Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 30: woo-hoo!

Almost done!

Wow - what a ride.

I met a former colleague for non-coffee at Starbucks at 0630 this morning (non-coffee meaning he had coffee, I watched him), then went to get my post-experiment lab work done. I went today because I'm thinking I'm going to have a few things this weekend that might blow the results come Monday.

So after the lab work, I had a PB&J sandwich (PB - $0.05; J - $0.03; wheat bread $0.09) in my office and brewed a cup of coffee ($0.03).

So breakfast was $0.20.

I went home for lunch and made a very nice plate of fried rice -

I had some left over brown rice in the fridge, so this idea came to me. 

Fried rice:

rice  $ 0.13
egg  $ 0.16
peas  $ 0.09
corn  $ 0.09
carrots  $ 0.17
soy  $ 0.04
canola  $ 0.01
onion  $ 0.12
Total:        $0.81

I ate the whole thing - about 750 cal! As I've said before, rice is cheap calories!

I had my calcium + vitamin D supplement with lunch ($0.09).

So lunch was $0.90.

In the afternoon I made another half pot of coffee ($0.09) and had an oz of cheddar ($0.19).

Dinner was grilled chicken breast ($0.75), roasted zucchini ($0.25), and bread ($0.12).

After dinner I had a cup of tea ($0.02) and a piece of bread ($0.03) with jelly ($0.03).

Total cost for the day: $2.58
Total calories for the day: 1,707

Rounding out the Triad -

Exercise: Ran 4.5 miles with the dog - about 550 cal.

Sleep: Didn't manage this one well. Got to bed at almost mid-night, had to get up at 0530 to get to my 0630 non-coffee. This was a second day in a row with low sleep, and I can tell you I was feeling it today. My performance level was lowered.

And that, my friends, is all she wrote!

Day 29: One day more...

I'm happy to say, one day more today. It's been great, it's been fun, and now it's time to not have this constraint anymore.

I'm thinking fresh blueberries are in order for Saturday morning. Or some sort of fresh fruit.

Living on the $3 diet takes preparation. This represented my plan for the day. Breakfast, lunch, and snacks, ready to go to work with me. 

I worked out at the gym, had some coffee ($0.13), then packed off with all this stuff. But before I left, I swallowed a calcium+vitamin D supplement ($0.09), part of my new breakfast routine.

I ate the banana ($0.15) on the way to work. I ate the egg ($0.15) mid-morning.

Breakfast added up to $0.53.

I went out to lunch with my boss - we went to the Gucci-B (Central Market on Broadway). They have an eatery where you can buy stuff in the store (they have several short order lines, as well as pre-made salads and other nice stuff) and eat it. I smuggled in my peanut butter ($0.05) on wheat bread ($0.09) sandwich and a hunk of cheddar cheese ($0.39) and had a free glass of water.

Lunch was $0.56.

In the afternoon I had 6oz of peach yogurt ($0.37) as a snack.

For dinner I whipped up some baked penne.

The baked penne was was pretty basic - 6 oz of pasta ($0.36), 2.5 oz of ricotta ($0.30), 4.7 oz of mozzarella ($0.87), and 5 oz of homemade sauce ($0.40). Total cost for the pan - $1.93. I ate half for $0.96.

Even with that expensive dinner I was only at about $2.40, so I had another bowl of yogurt ($0.37) and a pickle ($0.14) later in the evening.

Total cost for the day: $2.94.

Rounding out the Triad -

Exercise: I did about 30 minutes on the stairmaster for about 600 cal, then another 15 minutes on the elliptical for another 200 cal.

Sleep: A little low - I stayed up late with my daughter helping her with homework and didn't get to bed until after midnight, so I wound up with about 6 hours of sleep - which is low for me.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

summary stats - week 4

It's like it was only yesterday that this was an idea, and now it's almost over.

So here we are at week 4, with only 2 days to go. As in the past, the blue bars on the below graph represent the cost of each day's food, the red line represents the number of calories I consumed. Average calories per day for week 4 was 1,718; average per day through day 28 was 1,692. I consciously started increasing my calorie count this past week, targeting 1,800. Spendingduring week 4 was also higher, at $2.65/day, vs. $2.50 for the whole 28 day period.

The below graph shows calories consumed (blue bars) vs. calories burned through exercise (red bars). Week 4 had some hectic days, so I missed working out on two days, but I have been thinking about raising my exercise intensity lately, so I've hit 700+ calories on some days.

And finally, weight continues to go down. I weighed in this morning at 182.3.

Day 28: not too late

I just wasn't in the mood for oatmeal this morning, so I had a banana ($0.15) with my coffee ($0.13), and made a peanut butter sandwich mid-morning (bread $0.03; PB $0.05). Before I went to the gym I had a slice of wheat bread ($0.03). So breakfast was basically $0.39.

I worked from home in the morning, so I was able to bake some sweet potatoes. These took longer than I expected - about 70 minutes - but when they were finally done, they were excellent. I sprinkled just a bit of cinnamon and sugar on top and ate it right out of the skin (12.6 oz, $0.44, plus about $0.01 for the cinnamon and sugar).

I had a side of the southwest macaroni salad (that recipe made a lot) - 6 oz for $0.21.

While I was teaching in the afternoon I had a banana ($0.15) as a snack.

Dinner was nice -I had bought a second plantain ($0.44) last week, and it was still good, but starting to turn, so I chopped it up and fried it in a teaspoon of canola oil ($0.01).

Frying them really brings out the sugar. I served it with some left over brown rice ($0.05) and a bratwurst ($0.50).

In the evening I had some yogurt (6 oz, $0.37) a pickle ($0.14), and some tea ($0.02). I forgot to take my supplement.

Reflecting on the day's nutrition, I felt like I had done a pretty good job incorporating some affordable fruits and vegetables. I'm starting to see how I could plan for the higher cost of those ingredients later in the day. Something simple for breakfast like oatmeal or a peanut butter sandwich, and save the fresh stuff for later.

