For the Deskgrazing Set

I was grumbling to my friend, copy editor Deanna Hoak, about my need to lop twenty pounds or so from my frame, and she responded by giving me a whole scad of advice about dietary intake, especially for folks like me who do a lot of eating at their desks. After she was done, I asked her why she was just telling me these tips when she could in fact be telling the whole Internet, which almost by definition is full of desk-grazing folks just like me. So she wrote up her advice here. Go check it out — it’s sensible stuff to dial down that mindless chomping so many of us do while we stare into the ‘tubes.

62 thoughts on “For the Deskgrazing Set

  1. Twenty pounds would be a bit much for you. You might be amazed at how big a five pound glob of body fat is. You mentioned going to the Y, so just go every day. Ride a bike, walk, use some weights, and while you’re doing it you can listen to a book. It’s work, but it’s an investment in the only body you have. Also, find a time of day to do it, like first thing, then it’s over and done with. IMHO.

  2. I do wonder how much of the “clean your plate, don’t waste food” notion stems from a very effective survival tactic from our ancestors who weathered the Great Depression…

  3. Good luck on the weight loss. I started running a year ago and have dropped 25 lbs since. Do weights and walk also. Will lose another 10 and maintain.

  4. Keep in mind that exercise replaces inches with muscle – which weighs more. Better to measure results by inches than weight.

  5. Oh, no, Mike Kranjcevich, she specifically says nothing with artificial sweetners, so that means NO COKE ZERO.

  6. Good for you! I’m doing that same thing this year :). I’ve started keeping veggies on hand for snacks–they fill you up, you feel like you’re doing something because you’re munching, but it’s all good cals.

    I loved Deanna’s point about “wasting” food. I’m with Max–I think our parents/grandparents who were in the Great Depression taught us a little too well here. Tupperware–not stomach!

  7. The way around that one Max is smaller plates. Smaller cooking pots and so on. Portion inflation is a big issue these days. Most people don’t know what a real serving looks like.

  8. “it’s sensible stuff to dial down that mindless chomping so many of us do while we stare into the ‘tubes.”

    I resent that. When I do it, it’s mindful chomping. There’s a difference.

  9. @Steve – I agree completely. Even if hfcs isn’t killing you, you will be forced to purchase higher quality food which is so much better in the long run. I also cut out hydrogenated oils along with hfcs a few years ago. Though I had to say goodbye to Dr Pepper and I spent a few more minutes at the grocery reading labels, the quality of food in my life is much higher. I get sick less often and I feel better.

    But you will have to pry the pig from my cold dead hands.

  10. The Gray Area @ 2:

    Twenty pounds would be a bit much for you.

    If someone said that sort of thing to me who wasn’t either my doctor or my significant other, I’d probably give them my best Miss Manners picture-of-restraint look and say something like, “On what basis do you think your opinion on this topic is relevant?”

    But quite possibly that’s just me.

    Max Kaehn @ 3

    I suspect that during the Great Depression, the prompting wasn’t necessary. In my thankfully limited experience with real hunger, it really does make the best sauce. I would have eaten a plateful of cold, leftover eggplant with a side of overcooked brussel sprouts and not left a morsel of it.

    Though the clean-you-plate notion may have been an aftereffect of those times.

  11. Joe The Wizard @ 12:

    Reading food labels is a hell of an education. Gods only know what we’d be eating if agribusiness wasn’t subjected to oh-so-onerous feddle gunmint regulations that force them to tell us what we’re buying.

  12. I’m not so sure “clean your plate” is a holdover from the Great Depression so much as from the U.S. being an agricultural nation. Farm work was hard work, and those who did it burned a lot more calories than today’s mouse jockeys.

  13. I lost 20 pounds three years ago and have kept it off so far. I discovered I tend to eat less if I jog 2-3 times a week.

    Jogging seems to make me not want to eat-to-be-full because it would interfere with my upcoming run. I jog just 30min, or about 3miles, and try to be done quickly so it’s not a major time consuming event in the day. This way I do good cardo and reduce my appetite. I’m 39 now and been working for me so far. Feel better all around.

