The turkey and veggies aren't the issue, the bread and the cheese are. and the hypothetical chips.

2. I would think that beer would make the letter grade go down, at least half a grade. Think of it as alcoholic soda. Even light beer isn't that good for you (in sort of the same way that diet coke isn't good for's kind of non-existent, but...not good).

Of course, take this with a grain of salt...I just ate a buttered roll for dinner.

Honestly, I think calorie counting would do you well. I used to do it, using I know it seems overly involved, but I loved the fact that it was math-based, and if I tweaked lunch a bit, I could switch up some other meal/snack. Since you're already thinking in terms of grades, it's really not THAT much different. It was almost like a game for me, and I may have gotten a little obsessed looking up nutritional values for things online so I could custom enter them. (I should really start playing that game again.) I know it's intimidating ("you must get XX of fiber and no more than 7.394% of your diet should be betawhatevers and Omega3awesomelipids!!") But if you just concentrate on calories and the fat/protein/carb distribution you want, you'll get it into that thinking quickly and can tweak it from there.
posted by AlisonM at 1:57 PM on January 8, 2009

Your basic idea is good, I think, but letter grades are too wiggly and subjective.
You're already looking for loopholes and refinements, like "if I have a beer with a healthy
dinner, does it reduce my letter grade?" and "do I get a B or a C, if I did this unhealthy
thing with this subway sandwich?".

I suggest something more binary: make a list of restaurants and fast food outlets that
constitute a 0 for the entire day. If you can avoid them for an entire day, then you get
a single point for that day.

As to alcohol, keep track of how many glasses of wine you drink, and how many glasses
of beer you drink.

At the end of each week, you have 3 scores: one for food, one for beer, and one for wine.
Subtract the beer and wine scores from the food scores (you can add some relative weighting
for the beer versus the wine), and if you have a postive score, you get a treat. If you have
a negative score, better luck next week.
posted by the Real Dan at 2:02 PM on January 8, 2009

Are there any foods you eat repeatedly, such as a Subway for lunch every day? If there are, maybe you could ascribe a grade to each sandwich?
posted by Solomon at 2:03 PM on January 8, 2009

In reading this, I think this system sounds a little arbitrary. Take reducing points for cheese on a sandwich: I can see your reasoning because cheese is on the high end of fat and calories, but a bit more protein aside from the turkey can help keep you fuller for longer. Also, a slice of cheese might not be a significant hit overall. By the same token, you could, as a random example, give yourself a high grade for using low-cal dressing on a salad, but does it take into account serving size? You could be using too much low-cal dressing and kind of defeating the purpose.

I think a more precise thing to do (and something that still gives you the accountability you are looking for) is to practice some calorie counting, or do something like Weight Watchers (which IIRC is basically calorie counting but with points instead of calories). I have lost 20 lbs by counting calories and keeping myself within a calorie amount that, based on my height current weight, would have me losing a lb per week. (I use The Daily Plate to determine my calorie requirements and track my foods, but there are other sites out there as well) I have earned a lot about portion control and how some food choices are either worse or not as bad as I thought. The process also gives me non-arbitrary data that I can use to reach a goal, and my performance is easily assessed. As an added bonus, I learned that I can eat almost anything I want as long as I make it fit into my calorie requirements (in other words, practicing portion control).
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:04 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The pretty awesome book Mindless Eating, talks about how the constant vigilance that most diet changes require dooms them in the long run, and how the key is to make habit changes that become automatic.

The author suggests making three deliberate new habits (ie "No bread with restaurant meals" "No candy unless I've exercised that day" "Don't start eating until everyone else has" "fill half the plate with salad or veg"), and tracking them with just a check mark per day in a grid for at least 28 days. Why not try something like that, and base your grade on the total score (with a total max score of 21 for perfect habits that week)? I think it's going to be too subjective and too much effort otherwise.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:04 PM on January 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'd suggest sticking to three ratings: Good, Acceptable, and Bad.
Yes - but aided an easy system of bonus and booh points.
One bonus point for proper chewing. That would give you an automatic 'good' for avoiding the bigger portion as well. If you chew really well, you've no idea how long that takes. Your stomach will have ages to wake up, evaluate and send the signal "enough" up. It's healthier too.
One bonus point for relatively healthy takeaway (like veggie Indian).
Three booh points for junk food. No. I'd skip the junk food altogether.
Four bonus points for reducing the weekly intake of alcohol by half (alcohol - certainly beer - boosts your spare tire something dramatic).
Two booh points for drinking just the same amount of beers as ever.
If you're truly realistic in formulating your goals: one booh point every time you don't do what you planned to do (whatever that is).
That's what I would do. Great initiative!
posted by Namlit at 2:06 PM on January 8, 2009

If you are someone who beats yourself up, this whole grading thing could be a bad idea. Much better to simply observe what you eat and why and when you make "bad" choices and reward yourself in nonfood ways for good choices.

