Beware of the Green Check Mark in MyFitnessPal

I just found out about this recently – the green check mark next to food entries in MyFitnessPal does NOT mean that it’s a verified, “official” food.  I found this reddit post today very revelatory!

The green check mark on MFP does not mean it’s verified or guarantee the entries accuracy. from loseit

Click through on the link to read further details, but suffice it to say that the little green checkmarks don’t actually mean that it’s a “verified” entry.  It simply means that is has what MyFitnessPal calls “complete nutritional info”.

This was stunning for me, because all this time I thought that the green check mark indicated it was a “verified” food – that the information was correct and could be trusted.  Now, the post I linked above used some hyperbole (“100% wrong” is probably stretching the truth) but it does mean that there’s room for error.

Still, I think that entries with the check mark is as good as verified, because someone taking the time to enter complete data is probably entering mostly accurate data.  Just something to be aware of when wading through all of the food entries out there.

Wellness Update – Slow & Steady Wins the Race

I’ve got a ton of posts about media coming up, so I thought I’d break things up a little bit with something a bit more personal and leave a little bit of a fitness update.  So far, I’m doing fairly well.  My original title for this post was “fitness update” but I thought I would expand and talk about my overall ‘wellness’, in general.

Physical Health

December 2017 Weight Loss Chart
December 2017 Weight Loss Chart

The chart to the right is from December 2017; I’m honestly not sure if I shared this on the blog already, but it’s my blog, so too bad!  I’m sharing it now.  I finished December on a high note; my goal was to lose four pounds and while I didn’t get to that goal exactly, I did make some seriously great progress.  As I type this I do remember talking about this a while back so I won’t pound away too long on December, but suffice it to say – I have continued that progress through January, so far.

I started my number tracking on January 2nd, I think mainly because I might not have weight myself for a few days after December 31st.  Which is fine.  Anyway, I started the month at 261.2; with 4 weeks in the month for tracking I set a goal of losing 1 pound per week, or 257.2 by January 31st.  As of today (January 23rd), I’m sitting at 258.2!  So about a pound off my goal, with a week still to spare.  I’m really proud of that accomplishment.  I had some periods this past month with my weight going up, but that was in direct response to A) not tracking my meals, and B) there was one night when I had at least 5 beers, so to expect my weight to NOT go up is just silly.

Apart from weight, I’m also pretty satisfied with how I’m doing.  I’d like to be getting out to bootcamp (twice weekly) but I don’t feel terrible if I don’t go.  I’m still curling twice a week, and I don’t often drink while I’m there.  The club I’m at isn’t very big on the ‘buy for the losing team, then the losing team returns the favour’ that my old club was.  Actually, my team doesn’t seem to stick around after games anyway (they live a bit out of town so I understand).  So the side effect is I’m not drinking very much beer, which I find is usually the bigger obstacle when it comes to losing weight.

Oh, and also we just got a ton of snow in the last 24 hours – so I did some shoveling that I feel makes up for any missed gym time.

I’m trying to maximize my use of my FitBit Charge 2 (I’ve got a fun post about that coming up in February), and challenged myself to match Vanessa’s own goals on her Apple Watch.  It’s no longer about just meeting my daily step goal (though that is still a priority for me), but I turned on my “reminders to move”.  Every hour between 10am and 3pm FitBit wants me to get 250 steps.  If I haven’t reached my goal with ten minutes to go in the hour, it buzzes at me to remind me to move.  Still a work in progress.  Days when I work from home are harder to get 250 steps per hour, over 5 hours, than if I were to work in the office.

Mental Health

I don’t focus on this a lot – in general I feel like I am pretty healthy mentally.  At the same time, I feel like I shouldn’t ignore it, and when I think about it, a lot of things I do to in my day-to-day life fall under this category of ensuring I stay mentally fit. All of this is over and above simply talking with my wife, which does wonders on its own.

