Ashley Donahoo lost 137 pounds using LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate Calorie Tracker to track her eating and exercise, and she's sharing her tips, tricks and secrets with us to help more LIVESTRONG readers achieve weight loss success.
In June 2010 (as a 25-year-old mother of two) Ashley weighed nearly 300 pounds, and she said she felt tired all the time. What's more, she was pre-diabetic and suffering from depression.
When her husband asked her to take a walk with him around their block, Ashley didn't even reach the first corner before she was completely out of breath. This was the turning point where she realized it was essential to change her life and lose the weight.
After using the LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate Calorie Tracker for two years, Ashley was so successful that she was featured on the cover of People magazine's January 2013 "Half Their Size" issue.
I spoke with Ashley by phone to get the details of exactly how she lost the weight. Here's what she told me:
1. Track what you eat, and be honest.
This first one may seem obvious, but for your first day or two using the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker, don't worry about trying to "diet" or change what you eat. Just be sure to track everything that you eat or drink that has calories. This includes juices, cream or sugar in your coffee, Vitamin water and/or alcohol. What you find might be eye-opening! "I had no idea how much I was eating until I saw the numbers for myself," Ashley says.
LIVESTRONG.COM's Calorie Tracker will calculate what your daily goal calories should be to hit your weight loss goals. If your goal number seems too difficult to attain at first, strive to eat 250 calories less than the total amount of daily calories you were eating on your first days of tracking. If you do this (and stick to it for 7 days straight), you should be able to lose a half pound per week. Since one pound is equal to 3,500 calories, to lose a pound per week, you need to consume 500 calories less per day for seven consecutive days.
If you mess up and eat something high-calorie, Ashley says to be honest with yourself and track it. "If you eat a donut (or a pack of donuts!), track it," Ashley says. "That way you're aware of why you may not be losing the weight." The next day you can resolve to make better choices.
2. Enter all your recipes into the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker (and tweak them and improve them).
There are thousands of recipes entered by LIVESTRONG.COM members who love tasty and healthy meals. You can browse or search to find new recipes, and you can also enter your own recipes in the system to find out how many calories, fat, carbs, and protein are actually in the foods you cook.
"Put the family recipes into the LIVESTRONG Calorie Tracker, and then you can edit them and change the ingredients to make them healthier and lower calorie if you need to," Ashley recommends. "The system shows you how the calories per serving change when you tweak an ingredient or amount of an ingredient in the recipe. It's really cool!" It also makes it quick and easy to track a particular recipe any time that you eat it in the future.
How to enter a recipe in the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker:
A. Click the "Track" button to go to the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker.
B. Click on the blue "My Recipes" tab, located beneath the list of meals.
C. Click the blue text that says "Create a Recipe" to get started building your custom recipe.
D. Give your recipe a name and brief description. You have the options to upload a picture and specify whether or not you would like to share your recipe with the LIVESTRONG community or keep it private for only your use.
E. Follow the steps to add recipe ingredients, specify quantity's and create detailed instructions.
F. Categorize your recipe even further in the final step by adding details like Meal Course, Cuisine Type, Diet Type, etc. Click the blue "Create Recipe" box to complete the process.
"While I was simmering or cooking the dinner each night," Ashley explains, "I would enter that particular recipe into MyPlate." Ashley told me that the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker's recipe functionality was educational for her, teaching her how to change and update her family recipes to make them healthier. She said that her husband has lost 60 pounds during the last two and a half years since they started tracking their eating and "editing" the family dinners on the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker.
3. Track your breakfast mid-morning, and then "pre-track" what you will eat for lunch and dinner.
Ashley mentioned that she would often track what she had eaten for breakfast in MyPlate in the mid-morning, and then she would "pre-track" by entering what she thought she should or would eat for lunch and/or dinner (before she actually ate it) based around staying under her total calorie allotment for the day. That way, she could see how particular lunches and dinners would affect her ability to stay within her calorie range for the day.
"There's accountability in tracking ahead of time and committing to eating a certain meal," Ashley says.
