Lessons from the CRON-O-Meter
I’ve changed my tune on the CRON-O-Meter. I always stayed away because I thought it was too inaccurate. Too much variability. I just didn’t think it would yield much useful info. But after reading Josh Hillis’s Fat Loss Happens on Mondays, I decided to do an experiment to finally see what I am and am not getting. Protein? Essential amino acids? Calcium? Magnesium? Etc, etc. I’ve always gone on the assumption that following Dr. McDougall and Jeff’s guidelines was enough, don’t overthink i! But I wanted to actually see it for myself. In numbers and graphs. I also wanted to play around with recipes and have an actual nutrition breakdown. What kept me away was not wanting to deal with the measuring for each recipe. Much of my cooking doesn’t require any measuring, so stopping to measure everything looked onerous. With an inexpensive digital kitchen scale, it turned out to be pretty easy. I measured for each new recipe, then when I make it again, I follow it again, or modify it as needed. It’s a little bit of a hassle, but doable.
So why do it? What can I learn?
If anything isn’t working, or you’re not seeing the results you expect, measure it and record it. Weight loss? Measure it. Weight gain? Analyze it. Worried about this or that nutrient? Measure it. Exercise? Measure it. It won’t be 100% accurate, they are estimates, but I’ve changed my mind and agree with others who believe that over time, the data will average out and be close enough.
What I found:
Calorie density vs. satiety as Jeff Novick teaches is real.
But there are individual differences. I can look at my records and see what foods give me the most satiety per calorie. For me, potatoes win, but my congees and kitcharis made with white rice and mung beans are quite close. Bread, my weakness, has much lower satiety per calorie. I *knew* that already, but the numbers make it clearer. Craft beer and wine are wonderful, but what a caloric wallop, and the munchies that come after make it even worse. And my morning oats? Chia seeds are a nice omega-3 boost, but add a couple of walnuts on top and wow! Another calorie bomb. Oh yeah, and that guac that the “Avocados from Mexico” ads have you craving? High fat plant foods can bomb like Vietnam your diet quick fast and in a hurry.
Energy balance, appetite, and true hunger are trickier than many people say.
When my bike volume dropped off in the fall and I switched to strength training, my appetite did not recalibrate automatically. I had to deliberately restrict calories, and at first I was really hungry. It did reset after a couple days, but it required effort. Dr. Fuhrman uses the concept of “true hunger vs. toxic hunger” to help people recalibrate. Toxic hunger is a detox symptom that is relieved by eating again. Just like a detox reaction to caffeine withdrawal is fixed by more caffeine. Over the holidays, I discovered the truth of this when comparing my feast days to my potato hack days. The day after a feast day, my hunger was upregulated. The normal simple potato hack meals that satisfied left me feeling a little . . . alone. What I really WANTED, as opposed to what I actually needed, was more rich food. The short term contrast between feast and fast was quite interesting. Those rich foods stimulate appetitive and you want more, whereas plain food is well, plain. Easier to move away from.
Lastly, Jeff has frequently admonished us to watch out for those little indulgences.
We often separate and compartmentalize our indulgences to hide them from ourselves. “But it’s only a little chocolate,” but when that is added to another different indulgence, and a third, the cumulative effect is big. But when considered separately, it’s “just a little!” Measure and it becomes clear. A “little bit” of X, then later in the day a “little bit” of Y, and “a little bit” of Z after dinner somehow registers in the brain as a “just a little bit” but really multiplied by three, you have much more than a little bit. Measure it and you can see how
It’s a worthwhile experiment to take the time to record your favorite recipes and see what they look like. Reassure yourself that you’re getting enough of everything, and if not, tweak it. It will also help with figuring out portion size relative to energy balance. If you’ve been at it for awhile but hit a plateau, use it to diagnose what’s not working.
And if you’re in the habit of discussing your diet with others, you can field the questions of “Where do you get your . . .?” Or, “You’re not getting enough . . .” with the answer that you have in fact measured it and can provide a printout.