Restart

Flat restart iconEvery now and then I feel like I need to stop and take a break from constant food logging.  Usually it’s for a short period – a week, maybe a few days – and then I get back on track, and I either maintain my weight or gain 1 or two pounds.

Unfortunately I recently took an extended break from food logging.  My last full entry seems to be Friday February 9th – and even then, I’m not sure that it’s really complete.  It looks like the 8th was really the last complete day.  Since then I’ve maybe added one or two things, but for all intents & purposes, I’ve basically taken an entire month off.  And now I’m here to tell you that there are consequences:

On February 8th I weighed 262.3 pounds; as I write this (Monday March 5) my weight is 269.4 pounds.  An increase of 7.1 pounds.  I may not have done any tracking, but I know that not doing so allowed me to be irresponsible with my eating.  I worked from home a lot in that time period, and didn’t think twice about getting up and grabbing a snack.  I almost sank back into this behaviour this morning, in fact; I was about to grab some chips and poured them into a bowl without measuring the portion size.  I stopped and remembered that I should be logging everything and promptly measured out 50g.

What I realized in the process though is that when I’m not logging for an extended period of time, I’m a bit careless.  I don’t think too much about what I’m eating.  When I’m not logging for a day or two, I usually still measure things out and stick with proper portion sizes.  When left unchecked, I get lazy.

This past weekend I picked up a Samsung Gear S3 (Frontier edition, if you were that curious).  I already had the fitness aspects covered off with the FitBit Charge 2, but now I’ve added some productivity options as well.  I think the fitness features are just as robust an option as FitBit’s, just “different”.  Apparently connecting MyFitnessPal to my Gear S3 also gave me a year’s premium membership, for free.  So, I’m using this as a kicking-off point to restart my fitness journey.

I reset my goals in MyFitnessPal, to show losing 1 pound per week to start.  According to the new settings, I should lose 5 pounds by April 2nd.    As I go through this process I’m going to take notes on how the premium version of MFP works too, and probably will review that.  I have no idea if it’s something I need personally, but you never know.

Wish me luck!

Stealth update: Already down to 268.3.  I’m always amazed how quickly I can bounce back when I get back to proper logging.

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?

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.

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.

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 call 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.