4. Always “pre-track" your snacks.
Ashley told me that if there was something she wanted to eat as a snack, such as a Greek yogurt, she would enter it into MyPlate before eating it. That way she could see whether eating this particular item (along with her pre-planned dinner already in the system and everything she had already eaten for breakfast or dinner) would push her over her calorie goal for the day.
"If I felt snacky and hungry in the mid-day," Ashley explained, "I would log in to LIVESTRONG and look at my MyPlate dashboard to make sure I had logged everything I had eaten so far that day and to remind myself how many calories I had left for the entire day - then I would enter the snack I wanted to eat to see how it affected my daily total." Sometimes seeing the affect on her daily totals convinced Ashley to either not eat the snack or to choose a healthier snack instead.
5. If you're still hungry after eating the lunch or dinner you're “supposed” to have, add more veggies.
One of Ashley's favorite dinners is a petite sirloin with a side of green beans. She says if she's still hungry when she finishes eating, she will go back for more green beans rather than getting a second serving of meat or going for dessert.
So long as you prepare them simply, most vegetables are not calorie-dense_,_ so you can eat more of them without tremendously going over your calorie amounts for the day.
6. Before eating out at a restaurant, plan your meal and pre-track it to commit.
When you know that you're going to a restaurant for lunch or dinner with your co-workers or your family, Ashley recommends planning what you are going to eat ahead of time.
Many restaurants nationwide (particularly chain restaurants and fast food restaurants) have their menu items listed in the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker, so that you can quickly and easily track them.
To search for menu items at a particular restaurant, simply type the restaurant name into the box titled "What did you eat?"
7. Track your activity and exercise too.
Ashley stresses the importance of finding a healthy activity you enjoy and also tracking your fitness inside the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker. When she first started her weight loss journey, she would go walking or do a yoga DVD at home. Now that she's lost 137 pounds, she enjoys jogging and running and spinning class as well.
To track your fitness activities, go to the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker and click on the "Exercise" tab next to the large blue "Food" box. Type an activity in the box, and indicate how long you did it for.
It's helpful to see a personalized estimate of how many calories you burned. Sometimes it seems like less than you expected. This might help you avoid overeating at your next meal, if you think: "Jogging for 30 minutes burned 300 calories, maybe it's not worth canceling out all my hard work with that piece of pizza."
8. Weigh in weekly.
"I used the LIVESTRONG.COM weight tracker, and I always tried to weight in once or twice a week," Ashely said. "It kept me on track." To get to the weight tracker, go to the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker and click on the "Progress" tab. Weigh yourself in the morning, and record your weight when you log your breakfast. It will help keep you mindful of your eating goals during the day.
9. Download the MyPlate mobile app for your Android or iPhone.
Since we all often end up eating when we are on-the-go and away from our computers, anyone who has an Android or iPhone should get the MyPlate mobile app for convenient logging. Here's info on the MyPlate iPhone app, and here's info on the MyPlate Android app.
Ashley is using the MyPlate Android app, and she says her husband (who also lost 60 pounds is using it too.) "My husband loves the MyPlate Android app!" Ashley said.
What do YOU Think?
Are you using the LIVESTRONG.COM Calorie Tracker? If so, I hope Ashley's tips will help you in your weight loss journey. If you have your own weight loss or MyPlate tips, tricks or questions, please share 'em with me in the the comments below or on Twitter – I'm @jessdandy.
About the Author
JESS BARRON is Editor-in-Chief and GM for LIVESTRONG.COM, a leading healthy lifestyle website with more than 32 million unique monthly viewers. In addition to LIVESTRONG, her writing has appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune and MyDomaine. She has been interviewed about her advice for female entrepreneurs by Inc., HuffingtonPost and FabFitFun. Jess has appeared on MSNBC, CNN and ABC News and has been a keynote speaker at Health Further and a panelist at SXSW, Create & Cultivate and Digital Hollywood. Follow Jess on Instagram and Twitter at @jessbeegood!