  14. Bear paw, really? Another way of saying it is this: “You don’t look like you have twenty pounds to shed. If anything, it can be taken as a compliment. My opinion is relevant because 1, I just saw him. And 2, one of my degrees is in exercise science. I also owned a health club for ten years. Is that relevant enough?

    But in case it’s not, I’m sorry if I offended J.S.

  15. Saw a fascinating YouTube lecture from a childhood obesity specialist a few weeks ago, saying that diabetes is a liver disease caused by chronic consumption of fructose, in the same way cirrhosis is a liver disease caused by chronic consumption of fermented sugar… and that our diabetes epidemic began when we replaced sugar with HFCS in our diets. (Sugar is only slightly better health-wise, but HFCS is much cheaper, so we end up consuming more of it.)

    That said, I’ve lost 20 pounds over three months just by counting calories: I have an app on my phone which helps me keep track, and which calculates a calorie budget based on my goals. Just being aware that this delicious cookie represents 10% of a healthy adult’s daily calorie intake, and that it’d take a 90-minute walk to make up for it, helps.

  16. Go have a conversation with Steve Barnes. He’ll set you up with a program and you’ll be a chick magnet in no time.

    He says he just finished up the new Dream Park so he’s probably got some time.

    Ultimately though, it’s a pretty simple formula: Use more calories than you consume until you get where you want to be, then make them equal each other.

  17. To quell all concerns on the issue:

    Currently I am at about 175 pounds. In my experience I look and feel better between 155 and 160 pounds. If I exercised more than I do, I suspect I would get to my desired size but weigh slightly more than 155 – 160, due to muscle mass. But no matter how you slice it I need to lose a bit of weight.

    And no, I wasn’t offended by TGA’s comment — he saw me over the weekend and was going by what he saw.

  18. Dave H @ 17:

    I’ve done farm work. In that case as well there was no need to be prompted to clean my plate. Ditto my siblings.

    I wonder if the clean-your-plate obsession instead came in part from after food became more abundant and people became in general less active. People — especially farm moms — grew up learning to cook big portions (when possible) but their less-active children weren’t as hungry, so became more picky. And if you spent a fair amount of your time shopping and cooking and etc, seeing food “wasted” might feel insulting. So … “Eat, eat! There are hungry children in China/Africa/Ireland.”

    (And woe to the wise-acre kid who suggested mailing it to them.)

  19. The last time I met John in person was before my trip to the BEA in 2007. It was at a book signing, and the audience and I had fun putting objects in orbit around his mid-section.

    (Yes, John, I outweigh you by a good 110 pounds and probably did back then as well, so you get a free shot. Assuming you can hit the broad side of a barn, this should be easy.)

  20. Who would have thunk it that being a “picky eater” 50 years ago could have such health benefits????

  21. With modern American fashion, I think men can hide extra weight a lot easier than women. I dunno about John, but only my doctor, my family, and the guys in the men’s locker room see me in a state where my extra thirty pounds is obvious. Plus men are in general bigger and therefore typically gain and lose weight in bigger chunks.

    What works for me best in terms of diet is to build a solid routine. Eat roughly the same amount at the same time every day. Once I build the routine, the impulse snacking urge drops. In many ways, it’s the exact opposite of mindful eating.

    I lost twenty pounds last fall doing that, and cutting out the eating out for lunch. (Replacing it with leftovers, not frozen lunches.) Sadly, the holidays stalled the progress and I need to get back on it.

  22. One useful thing is to shop for food daily: it increases the number of steps you take, and also avoids the problem of having too much food at home at any given time. As a surprising side effect it also took a third off my grocery bill and more than a third off the contents of the garbage bin.

