A number of things came together at the end of 2016 that prompted me to set and start pursuing the first New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made.
- Back in the fall, I finally chose a new primary care physician on my health plan and went in for a full physical. All together, I’m still quite healthy, but my doctor did tell me that I was right on the edge of being overweight or perhaps a little over.
- I visited my sister in San Francisco at the beginning of December and was inspired by the way she has turned her life around and gotten herself healthy. I was amazed at the way she carefully measured out her lunch foods before heading into the city for work.
- My wife got me an Apple Watch for Christmas. At first, I wasn’t sure that I would really use it at all, but the few functions it has and especially the health kit stuff puts certain information right onto what is essentially my life heads up display.
So, I was typically kind of crazy eating during the holidays this last year. I binged on too much alcohol and massive quantities of rich food. When I started working to get healthy, I weighed in at a whopping 193.3 pounds. On my 6’1″ frame and in my 40s, that put my BMI at 25.5 or just over the WHO limit into overweight. And I know that I’d been hovering around the 200-pound area from time to time. That 193 weight was after being sick for the first few days of the year.
More than the weight or any one definition of what BMI should be, I knew that I was not in a healthy place. I was carrying too much literal baggage around with me everywhere, putting unnecessary stress on my joints and causing unknown damage to my organs. So, I resolved to change my relationship with food and eating. I’ve made some good strides in that over the last two months. The last time I weighed in a couple days ago, I was down to 177 lbs. I haven’t gone completely nuts about dieting or anything, but I have made a few changes in how I think about and relate with eating that I want to write down here so I remember things a bit better in case I start going the other direction again.
The first thing I did was to go get an app that interfaced with the HealthKit stuff and helped me to track food intake. I used the free version of myFitnessPal, and it proved to be quite helpful. Here are a couple of screenshots from a day that I wasn’t doing so good as an example of what the app helped me to examine.
The app did a great job in making the food recording pretty simple. The bar code scanning deal worked great for many foods, including quickly assembling a given recipe for a meal. I also used the feature where you can add in a recipe with a simple URL to an online page. The app did a great job scanning for the ingredients and adding them in to create a custom recipe like the one I found for our almond espresso biscotti that is something of a morning ritual for me.
I used the app religiously for the whole month of January, and it helped me get a handle on two main things about how I was relating with food in my life.
- Entering exactly what I was eating for just the first couple of days really made me look at portion sizes and total calories. I realized that I was often doubling or more what the recorded portion size was for some given food like sliced bread or breakfast cereal. Portion size is just a reference measurement, but when I started really looking at the total calories for different foods against a goal I set in the app to lose weight, I realized that I was really over-consuming. Examining calories against a number made me start to think of eating more like recharging my battery throughout the day. At times in the past, I would have a general sense that I’d been overindulging on food, I’d get busy doing stuff, and I would avoid eating during the middle of the day with a vague idea that it might be good to skip a meal or two. I knew that this was actually bad food behavior, but I wasn’t measuring anything and didn’t really realize what I was doing to myself. By monitoring my caloric intake throughout the day, I started paying much more attention to what I was taking in and what it did for my energy level and ability to get things done. I set a daily calorie objective for a weight loss goal and started working to shift to more of the right kinds of food earlier in the day when I needed the energy and less calories at the end of the day when I was getting ready to go to sleep.
- The nutrient calculator was also very enlightening, particularly the simple macronutrient view of carbs, fats, and proteins. When I put that together with calories and started looking at the relative cost/benefit of various foods, I really began to realize that certain foods were simply too expensive for the benefits I received. By benefits, I mean both nutrition for my body and enjoyment for my mind. I don’t think that any food is off limits for me, but this work has made me really start to think about what I want to eat and why. I’ve also started the practice of eating slower as a way to savor and enjoy each bite of food that I consume. I’m realizing the cost of those bites, and so I am wanting to get the maximum enjoyment out of the process of charging my battery. I’ve also been paying attention to how I feel and what I can do when I meet a nutritional balance in my meals vs. an imbalance of too much fat or too many carbs.
I stopped religiously tracking everything after January. It’s kind of unreasonable to live the rest of my life recording each and every food intake. But I now have a sense for how much I need to eat, what kinds of things I need to eat more or less of, and tradeoffs I need to make when I really want to eat something but it will cause me to get out of balance for the day. I’ve had a number of “moments of zen” along the way like just a couple days ago when I was at Costco by myself for the first time in a while.
If the old me was mildly hungry or stressed, I would quite often stop by the concession stand on the way out and pick up a slice of combo pizza and a chocolate frozen yogurt. A couple days ago I thought to myself, “I’ll just get a frozen yogurt because it’s relatively warm outside (crazy February this year!), and that would be a nice treat to savor on the drive home.” But, holy crap!, I looked up on the board, and the yogurt was 450 calories. The numbers I found online are a bit different, but check this out for what I used to consume as much as a couple times a month just on a whim.
That slice of pizza has as much saturated fat as I really want to consume for an entire day. Sure, I would enjoy some aspects of eating it, but it would usually be while driving down the road, listening to NPR on the radio, and mind wandering all over the place. I would rather split my fat intake over a couple of different meals with different kinds of flavorful food that I chew and taste slowly and deliberately. I would have enjoyed just the frozen yogurt in this case as well, but did I really need to consume nearly a quarter of the calories I needed on a day I was running errands and not getting all that much exercise in a simple indulgent snack?
So, I’m no longer religiously counting calories or analyzing nutritional balance. I may go back to that at times when I find myself getting out of balance again or want to dramatically change up what I’m eating and need to understand the relative costs and benefits of new foods. I also may occasionally go ahead and have that frozen yogurt. But I am recognizing some pretty dramatic benefits to eating less, eating slower, eating more of the right kinds of food, and savoring the experience of eating for the right reasons.
The thing that has really started to seal this in as an overall set of habits and behaviors has been working on these issues with my wife. Kat and I have been doing this together all along. She got the app as well, and we shared our stuff back and forth over the month of January. Kat has always been much better on this stuff than I have. She’s way healthier than I am overall, and she does the most to keep us on the right kinds of foods and meals. This exercise together has given us a renewed point of connection and accountability with each other, and I look forward to continuing to seal it in as a more balanced way of living over the rest of the year. I know that I have more good food habits to develop and a few more bad habits, like responses to stress, that I need to work on to fully change my relationship with food.