Total cost for the day:       $2.69
Total calories for the day: 1,816

Rounding out the Triad -

Exercise: Stairmaster for about 35 minutes and 457 cal, elliptical for about 22 minutes or 255 cal, and as I was walking out of the gym I saw my boss on the treadmill, so I got up on the treadmill next to him and we had a walking/jogging meeting for about 25 minutes or 145 cal. Total calorie burn for the day: 857

Sleep: Good - about 7 hours.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 27: roast cauliflower in the house

I took a break from the $3 special and decided to have peach yogurt (6oz, $0.37) and a banana for breakfast ($0.15), and coffee ($0.13), of course.

Breakfast total: $0.65

I had a hard boiled egg ($0.15) mid-morning as a snack.

Lunch was left-over bratwursts ($0.75) and left over brown rice ($0.05).

In the afternoon I brought some bread ($0.08) and cheddar cheese ($0.22) for a snack.

When I got home from work, we had the macaroni salad again (12 oz, $0.43) and roasted cauliflower ($0.31) with garam masala ($0.05). Garam masala is a blend of Indian spices - very good on cauliflower. Goes in a number of Indian dishes I like to cook.

With dinner I took another calcium + vitamin D supplement ($0.09).

Dinner total: $0.88.

I'm not a huge cauliflower fan, it doesn't give me pleasure to eat it. It's really one of those foods I choke down because I know it's good for me. We'd had this head in the house for almost a week before I finally felt like I had the room in my diet to financially fit it. I think if I were to continue this diet, that is how I would try to operate - intentionally leave some financial room for fresh vegetables at the end of the day.

I've been learning as I go along what works for me. Thirty days is not enough time to make things automatic, but eventually I'm confident the choice set would become automatic and much of the intellectual effort would diminish. I feel it beginning to happen now - I don't stress about the planning so much now. I've developed some stand-bys that work - oatmeal, PB&J, a chunk of cheese.

After dinner I had some tea ($0.02) and some bread ($0.08) with peanut butter ($0.05) and jelly ($0.03).

Total cost for the day: $2.97

Total calories for the day: 1,815

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise: 30 minutes on the stairmaster (392 cal); 25 minutes hill climbing (319 cal).

Sleep: up early to do some reading - so about 6.5 hours.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 26: the home stretch!

Today is Monday, Day 26. Four more days!

Really, it hasn't been too bad most days. I feel good about the weight loss I've accomplished, as well as some of the lessons about eating that I have learned.

In the past when I have dieted, it's been all about the calories, not about nutrition, so I've developed some dysfunctional habits, like filling up on pickles and Diet Coke. I've learned from Kerryn that Diet Coke is not good for you, and that pickles are not a substitute for milk. So that's something.

Today started with the $3 diet special - oatmeal with milk, a little sugar, and coffee. $0.43.

Mid-morning I had a hard boiled egg ($0.15).

Lunch was the left over sesame peanut noodles (the disappointing ones without the sesame oil - really need to restock that) - $0.35.

In the afternoon before my 1500 class, I had a banana.

I did have Dot working all day cooking some black and red beans for a Southwest Pasta Salad dish I found:

I made about 2/3 of the recipe, and added onions. I could have made ratio of beans to pasta higher. Maybe even added some more veges, and it would still have been quite good. i made it with black beans, red beans, bell pepper, onion, shredded cheese, and ranch dressing. Lots of cumin and chili powder. It was pretty easy. If I had been using canned beans, prep time would have been about 20 minutes. It had a nice mix of textures and flavors. Kandie really liked it too - but she thinks it could have used some avocado. I'm allergic to avocado, so I refer to that fruit as "The Poison." Nevertheless, I have to agree with her. Back when I could eat avocado, I liked it quite well, and think it would have tasted great with this fresh dish.

The only drawback to lighter pasta dishes like this is... you're hungry soon after you eat it.

So I had a bit of bread ($0.02), an ounce of cheese ($0.17), and some birthday cake! ($0.25).

And I decided based on Kerryn's last analysis to give in and take a Calcium+Vitamin D supplement ($0.09). It's expensive than Tums, but it doesn't seem like I can get enough of those vitamins on this diet without the boost.

Total cost for the day: $2.26
Total calories: 1,816

Rounding out the Triad -

Exercise: None. I meant to go to the gym at lunch time, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and I just stayed in the building. 

Sleep: About 7 hours.

Day 25: It's rainbows and unicorns!

I'm afraid day 25 was pretty boring.

So just look at this picture of unicorns and rainbows:

OK - just kidding. Well, about the unicorns and rainbows. It was a pretty boring day.

Oatmeal ($0.10) made with milk ($0.19) and a little sugar ($0.01), and coffee of course ($0.13) - for a breakfast total of $0.43.

After church services, I took the dog out for a 4.5 mile run. It was a nice clear day and the run felt good, if a little slow. Loseit says it was worth about 550 cal.

Lunch was sesame peanut noodles. The only dose of excitement for the day was the fact that I traded out creamy peanut butter for crunchy peanut butter. Oh - and I was out of sesame oil, so I made it with just canola, which drastically cut the cost, but also cut into flavor - $0.35.

Dinner was actually a little special. Day 26 is my daughter's birthday, and since that is a Monday, we decided to take her out to dinner. The only restaurant all my kids agree on is Macaroni Grill, so that is where we went.

I did eat there - because it was a family event. But trying to stay true to the spirit of the $3 Diet, I was committed to only buying something I could afford to cook at home on my budget. Initially I planned to just order a plate of pasta with marinara. But then I saw they had sausage and roasted potatoes - a dish I make all the time at home. So here is my estimate of what my Macaroni Grill dish would have cost me to make:

brats  $ 1.10
onion  $ 0.10
pepper  $ 0.17
potato  $ 0.24

Total                                                  $1.61

I also had some of their bread ($0.10) and dipped it in their olive oil ($0.05).