    And finally: your other option is to forget weight loss per se and focus on exercise. I weigh 167lbs on a 5′ 3″ frame which is about 7lbs heavier than I like. Now, I’m not exactly skinny but there is almost no fat there, thanks to some serious weight lifting. The reason I bring it up is that I am some 20lb heavier now than when I started weight lifting five years ago, but have a great deal less fat. And I much, much prefer lifting weights than thinking about food all the time. If you find dieting a real strain/counterproductive (I do, I just obsess about food) then weight training is a good way to shape up.

  23. I rarely eat at my desk. Occasionally I will eat *lunch* at my desk, but I am not a big snacker and actually I kind of think the whole snack concept is a communist plot. People have only become larger since the whole “eat six small meals a day” fad began.

    I have been going at this rather aggressively, and I’ve found I need to do three things simultaneously to lose weight are 1) exercise a LOT 2) count every calorie I eat, every day of my life, forever and 3) low carb. I’ve been skeptical of low carb diets for a long time, but when I tried it, I was really amazed at how it shuts down the munchies and overeating. I generally don’t plan my eating, but since I’ve been low carbing, I rarely find that I’ve eaten more than 1400 calories when I add it up at the end of the day.

    I do think those of us who work at desks have an extra challenge in staying fit. My sister (who is about my height) works at Lowe’s hefting 50lb bags of cement and such, and she no longer needs to work out at the gym to stay in great shape.

  24. Increase lean protein and vegetable intake, lower carb intake. Not in as drastic a manner as the Atkins diet, just have more green beans and fewer potatoes. It works.

  25. Although again, “weight” is really a bit of a myth – weight is very loosely tied to actually important things like body-fat percentage and cardiovascular health. (Apparently one of the common reasons people give up exercise is that they hop on the scale, see they haven’t ‘lost weight’ and give up – not realizing that their bodies are replacing fat with muscle, which doesn’t nudge the scale down.)

    Ms. Hoak’s advice is excellent. I particularly like the suggestions about making it simple to munch on health things.

  26. The Gray Area @ 18

    I understood that it was probably offered as a compliment. But. I suspect that most people in this relatively public space were, like me, unaware of your background and your personal connection with John. Also, speaking as someone with weight issues (*), hearing someone disagree with my own statements about my personal goals is not helpful, especially when it’s done publicly.

    (*) I’m aware that those are my issues, not John’s. That’s why I phrased my initial remarks as I did. I wasn’t being snarky when I said “quite possibly that’s just me”, I was being honest.

  27. Coke Zero doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup. It has aspartame.

    I drink a diet soda that has splenda in it.

  28. @ChristopherTurkel- what diet soda has Splenda? I can’t have aspartame anymore and really miss the ocassional soda!

  29. You (and Ms. Hoak) will no doubt be thrilled to hear that her site is blocked by my company, as “Inappropriate content: dating/personals.”

    We have many desk-grazers here who could probably have benefited from her wisdom.

  30. @Adrienne Pepsi Zero has Splenda. I am also allergic to aspartame.

    Locally, my grocery store’s diet soda (Price Chopper) uses Splenda.

  31. Check out one of the latest episodes of Good Eats, “Live And Let Diet” I believe. Alton Brown talks about how he lost 50 pounds without dieting (at least in the traditional sense), just by paying more attention to what he ate.

    Another option is to cut out the majority of your dietary sugars, this presentation claims that they are the reason for the obesity epidemic in the US:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjxyjcvW7RE

  32. Apparently that site is blocked by my employer. :P

    That being said, and I’m opening myself up for abuse here, I have great results from Atkins. I’ve always struggled with my weight, even as a child (sweet tooth+asthma=boom babba!). After my first stint of college, I became sedentary and gained a bunch of weight, eventually topping out at about 225 (I”m 5’3″). In late 2002, my very obese roommate went on Atkins because he started experiencing high blood pressure at 32 years of age. in 2 weeks he’d lost 15 pounds. I was inspired to give it a go myself, and dropped all the way down to 132 pounds in about a year. I went off Atkins a year after that because I wasn’t losing any more weight. I remained at about 132-134 for 3 years or so, and then I went on a cruise and gained 12 pounds. I lost that extra weight for my wedding, but my honeymoon put it right back on. Of course. Ah well, my husband still loves me. :)

    Anyway, my husband and I are on Atkins to drop our holiday weight, and I’ve lost about 9 pounds, and my husband 6. We’ve been on about 3 weeks, so it’s not excessive. It feels good to see the results not only on the scale, but in how our clothes fit and the way our bodies look. And it’s really motivating to see our scale change just about every day, even if it’s just a little bit.

