The other day I wrote about the pre-game training I did to tackle my health issues. Today, I'm going to write about the day in and day out practices that I used to start my journey.
Making changes in your life is hard. Use every tool at your disposal to automate it and make it easier. We are an Apple household so that influenced the choices. If you don't like these, find equivalents that you do. Apple has done a lot, though, in the health and fitness space. There is a robust ecosystem and seamless data sharing between apps. When I weigh myself, the data is pulled in by my food tracker and vitals tracker. Add in the ability to connect to medical providers, laboratories, and others, and it works pretty well.
A network connected scale is key. It lets you easily capture metrics without any resistance or work on your part. Stand on it. Hold still for a few seconds. And your done. We have a Withings Body+ scale. Besides your weight, it tracks fat percentage, muscle mass, water mass, and it'll even show you the weather forecast right before you step off. Their app is pretty nice as well and includes some metrics driven motivational and education advice.
I use an Apple Watch Series 5 and will probably upgrade when the next model comes out, especially if it does glucose monitoring. Like the scale, this will track your movement, heart rate, and exercise and incorporate it into your data stream.
I use Lose It. Along with it's extensive database of foods, you can scan barcodes and nutrition labels for new items, create custom foods and recipes, as well as share them with others. If my wife or I create a new dish, it's easy to share details with each other.
The way it works is you set a goal weight and the amount you want to lose a week. I chose 1.5 lbs per week, and with my 6 week hiatus in March/April, I am right on track at this half-year mark. It also is tracking my protein intake and my sodium intake - one for weight loss and hunger management, the other for my blood pressure.
And that's it. In the beginning I played around with spreadsheets and trend lines but it made me focus on the wrong things. I use Apple's Health app to see all my data in one place
Numbers Are Important! Numbers Don't Matter!
With all this technology you'll soon be swimming in numbers. This is awesome. If you can't measure something, you can't improve it. But focusing too much on a single number can derail you.
The human body is a complex system composed of complex subsystems. We can generalize some facts such as "cut out 3500 calories to lose a pound" but it's not that simple (never mind the fact that it may be wrong). On any given day our weight will be affected by the quality of food you've eaten, the quantity, the nutritional makeup, how much salt you consumed, how well you slept, your general stress levels, and on and on and on. A single data point is just that. In isolation, it doesn't tell us much. It takes consistent measurements over time to help us see trends and when to change our approach. The best advice is to measure your weight every morning at the same time. I do it right when I wake up before I eat or drink anything. The wireless scale makes it easy, even without any caffeine.
Some days I think it should go down and it goes up, only to go back down the next day. This can be discouraging if we focus on a single day. The key thing is to adopt a stoic practice of reviewing your day before going to sleep. I ask myself "Did I stick to my plan? Did I get some movement in? Am I proud of my efforts for the day?" and if I can answer YES! then the number doesn't matter - it will resolve itself or I will learn I need to adapt my behavior. You can't be proud of a single number unless you want to be congratulating yourself for taking a big dump that day! Be proud of your actions, and the numbers will follow.
As for tracking food, it is crucial, especially in the beginning. It's easy to forget the little things we add (like croutons in a salad) add up. In the beginning, I used a scale to measure out portions. Not because it would be precise but to relearn what portion sizes should be. Your food measurements will never be precise. The caloric quantity will be different scoop to scoop and bite to bite. Measure to learn how to correctly eat and to measure trends. Once you get the hang of it, you can better judge what your eating.
Diet over Exercise
So we're measuring things and we're tracking stuff. Now comes the incremental changes part. Remember, this is going to be for the rest of your life. It needs to be something you can handle, something that you can accommodate, and something that you enjoy. Don't try to become a vegan in one week. Heck, don't even try to become a vegan (unless you want to). Look at what you are normally eating and track it. The first time you measure and record a fast food meal, or even a nice restaurant meal, you'll be shocked at the fat and calories you are consuming.
When the lockdowns started last year, we began ordering a lot of delivery from local restaurants. We wanted to do our part to help expand the local economy. We also did more than our fair share to expand our belts. Without necessarily cutting out anything, opt for fresh foods, prepared at home, with simple changes to make things healthier. We learned a lot from recipes on Eating Well and other websites. We got the Paprika app for recipe and pantry management. It was easy to add recipes from the web that we were interested in, then plan meals and shopping for the week. Since this was lockdown, the planing helped with ordering groceries to be delivered as well.
In the six months we've been doing this, we've slowly changed our eating habits and I do not feel deprived or missing out. I eat mostly vegan for breakfast and lunch. We are vegetarian two nights a week right now and are looking to increase that. And when we crave a pizza or some Thai Barbecue from Eem, we get it! We just don't get it every week.
Put most of your mental energy into what you consume. Your diet will be so much more important to your long term health goals than exercise. Spend the time up front to dial it in and don't worry so much about how you expend your energy.
But Still Exercise
Once you are on the right track with your food, you can start working on the other end of the equation. We have a Peloton. It's great. I can get on and do a half hour before work and get some cardio in. I found, however, that if I wasn't doing a class, just cycling to music, it was easy to kind of phone it in. These days I'm more focused on walking and hiking with the dogs and strength training. As we get older, the benefits of strength training are crucial. You can still get the calorie burning that will help with weight, but you also increase your metabolism, improve balance, and build bone density. And it is a lot harder to coast through.
Nike's mission is to Make Sport a Daily Habit, and it's a good model to follow. It doesn't matter if your sport is walking, playing with your kids, or a team sport. The important thing is to get movement into your body everyday. The Apple Watch is an easy way for me to see my active calorie burn and now when I need to step away from my desk and play with the dogs.
The last bit of advice I have is concerning the head space to be in. If all these pieces of advice were easy to follow, I wouldn't have found myself at 50 odd years old having to figure them out. The pre-game training is crucial to prepare but there are practices and techniques that have helped me continue on this path.
So, why did I tend to overeat? Why did I use food as a source of comfort? Understanding these through therapy helped to begin unwiring those neural pathways. One of the things I learned was that I was prone to pain avoidance and hunger was one of those signals. Now, when I start to feel hungry during the day, I take a pause, look at when the next meal is, what I've eaten so far that day, and then make a rational decision about my next move. If I am really hungry, then I'lll grab something to eat, but I'll now what I should grab to fit into my day. If I'm not so hungry, or more likely just bored or anxious or procrastinating, I'll tell myself to wait a half hour and check in again. At no point in the six months have starved myself or felt truly deprived. Those end of day checkins are really helpful and reinforce the healthy behaviors.
So, that is how I am doing it. It has been helpful to reflect and acknowledge the amount of work and change that has gone into it and appreciate the results obtained so far. These have worked for me. If you are not me, and you are somehow reading this, they may work for you, perhaps with slight modifications. The important take aways are do the pre-work, make slow incremental changes, focus on health and behavior, not numbers, and there is no finish line.