Total Mac Grill experience: $1.76

The actual bill was $13.50. I never would have ordered that dish out - I can make it at least as good as they did. But I wanted to keep to the spirit of the Diet, like I said.

I didn't snack during the day - so the total was pretty simple - $2.55 for day 25.

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise: as I mentioned, I ran about 4.5 miles for about 550 cal.

Sleep: Better than the night before - about 7 hours.

5 more days!

Another one down: week three nutrient analysis

Another week down and only one to go on the $3 diet! Mark has continued to be successful in meeting his financial constraints. I think he has this part down now! Nutritionally, not much is different from week’s one and two as I analyzed week three using Super Tracker Macronutrient content (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) continues to be adequate, with the majority of Mark’s calories coming from carbohydrate sources. This is not surprising, considering how expensive protein rich foods (meat and dairy) are compared to high carbohydrate foods such as breads, oatmeal, pasta, etc. Because of this, Mark can afford more high carbohydrate foods with his budget limitations in comparison to other foods. During week three, Mark’s carbohydrate intake averaged out to approximately 56% of total calories consumed, while protein intake was roughly 17%, and fat was 27% of total calories.

Similar to week’s two and three, Mark came close to meeting his nutritional targets on most micronutrients, with the exception of calcium and vitamin D, just as we witnessed during week’s one and two. It’s probably safe to say at this point, that Mark would likely have difficulty meeting his needs of these two micronutrients over the long run if he were to maintain this diet for longer than 30 days. We do, however, continue to see improvement in Mark’s calcium and vitamin D intake from week’s one and two. You’re almost there Mark, so don’t quit on dairy now!

During week three, calcium intake climbed by 11%, now meeting 86% of his nutritional needs, while his vitamin D intake jumped up 7% to now meeting 33% of his needs. To me, this is great progress, and ultimately what matters in the end. If nothing else, Mark is now acutely aware of the importance of dairy in a healthy diet. The harsh reality, however, is that while dairy is the one of the best (if not the best) dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D, it is not a cheap commodity.

Also worthy of mention is that vitamin C content this week was a bit lower that the past two weeks. As with calcium and vitamin D, you would expect to find higher levels of vitamin C in more expensive foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Again, these are luxury items on the $3 diet, and not something Mark was able to indulge in on a daily basis.

All in all, I am still impressed by Mark’s dedication and diligence. He’s taken recommendations to heart and has tried to incorporate mostly healthy foods into his daily intake. Not only that, but he continues his careful persistence in ensuring balance in his life, not only with nutrition, but with sleep and activity. Kudos Mark! Only a few days left in your challenge!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 24: 6 days left!

Only six days left - and I can't say I will miss the limitations. Except that I am worried I will just blow up like a puffer fish again.

Day 24 started with deciding to spend a little more money up front because day 23 went well. I decided to make hashbrowns and a fried egg.

I fried the potatoes in a teaspoon of oil, added some Mexican spices - cumin, chili powder - and then I used a few packs of Papa John's "parmesan" cheese. 

Ingredients in one of these packs:

parmesan cheese (cultured pasteurized part-skim milk, salt and enzymes), powdered cellulose addad as a flow agent, potassium sorbate as a preservative and titanium dioxide. Contains milk. 

But they were free. I don't know if they added anything really.

But the end product was satisfying.

So breakfast worked out to:

potato  $ 0.24
oil  $ 0.01
egg  $ 0.16
spices  $ 0.01
tums  $ 0.04
coffee  $ 0.13
Total:                         $0.59

Lunch was the last of the left over Crouching Macaroni from the other day ($0.42), and then some bread ($0.03) and an oz slice of cheddar ($0.24) - total: $0.68.

In the afternoon I had some tea ($0.02) and another slice of bread ($0.03) as a snack.

I started preparations for dinner a few days earlier with soaking some red beans. 

gratuitous bean shot:

The day I let these set out, I decided to make something else, so I took a tip from Kerryn and froze these beans.

They went into Dot in a couple of big lumps:

I cooked them on their own for the rest of the day, because the red beans and rice recipe on the back of the bag actually called for cooked beans. 

The recipe on the bag called it "red beans and rice", I think of it more as "red beans and kale". Did I say, "kale"? Why yes, I did.

To make this I used:

red beans
green pepper

I cut the casing off of the bratwurst (one link, about 3.6 oz, or $0.57) and mashed it up and started it frying first. Then I added the onion (3.3 oz, $0.11). Let those to work things out for a while, then added the green pepper ($0.33/pepper at Wal-Mart, half a pepper - $0.17). Once that was going, the recipe called for 1.5 tbsp spoon of canola, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/3 C cider vinegar. Once that was simmering, you add the beans (7 oz dry, $0.56) and 2 cups of chopped kale (3 oz, $0.15). You cook the mixture until the kale is wilted, then serve over rice ($0.15).

The beans and kale dish cost $1.63 total. I ate 1/4 of it ($0.41) plus the rice ($0.05) for a total of $0.46 for dinner.

Can't say I was all that excited about this dish, nor was Kandie. Kandie didn't like the sweet and sour nature of it (I kind of liked that); I didn't like the chewiness of the kale. Yes, I said the kale. If I make this again, I will probably 1) reduce the sugar, and 2) add the kale before I add the beans to cook it down more. Or I need to really chop it much smaller. 

After dinner I had spent only about $1.77 for the day, so I baked a banana ($0.18), had some tea ($0.02), and then toasted some cheese on bread.

I'm getting really good at cutting precise amounts of bread and cheese. These were 1 oz each, perfect on the first cut for both.


Food-wise, this felt like a good day. Emotionally, I feel much better if I have plenty of money left over going in to dinner. Kerryn and I have talked a little about the concept of "meal insecurity" - people who don't know if they are going to have 3 meals a day. I start getting a little panicky if I feel like I can't get my food (see Day 22). I can only imagine the desperation that one would feel if faced with that sort of situation.

