Thursday, June 05, 2008

Losing Weight in Germany

It's never really been possible to kid myself, but if it had been, it definitely wouldn't be now. I have packed on some serious pounds since I moved here, probably from all the eating while traveling. This last couple of months have been especially food-filled, as I gorged on all my favorite can't-get-it-in-Germany junk while I was in the States, then we went to France, where the conference organizers stuff us with two four-course meals a day. Big courses. The organizer was one of us, and she was quite sensitive, so we didn't want to be rude - we ate it all. Not to mention, the food was pretty damn good.

I've never been really thin or athletic at all, but I don't want to be where I am right now either. It's moving into unhealthy territory, and anyone studying epidemiology as I am - or even reading the health news - knows fat around the middle is a very, very, very bad risk factor for every chronic disease under the sun. Keeping the family butt is.... okay. Putting on the doughnut around the center - bad.

I've only gone on a weight-loss effort once before, when I was living in Boston. I lost about 15 pounds, but it took many months and was really not fun. I love food and I hate feeling limited. I did it by counting every calorie and by playing Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) in my living room (much to the dismay of the downstairs neighbors). The counting approach worked very well for me because it set non-hazy limits. Anything hazy, and I WILL cheat. My love of food goes well beyond any capacity for willpower or any other motivation. DDR was great because it counted up for me the calories I had burned so I had a fully-quantified weight-loss program going on. And just as importantly, it allowed me to exercise in my living room in my ratty clothes with my hair looking all stupid, and with my fat jiggling around with an audience of zero. And, it's a game. It gives little, attainable goals that feel fun rather than feeling like torturous self-loathing. I was already getting the torturous self-loathing by withholding North End cannoli from myself.

I can pick up the DDR again here, thanks to my friends Mike and Jason, who brought me new dance pads when mine didn't survive the move. I'm not open to any public exercise, with the exception of walking or biking. And even worse, competitive sports - not. a. chance. I'm afraid for the day that I get too old or creaky for DDR - and I'm sure it's just around the corner, if not already kind of a bad idea.

But what of the counting calories? German nutrition labels aren't as detailed as American ones, and the calorie values are not given by a volume-based serving size, but per 100 grams. I don't have a scale of any sort (can't even weigh myself) to weigh out the grams of all my food. Has anyone tried calorie counting here? Did you have to suck it up an invest in a scale? Or did you just stick to foods that you can look up the values for online? (ie. medium apple = x calories, boiled egg = x calories, etc - sticking only to these types of foods) Or maybe recipes from a book/magazine that gives volume-based calorie info?


  1. You could try There are lots of brand name foods on there with calorie counts. There is always German Weight Watchers, but it'll cost you. Works though!

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  2. A small food scale costs you between 5-15 euros anywhere (got mine at Ikea). I need DDR- can you tell me how a Wii from the States would work here? I know there are differences, but I can'tfigure out what, that would not be fixed with an adaptor plug. And man, do I need to go on a diet myslef. Everything here is so fatty it's hard to believe, from the butter with 2x the fat of US butter , to the cottage cheese with4% milkfat, to just everything! I am back in the States in August for a week and I refuse to go looking like this.
    I thought about German WW, but I don't thinkI know enough German for it.

  3. My weight has stuck at the same mark for the past 2 years. Back when I was skinny, it was nice. But then I had a baby and my body can't seem to understand that it doesn't have to stand ready with a nice supply of fat for the next baby. When I lived in Germany, I actually lost weight, but that's because I ate veggies every day and nothing else.

  4. I hear you on the expat fat thing! I've gained a ton (well, maybe a little less than that) since I moved here, all around the dreaded middle, and it's really hard to get off. I'm making a serious effort to do more exercise and watch what I eat, NOT diet, because I don't do diets.

    They're actually talking about introducing more nutritional information on packaging here, putting on a "traffic light" with red, yellow or green highlighted to show if the food is low calorie/fat or not. They'll also give calorie/fat/carb counts per portion instead of 100g as they do now, making it a LOT easier to keep track, and that's where buying an inexpensive scale sounds like a good idea. Of course they want to make the program it voluntary so manufacturers pusing high sugar/fat stuff obviously won't want to take part. But there's Germany for ya. :-) I once e mailed Kraft Germany and asked why so few of their German products were low fat and they replied "there's just no market for it". Things have changed a bit since then, but not much.

  5. Scales are not really that expensive, so I bought one. But you can often guestimate the calories by how much you eat of the package (like if you have 5 slices of ham at a total of 125g, one is 25g, so you divide the amount of calories per 100g by 4). But for other things it doesn't work that easily. I used to do Weight Watchers and they have a lot of food that has a fixed amount of points 'eat until you are full' like pasta, potatoes, rice and some other things which makes it a lot easier.
    But if you want to go by calories, I suppose it might just be easiest to buy a scale.
    I bought this one:üchenwaage-silber/dp/B00080KKPM/ which only costs €9.95 now. (It was still €19.95 when I bought it, though.)

