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When I was a relatively new dad, I always worked out, but my routine was definitely thrown off by my little need machines (aka children).  Over my first 3 years of parenthood, I gained about 15 pounds.  Although I religiously kept up with my weight training during this period, the two primary culprits were (1) I wasn’t consistently getting in a good cardio workout, and (2) in my exhaustion I had let my nutrition slip to a non-nutritious level.  As my oldest hit 3 years old, I decided to make a change and I started with the simple stuff.

  1. I Stopped Drinking Soda – I have blogged about soda before, and I understand this is a “no brainer”, but a single 12 oz, sugar-laden soda packs from 150 – 180 calories.  Giving up a single soda each day means you’re consuming about 1,200 fewer calories per week.  This was literally my first step and I dropped 5lbs., from this action alone.
  2. I Abandoned My Membership to the “Clean Plate Club” – I was not born in the great depression, but I did notice that during this period of my life you would have thought I would be punished if I didn’t finish everything on my plate.  I started going for smaller portions in general, selecting smaller plates to begin with, and yes, I allowed myself to leave some food on the plate.  I know I cut out at least 200-400 calories per day with this one.
  3. I Decided to Choose The Healthy Option – At home or at a restaurant, I decided that when given simple choices about my meal, I would choose healthy.  Would you like wheat or white bread?  Wheat.  Would you like to add bacon and/or cheese to your sandwich?  No.  Do you want French Fries or a garden salad with that.  I’ll go with the garden salad.  It’s amazing how many healthy (or unhealthy) choices we get to make each day.  Hard to guess the caloric savings on this one, but I did feel good that my calories would be meaningful and not empty.
  4. I Began Eating a Light Breakfast & Afternoon Snack – I grew up a night owl and never really felt hungry at breakfast time.  However, I was getting older and everything I was reading said that missing breakfast was a big mistake from a metabolism perspective.  Thus, I started eating a small cup of oatmeal, a handful of trail mix, or half of a protein bar in the morning with my cup of coffee.  With the exception of the oatmeal and coffee I started eating the same around mid afternoon.

I also made sure that my cardio routine was a bit more consistent – but I don’t count that in the “low hanging fruit” category of healthy actions to take.   The point here is that there are some very simple things that you can do to consume fewer calories, to ensure those calories you do consume are working for you, and to get that metabolism moving in the right direction.  The four things I did when kick-starting my diet/nutrition plan following my first three years of parenting weren’t difficult changes at all, and I saw the results within weeks.

There are a lot of things you can do to cut “empty calories” and eat less, that don’t include drastic changes to your diet.  A recent article in Men’s Health covered some research showing how changing the environment where you eat can help you drop 175 calories/day, and another article reviewed that fact that night owls eat 549 calories more than early birds, on average.  The research underlying both of these articles is actually pretty basic, and it comes down to a number of co-variates driving logical behavior.  For example, mood lighting and relaxing music makes you eat more slowly.  Research has proven that if you eat more slowly, you give your brain enough time to notice you’re full, prior to eating those additional calories you didn’t need.  Stay up late, kind of bored, probably not a great idea to make that double-decker sandwich to accompany your inactive internet/TV time.

The point is to find those things your doing that may be adding over a 1,000 calories a day to your intake, that are an afterthought at best, and make the necessary changes to reduce or eliminate them.  I think you’ll be amazed at how you begin to look and feel, and then you can decide if you want to go after the next level nutrition and fitness challenge.  Start with the low hanging stuff!

“The secret to getting ahead, is getting started.”  – Mark Twain

Small steps add up!