I did finally go to the Randolph Commissary for the first time during this experiment. I hate the Commissary. (For non-military readers, that's the military grocery store you find on military bases. It is inevitably jam-packed with grey haired retirees who will elbow you out of the way mercilessly to get in front of you in line. And then you have to use their baggers, who expect a tip. I can take my own damn groceries to the car. And then there is a 5% surcharge added to your bill. This usually eliminates most of the savings you can get by shopping there unless you are careful.) So I did find a few good deals that I was excited about, because they are staples here at the $3 Diet. Onions were $1.49/3# - almost half the price I had been paying at HEB (that's the civilian grocery store that dominates San Antonio). Also Kraft Cheddar and Kraft Mozzarella for $0.18/oz! That's like 25% less than I had been paying for no-name brand cheese at HEB! I had also picked up an acorn squash at HEB, but realized it was going to cost me $0.77 for half, so it's been sitting in my fridge. At the Commissary they were $0.55/#, so now I can price the one I have at about $0.27. So expect to see acorn squash on the dinner menu this week. I still hate the Commissary and won't shop there even if the cheese is 25% less. It's not worth the hassle. But on the $3 diet, you have to put up with some stuff.

Day cost total: $2.17
Day calories:   1,535

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise: none. We had something of a hectic day. I had planned on walking with Kandie, but by the time we had time, it was dark and neither of us wanted to go. We'll call this a rest day.

Sleep: poor. We had some unpleasantness that had Kandie and I up during the night. I'd say I wound up with about 6 hours.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day 23: recovery

As much as Day 22 was a low point, Day 23 was one of the better days, despite the fact that we had an ice storm here in South Texas that left my car coated in about a quarter inch of ice.

I grew up with ice and snow, but I am not used to this anymore. The ice on my car was so thick, I couldn't get the door to open. Eventually I was able to get in through the hatchback and turn on the car to get it warming up and melting off the ice. Crazy.

I needed to start the day a step ahead to get my mojo back, so all I had was my coffee and a peanut butter ($0.11) sandwich on 3.6 oz of fresh bread ($0.11). 

Halfway to work, my boss called to tell me he had canceled classes for the day, so I turned around and went home. 

Lunch was the other half of the pizza ($0.54) from the night before and some hot tea ($0.02). 

Inspired by the Story Crock Pot's activity, I made crock pot lasagna for dinner. 

When I was growing up, all kinds of things went into lasagna. Boiled eggs, sausage, shredded beef. I happened to have a boiled egg, so I sliced that up. I threw in some peas ($0.06/oz), the last of the spaghetti sauce we had in the house, and some diced tomatoes, 8 oz of ricotta, 

and topped it off with 2 oz of mozzarella. 

The end state of lasagna coming out of a crock pot isn't very pretty, but you know what, it worked out pretty well!

Total cost: $2.99. I ate 1/4 of it. I estimate 257 cal for my serving, at $0.75. I had tea with dinner - it was so cold, I basically wanted to crawl inside the tea cup. 

After dinner, I was only at $1.71 for the day (I had a bit of bread as a snack in the afternoon - $0.03), but I was also only at about 1200 cal for the day.

With all that extra money, I decided to have a bowl of yogurt (6 oz, $0.36). And then, since I still had money, I made myself a bowl of oatmeal with milk, with strawberries! Yeah, Day 22 - you can take that!

And since I still had money, I had a slice of cheddar cheese - 1.2 oz, $0.28. Oh yeah!

At the end of the day, $2.92, and 1,574 calories.

You know, it's funny how I basically ate the same as the day before, but felt so much better about it. 

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise - I went a little crazy on the stairmaster - 42 minutes for 600 calories. And then I went over to the treadmill and put in another 20 minutes of walking - about 10 minutes uphill (15 degree grade) for 200 more calories. 

Sleep - I actually slept in a bit because I knew we were having a several hour delay on post - so about 8 hours. 

Every Thorn Has It's Rose

Just like every sad, sad song is sung by a cowboy.

Name that tune!

(in case the embed fails: )

OK, so I reversed the lyrics a little bit, so don't feel bad if you didn't get it. And don't feel bad if you weren't born in the 70's and didn't come of age with Poison playing on every radio station when you were a teenager.

So clearly the generalization doesn't work nearly as well in reverse, but it helps make the point I want to make: certain constraints we put on ourselves may keep us from doing beneficial things we want to do, but they may also keep us from doing things that are ultimately more harmful to ourselves. The question is, what is the net benefit? If the net benefit is positive, perhaps it is worth adopting those constraints.

For example, we accept a constraint on taking other people's property. Setting aside morality, there is a practical side of this prohibition: if people are not secure in their property, they will consume every resource as they get access to it, rather than husband it and invest in improving it. Most of the tragically poor countries in the world also have very poorly enforced property rights. People are always insecure in their property, so they make very little effort to invest in improvements to their property for fear that someone (a stronger person or group, or agents of the government) will expropriate their property. It is perfectly rational for people to make no investments in property - whether that is mobile property such as tools, or fixed property like land - if they believe that there is a sufficiently high probability that it will be taken from them. When a society does not invest in capital, that society stagnates at a primitive level of subsistence. Everyone is worse off because there is less specialization and less trade. So from a practical point of view, accepting the property rights of others is a constraint on our behavior that has positive net benefits. Even though in the short run stealing your neighbor's goods would be a very efficient way of improving your own wealth, in the long run your neighbor would likely return the favor when he could, and as a result neither one of your would produce more than what you could immediately consume. We are much better off if we agree to respect each others' property.

So the $3 diet seems to have costs and benefits. The costs are pretty clear: as Kerryn discussed in her post, I can't afford many of the healthy foods she normally wouldn't think twice about prescribing to patients - principally fresh fruit and vegetables. It's even difficult on some days to fit in simple things like frozen fruit or frozen vegetables. Never mind adding in fancy foods like quinoa. Or fresh fish (not that I'm wild about fish, but I do like shrimp). Or even the occasional steak. The $3 constrain makes everything more complicated and forces me to take dramatically more time planning and preparing for healthy eating.