  6. I'm pretty sure you can do non-german Weight Watchers in Germany. (I didn't even know there was a "German" version?) has an online-only option since there may or may not be meetings nearby where you live. There are two food plans to choose from - one where you count points (and you can look up the point value to virtually any food through the ww website) and one where you don't but are given a very specific list of foods that count as "core" foods. If you do do the online ww option, I would recommend buying a good scale to weigh yourself at home once a week. At first it may not seem like anything's coming off, but then the scale makes you feel better so you can actually start seeing results

    if you're not wanting to fork over money each month, there's a good free online program I believe it's called

    : )

  7. What about biking as a way to get more exercise? I just got a bike in the hope of becoming a little more active this summer myself. Also, has a cool feature where you can input recipes and find out the nutritional information of whatever you're cooking at home. Good luck!

  8. I never had weight problems when living in Austria. It seems every year living in the US I gain a couple more pound - so the overall weight gain is quite noticible on the scale. I blame not exercising enough for it. No diet will work without exercising. I guess that's more important than eating "right". I am trying to stick to one serving right now instead of coming back for more all the time.

  9. I am the same: if I have wiggle room, I will WIGGLE.

  10. Sarah: Thanks for the link! I definitely can't afford WW at the moment, though I heard WW is pretty good.

    G: I don't have a Wii so I don't really know anything about them. DDR actually predates Wii by quite a bit and you can play it with any of the regular video game systems. (Although I am grateful to Wii for popularizing the idea of getting exercise with a video game. Now I get far fewer weird looks/comments when I say it's how I got exercise/lost weight.) We have a PS2 which we brought with us to Germany. We had to get something called an N-PAL converter so our German TV would work with the PS2. We found one online from a UK shop and it's been fine, though not perfect (with some DVDs things look a bit green).

    Naechste: Veggies every day just by habit, or were you trying to lose weight?

    Christina: I said I didn't do diets too...but I couldn't seem to lose weight just by exercising! Dammit! That must be what Germans do, though, because I have seen them eat and they are so freaking skinny! I wish they had mandatory nutrition seems what they have now is also voluntary because I don't see it on everything.

    Viviane: Thanks for the info! For some reason I thought a scale would cost more. (? - not sure why...) I should be able to swing 10 EUR.

    Michelle: Thanks for the Spark link, I'm going to try it! They don't have that many foods listed but I just cheated a little by adjusting not-exactly-right foods until I got the calorie count I know I ate.

    Jen: I should bike more recreationally, it's true. Now I mostly just bike to get around! Thanks for the nutrition link, I'm going to try it out!

    Bek: It seems neither diet nor exercise will work alone!

    Swistle: Being willpower-free is annoying, eh!?

  11. Exercise, exercise, eat right, exercise, exercise, exercise, eat right in that order.

    How funny about the expat weight gain thing. When I came here I actually dropped a bunch of weight. But then I was very, very active. Then came the office job and the pounds just keep coming back. But I'm with you, I really need to halt the process.

    Best of luck to ya!

  12. Snooker: thanks!
    As of Wednesday I'm official trying to lose the weight. Exercise, and healthy food.

    I'm convinced that healthy food helps you lose weight not because it's better for you, but because you don't want to eat that much when all you can eat is healthy food. It's just not as good....

  13. CN,

    don't be mad at me for not stopping by and saying hello, but I was just in Heidelberg. It was our wedding anniversary and we only spent one day in your beautiful city.

    I recommend going up the Schlangenweg and the steps to the castle twice a day. I think I lost my spare tire just walking up the hillsides in Heidelberg :-)

  14. I tried counting calories here and it was a miserable failure, the reasons were pretty well covered by other commenters. I'm looking forward to the whole stoplight food label thing that is coming soon though. Good luck with losing weight. I want to also, but have some issues (you know about that). Have you seen the WW meals in the supermarket?

  15. Oberursel: I'm glad you liked HD! I agree with you about the Schlangenweg and have considered doing it every day. I might if this DDR thing doesn't work out. The problem is that that path feels very lonely when I'm walking it alone! I know it's full of other people, but they're not with me!

    Christina: I've seen those WW foods in the frozen section - are they more well-labeled than normal German food? So far I'm trying to stick with making my own stuff since it's cheaper, but they might be a good thing if I'm pressed for time sometime....

  16. i actually lost weight while in heidelberg (and have gained it all back again :( ) i lived up near the schloss, and in that area, there is no bus service - just a taxi service, which you need to call and which comes every half hour (and which was free with a student fahrschein). since it was difficult to wait, i walked. nothing was better than walking up and down the hillside or the 300+ stairs from the schloss, a half and hour each way, with my ipod (ipods are teh best encouragement for walking). whereas my first few times up the stairs led to me gasping for breath halfway through, my body got used to it, and by the end of my stay, i could climb without breaking a sweat (and i'm not athlete either). it was enjoyable, necessary, and completely an unconscious effort. also, sundays are great for a "Sonntagsausflug" - go up to the Philosophenweg with friends!

    of course, now that i'm back in new jersey and have my car, i've gained all that weight back. triplefold!

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