From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Drinking Herself Fat

Asingle conversation across a table with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books.

Chinese proverb

Determined to lose weight, my friend Julie and I started an exercise program, which included a brisk thirty-minute walk every morning. Julie cut her food intake to 1,500 calories a day and diligently recorded every bite she put into her mouth in a food diary. But more than a month after she started the strict regimen, the scale had hardly budged.

“What’s wrong with me?” she lamented one morning after our walk. “I’m burning up more calories than I’m taking in. Why aren’t the pounds melting away like they’re supposed to?” Julie opened the refrigerator and took out a carton of orange juice. “Want some?”

I shook my head. “No, thanks. I’ll just have water.”

Julie poured herself a tall glass of icy-cold juice, gulped it down and refilled the glass.

“Mind if I take a look at your food diary?” I asked. “Maybe I can spot what’s wrong.”

Julie opened the drawer of her kitchen desk and took out a spiral notebook. I began reading the pages. “Do you have orange juice every day after our walk?” I asked. Julie nodded. “How come you didn’t write it down?”

“I guess I never thought about writing down what I drink. I only write down what I eat.”

I peered at the nutrition label printed on the side of the juice carton. “Look at this, girlfriend,” I said. “Eight ounces of orange juice has 120 calories. Calories you didn’t write down in that diary.”

“But orange juice is so good for you,” Julie said. “I usually have two glasses after I exercise. Three if I’m extra thirsty.”

“That means you’re taking in more calories than you burned up during the walk,” I said. “And that’s before you eat a bite of breakfast.”

“But think of all the vitamin C.”

I picked up a calorie chart that was lying on the kitchen counter and flipped to the fruit and vegetable section. “An average-size orange has only sixty calories,” I read, “and fiber that the juice doesn’t have. You’d be way ahead to drink water for your thirst and eat an orange for your vitamin C.”

“I can’t believe that never dawned on me,” Julie said, a stunned look on her face.

“Let’s do this,” I told her. “You try to remember everything you had to drink yesterday, and I’ll look up the calories.”

“Two cups of coffee.”


“No. Both cups had a big splash of flavored creamer.”

“Would you say two tablespoons?”

Julie nodded.

“That’s seventy calories per cup.Write down 140 in your diary. What else?”

Julie began reconstructing what she’d had to drink the day before. There had been cereal with whole milk for breakfast, a can of cola for a midmorning pick-me-up, another when her energy began to sag late in the afternoon and bottled water with lunch.

“What about dinner?”

“Two slices of thin-crust veggie pizza.”

“That’s in here,” I told her, studying the diary. “What did you wash it down with?”

“A wine cooler. Strawberry.”

“Did you have anything to drink after dinner?”

“Well . . . I’m pretty sure I had a mug of hot chocolate while I watched TV. But I didn’t put marshmallows in it.”

“Get your calculator,” I told her, “and let’s crunch some numbers.” I began calling them out while Julie punched buttons. “One-forty for creamer. Two-forty for orange juice. One-fifty for whole milk. Three hundred in the colas. Water, zero. Strawberry wine cooler, two-fifty. Hot chocolate, no marshmallows, one-fifty.”

Julie’s fingers were flying on the calculator keys. When the final sum was displayed, her mouth dropped open. “I drank more than twelve hundred calories yesterday,” she said in disbelief. “That’s almost my total daily allowance. And I didn’t chew a single one of those calories. No wonder the pounds aren’t falling off.”

I put my arm around my friend’s shoulder. “Now that you know what’s wrong, how are you going to fix it?”

“For starters, I’ll study this chart and look for low-calorie alternatives for my beverages. And you can bet that from now on, I’ll write everything in my diary, solid or liquid.”

And that’s just what she did. The big splash of coffee creamer was replaced with a small splash of skim milk. She poured skim milk rather than whole over her cereal, too. She drank no orange juice but ate an orange or half a grapefruit instead. The sugared colas were replaced with bottled water, and a four-ounce glass of dry, red wine took the place of a wine cooler. The hot chocolate was eliminated entirely.

Calories saved? More than eight hundred!

Soon Julie’s body fat really did begin to melt away. By taking in no more than 1,500 calories a day—most of which she tried to consume in nutrient-dense food—and continuing with our walking program, Julie lost almost ten pounds in a month. By the time swimsuit season rolled around, she had reached her weight-loss goal of thirty-five pounds.

To celebrate, she added back some of the “forbidden” treats she missed so much, a soothing mug of hot chocolate—with marshmallows—being at the top of the list. But she is immersed in the habit of keeping a food diary, recording not only what she eats and drinks every day but also how many calories each food or beverage is worth. On the facing page of the diary, she keeps an exercise log. As long as calories consumed don’t exceed calories burned, she knows she’ll maintain the ideal weight she worked so hard to achieve.

And when asked what her favorite beverage is, Julie doesn’t hesitate. “Water,” she says. “Delicious, refreshing and zero calories!”

Jennie Ivey

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