The benefits are quite clear, though, too. My weight has been dropping like a stone (lol).  As of this morning (Day 24), I have dropped to 183.1 pounds - a 15.7 pound loss in 24 days. Other than being hungry a lot, I feel good. And I like how my body is returning to its proper, leaner form. I am looking forward to the results of the end of the experiment blood tests to see what has improved chemically. Other benefits include the fact that I have largely eliminated processed foods from my diet. I bake my own breads, and I cook almost everything from scratch. The food I make mostly tastes pretty good. Honestly, I don't miss much of my old diet. Many of the things I had been eating - Little Debbie Snack Cakes for example, or Hostess Fruit Pies - don't really taste very good. Shockingly, I don't miss Diet Coke (that much).

When I lift the constraint on my resources in a week, I wonder which of the gains I will be able to retain. Kerryn and I have discussed how the literature on habit forming indicates that you need about six months to make a new behavior a habit.

When I lift the resource constraint, it will be very tempting to start slipping some of the foods I used to eat all the time back into my diet. And from there it is easy to slip back into overeating.

Commitment devices are another issue we talk about quite a bit in economics. New Years is a traditional time for people to make resolutions to improve themselves. But most of those resolutions have very short lives. People really want to make those improvements, but they are usually hard to do when you look to the horizon and see no relief. Losing weight and keeping it off requires daily dedication and attention, and not a little bit of sacrifice. At the moment when you walk into a convenience store to get a cup of coffee and you walk by the snack cake aisle with its siren call of sugary satisfaction for only pennies, it takes a repeated exertion of will not to pick up one or two. 

Most of us can't sustain the effort necessary to stay committed to our resolutions, so in a few days or weeks, we find ourselves munching on cream pies and Diet Coke and feeling bad about the fact that we just can't lose weight.

Joining a gym is usually one way we try to commit to healthier living. We know we have to pay something every month to retain our membership, and so we believe the bad feeling of paying for something will help balance the bad feeling of not getting to eat whatever we want.

Some economists have proposed other means of staying committed. One means is to get a third party involved. For example, you might write a check to a charity you despise (think "Planned Parenthood" if you are a conservative, or "Focus on the Family" if you are a liberal), and give that check to a friend. The friend has instructions to mail the check if you fail to meet your weight loss goal. This actually works better than a gym membership, because we tend to treat the gym membership as a sunk cost, whereas the donation to a charity you despise is there for you to lose.

For me, blogging about this experiment has been a fairly powerful motivator. Everybody I work with knows I'm doing this, many of my students know. They kid me about what I'm eating, and some of them are even reading this blog. So if I were to give up, it would be publicly embarrassing for me. That's a pretty powerful commitment device. But in 7 days, that won't be there anymore.

The $3 constraint has its thorns, but its roses smell pretty good. I know I couldn't have accomplished this improvement in health without this commitment. Now I just wonder if I can do it without the thorns.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Nutrient analysis: week two

We know that economically, Mark’s diet is sound. He’s met his financial goals each day, resisting the urge to splurge, even just once! Now, to look at the nutritional side of his financial success. I used Super Tracker ( once again to conduct a complete nutrient analysis of his intake. As a clinician, I like this program since it calculates both the macronutrient and micronutrient content of the diet. Mark’s been using Lose-it to track his calorie intake, exercise, and weight with success as well.
Macroscopically, Mark has met his nutritional needs when it comes to the major nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat). His carbohydrate intake was more than adequate at ~190 grams per day, and averaged 50% of his caloric intake which is appropriate. Protein intake was roughly 68 grams and it rounded out to be about 18% of his calories, while fat consisted of 32%. As Mark previously mentioned, his total calories consumed during week two averaged out to almost 1700 per day, a bit short of meeting his needs for weight maintenance, but adequate for the purposes of his desired weight loss. Now, on to the micronutrients.

During week one, Mark fell short of meeting his calcium and vitamin D needs. So, one of my goals has been to help him find affordable foods rich in these two micronutrients. While this may sound like an easy venture, on $3 a day, I have learned it can present some challenges. Dairy products are great sources of both, but they come at a cost. One cup of milk equates to approximately $.20, which is expensive if you only have $3 for your whole day’s worth of meals. Yogurt is even more expensive relative to the $3 diet at approximately $.37 for a reasonable serving of six ounces. This is why dairy foods fit into that category of “luxury” foods. Mark has been able to add an occasional serving of milk into his oatmeal in the morning, and an occasional yogurt as a snack, but it has taken some definite planning to not exceed his budget with dairy foods. This is one of those eye opening experiences for me professionally. I never thought twice about recommending milk or yogurt as calcium/vitamin D sources, regardless of the income level of my clients. I will forever be more cognizant of this as I counsel clients in the future.

So, you’re probably wondering how Mark did during his second week with his calcium and vitamin D intake. Well, week two was better, but still not quite where he needs to be. Calcium intake climbed by 10%, now meeting 75% of his needs, while vitamin D increased by 6%, now meeting 26% of his daily needs. This is definitely something we will continue working on, but I'm happy with the improvement. Mark’s Tums may have boosted his calcium intake enough to come closer to meeting his needs, but unfortunately, Tums doesn’t contain vitamin D, so the 26% is a true reflection of where he currently stands. Maybe those end of day snacks, when there’s money to spare, should include a dairy component.

Also of interest, Mark’s fiber intake plummeted a bit during week two, from 29 to 18 grams. Maybe this was due to the boost in overall carbohydrates (cornbread, white bread, ½ wheat ½ white pasta), but decrease in beans and greens (kale), along with the stray away from oatmeal every morning for breakfast. I do appreciate Mark’s desire for variety, so I completely understand his need to switch things up occasionally. Maybe we can bring back some of the higher fiber foods in future meals.

All in all, these small steps Mark has taken towards improving his health continue to impress, not only from a nutritional perspective, but rounding out the Triad, from a sleep and exercise viewpoint as well. No, it's not perfect, but it's darn close on just $3 a day.