The thing I do most often is listen to Podcasts.  And I listen to a lot of podcasts.  My work environment right now is somewhat isolated, especially when I work from home (I try to work in the office as much as I can, but weather often dictates this reality).  Having podcasts to listen to and interact with provides a sense of community helps keep my mind working, while I’m working.  Also fun to listen to while in the car on the hour-long commute.

One podcast I’ve just started listening to is one that started up local to me – it’s a couple of guys from Manitoulin Island that have a show called “Raise The Bar“.  It’s essentially an outlet for them to share their own weight loss journey but they also talk about other things in their life.  I haven’t reached out to them yet, but I’m thinking about it.  What I find interesting is that their podcast style is quite close to another one I listen to – The Benchcast.  I am thinking that they base their show off the same influences (I think both are a fan of Joe Rogan’s show…maybe I should check it out as well).

I also try to read as much as I can.  I posted my reading list earlier this month – I’m slowly making my way through it.  I’m trying to set daily targets and make sure I reach them, but so far it’s not going like I wanted.  There are so many other easier distractions out there that make it hard to choose reading.  I used to be a voracious reader, and I still have the ability to tear through a book in a matter of days…depending on the book.  I’m still working on this one – I think I’m probably going to be marking January as a “fail” in terms of how much reading I’ve done, but I’m not quitting on it and I plan on improving this in February.

I maintain a daily journal (specifically, I use the “Bullet Journal” method) too.  Mostly, its purpose is to make sure I don’t forget anything and it’s mainly a to-do list.  But I also write down stray observations, other notes etc. of what happened during a day.  I find it more useful than dumping things into an electronic database.

Overall

I thought maybe I’d have more categories to write in, but I guess those are the two major categories.  I think I’m doing great overall.  I could be doing better, but so could everyone; no one is perfect 100% of the time.  I know what I’d like to focus on to be better, so I’m not going to worry too much about what’s already working.  It’s still important to me to recognize what I’m doing right, so that stuff doesn’t start to slide.

Any suggestions on finding time to read?  What do you do to carve out reading time?

Plans, plans, more plans!

OK, so it’s been a week since I wrote publicly that I wanted to get back into writing on this blog (writing in general, really) and yet, this is the first time I’m writing.  If I was serious about it, wouldn’t I have written some posts by now?  Maybe some actual content, instead of posts about posts, like this one?

Don’t answer any of those questions, they’re rhetorical.  Yeah, I’ve dropped the ball already.  Thank goodness those weren’t resolutions, I dodged a bullet there.  I just came in from a walk with my puppy and as I did it without headphones lodged in my ears, I had the opportunity to do some thinking and some planning.  Naturally when I’m walking and without anything to write with is when I do the most thinking.

My pledge as I write this is to work on getting at least 6 weeks’ worth of blog posts written (or at the very least, mostly written).  Next, I’m going to turn Facebook sharing on, finally; I want people to read this, and the most views I’ve seen have come from when I shared a post or two on Facebook.

There are some reasons why I haven’t shared with Facebook up to now.  One is that I am I guess shy about sharing my work with people I know (which is stupid, since I’m perfectly fine sharing with strangers).  The other is that I feel like I’d be spamming my friends feed.  Also a stupid reason, since I barely post at all.  Sharing an extra 1-2 links every week isn’t going to hurt anything.

I am at least hoping that having more people read it on a regular basis will motivate me to keep searching for more things to write about and share.  Wish me luck!

2018: The Year to Come

Accompanying music: The Band: Greatest Hits

Of all the ways you could describe 2017, the best and most accurate way would be to say that it was a year on Earth.  I think that many other people seem to have been mostly negatively affected during the course of 2017, but for me it wasn’t anything special; nothing terrible, nothing overly fantastic either.  It was a year.

I expect much of the same for 2018, to be honest.  So that’s why I want to do something different.  Unfortunately my plan so far doesn’t extend much further than that.  I have a list of things I want to do, things to try, but beyond that I don’t have anything too specific that I want to work on.