You will come to realize,typically, that you do this when you are stressed, facing negative emotions, needing comfort or have experienced a "cue" that reminds you of "bad" foods (ie, smell of one of them).

Ok, so now you've identified your "triggers"-- what are you going to do instead when you experience them? What makes you happy and distracts you and isn't food or another thing you are trying to avoid? Say, listening to music, calling someone, doing something on computer, taking a bath, meditating-- whatever it is. Do that.

And realize that you are sometimes going to give in to urges and cravings. Realize that "this too shall pass" and that any craving will not last forever-- but if you do give in, analyze why. Learn from it. *don't* beat yourself up. Don't see this as "failure" but as part of learning process.

The more you attack yourself for your "failures," the less you learn from them and the harder it is to change. So come up with rewards to give yourself when you do well, not an elaborate system of new things to attack yourself with. Then, you will slowly change over time-- the most sustainable way to change.

This may be helpful.
posted by Maias at 2:06 PM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

...and as an addendum to my last sentence about being able to eat almost anything I want as long as it fits into my caloric goal, I have to stress that I do realize that nutrition is key. I'm not saying I can get away with eating Cheetos and grape soda every day just as long as I don't exceed my calories! But if one day I say to myself, "Say, Cheetos and a grape soda sound like a mighty tempting snack", I can try to make it fit into my otherwise nutritious meals.

Als, my main goal when I reach my goal is to not have to count calories all the time - by then, I should be savvy enough about portion control to not have to count calories. I'd eventually want to count calories only if I see myself gain a few pounds again.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 2:09 PM on January 8, 2009

Calorie Count Plus is a nutrition tracker from that actually gives you a letter grade for each food you eat, plus a letter grade for your day's worth of food or any arbitrary length of time worth of eating. When I did a comparison of a bunch of different online Nutrition Trackers, that was one of the more interesting features I came across. If their system works for you, you might not need to reinvent the wheel.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:14 PM on January 8, 2009

Best answer: Yeah, I'd say over-simplify it with just three rankings, too. If it's too complex, it'll fall by the wayside faster.

(Helpful hint: you talk about 'making bad choices'. What really helped me a lot was NOT making choices. I plan out (healthy) meals for the week, only buy what goes into those meals, and then I pretty much have to eat those things. It's much easier to plan out healthy meals than to try to decide on it in the heat of the moment when your tummy is rumbling. I'm protecting me from myself. It's damn tempting to be at the grocery store and wander into the cookie take a friend shopping with you to steer you back to produce. Basically, you can't eat cheese and crackers for dinner unless you buy cheese and crackers. The only flaw to the plan is the siren-song of take-out or pizza delivery. But if you have health things you want to eat around, it's not quite as bad.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:21 PM on January 8, 2009

I think you need to focus on making better choices. Take a look at "Eat This, Not That: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution" from Men's Health. They also have a book. It takes common foods and shows you how to eat a healthier option at many restaurants and fast food places.

Since your goal is to lose weight and eat healthier, I suggest just focusing on a couple things like calories/portion size, fat, drinking more water throughout the day, or adding whole grains & veggies. And remember, you don't have to deprive yourself, you just have to make good choices! Set yourself up for success.
posted by CoralAmber at 6:18 PM on January 8, 2009

Oh, they even have a section on beer. Beck's Light is their top pick. You can still have beer, just make good beer choices :D
posted by CoralAmber at 6:24 PM on January 8, 2009

Response by poster: These are all great ideas - I've tried the Weight Watchers points system before and didn't really have the energy to keep that close of tabs on it, thus my idea for letter grading. but I like the three-tiered approach.

Pazazygeek - exercise is already part of my routine, i bike to work (6.5 miles each way) every day, unless it's absolutely miserable out (like snowing or icy), and I go to the gym...well, not as much as I should but I will start back at that this next week.

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions.
posted by pdb at 9:30 PM on January 8, 2009

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