Week three nutrition breakdown to follow soon……

Day 22: A little bit of desperation

Frozen fruit is much less expensive than fresh fruit, but it's still expensive and hard to justify on $3/day.

Nevertheless, I mixed in 2.1 oz of frozen strawberries into my oatmeal this morning. They added a nice flavor and sweetness for only about 20 more calories. But the cost - $0.125/oz, or $0.25! That's expensive when you think about it in terms of cost/calorie, and a $3 budget. Bananas on the other hand are 105 cal/$0.15, or 700 cal/dollar, vs. 80 cal/dollar for frozen strawberries.

I used the strawberries because I really wanted a little variety.  But it left me at $0.68 for breakfast, and only 278 calories. That is 408 cal/dollar. On $3/day, that would extend to only 1224 cal for the day. That is not a sustainable level of consumption. Peanut butter, for example, is very efficient. It yield 1,651 cal/dollar. Brown rice is even better at 3,076 cal/dollar. Ever wonder why poor Asian countries rely so much on rice? There you go.

But this little indulgence set a tone for the day that led to a rather distressing evening.

I brought along a banana, an egg, and chicken chili with rice (left overs) to work. I contemplated where I was in the day expense-wise, and decided I didn't really need to eat the egg. So I ate the chicken chili and rice for lunch, bringing me up to $1.74 by noon. I made a cup of coffee in my office after lunch ($0.03), and then on the way home ate the banana ($0.15). So by dinner time I was at $1.92, and that started to make me a little stressed because I was really hungry.

But I talked myself down by promising myself a nice pizza for dinner.

I made the pizza using my white bread recipe for the crust ($0.30), 4 oz of sauce ($0.32), and 2 oz of shredded mozzarella ($0.47), for a total of $1.09 for the pie. I had kind of wanted to eat the whole thing, but then realized I couldn't afford it. So I stopped with half - about $0.54. But when you add up the calories, it's only about 400 (given how light I was on the cheese).

So after dinner, I was at $2.47 for the day - and only 1,249 cal. That's really not enough. I had $0.53 left and I started calculating what I could have. I had tossed the last of the wheat bread I had made because it had taken on a rock like hardness. That made me get baking a new loaf (this time just white) - but it didn't give me something to eat immediately. I thought about yogurt, but that was $0.36 for only about 200 cal.

I have to say this was probably the worst night emotionally of the whole experiment.

I should have just cooked up some brown rice. But eventually I remembered I still had a serving of the plantains and beans, so I had half a serving of that - also kind of expensive - $0.20 for only about 137 cal. But it held me over until the bread came out, and I had 2.5 oz of fresh, steaming hot bread, with about a 1/2 tbsp of jelly. That got me to 1,539 cal for the day.

I have to admit, I went to bed pretty unhappy. It was clear I had not planned the day well. With such a small budget, even small indulgences can have large effects. I think that's an important point. When you are near the edge, small missteps can send you over. Now, I would have survived, of course. But imagine if that was a small misstep that led to a crop failure.

I know I've been averaging not much more calories than what I consumed today, but some of it is what I ate, and some of it is when I ate it. I would have been much better off if I had eaten an egg instead of the strawberries. Or maybe used water for the oatmeal, kept the strawberries, and had an egg. I'm not really sure. I know I like protein - peanut butter, eggs - because they keep me going and feeling sated longer. But I also know I need stuff like strawberries, and it's hard to pull them in on this diet. The failure tonight was more psychological than practical. I could have eaten more bread. I could have made some rice. I thought about making some peas or corn, but ruled them out because they were expensive. And then I felt bad about not eating more healthy stuff, and eating too many starches.

All this can be done, but it takes planning, and small missteps can mess you up. Nassim Taleb writes about this in his books - especially The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility" . Many of us lead our lives living much closer to the edge than we acknowledge. We have jobs that we think are stable, and so we don't save enough money to have a cushion in case something suddenly changes and the job is gone. Taleb focuses on structuring not just your finances but your life around not being what he calls a "turkey". His analogy is that the turkey goes along day after day thinking he has a great life because the farmer brings him lots of food and takes good care of him. And because everything in his past has been so great and easy, he assumes that the future will be the same. And it is the same, until Thanksgiving morning.

I realize my report today is a bit of a mess, so here is the data:

oatmeal  $ 0.10
milk  $ 0.19
sugar  $ 0.01
coffee  $ 0.13
strawberries  $ 0.25

chicken chili  $ 1.01
brown rice  $ 0.05

pizza  $ 0.54

banana  $ 0.15
coffee  $ 0.03
tums  $ 0.04
tea  $ 0.02
bread  $ 0.06
jelly  $ 0.01
plantains and beans  $ 0.20

day cost total:         $ 2.80
day calories:            1,539

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise: a short run, about 33 minutes for 425 cal

Sleep: good - 7 hours.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

summary stats - week 3

Closing out week 3 of the $3 diet, we are on the home stretch and everything is going great!

I was very pleased to step on the scale this morning and weigh in at 184.5 - a 14.3 pound loss in 21 days!

Even if you take the last few days before the start of the experiment as an anomaly and say the real starting weight was about 194 - this is still 10 pounds in 21 days.

The real issue here is money, of course. So from the above chart you can see that I have stayed below the $3 limit every day, on average spending $2.44, while getting a reasonable average calorie intake of 1,683 per day. As I have been saying, with the excess cash I could easily add several hundred more calories of rice or bread to the diet (brown rice is amazingly cheap at about $0.03 per serving, equal to 160 calories). I could also have eaten more frozen vegetables - something I am now striving to do. For example, I had a bowl of frozen corn (reheated of course) after dinner on Day 20 when I realized I had plenty of calories and money left.

This is a little bit of a game, so I have been perhaps overly cautious with my days, aiming to have more than a dollar left by dinner time to make sure I'm not miserable at night. I find it much harder to be hungry at night when I have fewer distractions than during the day when I have work to do.