I’ve had serious thoughts of stopping both this and my music blog; however I think I’m going to keep going.  It turns out that I enjoy the outlet for writing, even if some days (or weeks) it feels like I have nothing worthwhile to provide to the Internet.

It definitely helps to know if someone out there is reading, so please reach out and say hello.  If your comments mistakenly get flagged as spam let me know!  Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between real comments and spam comments.  I tend to trust WordPress when it tells me something is spam.

Anyway, my primary goal for 2018 is unchanging: managing my weight.  That part I’ve got down pretty well so far; in December my goal was to go from 264.8 to 260.8; my final weigh-in was 262.10, and I averaged 261.2 over 31 days.  So overall I’m pretty happy!

My goal is to drop another 2-4 pounds this month so I am fairly certain I’ll end the month under 260.

Beyond that, I will make an effort to write some more.  Some of my writing won’t be making it onto the blog, but that’s OK.  I’m tracking a few things here and there on my own, so it’s not necessary to show the Internet that “YES, SEE, I DID WRITE TODAY!”.

On a completely unrelated note, I decided on a whim this afternoon to listen to The Band’s Greatest Hits; I haven’t listened to their stuff in a long time.  If you haven’t ever listened to The Band before, or like me it’s been a while, do yourself a favour and listen.

The War Against CICO

The War Against CICO
The War Against CICO

There are a lot of articles lately in the fitness world about the “phenomenon” known as CICO.  CICO stands for “Calories In-Calories Out”, and generally it refers to the simple fact that to lose weight, you must burn more calories (“Out”) than you consume (“In”).  I think it was shortened to CICO because it’s just an easier way to remember the term, and it is kind of catchy.

I don’t want to give these articles more views; but just do a quick search online of “why cico doesn’t work” and you’ll get a bunch of hits.  I haven’t given a lot of time to these to read them in detail, but many of the articles suggest that CICO is a fad diet that won’t work for sustainable weight loss.

They use a strawman argument to suggest that proponents of CICO think you can eat all the junk food in the world and lose weight.  Technically, this is true!  If you eat all your calories in junk food, but you burn more than you eat, you WILL lose weight.

The problem with these articles is that they focus on the junk food aspect.  They harp on this over and over, telling you that not only do you need to eat “healthy” (which in itself is a very vague term that’s not helpful at all), but you need to include an exercise regimen in your weight loss plan.

What they overlook is that using the “junk food diet” part of CICO is a means to an end.  The /r/loseit subreddit doesn’t advocate eating whatever you want, whenever you want, all the time.  What they suggest instead is to start this way – don’t change what you’re eating, but change how much of it that you’re eating.

As you start logging your calories and seeing how much your regular food costs you in a day, you begin to learn about other foods that are more calorie-dense and leave you feeling full.  In effect, following the CICO principle teaches you to eat healthier.

In short, you need to learn about how weight / fat loss works (CICO is the mechanism of fat loss) in order to learn how to eat better.

It’s important that you remember most of these websites and articles waging war on CICO are in the business of selling a product to you; whether that’s a weight loss tips newsletter subscription, or diet pills, or a weight loss plan – they have some sort of service that they are trying to push.

Technically speaking, CICO is not a threat to their well-being – but they perceive it to be.  They probably sell some worthwhile information (and when you read the articles, they all circle back to the fact that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose fat), so being armed with knowledge is not a bad thing.

But their perception is that if people knew the basics of weight loss, no one will buy their services.  So, they attack the principle of CICO framing it as a weight loss fad that doesn’t work.

Keep this in mind when you’re reading conflicting information out there.

Bullet Journal

Preparing my Bullet Journal for December
Preparing my Bullet Journal for December

Pictured above is the set up I used to set up my monthly pages for December 2017 in my Bullet Journal. If you’re not familiar with the concept of Bullet Journals, you probably haven’t been to the notebook section of your local book store chain recently; in that case, have a look at the “official” website for this popular system. I’ll wait for you to come back.

