Another Weight Loss Angle

Weight Scale - courtesy pixabay
Weight Scale

I wasn’t sure what to write about today, so I thought I’d go with a popular topic in my grab bag – weight loss.  It’s something I struggle with every day, and likely will until I reach my goal (which is a healthy BMI, generally).

I think I got to my lowest and visually best weight three years ago, when I got down to the 240’s for a friend’s wedding.  Actually, looking at my old spreadsheets, it looks like I was in the 230’s (at least according to whatever scale I was using) in 2015.

But now I’m in the 260’s, hovering in that range for quite a while.  That’s not to say I haven’t made progress though!  I ballooned up to the 270’s and in the past year and a half made good progress to come back down to where I am now.  The thing is, it’s slow progress, and I’m not seeing the results I’d like (I can tell that two years ago, I was a lot thinner looking in the face, for example).

And I’ve tried several things.  Most recently I tried looking at my calorie count weekly.  Since MyFitnessPal makes this somewhat difficult, I made myself crazy trying to get Tasker & FitBit to give me daily notifications; once I got it working it was great.  But I found that I wasn’t really paying much notice to it.

So I took a break; I’m back at tracking my calories now.  I saw a post on reddit.com/r/loseit that suggested a hybrid of calorie tracking – use a higher daily limit on the weekends than the weekdays.  Essentially it’s the same as tracking weekly, but I know that I only have so many calories to use during the week.  I haven’t been 100% successful in implementing this yet, mostly because I haven’t figured out how many calories I want to restrict myself to on weekdays.

But the other thing that I thought of on my own was to use MFP’s great “Quick Add Calories” tool to my advantage.  I figure that I should be tracking daily – it’s the best way to keep myself accountable.  And I recognize that sometimes, I do go over my goal, and that’s OK.  What I need to do in order to counter this is to make sure I don’t keep going over my goal every day.

To that end, I’m trying something new this week: adding the calories I overeat back to my log the next day as a “Quick Add” entry.  So Tuesday I went over by 72 calories, and I added it to m Wednesday totals.  Wednesday, I went over by 392 (320 + 72).  Oops.  OK, so I’ll add 392 to today (Thursday).  My goal today is 1568, effectively.

I’m also trying not to eat back exercise calories.  I’m hoping that this works to my advantage, because it also means despite going over my calorie goals, I technically still had room left to eat more.  We’ll see how it works!  I hope I’m explaining myself clearly enough too, by the way.

So far, so good though – I started the week at 265.9, and weighed in this morning at 263.7!  I’m doing a daily weigh-in and taking the weekly average though, because weight can fluctuate so much.  Still, I take this as a success.

Long Journey

I was going to post something about a Batman comic I found in my collection the other day (it’s pretty great, ironically).  But I haven’t gotten to writing that up yet.

Instead I’ve been thinking about my weight loss progress a lot lately.  I haven’t really made any progress, at least not on the scale.  I haven’t taken any measurements lately, but I will be doing that at the end of the month.  I’ve been hovering around the same weight for the last month or so, again according to the scale.

The only thing is that I have no other data to back up what I’m doing.  I still log my weight every day in MyFitnessPal, even when I don’t weight myself.  I think I decided to do this because I’ve got a Google Spreadsheet updating automatically every day with my weight, so not having an entry every day creates gaps.  It’s all about the data!

But I haven’t been logging any food in MFP.  As far as I can see, the last date I entered my food for a full day was Wednesday June 28th.  Woops.  I go through this kind of cycle every now and then – I enter my food rigorously for a short period, and then I get tired of doing it.  Either because I’m not seeing any results, or else it’s too difficult to be accurate with my entries.

It’s fine to take a break – weight loss is a hard, long journey.  At some point I feel like you need to give yourself a break.  Don’t go hog wild and reverse your progress – just take it easy with the careful logging of everything.  I feel like my eating habits are ingrained enough that I’m able to keep my calories in mostly maintenance mode, and I know that I’ve been active enough to offset anything extra.

Is that something normal people do though?  Maybe I’m doing it wrong.  Maybe that’s why I’m having such a tough time since my successes 3-4 years ago.

Well, for the umpteenth time I’m going to start everything over August 1st.  And I mean everything.  Today, I’m going to stop my automatic weight loss logging (which if you’re curious, is being done via a combination of IFTTT / FitBit / Google Drive).  I’m going to let my 100-day MFP streak die, and only let it continue if I truly make an entry.

On July 31st, I’m going to get a new starting weight and measurements.  Beyond that I haven’t set any goals.  That’s something I need to think about.

Meal Tracking App Showdown: MyFitnessPal vs Lose It!

Meal Tracking App Showdown: MyFitness Pal vs Lose It!

