I should preface this entry with a fact that will likely become painfully obvious to anyone reading it: I am an engineer - you know, like Dilbert? Ok, so I'm a geek. I have found that I must utilize this inherent need to make an equation balance itself. So, my approach to weight loss has been that what goes in must be less than what goes out. I am extremely discouraged by research suggesting that the body's metabolism will adjust to changes in caloric intake by doing crazy things like storing more or slowing down (or is it speeding up that adds junk to my trunk?) Whatever. Anyway, despite annoying (and hopefully inconclusive) evidence that my equations do not add up, I have assumed Newton's principles apply even to fig filled ones.
STEP 1: Visit www.fitday.com and get a free account. Enter age, gender, lifestyle, and credit card information (just kidding, it's actually free - not a trial account or other such scam, though I am sure I get a lot of targeted spam) and be honest no matter how hard it is to enter your weight!!
STEP 2: Go to the "activities" tab on the fitday page, which shows your total calories burned in an average (in my case sedentary) day. By looking at this, I was able to decide on a target number of calories per day. I actually tried using fitday as my primary location for logging in all my calories, but I found it a bit tedious because it took a long time to enter every celery stick (right, that's a laugh). I lost interest in the food journal after about a week or two - but I did learn the number of calories in many of the foods I eat.
STEP 3: Decide on a target. I decided on a target of 1600 calories a day. This turned out to be pretty good - I am not starving, I can indulge in a nice dinner most weeks, and I can have a few beers. Sure, I might lose weight faster by eating less - but I had to consider my nature: a) I don't want to feel like I am "on a diet" and cannot eat whatever I want; b) I don't want to constantly obsess about eating because I am always hungry - ultimately, I know I would cave and then just give up.
STEP 4: Make a plan. I started an excel spreadsheet very much like the fitday site, only I calculated the calories in a few breakfast, lunch, and snack meals using www.calorie-count.com This takes a while to do, but I generally have lots of motivation in the beginning stages of a project, so I tried to think of my habits and things I like for these meals. Of course, I included lunches like "chicken salad" and breakfasts like "cottage cheese and grapefruit" but I also added "burrito" and "pancakes at IHOP". Because a life without burritos is not much of a life, in my opinion. I am considering only calories, by the way, no carb counting or other such nonsense.
STEP 5: Create a table for adding the calories - I have a row for each date, and a column for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, dessert, and beer. (See my comments regarding burritos - these last two columns are required for happiness.) I plan out what I hope to eat weekly, and for dinner I usually have to calculate things since I like to cook and I have a lot of variety in dinners. I typically have the same breakfast and lunch each day of the week, but I make provisions for bagel Thursday and other free food that comes up in any given week. (I hate to see free food go to waste!) Making a weekly schedule eliminates the rollercoaster of daily indulgences (which inspire guilt and the inclination to just give up). I aim for an average of 1600 calories a day, or 11200 calories a week - so as long as I compensate throughout the week for a cocktail party on Friday, I'm a-ok. I can also make changes during the week, so if a brownie happens to slip in on Monday, I might just skip my snack on Tuesday.
STEP 6: Follow the plan. After two weeks of following my plan, I added more goals: walk each day for 30 minutes during lunch; go to the gym 3 times a week; drink more water; drink less coffee, etc. I concentrate on one goal at a time, gradually adding more, or focusing back in on old ones after unsuccessful battles with cheesecake or particularly cold weeks when walking makes my lips blue.