The System in a Nutshell

Up to speed? In case you didn’t read it, the short version is that the Bullet Journal is an analog system designed to allow for rapid logging and tracking of virtually anything you want. It was developed by Ryder Carroll but since its inception has taken on a life of its own.

The great thing about Bullet Journal is its flexibility.  You can essentially use any notebook you like – and any size you like – to make the system work for you.  The pieces in between the pages can be flexible as well, using what works for you from the main system and ditching what doesn’t.  

For some people this is a point of contention and has led to people slapping the “bullet journal” label on any hand-written notebook / journal, straying from the “pure” Bullet Journal experience.

I understand where they’re coming from, but really…if it works for you, don’t listen to the naysayers.

How it works for me

I use a pretty loose implementation of the “OG” system.  I have a monthly layout where I put all important things for the month, and then from there I write things daily and use the space as needed.  Lately I’ve been adding more “thoughts” (probably what you’d call rapid logging) under each day.

Ultimately what this is REALLY doing for me is feeding my addiction to buying pens and notebooks.  I haven’t found the perfect notebook yet, and there’s no such thing as a perfect pen.  They’re all great.  I just can’t use them all at once.

But I find that it does keep me better organized.  When I write things down, I tend to remember them better.  I know that if I don’t put an item on a ‘to do’ list for the day, it sometimes doesn’t get done.  So writing things down makes it easier to commit to memory.

Closing

Other than that, I also appreciate that it gives me time to sit and figure out things I need to do, things I’ve accomplished, and so forth.  It’s a great tool for that, as one of the notions of the “BuJo” system is to review each month and each year.

I’ve started tracking some daily habits I want to do, and got really excited when I hit 5/5 for the first time (I’ve got max 4/5 all month so far), and I think if I wasn’t deliberately tracking these habits I might not have even taken notice of it.

So check it out – pull out a cheap dollar store notebook and give it a try.  It’s fun!

A bit of progress

When I last wrote about my weight loss goals, I was trying something new: “flexing” my calories for the week, in an attempt to give myself fewer calories during the week and more on the weekend.  Well, that didn’t work out exactly as planned.

I’ve reverted to just focusing on my daily number.  The short reason is that it was a pain in the butt to manually track everything.  Actually, that’s also the long reason.  Anyway, the point I’m making now is that going back to basics and tracking my daily numbers still works.  And since I’m making sure I am active every day, I’m not at all worried about going over my daily goal a little bit.

But enough writing – how about some friendly charts?

Libra Scale Data October-November 2017
Libra Scale Data October-November 2017
FitBit 28-Day Step Average
FitBit 28-Day Step Average
Net Calories - 30 Days
Net Calories – 30 Days

I’ll quickly walk you through what you’re looking at here.  In the first chart, that’s my scale results since October 27th.  I think what it’s saying is that I’m currently on track with my goal weight, but I have some work to do.

The second chart are my FitBit steps for the past 28 days.  That’s how I’m staying active.  Most weeks I reach my step goal (10,205 currently – I may need to alter it) almost every day.  This is helping to make sure my NET calories are a reasonable difference from my daily goal.  I try my best not to eat back anything.

And the third chart are my net calories.  You can see there are some missing days, as well as some really low ones.  I missed a couple of entries, and not all of them are complete.  But with the exception of one day there – I’m well below 2000 net calories.

So things are going well.  I could be doing better, but I could easily be doing a lot worse.  It’s a lot easier to ADD pounds than it is to lose them.

Make it Okay

I was turned onto the podcast “The Hilarious World of Depression” (Apple Podcasts, apm podcasts) when Wil Wheaton announced he was going to be a guest on the show – back on September 24th.  I wasn’t really interested in the “depression” side of things – mostly I am a big fan of Wil Wheaton and like to hear him speak.

