The PTFSD (Put That Freakin’ Sandwich Down) project starts today in earnest. I have decided that rather than posting my weight every day, I’ll post it every weekend with a summary of how well I followed my restrictions for the week.

I’m starting slow. Right now I’m just getting off caffeinated drinks. My goal this week is to drink only water. I have a good supply of Jolt Gum I can chew when I need a caffeine boost. Jolt Gum is actually excellent for getting off caffeine…the last time I dieted, I found that if I just naturally chewed a piece whenever I felt my energy level dipping, I ended up chewing less and less until finally I started going whole days without any caffeine at all. The people at Jolt would be appalled to see their gum used in this manner, I’m sure.

Here’s basically what I learned from the last time I dieted:

1. Everybody knows how to lose weight. Everybody. You lose weight when you take in fewer calories than you burn. It doesn’t matter if those calories are fat or carbs or textured vegetable protein, if you eat fewer than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight. It is that simple. This means that no, Atkins and South Beach do not work (and if you have lost weight on those diets, it’s not because you restricted your carbohydrate intake, it’s because you ended up eating less than you burned). Heck, there’s good evidence that Atkins is actually harmful. Everybody knows this, but calorie counting, eating balanced meals and exercising is such a PITA that lots of people are willing to believe in these fad diets, at least in the short term.

2. Exercise doesn’t burn nearly as many calories as you think it does. An hour of strenuous exercise (say, playing tennis or soccer) only burns about 600 calories. That’s as much as one Big Mac. So if you are eating considerably more than you burn (and if you’re overweight, then you are), you cannot simply exercise your fat away. You must change your eating habits.

2A. This is not to say that exercise isn’t a good thing and won’t help you lose weight. Quite the opposite. Exercise and diet will provide much better weight loss than diet alone. But you must diet; you can’t simply exercise your weight off (unless you’re willing to spend just about every moment you’re not eating playing racquetball).

3. When the weight starts to come off, the stomach goes last. When I lost weight last time, my legs firmed up and started looking really nice, the weight came off my arms and under my chin, but I still had this enormous gut. This was disappointing. I just need to be prepared for that this time.

4. Calorie counting is annoying, but eventually you start to get a sense for how many calories foods have and you don’t have to count quite as rigorously any more.

5. The best source of protein is seafood. Seafood tends to have very little or no fat and has lots of yummy Omega-3 fatty acids. The next best sources are chicken and turkey, which are fattier but are still within acceptable boundaries. (Ground turkey is also very cheap.) Pork is next, and it’s okay since American pork tends to be very lean. Beef is the worst source of protein there is – it’s fatty and difficult to digest.

6. The best, most balanced meal consists of two parts carbohydrates, one part vegetables and one part protein. This means that a properly constructed sandwich is good for you. So is pizza. So are properly-constructed casseroles and pasta dishes.

7. Pickles are the dieter’s friend. They taste good. (Unless you hate pickles, in which case…um…well, I feel sorry for you.) And they only have about 10-15 calories each, so you can satisfy your munchies with them without blowing your diet.