Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: Choose to Lose

After all my thinky thoughts on figuring out what to do about weight loss, I knew I had to come up with a plan of some sort that was different from what I've been doing for the last few years. I realize that every diet in some way does the same thing:  cuts back on intake.  In my opinion, the real trick is finding a way to do that, that is livable, i.e. the stereotypical "lifestyle" change.

I had wanted to read Chris Powell’s book for some time and at one time tried the Kindle version, but didn’t like how the various charts would not re-size so I returned it for a refund.  It has steadfastly remained as a hard cover, which I have no problem with except for its hard cover price.  Even when he released his second book last year, this one was not released in soft cover.  I’d been waiting for that, until one day I came across the opportunity to buy the hard cover book for $7.99 – which is less than what the soft cover will be when it finally comes out in December.

This book intrigued me in the first place because it is all about calorie AND carbohydrate cycling, both of which have been suggested to me as possibilities for getting my metabolism going.

The basic premise is this:  your week starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday.  One day you eat high carb/1500 calories (for women), the next day you eat low carb/1200 calories and you get a choice of one free day per week/2400 calories (he suggests Sunday) or 3 free meals per week on your high carb days.

He also has exercises to do on low carb days (3x per week) called Shapers.  They are basically sets of situps, pushups and squats that are done in various formations and sets and only take about 10-15 minutes a day.  He also says at least 30 minutes of cardio should be done 6 days a week with one full rest day (he suggests Sunday).

The minute I began to read the book and see his food lists, I knew I was going to try it.  The  way he categorizes foods are really similar to how I think of them:  for example, fruits, root vegetables, beans, starchy vegetables like peas, bread, and grains such as quinoa, rice, pasta, couscous, oatmeal, etc. are carbohydrates – green and other vegetables are not!  Green vegetables are “free” in that if you find yourself hungry and want to munch on a green pepper, go right ahead.  Some dairy, like cottage cheese and non-fat Greek yogurt are protein, while other, like low-fat cheeses, are considered a fat.  It just made sense to me and I think it all goes back to the Weight Watchers plan I did years ago where you chose selections out of food groups.

High carb days are defined as eating a protein, a carbohydrate, and a couple handfuls of vegetables for each meal.  Low carb days are defined as eating a protein, a fat, and a couple handfuls of vegetables for each meal.  On both types of days, breakfast is supposed to be a protein and a carbohydrate and all meals are eaten 5 times a day – every 3 hours.  So if you eat your first meal at 7 you’d eat again at 10, 1, 4, and 7. 

My biggest adjustment was probably trying to take the 1500 or 1200 calories and break it down into five 300 or 250 calorie meals and eating them rather than eating 3 larger meals and 1-2 small snacks. My second biggest adjustment was the couple handfuls of vegetables which didn’t seem to work sometimes. After a couple of days I really started getting the hang of  it and it was fun challenging myself on how to come up with various combinations so I wasn’t just sitting and eating chicken breasts with rice or chicken breast with a piece of cheese melted on it.

There are a few recipes and ideas included in the book - but not very many and that is probably the one criticism I have of it. A lot of people just like to be told what to eat though so I think it would have helped to have a few more recipes included. I like to cook and work with food so I found it easy (once I got the hang of the plan) to start coming up with new ideas and combinations as well as figuring out how the things I currently eat - like Lori's Banana Bread Breakfast Casserole - would fit into this plan.  

Chris suggests that you follow this plan as closely as possible for three weeks and then take what he calls a slingshot week where you eat High Carb every day for the full week.  He says it resets your metabolism again and gets it ready for the next round.

What I love:
  • The 10 minute shapers in the morning.  I hate strength training so this was perfect to get me to do a little something at least 3 times a week, which supplemented the couple of other routines I was doing perfectly.
  • The free day, which I preferred over three free meals.  Whenever I am in weight loss mode, I always take one free eating day per week.  It was nice not to think about whether I should be eating what combination and just eat anything I wanted in any combination!  Plus I got to have a cocktail!
  • The rest day from exercise.  I am a firm believer in a rest day and find them good for me as I don't want to get into obsessive exercise mode "because I will lose weight faster."
  • The food lists and how food is categorized, which made complete sense to me.
  • The fact that the food plan emphasizes whole foods, not processed crap.
  • The fact that what you eat can be as simple or as fancy as you want.
  • The calorie guidelines which are perfectly reasonable.
What I would change:
  • Chris uses hand measurements to note portion sizes:  a fat portion is the size of your thumb.  Since he wants people to also sort of keep track of how many calories they are taking in, I think it would have been better to say that a fat was a Tablespoon or an ounce for example.  He does have some 100 calorie charts in another chapter but I still feel it could have been more definitive
  • More recipes/meal idea/food combinations in the book.
  • I’m so not a fan of artificial sweeteners, not even Truvia, which is the one he suggests. 
  • Better clarification on what he expects for "cardio."  For example, with someone who hasn’t exercised, a walk could qualify.  For a runner like me, a walk is more like active recovery.
 What I’ve done different:
  • I was already doing a bit more cardio than he suggests so I kept that up. Why go backward?
  • Due to my wakeup time (4am), having to take thyroid meds prior to eating, and morning exercise, I did not start eating within 30 minutes of waking up.  I pretty much did the 7-10-1-4-7 cycle most days.
  • If I wanted to, I ate a fat with breakfast even though it’s not called for in the plan. It didn’t seem to hurt my calorie totals for the most part and it made my breakfast more enjoyable.
  • I didn’t always eat the two handfuls of vegetables.  I’m sorry but if I’m eating yogurt and fruit, I don’t want a veggie!
  • Sometimes I cheated and bought the pre-blended Greek yogurt and fruit.  It was just easier.
  • I also cheated by using a very lean, low sodium ham for some of my salad days.  (Ham isn’t included on the protein list.)  There were a couple of other food "cheats" too but I feel like I'm knowledgeable enough to know where to hold 'em and know where to fold 'em.
  • Added sugars are a no-no (see artificial sweeteners, above) but I don’t use a lot of sugar in the first place, so if I had a little bit (say in my pre-blended Greek yogurt/fruit), I didn’t care.
  • Sometimes, I just couldn’t make the calories; other times I ate a little too many.  (I’m talking 100 calories or less.)
  • I ran my week so that Saturday was my free day.  That’s the best day for me as it’s the day Mr. Helen and I have off together and when we tend to indulge with a dessert or go out to eat with friends.  
In summary, I would highly recommend this book and plan.  To me, it takes the common sense of exercise and reduction of calories but makes it doable. When I was craving some rice for dinner on a low carb day, I knew I could have it the very next day so it make it easy to stick to. Believe me I did not do this perfectly but I didn’t beat myself up about that either!