I’m almost certain I’ve written about these two apps before, but almost doesn’t equal 100%.  Plus, I’ve only just recently started comparing the two apps again, based on a post on /r/loseit over on Reddit.  I’m pretty sure that the app and the subreddit are entirely unrelated.  I’m going to try to keep this somewhat brief, and do a back-and-forth comparison of what each app offers.

Note that I’m focusing on the apps – and not the website versions.

The Home Screen

LoseIt!: As soon as you launch the app, you’re taken directly to your food diary page.  All of the meals are visible, and when you start a new day you can see a breakdown of how many calories the app suggests you eat per meal.

At the bottom there are tabs pointing to “My Day”, “Log” (the selected tab), “Social”, “Goals”, and “Me”.  There are options at the top to “Go Premium” and a breakdown of your calorie budget, calories consumed so far (“Food”), exercise calories, net calories, and how much you’re over/under.

There’s also a blue “+” button that lets you add food, exercise, or a weight update.

MyFitnessPal: The MFP app launches to your “Feed”, which starts with a summary of your calories remaining – Your goal – food +/- exercise = remaining calories.  This is followed immediately by an option to add a status update, and then either an ad or an MFP article.  On my feed today, I had an article, an ad, and another article before one of my status updates from yesterday.

There are no tabs immediately visible, but there’s a standard Android “Hamburger menu” with options to all of the app sections, and a similar “+” button to add a status, water, food, exercise, or weight update.

Winner: LoseIt! has a much better interface on startup.  It takes me directly to the information I want – the food diary – and gives easily visible options for navigating the app.  However that isn’t to say that MFP is ugly or unusable.  The difference between the two is basically a 4/5 for LoseIt and a 3.5/5 for MFP.

Food Diary

LoseIt!: The main focus of the app, the Food Diary as mentioned gives you a breakdown of your daily goal and how many calories you have left at the top.  Further down, each meal is broken down to Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, and exercise.

There’s a calorie budget for each meal – for example, I have 649 calories available for lunch, 973 for dinner, etc.  I believe that the app has a formula to give different a percentage of your daily goal to each meal, giving more weight to larger meals such as lunch and dinner.  I’m not 100% sure how it works but it adjusts your meal budgets as you enter foods in other categories.

There are “+” buttons beside each meal to allow you to quickly add a food to the desired category.

MyFitnessPal: The layout for MFP is very similar to LoseIt!.  MFP does not show a calorie budget per meal, but has quick options to add food next to each category.  There’s a “three dot” menu that lets you “Quick Add”, letting you add an entry strictly for calories (and more, if you subscribe to premium MFP).  There are buttons at the bottom to add notes, and also to a Nutrition pie chart which shows you how your calories are divided between meals.

Winner: It’s a tie.  The difference between the two apps is negligible and pretty much comes down to aesthetics.  MFP might barely get the edge because you can customize your meals in the diary settings (I have a “Drinks” category in addition to the usual categories), but LoseIt! gains an edge for the suggested calories per meal being visible.

Food Database

Spoiler: it’s a tie!  Let me explain.

Both apps seem to have comparable databases – so far, I haven’t come across a food item that’s been in one database and not the other.  This was my previous knock against LoseIt! – it didn’t have the same database as MFP.  This doesn’t seem to be the case here.  There have been a few occasions where I couldn’t find a specific food item, but it’s been missing in both databases.

MFP gets the edge for customization.  I’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier to add food by specific weight (I use a food scale, so this is important).  Most entries for MFP have an entry for “1 gram” or “1 mL” or something similar where I can enter 125 or something when I eat less (or more) than the suggested serving size.

On the other hand, LoseIt! has these options for some entries but not all.  Most of the time your best bet is to play around with the measurements to get as close as you can.  However, LoseIt! seems to have a better database for generic food items.  Sometimes you don’t have a barcode to scan – it’s helpful to have a generic item to get a rough estimate.

At the end of the day, the true test is whether or not I’m tracking accurately.  Here’s a breakdown of my entries from Monday through Wednesday.

 

Day MFP Calories LoseIt! Calories Difference
Monday 2174 2276 102
Tuesday 1263 1916 653
Wednesday 2968 2633 335

You can see that LoseIt! tends to be higher (in Tuesday’s case, a LOT), but from what I’ve noticed, the difference between each individual entry is not significant.  If I were forced to pick between the two databases, I’d probably go with LoseIt! – simply because it’s better to overestimate calories than to underestimate.

Connected Apps

Another tie.  Both apps have a pretty good array of apps that can connect and interact with each service.  Most importantly, both apps support FitBit.  The only difference is that MFP can write data to FitBit, but LoseIt! cannot.  This is not a big deal.

Both apps treat the FitBit data a bit differently.  By default, LoseIt! will not add calories burned by FitBit until you get to a certain threshold.  It figures out how many calories you should be burning to exist, and then only starts adding exercise calories once you’re burning more than its formula determines.

