Tracking caloric intake is probably the most significant way to really, seriously, take on any effort to lose weight. Logging everything that you eat in a day is a very enlightening experience. For me, I realize how often I want to grab a snack, look in the refrigerator just because I happen to walk past it, or open the snack cabinet just because I am bored. Another culprit is when I eat what is left on my kids’ plates, on the way from the table to the sink. It’s easy to ramp up the calories without even being aware of it.
Here is a prime example of my Uncertainty Principle (see my first post if you dont know what I am talking about). The fact that I am measuring this stuff, the fact that I know I have to write it down, makes me less likely to do it. The effect here is strong, much stronger than I realized, at least in this first week of my experiment. At work last week someone was walking by with a plate of cookies that were left over after a meeting. Now, I NEVER pass up a plate of cookies. EVER. In fact, previously I would have been likely to grab one, and then try and find out where the tray ended up to go grab another later. But this time I thought ‘well, if I take one I am going to have to whip out my phone and record it. Is it really worth it for a Trader Joe’s chocolate chip dipper?’ (answer: no).
Living healthy is the result of HUNDREDS of little decisions that are made during the day. Take the cookie? Take the stairs? Go for a walk after lunch? Pass on the extra portion? Choose whole wheat bread? It is very easy to make the wrong decision for any one of these little decisions, and rationalize it away as just being one little decision. The powerful part is that when you make a few healthful choices, there is inertia to help you make more.
Anyway, back to calorie logging. I am finding it is a very effective way to be mindful of my eating choices. So that is great. The problem is, it is a big pain in the rump roast. There is no easy way to do this. Thank goodness we live in a world of technology where there are endless people trying to build apps to do it for me. In a perfect world, these apps would allow me to take a picture of what I am eating and it just records all the nutritional info. Alas, the world is not that easy yet.
I’ve been trying out three apps that let me do this: the Fitbit app, which is tied into my wonderful new Fitbit tracking device; the Livestrong MyPlate app from Lance Armstrong’s health juggernaut; and a popular one called LoseIt! – which is tied in with their weight loss website. All of these websites have a similar vibe, you search for a food product in their databases which have thousands of food types in there. If you find what you ate, you just click “I Ate This” and it logs it for you.
Easy, right? Well, its easy if you ate a package of Mac and Cheese, where the nutritional info is right on the box and easily downloadable. But what about my wife’s delicious lentil soup? Or my bean stew from the other night? Or a homemade chef salad with diced ham and cheese on top? Unless you are measuring your ingredients to the 1/4 cup and logging every one, it is extremely hard to figure out what you have just ate.
Here is a screen shot from the Livestrong MyPlate app. I typed in Chef Salad – it immediately returns about 20 different options, including store and restaurant bought options. Here are the first 5 (click to enlarge):
Note the range! How do I know whether my little homemade chef salad is more like Arby’s or Blimpie’s (which is FOUR TIMES as many calories?!?). Also, we all know that the fat and calories in a salad is drastically affected by the type and amount of dressing – so do I really have to measure that out to the teaspoon to get a good measure? Doesnt that take all of the fun out of eating?
I think I am going to struggle with this. So far, the winner in terms of apps is the Livestrong MyPlate app. It seems to me to have the most extensive database (e.g. it was the only one of the three that had an entry for ‘saag’), it is super easy to use, and has iPhone and iPad apps that all sync up effortlessly. I’m trying to keep up with the logging, but finding it kind of a drag. Even after just a few days it feels like a chore. Anyone else out there have continued success with logging caloric data?
The other side is measuring how many calories you burn. All of the apps have a database of activities you can choose from – everything from boxing to bowling to billiards to broomball – with estimated calories burned per time unit. Even sexual activity is listed – which can be light, moderate or vigorous – in case you didn’t know. For now,I’m settling for a combo of the Fitbit record of my steps and activity level, paired with Runkeeper logs of my jogging/cycling, and the Fitlinxx machine that is used at my YMCA. What a mess! As this process goes on I’m certainly going to want to consolidate the number of apps/websites I use.