    I constantly hear from people, “Atkins is going to kill you!” My response is always, what’s worse? Eating for a few months a diet that MIGHT be bad for you, or lifelong obesity?

    And the good news is, Diet Coke Zeros is carb-friendly.

  33. Adrienne, Diet Rite uses splenda. They have a variety of flavors besides just the cola (which I find bland, actually). It’s not caffienated, FYI. There’s also a Diet Coke and a Diet Pepsi variety that uses Splenda instead of aspartame.

  34. If you’re interested in learning more about what makes you fat, I’d strongly recommend the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It’s a hefty volume, but he makes an incredibly strong case for excess carbohydrates being the cause of obesity (and diabetes and heart disease) instead of simply eating too many calories.

    In short, the book is virtually a license to eat bacon.

  35. Ian @ 40 – At least until the salt and fat content combine to give you high blood pressure and arterial blockage leading to a stroke.

    Moderation in all things is called for, even when it comes to bacon.

    I’ve dropped 120 lbs since August of 2008 by eating correctly and exercising more (mostly bike riding, but started out doing Wii Fit the first few months). The tools and community at Spark People have been a big help. Focus on changing your overall diet and what the caloric intake and activity level needed to maintain your goal weight is, then just get in the habit of doing that. You’re not dieting, you’re just doing what you should. In time, you’ll get where you’re going without depriving or torturing yourself. Of course, some folks like deprivation and torture.

  36. Bearpaw said, “Also, speaking as someone with weight issues (*), hearing someone disagree with my own statements about my personal goals is not helpful, especially when it’s done publicly…”

    Sorry if I seemed rude, Bearpaw. I think I’m normally considered a fairly polite fellow. Maybe you could tell me how I disagreed with your own staements, since I’m still not clear about my preceived transgression. Next time, perhaps you can just ask me to explain what I’ve said. I have no problem admitting that I don’t always word things as well as I might, and that some miscommunication can occur from time to time.

    No hard feelings, I hope. Bearhugs for all who want them. Grrrrr.

  37. I’m rather fond of Hara Hachi Bu, an Okinawan practice of eating until you are 80 percent full.

    It takes a while for your stomach to communicate to your brain that it’s full, and stopping when you’re almost but not quite full lets the brain catch up and realize that you are, actually, quite comfortable. (I wonder at times if we’re taught to not believe we’re full until we actually feel over-full.)

  38. I agree with those who say that simply being aware of how many calories are in an item of food has made a big difference in my eating habits – and thus weight loss – in a way that I can maintain.

    It means that most times, I decide that those fries, or that piece of pie, or those chips, just aren’t worth it. And sometimes, I’m free to decide that they /are/, because I understand that it’s not the end of the world to have a few hundred extra calories now, when I really really want them, because I’m not having them every time I just kinda maybe sorta want them.

    I use The Daily Plate and it’s made a huge difference for me. I find that I lose weight much more consistently when I am using it regularly than when I am not!

  39. I gnaw on fresh fruit and unsalted nuts now, in moderation mostly because it’s hard to overeat these things. Except for Blue Diamond Wasabi Soy almonds and Hapi Wasabi Peas, I mean, but I don’t eat those anymore; too much salt and other crap in em.

    For me, avoiding grains, grain-based stuff, dairy, and all sweets/starches works. If it didn’t come out of the ground/ocean/farm that way, I don’t eat it. Fruit, veg (no tubers or legumes), nuts, lean meat/poultry, seafood. YMMV.