MyFitnessPal does the same thing, but a bit differently.  First, you need to enable negative calorie adjustments on the website.  Otherwise, it will add ALL calories burned by FitBit, but this is inaccurate since it’s counting calories you burn by existing (BMR).  MFP’s function is basically the same as LoseIt!, but depending on your overall activity, it either adds or subtracts exercise calories from your daily budget.  So if you move less during the day, it will add calories; if you move more, it subtracts.  You want to be on the subtraction side of things.

MFP gets a slight edge for having so many MORE services that connect to it, including Samsung Health.  I don’t think that LoseIt! can connect to this service yet.  But MFP also has a suite of UnderArmour apps because MFP is owned by UnderArmour.  Still, not enough to give it a win.

Overall Winner

I really hate to do this, but I’m going to have to cal a tie.  I’ve only been using both together for 4 days now, and I haven’t been able to choose a clear winner.  If I were told I had to uninstall one app and fire it into the sun, I would probably drop LoseIt!  But that’s because I have a longer history with MFP.

But it’s not that easy either, because LoseIt! has less intrusive ads.  This makes a difference from time to time, because lately MFP has been serving some inappropriate ads (some high-calorie Starbucks drinks appear in some people’s feeds).

If I were to recommend an app for someone just starting out, I think I would have to say LoseIt!  I think that in the long run, the folks at LoseIt! have more vested interest in weight loss and providing useful information without hiding features in a premium version.

In the end, if you were thinking of changing apps – I say go with what works for you.  I’m still giving both apps a good trial period before I finally decide, but I will definitely be thinking about my app showdown today before I do.

“That is why you fail.”

I was recently introduced to MyFitnessPal’s Calorie Intake Report as a means for tracking progress with my weight goals.  I already subscribe to the notion of CICO – Calories In, Calories Out – but have had middling success implementing it in day-to-day life.  I understand how it works and everything, but my weight is fluctuating up and down constantly (which is expected, since I’ve been less than disciplined with my eating habits since Christmas/New Year’s).

weight-chart-90-days
My weight over the past 90 days. 

Looking at my weight over a 90 day period, I’ve mostly made progress that I’m happy with.  It’s the up and down business of the last month and a half that I could do better with.  For a solid two months from November to December, I was hitting all of my goals every week.  Since then, I’ve not had the best results.

So I looked up my own Calories Consumed report.  Immediately, I can see why I was set up to fail by my own habits.

calories-consumed-90-days
Calories Consumed over 90 days. Blue = my calories, red = goal.

The red line isn’t the most accurate – as my goal hasn’t been the same over 90 days; it’s actually gone down quite a bit, so some of the “high” days are probably closer to their target than they appear.

Still, I can clearly see where I faltered.  Yes, there are some days there that are showing way under my calorie goal, but I’ll be the first to admit that there are many days where I under-reported my calories.  A common theme for those days – and I know this is true – I often overate or was too lazy to figure out how many calories I ate.  I have a streak of 376 days – most are legitimate log entries, but I probably shouldn’t have such a long streak going.

In fact, I was going to let that streak die today.  I was sitting eating my lunch, leftover from dinner out last night, and hadn’t yet entered anything for breakfast, or my daily weight check-in.  I was mentally prepared to take a “skip” day, and let the streak die.  Take the weekend off.  I know MFP would probably send me a notification, gently reminding me that if I don’t login before midnight, my streak will end!

I was okay with that.  Ready to start a new streak, or at the very least get into a new rhythm.

But then I read that reddit thread above in /r/loseit (which is a fantastic resource, by the way!).  Consciously I know that my weight fluctuates constantly, and I’m not hung up on the day-to-day number – I just keep it because I’m tracking my numbers independently of MFP, so I don’t need to pay to extract my own data.  But looking at my progress this way aligns more with what I’m trying to accomplish with my weight loss efforts.

fu0mna2
My weight loss chart, from my Bullet Journal.

I’m trying to keep to a weekly calorie goal; this is easy in theory, but MyFitnessPal forces you to track daily.  I think keeping tabs on the calorie intake report (which I can pull for 7 days), and adding a column to my chart to include how many calories I’ve had vs my goal, will help me better manage my CICO efforts.

I’m going to wait until Monday to put this practice in full force, because I want to have 7 days’ worth of uninterrupted data to match with my tracking dates.  But I’m going to modify my weight loss chart as of February 27th – as I’ve already written it out until the 26th.  I don’t like scrapping perfectly usable tables.

Working toward a healthier life is a complete lifestyle change, and it’s hard.  It’s well worth examining what’s working and what’s not working, and constantly changing for the better.  For me, what works best is to analyze things as soon as I start to hit a plateau or steadily climb the opposite direction on the scale without fluctuating up and down.

I don’t think I will ever stop monitoring what I’m doing.  I hope one day I will be a little more relaxed about it, but I know that not being careful at all was what piled on the weight in the first place.  It’s all a matter of finding the right balance, in the end.