Thursday, May 09, 2013

Rich O 2.0 Part 3- What's Been My Biggest Help (Or Using Your Smart Phone For More Then Angry Birds To Help You Get Healthy)

So I've talked some about my diet and exercise plan to get healthier and my tact being hitting a net caloric goal of calories in from food less calories burned thru exercise and activity. For me the magic number has been 2050 net calories. Below that means more weight loss, above that, well, not so much. A daunting task to keep track of accurately. So I put on my thinking cap and I realized I already had the most important tool to get this done!

OK I want you to reach into your pocket or belt holster or pocketbook and tell me if you find an object about 4 1/2 inches long x 2 1/2 inches wide (get your minds out of the gutter). Go ahead, I can wait...If you're like a growing percentage of the population you'll probably find an iPhone or Android or some other form of smart phone. Well for a lot of people the "smart" is a misnomer. They simply aren't used very smartly. Most of us don't get past email, texts, photos, games and social media (oh, and phone calls). There is a slew of practical, useful apps out there that can make you more productive including many to help with fitness and weight loss. As I've said before I'm a geek at heart and I like numerical evidence of how things work so for me using my phone to track everything I did was a perfect match. I looked around a bit and some trial and error and found what worked for me. All 3 apps and/or websites are free to use but there is one additional piece of hardware you need and to make all 3 synchronize in perfect harmony it will probably cost you about $7-$10 for premium service. This is not the order I discovered these apps but in retrospect this is the order to get them and to synch them

screen shot FitBit app
First is the Fitbit One (or whatever the most current model is). It's what's known as an activity meter. Think of it as a pedometer on steroids. I got my Fitbit One at Amazon. It's primary function is to track your daily activity counting steps and floors climbed The preset goal is 10,000 steps and 10 floors a day. It's not as
easy as it sounds. For me 10,000 steps is just under 5 miles. On a work day, along with my morning walk, I usually hit 15,000 steps. It also calculates, based on age and weight, the number of calories you burn hitting you goal. I generally put it in my pocket when I go to work and carry it all day. On my days off it's a nice reminder to get up and get moving. You'll feel guilty if you don't hit your goal, trust me. What it really does is it forces you to do all the cliches you've been hearing for years like "park further away and walk" or "take the stairs and not the elevator". But you know what? It's true. You burn calories in everything you do and Fitbit allows you to track and get credit for this. It can also be used independent of a phone app on your computer, can track sleep and exercise and calories so if you just want to start simple this is the one for you. But there are better options for tracking exercise and calories

Screen shot DigiFit app
Digifit is the first fitness app I used. I was walking and looking for a way to track how far I'd walked. I had seen a commercial where some dork used GPS tracking technology and his bike to draw a heart around the city so I knew it existed. There's actually quite a few of them. I settled on Digifit (which to also confuse things
markets itself under several different names) as it tracked a variety of outdoor activities and indoor cardio as well with some accessories. The free version works based on GPS so it tracks how far and how fast you've done your exercise then based on age and weight (kind of like the cardio machines at the gym) gives you a calories burned number. Beautiful. The premium version allows you to connect to external devices and other apps including Fitbit! I ended up also purchasing a heart rate monitor strap (hrm) as I wanted more accurate reading especially when I was using the elliptical or stationary bike at the gym. With Digifit and Fitbit synched it gives you the best idea of how many calories you burn between actual exercise and just keeping busy. For example if you wear Fitbit for a walk, jog, run or hike it counts your steps but ignore the calories burned for that specific event so you don't get a double count. Brilliant. But how do we know how many calories we've eaten without checking every damned label?? Well for that we have...

Screen shot MyFitnessPal app
My Fitness Pal is a calorie counting website/app with a massive, massive database of foods both general and specific, covers foods found at the grocery store, chain restaurants, as well as lets you input you own recipes. This is a powerful tool! Ya know the expression what you don't know may kill you?? Well if it's food we're talking about it just may be true. Pop quiz- Which has more calories 4 tablespoons (I'd say about the average amount most people use) of my awesome homemade Caesar dressing or an Egg McMuffin sandwich? Sadly Mickey Dees wins that one 300 to 320! How about 3 Miller Lite (288) versus 2 Buds (290) versus 2 Blue Moon (368)? It all adds up. Knowledge is power! You will be prompted to give your age, weight and goal weight and it will set a daily net calorie goal for you. To use it you simply start typing in the food item (or scan a bar code) that you are going to eat, select the number of serving and BAM it's added to your daily total giving you a snapshot of what you have left for the day. As it's net calories it subtracts calories burnt through exercise so it gives you a real life number. Exercise calories can be entered manually of course but there is a better way...