  40. I read this immediately after eating a huge piece of cake while sitting at my desk. If only you’d posted this earlier, I’d be svelte.

  41. I wonder if this afternoon’s post has any connection to this morning’s tweet about cookies. and a hammer.

  42. I’ve found that paying some attention to the glycemic index makes a difference. Eating sweet potatoes rather than regular, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. I have to watch sodium, and find I eat a lot more beans than I used to (not canned). I’m good with the veggies, but have now started to fix a dish of mixed fresh fruit for breakfast to help get in my servings of fruit.

  43. In terms of eating better, Mark Bittman’s Food Matters is great. He gets into how eating healthier is also better for the planet. The carbon footprint of meat production is roughly equivalent to that of transportation. And it has recipes! And tactics for cooking to eat healthier. Did you know brown rice (unlike white) keep tasty in the fridge for a week? It does.

    On the whole diet/food issue, reading Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin helped with setting priorities. She points out that the current mainstream model of diet and weight dates from, well, shit people made up in the late Victorian era. And research discounting the popular wisdom on dieting never gets a hearing. Did you know that the whole cutting 3500 calories to lose a pound thing was created by a nutritionist who never treated obese patients. And that no one has ever been able to replicate that result on human subjects? But it’s a zombie fact repeated over and over again.

    She says that we know what makes people healthy, eating right and exercising. But that if they are obese, it won’t necessarily make people thin. So they stop doing it.

    I will note that your goal is within the 10% range that is generally considered achievable. Wish you well.

  44. I did the same thing Steve @ #19 did.

    Downloaded a free calorie counting app (Lose It, for those with iPhones/iTouches). Dropped 20 lbs, combined with exercise.

    Amazing just knowing how much is in everything I eat. It’s also changed my habits – the smaller plates/portions thing is very true. Now I don’t bring the chip bag to the couch or desk with me. I pour a small amount into a bowl and that’s all I get.

    The nice thing is I haven’t really changed *what* I eat. I still get all the yummy stuff. I’ve just changed how much.

    Although I was pret-ty grumpy for the first 3 weeks. ;-)

  45. I really really hate the high-fructose corn syrup ads that are pretty much telling the public “it’s natural, it’s made from corn and it’s just like sugar. You just have to use it in moderation.”

    You can’t. That’s my argument, I sent then a 10-page essay on that fact. If you use any prepared foods there is a huge issue of HFCS being in them. This causes a special problem for me because I’m ever so slightly allergic to corn. I have to watch the amount of corn products I consume. If I over-do it, I have severe tummy troubles.

    HFCS is in such things as spaghetti sauce, and other things that you would not expect to find it and things like fruit juice, desserts, etc.

    I hates it.

  46. @14 Bearpaw: we’d be drinking more formaldehyde and melamine, I suspect.

    @51 Paula Helm Murray: it’s also in things like cough syrup. It’s everywhere. o.O

    I’m a continuous graze sort of eater myself. Who is perpetually trying to keep weight up, not down. But I pay attention to what I eat for enough vitamins/minerals and because my family has high cholesterol issues. I’ve noticed that on days where I don’t go out/don’t move much (which is a lot more of them now that I’m unemployed and trying to conserve gas as well as not having many places to go), I eat a LOT less. But I also have no sweet tooth to speak of, so when I try to eat more, it’s fairly healthy (usually).

    I only drink sodas with real sugar in them (because, fake food isn’t food dammit), but I only drink them occasionally. Most of the time it’s filtered tap water. Moderation works much better than total abstinence, and makes the treats into actual real treats when they happen.

    Also, I’m trying to start a new fad: the anti-box diet. Basically, if it comes in a box, don’t eat it. :) (Cartons aren’t boxes, and dried pasta is an exception.) It turns out that just about everything highly processed comes in a box, and nearly everything that comes in a box is highly processed. Cut them all out and you’ll automatically be forced to find healthier stuff to eat.

