Losing weight on the Money Diet, week 12: Ignorance is fattening

losing weight on the money dietAs you've probably heard, the newly passed health care bill isn't just going to change health insurance. There was a provision in the bill that's going to soon make it mandatory for chain restaurants and vending machines to post how many calories each menu item contains. As someone who's been actively trying to lose weight, I'm all for it.

And I thought I'd mention my weight now -- as an introduction -- because I'm going to bring up the whole calorie thing again at the end of this post. Anyway, while I'm a little embarrassed to crow about half a pound, there it was, a few hours before I started writing this, on my scale, unmistakable. I'm pretty happy, because 246.5 is a number I haven't seen for awhile, so, sure, I'll take it.

If you're scratching your head, wondering, "Why is this guy writing about his weight?", then this is probably your first time reading "The Money Diet," the name of the weekly column I write about my attempts to shed some serious poundage. On January 1, I made my New Year's resolutions -- as I always do -- and one of them was the classic to lose weight. But this year, I thought I'd try writing about it (to hold myself accountable) and keep track of how much money I'd saved by avoiding junk food and snack food.

Frankly, I'm saving more money than I am losing weight. Still, that's something positive, too. So I'll take that as well.

So here's where my weight is now:

My weight when I began: 264
My weight last week: 247
My weight last week: 246.5

I know. Half a pound. So naturally, everyone's likely reading this with bated breath and wondering how I did it. I'll tell you all, but I may have to stop to answer the phone; NBC or Lifetime is surely going to call to offer me my own diet-themed talk show.

(Long silence.)

OK, the phone's still quiet. Maybe they're crafting a well-thought-out e-mail right now.

To get back to the diet, basically, I didn't do anything drastically different than I've been doing for the past 12 weeks -- which may explain why I only lost half a pound -- but I was more vigilant about watching my snack- and junk-food intake, and I exercised more than usual. Most of my exercise this week involved running around in the backyard with my kids, but I'm throwing myself into it more than I used to. Two days ago, for instance, we played a game of tag, and if we had done this last year, I'm sure I would have "twisted" my ankle after four minutes and determined that it was time for me to go inside, only to miraculously heal a short while later.

But this time, I played with my two girls for 45 minutes. For the next 24 hours, leg muscles aching, my 40-year-old body shuffled around the house as though I were twice that age. It probably didn't help that we have two large dogs, both of whom enjoy jumping on me when I run. Between running after and from a six- and an eight-year old, and dodging two over-sized mutts, I found myself more wiped out than I had on the few occasional trips to the YMCA gym I've managed to make this year.

Mostly what I did this week was avoid the tasty temptations that came my way. As usual, here's a list of what I avoided and how much I think I saved:

  • For the past seven or eight years, every week I'd buy two bags of pretzels (the sticker on them always said, "buy one, get one free"), and I usually scarfed down a 1,000 calorie bag in a 24-hour period. When my youngest daughter was in preschool, she drew a picture of me sitting at my computer, eating pretzels, if that tells you anything about how common the sight was. Well, once again, I didn't buy any. Actual savings: $3.29. (So far, this year, I've saved $39.48 on pretzels alone, and probably more, since occasionally I used to buy two bags twice a week.)
  • Out of the two boxes of Girl Scout cookies that I bought from my daughters, I only ate two cookies. That's right. Just two cookies. Last year, I probably would have purchased a box just for myself. With each box costing $3.50, let's say each cookie is worth 15 cents (just an estimate). By holding myself back from eating any more of the chocolate-covered peanut butter cookies, I'll estimate that I saved: $6.70.
  • On our trip to a local ice cream parlor, my wife and kids had ice cream. I didn't have my standard two-scoop cone, all the while wondering if it would be a felony if I were to later break into the place for a midnight snack. By not buying myself a cone, at $2.50 a scoop, I saved myself: $5
  • For the first time in quite some time, we didn't go to a fast food restaurant this week, so that wasn't a temptation. Still, I feel like I should monetarily count that because it's really a fluke that we didn't go. While I saved money with the whole family not going, I'll only count myself. Estimated savings: $6
  • Several times this week, I either skipped a late night snack or scaled back significantly (for instance, going for nonfat yogurt instead of Oreos). I'm just going to guess here that by doing that I saved: $3. (I'm putting in a low amount because it's not like a few handfuls of Oreos would cost a lot.)
Those are the highlights of what I didn't eat and what I think I've saved.

My total saved this week: $23.99
Total saved this year so far: $282.10

OK, so remember how I talked about how it will be nice, or at least enlightening, to see a calorie count on the menu along with the dollars? Well, after I wrote my weekly diary of what I haven't been eating but before I finished this week's column, I stopped writing and ran to the grocery store to stock up on some food items we were running low on.

As I often do, I went down the aisle where my favorite bag of pretzels resides. Just for fun, I decided to look at the calorie count on the bag.

80 calories, I read. Hey, that's not so bad.

And then a little voice reminded me: That's per serving. See how many servings there are in one bag.

Well, it can't be that bad, I said to my little voice, but I looked.

21 servings.

Oops. Even though I'd guessed that each bag has 1,000 calories, it really had a bit more. Six hundred and eighty more, to be exact. And there were times I would eat an entire bag, say, during the course of a day, or certainly in a 24-hour period, which wouldn't be so bad if I had skipped breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I hadn't.

I'm looking forward to having calories listed on the restaurant menus. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's also fattening.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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