I attribute a big part of the weight loss to not only the relatively low intake, but the persistent output of calories as well, leaving a fairly low balance each day. In the above chart, consumed calories are blue and exercise burned calories are red.

Sleep has been mostly adequate at about 7 hours on average. I feel like 7 hours is what I need to feel good during the day. Less than 6.5 hours on back-to-back days leaves me feeling drained. Less than 6 hours on more than one day back-to-back leaves me with a pretty bad headache. Luckily that hasn't happened during the last three weeks.

I am a habitual stress eater. I reach for chips or cookies when I am having trouble solving a problem. Stopping that behavior is a challenge because when you're stressed, everything else fades into the background, including trying to maintain a healthy diet.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 21: Who's chicken of chili?

Three weeks! Wow - time flies when you're having fun!

$3 diet standard breakfast, but added on a hard boiled egg for fun - because what's more fun than a hard boiled egg?

oatmeal  $ 0.10
milk  $ 0.19
brown sugar  $ 0.01
coffee  $ 0.13
egg  $ 0.16
tums  $ 0.04
total:                  $0.62

For lunch I packed tuna fish mixed with onions and celery, and brought some pre-weighed homemade wheat bread.

bread  $ 0.09
tuna  $ 0.37
celery  $ 0.06
onion  $ 0.10
mayo  $ 0.05
Total:                $0.66

I knew I wasn't getting home till late tonight, so I packed a small peanut butter sandwich (on my wheat bread), and a banana for snacks to eat at work.

Dinner was awesome though! I found a recipe for chicken chili and it came out excellent!

Dot started working on it early this morning, even before I went out for my run.

But by the time I got home, she had it just about finished:

I was very pleased with the outcome - at about 19 calories or $0.07 an ounce, I was able to have about 15 ounces for 302 calories and $1.01. I had it with some brown rice ($0.03), for a total dinner cost of $1.04.

I made up a homemade taco seasoning following this recipe:

My dinner was here: 

For dessert I had tapioca pudding ($0.32). Just enough sweet to balance out the lovely spiciness.

Total food cost:   $ 2.89
Total calories:      1,758

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise: ran about 3.4 miles slowly - about 428 calories.

Sleep: you would of thought I had stayed up all night given how hard it was to get going this morning, but about 7 hours.

Day 20: It's crouching, it's hidden, you know what it is...

It's back - Crouching Macaroni, Hidden Squash for dinner.

This time I used a mix of whole wheat and regular pasta to make it with. just don't like the whole wheat pasta. But when it's mixed with regular pasta, I can get by.

You know, for a healthy dish, it really is pretty good. Kerryn hit a homerun with that one. 

But I get ahead of myself.

Breakfast was the $3 Diet standard:

oatmeal  $ 0.10
milk  $ 0.19
coffee  $ 0.13
tums   $ 0.04
total:                          $ 0.46

Lunch was the last of the left over chicken pot pie (($0.64).

In the afternoon I had a bowl of yogurt ($0.37) and a giant pickle ($0.14).

Like I said, dinner was Crouching Macaroni, Hidden Squash ($0.42).

A little after dinner snack since I had both cash and calories to spare.

Frozen vegetables are quite good. I find corn and peas especially seem to freeze well. I suppose some veges don't, but those do. Frozen corn is more expensive than canned corn, but it really tastes nearly fresh. Five ounces is only about $0.30 and 140 calories.

And then a little later I got the urge to make a baked banana.

I had read about these once when I was a kid and made them once or twice - but heavily laiden with chocolate sauce and marshmallow. And then I realized that it was just so much more fun to have chocolate sauce and marshmallow on ice cream that I never made them again. But last night I was thinking it would be nice to have a fried banana, which I really like. I guess I was still thinking about the plantains. But then I didn't want to have to own up to having fried the banana to Kerryn, so I thought I would bake it.

I did a search last night for recipes and found this one on a site I thought was "" - but now when I go to look for it, all I get are errors. Very weird. If it were possible to think there was some banan recipe conspiracy going on, I would think the internet was trying to trick me. There are lots of baked banana recipes out there, but the one I made last night called for slicing up the banana, then pouring either a tablespoon of lemon or orange juice over the banana and baking it with lots of cinnamon and sugar.

The juice thing just sounded weird, but I complied and used about a teaspoon of lemon juice. I guess I sort of complied because I thought it just sounded weird. Weird, I say.

It actually worked out nice. I baked the banana in the toaster oven for about 20 minutes. They softened a bit. And stuck to the foil. At which point I made a mental note to share with you that if you do this at home, spray some cooking spray down first.

They were tasty. Baking the banana changes the flavor a bit - more sweet, and less chewy. I still like fried bananas better, but this was pretty good.

And after the corn and the banana, I still had more money and calories (this was one of those days where I had an oddly low calorie count at the end of the day), so I had a one ounce slice of cheddar cheese.

The block of cheddar I bought, or should I say "cheddar", had a sticker on it that said "natural cheese". Now what kind of cheese needs a sticker that says, it's natural? It kind of makes one wonder just how close it must be to something not natural. Someone needs to talk to that marketing department.

So snacks for the day:

bread  $ 0.05
yogurt  $ 0.37
pickle  $ 0.14
baked banana  $ 0.15
sugar  $ 0.01
lemon juice  $ 0.01
cheddar cheese  $ 0.24
total:                          $0.97

Day total cost:          $2.79
Day total calories:    1,741

Rounding out the triad -

Exercise: I ran 4.5 miles with the dog in the afternoon - about 563 calories. Such a beautiful sun shiny day.

Sleep: Adequate - about 7 hours.

And meanwhile.....

Meanwhile, while Dot was cooking chicken chili, the Story Crock Pot (we don’t have a unique name for ours like Mark does for his) was cooking up some lasagna. I live very close to where I work, so I have the luxury to go home for lunch, which is when I put a lot of our family’s meals together in the Crock Pot. It was ready when we got home and was delicious! Maybe it's something Mark could try? It's so simple to make and I’m thinking very affordable on Mark’s budget as well. I make a vegetarian version, but meat can be added if desired. I make this so often that I don’t know exactly how much of each ingredient I use or where I originally found the recipe. This is the beauty of using a Crock Pot, in that you don’t really have to have exact measures in “casserole” type meals for them to turn out tasting great!