To be brutally honest, the interview wasn’t all that special for me.  I’ve heard and read Wheaton’s thoughts on depression and what he deals with on a day-to-day basis – that wasn’t new.  But I thought I’d give the show a chance, because the host (John Moe) is charismatic and despite hearing some familiar stories, the conversation was frank, honest, and true to the name of the show, funny.

I’ve been listening constantly since then – Margaret Cho, Neal Brennan, and John Green – and hearing about new people I’d never heard before and hearing about their struggles with depression.  I think it’s important to note that despite coming from different backgrounds, their stories are all strikingly similar in terms of how depression affects them and how they cope with it.

I say that it’s important to note this because I think a lot of people suffering from depression feel that they are alone.  I don’t know this for a fact, but that seems to be a common thread in all of the stories I read and hear about depression (and surprise, it’s a common thread in THWOD [excellent acronym for a show, by the way]).

It’s also important to note that it got me thinking about myself.  Am I experiencing symptoms of depression?  Am I depressed?  A cursory self-diagnosis says no; but it’s not something I’ve really thought about addressing before.  In high school, I think I remember feeling like I was depressed.  I don’t think I really was, but with less than 18 years of life experience it can be hard to tell.

The last thing that I want to do with this post is play down the seriousness of depression.  We’ve all seen the cause gaining traction in media – I even wrote about the coverage this past year.  What I’m trying to do is highlight the fact that it’s important to accept that depression affects a lot of people – often people whom you don’t expect.  It’s a silent illness that is hard to diagnose and treat.

I’m glad that I don’t feel like I’m suffering from any form of depression.  But I know some people aren’t so lucky.  I’m also glad to know about this website through THWOD: Makeitok.org.

I haven’t fully taken the time to look through the website, but it looks like a very comprehensive place full of lots of knowledge about mental illness.  I think it’s worth combing through, whether you feel like you need to for yourself, or to find out how to better talk about it with other people who might need help.

Thanks for reading.

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.

My Dog is Leash Reactive

You’ll remember at the beginning of September, we adopted Bailey.  I keep calling her a 12-month old puppy, though now I think it’s fair to say she’s 13 months.  So far, we’ve had many ups and downs with her; training is proving to be quite difficult sometimes.  With some other things though, we are seeing a lot of positive progression, and I think it’s fair to say there’s more “ups” than downs.

Bailey playing after being alone all night
Bailey playing after being alone all night

I think one of the biggest problems we are having right now is her general re-activeness toward…everything.  Particularly when she’s on a leash, Bailey is very aggressive toward other dogs.  I did some basic research and the general consensus in most cases is that she feels extra threatened by the other dogs (and sometimes, people) while she’s on a leash, because she’s restrained.  So she growls, barks, does whatever she can to keep the other dog away.  Since in her mind it works, she keeps doing it.

I found a 3-step guide that I think will work.  The trouble is that Bailey seems to have Superman-quality vision, and it’s hard to practice this stuff in a planned manner.  She just needs work.  Luckily, beyond this 3-step guide, there seem to be plenty of other resources online for leash-reactive behaviour.

Unfortunately there’s not so much information about when your dog gets mad at other cars, inside the car.  I think the reason behind it is similar to why she gets mad on the leash; she feels threatened by the oncoming cars, which is then made worse by the fact that she feels restrained being in the vehicle.  We wouldn’t care so much, except that she takes to biting at the window and vinyl in the car.  Oops.

Our solution to this for now is a restraint that buckles into the seat belt and hooks onto her harness.  She can still move around, but ultimately I’d like for her to not get crazy mad at oncoming vehicles.  Our priority would be the leash training though – it’s slightly embarrassing when she lunges at other dogs or people and makes us look like we don’t know how to train our dog.  That is definitely something I want to avoid.

Bailey enjoying the sun.
Bailey enjoying the sun.