Tracking Calories and Other Data

When faced with the daunting task of organizing your diet and holding yourself accountable, you may end up asking “so… how do I track calories and everything else without spending half of my day writing notes?” Nobody wants to spend time keeping track of miscellaneous data points. It’s much more fun to actually go out and enjoy life. So the answer, for me, has been to minimize the record-keeping footprint. I have found a few tools that are quite good at that. However, first, let’s talk about what data you will want to track.

I have found that it is helpful to track my weight and measure the various parts of my body that most exhibit change through weight loss.  In this way it is not just the numbers on the scale that matter – it’s how my waistline or chest drops in size.  This can be very helpful later on, especially as you are plateauing (reaching a point where your body is readjusting to the weight loss and is reluctant to progress further). By measuring my waist, chest, each thigh and each arm, I am able to keep a running record of how my dimensions are changing through my weight loss.  This also serves a very important purpose of providing me with a non-scale measure of success.

I do not weigh-in daily, I weigh-in and measure once a week.  Day-to-day, a persons’ weight can fluctuate a significant amount, so I have found a larger interval is more indicative of relevant progress.  While weekly weigh-ins can also be subject to various trends (such as water retention from sickness, injury or stress) which can skew your data, being able to react to trends and analyze how you have done on your diet and exercise regimen makes it worth it.

 

How Do I Do It?

So to track my weight and measurements I use an Excel spreadsheet. For those that know me, I realize this comes as a shock. (Not really, I love data on spreadsheets!) But I organize the weight in one column that automatically subtracts from the previous week’s weight and from my starting baseline to yield a weekly and overall net change.  I do the same thing with the measurements.  Each category of measurement gets its own cell on the spreadsheet, and I tabulate averages for the legs and arms , then show individual net changes for the week and overall.

 

But, Spreadsheets Suck, Ethan.

MyFitnessPal appNow, if you are not a whiz with spreadsheets, all is not lost!  I use a different tool to track calories and it can also track weight, measurements and exercise. In short, it will do everything for you.  The other tool I use is an app called MyFitnessPal. It can be used on your smartphone, tablet, or on the computer, so it is fairly versatile. The app has a very slick calorie entry system and a massive user-managed database of foods with their nutritional information already entered. Chances are, whatever you are eating there is some version of that food already entered into the database.

The app breaks down calorie consumption by meal or other user specified categories.  So I have Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, Alcohol, Water.  Within each category it lists the individually entered items, a total for that item and a total for the category. If you are more athletically inclined or wanting to track something specific like carb intake or sugars etc, it has all the macronutrient information as well.

You can use your smartphone camera to scan bar codes for easy entry, or simply search for the food in question and add it to your daily log.  Since I try to limit my daily intake to around 1400-1500 calories, it is important for me to know what I am putting in my body. To streamline your process, all of your relevant data can be tracked in My Fitness Pal.  It even contains very useful reporting functions like graphs and charts to help you monitor progress over time.

 

It’s Not Just About Calories…

Map My Ride ImageI like to track my activity.  I use companion apps to My Fitness Pal called Map My Ride and Map My Walk.  Both of these work great.  You set up the app by entering your personal characteristics – age, height, weight, and it calculates calorie burning based on your walking, running or bike riding. Also it automatically syncs with My Fitness Pal to enter your exercise information.  The result is that this is yet another data point that you can use to monitor progress and provide useful feedback.

You can tell when you are getting faster or more efficient in your walking or riding, and you can identify when you need to elevate your performance level.  Additionally, I also use a Fitbit watch device to track steps, activity, and provide more performance metrics.  Additionally there are pedometer apps for your phone that would remove the necessity of wearing a pedometer provided you have your phone with you all the time.  There are indeed other options out there for tracking exercise, these just happen to be the ones I use, and best of all, they all sync with each other!

In addition, there are goal-setting features in the app, and the ability to develop and track diet and exercise programs

 

Ok…so how much time is this going to take?

The most time-consuming is entering your calories every day.  But I can do it while I am cooking my dinner, or spend a minute during a commercial break when watching a hockey game.  In short, it’s not much time at all, and that was non-negotiable for me.  I absolutely had to have a small footprint on time and effort. The app is designed to make it easy – otherwise none of us would do it.  As I mentioned earlier, the fastest way is by using the camera on your smart phone and the “barcode scan” feature.

 

Analyzing This Whole Process

You might ask “what’s the point of tracking all this data?” I use the data for two very important processes:

  1. To monitor my weight loss and see exactly how many pounds and inches I am losing.  It also helps to identify trends in weight loss. When cross-indexed with specific foods or my activity it can provide very useful insights into how I am doing.  For instance, if I miss working out for several days and my caloric intake is reasonable but I am not losing weight, I now have a good idea as to the reason why!  I sat on the couch instead of getting out and going for a walk!
  2. To monitor my caloric intake and ensure I am eating the right things in the right proportions.  To achieve this, it’s very helpful to educate yourself on proper nutrition. Eating a bowl of raspberries, chocolate chips with whipped cream is not a good, healthy snack.  Seeing the numbers reinforces that. (See more on nutrition here.)

The app is especially useful when I run into a plateau or just want to reflect on my week.  I can see trends and figure out any statistical anomalies that may indicate a deviation from the plan and hence why I am seeing substandard results.  That said, the body is a funny thing. While ultimately losing weight is about math, the body can decide it’s not going to play by the rules this week.  You have to set those weeks aside and keep working at what has been successful for you to this point.  In the end, even though we can analyze the heck out of every data point, it takes faith in yourself and your program.  I have had a lot of those weeks, and I am still plugging away at it.  You can do it too.

 

Summary:

  • Use MyFitnessPal
    • Track Calories
    • Track Weight
    • Record Body Measurements
    • Record Exercise
  • Use Companion Apps to Monitor Exercise
    • Map my Ride , Map My Run, Map My Walk, Map My Hike
    • Strava, Zwift, Endomondo. Etc
    • There are apps for almost any exercise regimen.
  • Get Reports On Your Progress
    • Analyze trends via the built in reporting features
    • Determine the next steps to help you be successful in achieving your goals!

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