Here’s how I usually put it together:

First, break up the lasagna noodles and place them into the bottom of the Crock Pot. Add a couple tablespoons of water (only a small amount of water is needed, as the noodles will soak in the water from the other ingredients, and you don’t want soggy noodles!). Next, begin layering the Crock Pot with ricotta cheese or cottage cheese, spinach or other seasonal vegetables (I have used winter squash, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, and carrots in my versions). Here’s where you can add the meat if so desired. Next layer is tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes (canned or made fresh), then top with shredded cheese. You can repeat the layers as desired (except for the noodles, as they only go in once on the bottom of the Crock Pot), but it’s best to end with shredded cheese on top. Again, buying the block of cheese and shredding it may be more economical than purchasing the cheese already in shredded form. Set the Crock Pot on high for ~5 hours, and walla….lasagna! Dinner is served!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Week two = Balance

I must say I am quite impressed by Mark’s summary of stats for week two. He has continued to stay within his financial constraints of $3 a day, while still managing to eat a variety of healthful foods, and lose some weight along the way. I have to admit, when he first mentioned his plan to me in December, I did have doubts about the nutritional quality of foods he could afford with his limited cash. So, to see his continual success after over two dedicated weeks of copious meal planning solidifies that this undertaking truly is possible.

Success has come, however, with some sacrifices along the way, with the major one being time. As Mark has learned it takes a bit of extra time and planning to eat healthy meals on a limited budget. He’s also had to exchange his high fat snacks (snack cakes, etc.) for frozen vegetables and kale, much to a dietitian’s liking! His lifestyle hasn’t changed, in that he still has a busy, hectic schedule of a college professor. He just needs to figure out how to maintain this change over the long term, which includes buy-in and support from those closest to him. In my profession, I have counseled many clients about change, and I know the challenges of sticking with it. Mark is fortunate to have the support of his wife, Kandie (and all of his blog “groupies”), along with him in this journey.

I’ll run Mark’s week two meals through Super-Tracker and report on the nutrition stats in a later post. However, I did want to mention that Mark has made a concerted effort to increase his calcium and vitamin D intake by incorporating more dairy into his daily intake. Hopefully, this is enough to see a change from week one to week two. I still haven’t convinced him of the deliciousness of a glass of milk, but he has made strides to add milk to his oatmeal, and recently bought yogurt to boost his calcium/vitamin D intake. Again, small steps towards the end state! It’s just great to see the guy I met eating a snack cake at the coffee shop is now looking for carrots to snack on after meals!

Mark mentioned he wouldn’t mind eating more corn bread, that is, if there was more nutritional benefit to it than his other homemade breads. The wheat bread has the most nutritional value of all breads he’s made so far. The corn bread doesn’t add much nutritional value, aside from what he could get from other breads. They all have the basics: iron and B-vitamins. Even though the corn bread has egg and oil, the amount per serving is so small to make a significant nutritional difference. Corn bread in the cast iron skillet would have a slightly higher iron content than corn bread cooked in a regular pan, and it has about 1 gram of fiber more than white bread, but other than that, there’s not much difference.

To round out the Performance Triad, Mark has performed well in all three spectrums. The human body performs optimally (both physically and mentally) when all three components of the Triad are in balance. Mark has found ways to incorporate exercise into most days, while also choosing healthy foods, and getting adequate sleep. So, I would consider him “balanced” as of week two!

Day 19: it's like a big ol' banana

I had a bit of an allergy attack on the evening of Day 18, so I didn't sleep well for lack of breathing, as a result, waking up on Day 19 I really didn't have a lot of energy. I splurged a bit on breakfast and made myself a western omelet with 2 eggs, onion, pepper, and potatoes. Coffee with a bit of sugar, too.

onion  $ 0.13
pepper  $ 0.08
potato  $ 0.14
oil  $ 0.01
egg 2  $ 0.31
coffee  $ 0.13
tums  $ 0.04
sugar  $ 0.01
total:                           $ 0.85

Lunch was the last of the left over chicken pot pie ($0.64).

I had never heard of plantains until I went to Officer Basic here in San Antonio back in the early 90's. I shared a kitchen with a guy who was in the Puerto Rican National Guard. One night I found him chopping up what looked like a big ol' banana. Turns out it wasn't a banana at all, but a plantain. He told me a bunch of different ways to cook them - I like to fry them in a little oil until they're soft as a side dish. But the day I first saw them, he was making plantains and beans. Which is what I decided to make for dinner.

Cooked plantains have a meaty quality to them - they are not soft like a banana - so they work well in a vegetarian dish like this as a meat substitute.

This was a pretty good meal. I really liked the spices the recipe used.

I used pinto beans instead of black beans - I think any bean works.

pinto beans (6.7 oz)  $ 0.34
plantain  $ 0.43
onion  $ 0.38
canola oil  $ 0.03
spices  $ 0.03
total  $ 1.20

The recipe made about 3 servings - so $0.40 each. Serve this over brown rice ($0.03), and tapioca for desert ($0.32) - dinner total: $0.76.

tea  $ 0.02
bread  $ 0.03
corn bread  $ 0.10
peanut butter  $ 0.05
pickle  $ 0.14
total:                           $ 0.34

Day cost total:           $2.60
Day calories:             2,056

As you can see, this was one of my highest calorie days, and I still had plenty of money left over.

Rounding out the triad:

Exercise: Nothing, I felt crappy. I did walk around the grocery store for a bit, scoping out prices. I really must look like a fool when I stand in an aisle checking the prices of canned beans for 10 minutes.

Sleep: Crappy. It added up to about 7.5 hours, but punctuated by lots of wakefulness because I couldn't breathe.