So I chose each of these programs/apps/devices for they're versatility, accuracy, the fact all 3 work together harmoniously and all 3 have an iPhone app as well as full websites . There are other activity meters out there but none other then FitBit that works with DigiFit and MyFitnessPal. So here's how I used all 3 to get in better shape!
1) Buy a bathroom scale and weigh in once a week. Daily will drive you nuts. Buy a kitchen scale as portion control and understanding potions is key. Meal prep is also key as "winging it" has a lot more pitfalls then a well thought out meal. Also I cant swear this "system" works for specialized diets like Paleo, clean foods, juicing, etc but rather for a balanced eating plan. Most importantly be honest. Lying about what you ate does you no good. Sweat the details and include everything including condiments and drinks (veggie toppings etc you don't need to worry about too much) including the milk or cream in your coffee. I almost always enter breakfast and lunch items in the night before as I always know what I'm having for those meals. Being regimented and disciplined can only help

2) Get your FitBit and download the app. Get the paid version of Digifit and get MyFitnessPal. Now for best accuracy connect the apps together as such FitBit to DigiFit, FitBit to MyFitnessPal. If you do it any other way the calories burned will be inaccurate (its all based on algorithms etc anyway so nothing is 100% accurate). Set up of each is fairly simple.

3) OK so here's what I do. Any activity I do involving steps (walking, jogging, running, hiking) I carry my Fitbit and record the workout using Digifit. Digifit intuitively doesn't give you double credit for the calories but still allows you to keep track of your workouts and give you credits towards your daily step goal. The calorie information is then synched to MyFitnessPal and you get you net calorie total (food less exercise). I also carry my FitBit with me every waking moment so I can track what kind of activity I'm producing during mundane tasks like work and cleaning my house. Any workouts I do at the gym I record manually (or as I bought a heart rate monitor its recorded automatically). All 3 apps give you places to track your goals and weight, measurements, etc and they synch up with each other! As a system it gives you a nice snapshot of your day in food and exercise. What I mostly love is the checks and balances. If I don't feel like going to the gym then smaller dinner. If I wanna go out for a few beers then I exercise a little harder. Pretty simple if you ask me

Like I said, this has worked for me so far. This was built for someone who takes on things the way I do. I've been to a lot of websites reading about weight loss and health as a "journey". For me it's not a journey but a goal and I'm attacking it like any other goal I've set. When I was power training I had a mindset, a zone, a place I "went to" that helped me achieve being the strongest S.O.B. in the gym. I'm too beat up to lift like that anymore but I'm going at this the same way. There's a learning curve and a discipline to make it work but it's all very doable. By using this system I've been able to track my exercise, activity and diet towards a healthier me!

Friday, May 03, 2013

Rich O 2.0 Part 2- What I'm Doing About It (Or The One Where Rich Learned To Love Egg Beaters-Yuck!)

So, where were we? Oh yeah, wake up call #3. It was like being hit over the head with a cast iron pan to try and wrap my head around high blood sugar, high blood pressure and cholesterol all at once. The NP recommended I meet with the diabetic nurse in a couple weeks to get some insight into eating and diabetes and I agreed (ironically I had met with the same nurse back at the onset of the diabetes). She also recommended walking at least 30 minutes a day. Apparently from a blood circulation standpoint etc sustained movement is better then short, intense cardio. She also mentioned losing weight would go a long way towards lowering all 3 issues that I was experiencing. So I left the hospital and do what I typically do when taking on something new that's important to me. I set a plan in motion and jumped in headlong

The first thing I did was to prioritize and the order of importance was 1) blood sugar 2) exercise 3) weight loss 4) blood pressure & cholesterol. I figured #2 & #3 would help in #4. So I immediately purchased a new glucose meter and strips for of the moment blood sugar readings, a scale (for the first time in my life) and a blood pressure cuff. I made a promise to myself I'd only use the scale and cuff once a week to not drive myself crazy. I decided to go at this old school Atkins style by counting all net carbs and seeing the effect on my blood sugar (there's an app for that...more on that soon). I decided to finally take advantage of my new later work hours by getting up and walking before work. So bright and early the next morning (and every morning but one since) I walked 40-60 minutes at a brisk pace. It wasn't always as simple as it sounds as it was still butt cold and often rainy but I decided no excuses!! The harder part was giving up so many of my beloved homemade foods based on the high carb count or not getting accurate nutritional info like you can get on (ugh) packaged food. Just to clear the air on one thing, I generally ate very healthy 5 days and 4 nights a week. Weekends were my downfall. All those awesome, yummy, unhealthy pictures I tantalized you with were simply picture-posting worthy food and not typical of how I ate. That said I had no handle on how good or bad what I was ingesting was for me. So anyhow I was counting carbs, recording glucose, weighing in and taking my blood pressure and just before my meeting with the diabetic nurse all 3 had improved tho not dramatically (the drugs probably helped as well). The diabetic nurse was the one that really set me on the right path