Plus, of course the results I'm getting.  While I had an exciting six pound weight loss in the very first week - which astonished me since my overall calories were about the same as what I'd been doing - what I've been looking for is small but steady and sustainable weight loss and that seems to be what is happening for me with this plan.


  1. I'm glad you've found something that interests you...and seems to be working, hurray! Although, I'd be more impressed if you ate that veggie with the Greek yogurt and fruit - side of broccoli? ;)

    1. One of the recommended 'meals' for High Carb days on this plan is Greek Yogurt and fresh fruit with granola on top. When I read that I cracked up and thought how much you would love that - you could literally eat that 5 times in a day if you wanted lol!

    2. Heck yeah - sounds like the perfect diet for me!

  2. I'm doing something really different - not that after bypass surgery was a failure at all. But I noticed a bit creeping up so I started reading about the whole grain thing. And I was a big time bread eating maniac but have stopped all grains since my studies (haha) and have gone from 184 to this morning, 165 and I'm 5'8" (and shrinking) and my pants are falling down. I borrowed my son's belt and I now weigh less than he does and he's a rack of bones. Anyway, let me know if you need some reading suggestions. I'm going to check up Mr. Powell because after reading your post about banana breakfast pudding, I made up my own versions of this and just this morning made (using dry unsweetened cocoa) a chocolate version with walnuts. YUM.

  3. Tena is also doing the same plan (called Whole30). I finished end of Oct but have continued.

    1. I did the Whole 30 in 2010 - look up Paleo in my archives. I eat Paleo quite often but not 100%. My body doesn't have a problem with grains and I find as a runner I need them. I also disagree with them on some things and found the whole Paleo movement to be a bit cultish.

  4. This does sound like a good common sense plan. Of course, I like it because its similar to how I eat--5-6 small meals a day. I actually do like to have a dairy and fruit dish with a side of veggies LOL. Sometimes that's my "special dinner." Gotta check out Lori's Banana recipe--I don't remember. Plus, Janell's version with chocolate and walnuts!!

  5. I am with you on not eating veggies with yogurt and fruit, which is a common lunch for me. And I will always choose fruit over veggies LOL!

    I might pick this book up at the library. Now that I have drastically reduced biking, dropping calories is much easier to do. Well, sorta easy. I just have to actually do it and quit whining about it.

    Glad you have found a plan that fits you!

  6. That plan totally reminds me of the "Wendy" plan that went around WW 15 years back. One woman realized that if she shook up her points during the week, but at the end had her allotment for the week, she showed a loss every week. Her thought was that she kept shaking up her body, one day she'd have 19 points, the next day she'd have 32, etc.

    I wish I could do smaller meals, but that would mean two extra shots a day. I am glad you are finding something that works for you Helen and sounds like a lifestyle and not a diet! :D

    1. I would think you could still calorie and carb cycle and just keep it at 3 times a day.

  7. Check this out Helen!

    1. Yeah, I'm aware of that site. I still think he should have put more recipes in the book lol!

  8. hi there..
    I've been reading your site on and off for a while..I found you thru Biz..and I've been reading both of Chris Powell's books also...I first tried his method before thanksgiving. I normally do the 2 low carb then 1 high carb days..but I think that may be in his newer book. This last weekend his newer book was on amazon's kindle list for $2.99. I don't think I've noticed any funky chart problems, but thought the price point might appeal to you and it does have some more recipes. And...I also seen on DietBet this weekend he has a diet bet starting on the 28th ( I think it said) it was a 25 or 30 buy in and the pot was already over $13,000 the gist being that you have to lose 4% of your weight in 4 weeks..I'm thinking I might do it..I've never done DietBet before but thinking seriously on this one...figure if you lose the 4% you will at least get your money back, but could be more depending on how everybody else does..maybe the extra push I need...gosh that was long winded..sorry :)

    1. Yes Heather, he does have different options in the second book. I did buy the deal for my Kindle! I can vouch for DietBet, I've done several of them. While I haven't won every one that I've done, they do keep me focused. Give it try, it might be just what you need!