  47. I’m finding the blog Small Bites to be pretty reasonably balance on nutrition and diet and there are recipes.

  48. I should just like to take a moment to lament the degeneration in modern manners signalled by the fact that we have a word for ‘deskgrazing’. I had previously lived in happy ignorance thereof.

    Occasion to use it? ‘Oo, me? Never! Well, hardly ever. Well, hardly always…

  49. Exercise!
    I’ve found that exercising more means I don’t want to eat as much junk, but I can eat some junk with a clear conscience because the calories are being burnt off anyway. And if you’re anything like me, your goal is not some arbitrary figure on a weighing scales, it’s to look and feel healthier – I think exercise is a better way to get there.

    (I followed a couch-to-5k running plan, with the free podcasts by Robert Ullrey.)

  50. My kids brought home one of those charming involuntary-explusion-from-both-ends-sometimes-simultaneously bugs last week. After two days I’d lost 7 pounds. Although much of that is probably dehydration. Not really recommended, to be fair.

  51. For those who graze in front of the TV, doing something else at the same time helps. I took up knitting (now a secret addiction in its own right) and it cut out the munchies and helped me loose the pounds. Not very easy if you’re at a desk or computer though.

  52. For people who don’t have time to go to the gym, this is a pretty good workout that can be done at home with only a set of dumbbells: The Complete Dumbbell Workkout. Especially good for body-toning and shaping.

    Scheduling and other commitments led me to dropping workouts about a year ago. As a result, I’ve crept up to a scale number I never expected to see, the dreaded 200. Which has made me realize that I need to make working out part of my schedule again. Besides the weight, I always found that exercising regularly helped decrease stress. (You know, like the stress caused by all those commitments that made me drop workouts in the first place.)

    So I’ve started trying to fit in the Spartacus Workout several times a week. This also only uses dumbbells, developed for the actors portraying gladiators on the new Spartacus tv series, and packs both aerobic and strength training into an intense but fairly short time. First saw it in MEN’S HEALTH magazine, but getting it off their website requires registration. You can get the routine off the Military.com site, tho’, without that extra step.

    (Note: The first time you try to do the Spartacus workout, you will DIE. Or feel like you are, gasping for breath and pouring sweat. And that was after just one of the three circuits I was supposed to do. After a few days recovery, the second time was a LOT easier, though I still haven’t worked up to the full three circuits.)

  53. PHM @ 53: Do you have a Trader Joe’s in your area? I have yet to buy a product from them with HFCS. (Okay, I don’t buy soda, but still.)

    They also don’t have preservatives in their breads, which is why we keep our bread in the fridge.

    Here’s a page on working with the glycemic index. The biggest revelation for me was discovering how oils and vinegars help improve the glycemic index of many foods— which means a vinaigrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar is more diabetic-friendly than a dry salad. It’s a very useful set of guidelines.

    And on that note, I’ve had a lot of friends successfully lose weight in recent years, and every single one of them did it through portion control. The advice in the linked article is all about making portion control unconscious, so that you don’t need to think about it. Well, and not cramming down those last bites through any sense of misplaced guilt.

  54. Mindless grazing; snacking without conscious thought, is something that many people do, and don’t even think about. Keep veggies on hand to snack on, and next time that you eat something, first write it down in your daily journal. At the end of each day, take a moment, and try to remember each bite of food and how you felt afterwards. Being healthy is a lifestyle, not a diet. There are many good tips on how to achieve permanent weight loss; none of them includes gimmicks, diets, or diet pills. To assist with weight control; keep a daily food journal and every time the urge to snack is felt, first drink a large glass of clear water. The major reason so many people in America are overweight is because we eat too much for comfort! It does not hurt to treat ourselves with something special once in a while, what is necessary is that we limit our portions and do not overeat! It is also necessary to keep our body properly hydrated, so drink a full glass of water with each meal or snack. Being overweight ******, but after reading a book, I lost 85 pounds! Words can not express how good I feel! This is a comment which I recently received about the book Lose Weight Using Four Easy Steps

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