So the nurse was a small, upper middle age woman who I had met before in 2003. She pretended she remembered me but cmon! Anyways she reviewed my A1C, where it was and where it should be. Told me to stop counting carbs and worry more about calories!! She said more people control their diabetes by common sense and weight loss then counting carbs.  We discussed the mix of proteins to carbs to fruits and veggies, which were best and when best to eat them (and best when to not eat them). We talked specifically about my lifestyle and work schedule and set forth an eating schedule. My new plan of attack was eating in a reverse pyramid of descending meal size starting with a big breakfast with carbs, protein, etc ending with dinner which would only be protein and veggies. Probably most important was a smaller meal while I was at work for the sake of energy, hunger management, blood sugar control and eliminating the need for a larger meal after 7:30. She also said some stuff I took with a grain of salt (buying smaller plates, special ordering food when I go out to dinner, throwing out anything unhealthy I have in my house, etc). I know my self control and know what I can and cannot handle. So, new information in hand I went on my merry way again

So I start some research on do's and don'ts and philosophy on calories in versus out to reach a preset goal. It wasn't easy so I thought to myself "self, there are options". I could join a group (nah, at heart I'm a loner when it comes to things like this) or send away for food (too much respect for food for that) or even some kind of OTC or prescription weight loss pills (sorry, explosive diarrhea ain't my thing). No, in the end I decided good old fashioned diet and exercise was my path. So I embraced my inner geek and figured "there's an app for that too". And there was. 3 intertwined apps in fact. My Fitness Pal to track net calories versus calories burned thru exercise became my new weight loss guide. I'll go over these 3 phone apps (also websites) in part 3 of this multi-part epic tale. I set my goal at 200 lbs and it gave me a net calories (calories from food less calories burned thru exercise) of 2050 daily to achieve this goal (it doesn't specify a date as how far you're over or under changes the projection). The morning walk and gym 3-4 times a week and having a job where I am pretty active have made the exercise part pretty easy. Next I had to learn how and when to use these calories. It's not as easy as it sounds as I'm dealing with pre-high cholesterol and pre-hypertension so certain foods (eggs, cold cuts, etc) which I was told were good based on calories and lack of carbs weren't good for some of my other issues. So now most of my breakfasts are Egg Beaters, bagel slims and leaner breakfast meats, lunch is home cooked protein in a sandwich or in a salad (I roast a turkey breast every single week) and dinner is mostly grilled meats and veggies. It's not perfect as there are always traps to everything but veggies and how food is prepared can make a HUGE difference.Yup, it's mundane but that's now my life in food

So I'm no expert on anything to do with health but this has been working for me. That said I have a few advantages most people don't. As a single person who lives alone I only have to prepare meals for me and not a wife or kids. I also have no one to make a schedule around so when I eat and when I exercise is all by choice, not circumstance. Mostly my biggest advantage is I'm never hungry! Haven't been for years. Maybe a result of the diabetes? Not sure but the fact is I can't recall the last time my stomach rumbled. So, how did I get so fat (beer consumption aside)? As I discussed with my sister I fall into the "live to eat" and she the "eat to live" category. I love food! I crave the tastes and textures and smells...but I'm never hungry. This is a big plus. There are pitfalls of course like the fact I hate cooked veggies but I'm trying. That 3 of my primal loves, potatoes, white bread and cheese (OK, 4 including beer), are on the "not good" list. And meal prep and planning, essential to living like this, can be a wicked drag. Some days are simply walk, eat, work, eat, gym, eat, prep food for next day, sleep. I've had lot's of great advice along the way from healthier food prep to "clean" foods to supplements for a heart healthy lifestyle and it's all been greatly appreciated

I've stated before my plan is this isn't a diet but a switch to a healthier lifestyle as diets to me have a beginning and end. That said I still want to be an active 46 y/o single guy and not fret about the occasional cheat meal, cheat day or beer blast. If I know it's coming I'll simply exercise more in anticipation. If I go over my calorie count one day, no biggie, right back at it the next day. Bottom line is I'm seeing results externally and internally. When I look in the mirror my face looks thinner, almost withdrawn versus how it's been for 25 years. My paunch is less paunchy. At the same time my once tree trunk legs are now looking lean and toned (well except the Popeye calves) which I'm not sure I like but hopefully being back to weight training will solve that issue. Most importantly the numbers that matter are improving. As of today, May 1 2013, my blood pressure is 125/75  with a resting bpm of 86 versus 140/89 with a resting bpm of 106. My fasting blood sugar has been mostly sub 110 and never higher then 130 for over a month now (versus 220-240 in February) and my weight is 208 versus 234. So yeah, I'm getting there but I have a long way to go. Healthy is more important then looking good so I wouldn't anticipate any shirtless "before and after" pictures ever! I have no idea where it will lead and lord knows I wouldn't be the first person to talk about all this stuff then fall on his face but I feel like I'm off to a good start

We'll wrap this up next time with how using my iPhone for more then Words With Friends has been the key to my early success