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From a never-track to the QS conference

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Something fundamental changed in me during the last two years. Or it must have, because I'm doing something I never thought I would do.

I'm registering for the QS conference in the Netherlands in May. QS stands for Quantified Self, and it's about tracking in any way our life. With pen and paper, with gadgets, with sensors, with computer, with blogs, with Google calendar, with wall calendars, with Excel. In any way, collecting data about myself. And then, learning about it.

However, this was a long journey to here.

When I first had the idea that tracking is important, I could hardly imagine how I would fit into my life those 5-10-15-... minutes per day, just to track. I started with a paper booklet to track what I ate during the day, and it was quite a hassle. At the beginning, I forgot simply to write it down, and when I finally wrote it down, it felt such an effort.

However, that was the thing that got me started to live healthier. Looking back on my logs, I was shocked to see how, what, and when I ate. It brought an unprecedented level of awareness into my system that shifted me to action very quickly.

Of course, it was not by accident that I started to track what I eat. I came accross a peer reviewed scientific article, which showed that a group of people lost twice the weight when simply writing down their daily food intake into a food-journal vs. a control group, who were on the same diet, but without the food-journal. That's all it takes to double my success rate? I would be crazy not to try it, and it worked. And since then, I'm experimenting with different types of self tracking.

For example, I weigh in daily, but less to follow my weight then to track my hydration level. When my weight drops 1-2 lbs from one day to the other, there's a high chance I didn't drink enough the day before.
I like to take a note of the dreams I had. It's funny, but since I jot down a short note about my dreams, I remember them easier, and they are more and more interesting, with meaning. I even started to read the book from Verena Kast on dreams.
Firing on endomondo for my walks during the day convinced me that those 5-10-15 minutes of walk do add up to an hour, sometimes to two hours a day, worth of 300-600 kcal burned.

At the moment, I'm looking for "low resistance" tracking methods. Best is to have some device in set-it-and-forget-it mode, which tracks in the background. Or it's in my face, like my scale in the morning, it's almost no effort to step on it on the way out of the bathroom. And there's a moleskine notebook next to my bed, so when I wake up, I have already a 5 min window planned into my day to jot down any interesting dreams from the night.

The highest resistance is still food tracking. I wish for a system that is easy to use, user friendly, and requires zero to minimal time. Unfortunately, to track food here on sparkpeople is only medium good at best. Firing up my PC, navigating to the SP website, waiting for the nutrition tracker to load, fiddling with the search results, entering food into a US-formatted nutrition table all (I live in Europe, with metrics, and a different order of nutrients) gets in the way. However, I still make the effort, although, I'm not surprised that I skip easily, and many give up after a few days. Still, I didn't find a better solution, so I live with it.

I was thinking to try it on a tablet, with the native SP application, but that would be the main reason to invest in a tablet, and I heard mixed feedback on the forums. Many people told me it's still easier to do it on a PC.

An easy was of tracking food would be planning ahead my weekly meal plan, and following it. This way, all the tracking-calculating task would be done in one batch, ahead of time, and I wouldn't loose time each day to capture what I've eaten, and to stay in my calorie budget.

Another thing I slowly learned over the course of the last two years that probably tracking food, and other things in general, is part of the daily routine of a healthy lifestyle. When I started, I thought I just track now, I tolerate the effort, and then later on, when I've reached my goal weight, I focus on other things. However, it seems that to keep my weight, and to balance well my exercise and food intake, I need to track. So, better I make it fun. :-)

The Wednesday market under my window, lots of healthy options (and some totally not healthy), mostly from local production.

Here's the link to the QS conference.

What do you track?
How do you track?

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • POPSY190
    The conference sounds fascinating and I hope you blog about it and let us know how it went. Food tracking is very difficult, especially if the site used is "foreign" - it's time-consuming adjusting weights and measurements, let alone trying to find the products on the lists provided.
    Yet, tracking, even inaccurately, is better than not doing it at all; when I let it lapse it shows on the scale within days!
    1817 days ago
    Another interesting blog. I hope you'll blog after the conference and let us know how it went. I think some of the topics are very interesing; especially those on the lunchtime ignite talks.
    1818 days ago
    WOW, that sounds right up my alley! You know I track everything from food to heart rate to calorie burns....I quantify everything and would like nothing better than to have a Wi-Fi from my brain and heart directly into my PC.....maybe someday my grandchildren will have that ability.

    I've been using something called the Bodymedia Fit Core Armband. It records steps, calories, body temperature, sleep patterns....and it plugs directly in SP and translates it into the fitness tracker


    I also started using Digifit to link (via Bluetooth) to my phone....it records heart rate, and maps out routes for running cycling, etc.

    Let us know how the seminar goes!
    1819 days ago
    I never believed in tracking food until last year. Now I'm obsessed with tracking my food to stay mindful of what I eat.

    I also track abdominal contractions that I do every morning while brushing my teeth, daily walks, journaling stress among some other goals.

    Very interesting blog!
    1819 days ago
    Great blog. Since the last time we talked about food tracking not being very efficient, I got an iphone and downloaded the SP app. For some situations it is helpful, like when I'm tracking foods that I eat often. But if it is something that isn't on my favorites list it is easier to do on the computer. It is helpful to have another way to track though.

    When I started SP I figured, like you, that I would just track everything until I lost the weight. However, now I'm also realizing that is probably something that I'm going to have to stick with long after.
    1819 days ago
    Another interesting blog, Oliver. When I see that you have posted one, I try to make time to read it, because it is always interesting! Thanks for sharing!

    I usually track food and fitness. The food I track here on sparks. I have quite the list of favorites built up, so it doesn't usually take that long to track . . . especially if I do it meal by meal. I can understand where it would take more time for you to convert items and find comparable items in some cases. For me the tracking has become a habit. I'm not so good about tracking all of my fitness anymore. I do make sure I track my strength training each day. I received a fitbit for Christmas and I feel it does a great job of tracking for me. If I desire to track time or miles I run, something of that nature, then I will take the fitbit off and clock manually.

    I'll check out the link to the conference, hope you enjoy it!
    1819 days ago
    I'm a data person, too.

    I find it eases my self confidence because I usually eat much healthier than I think.
    1819 days ago
    How interesting! I love to collect data, it is interesting. I track my caloric intake as well as all my various workouts in Spark, either on my phone or pc. And like you, I kept track in a little notebook before we did everything online. I started before I heard that it was one of the most effective ways to lose and to keep weight off and I expect to keep tracking when i reach my goal weight this time. I also hop on the scale each morning but only track it each Saturday. I wish I remembered my dreams, perhaps I'll start keeping a notebook by my bed and they will stay with me when I wake up!
    1819 days ago
    I use spark to track my food and typically use my iphone unless my computer is turned on. I have the sparkpeople app and found it's pretty easy to use. Has the added benefit of showing calories as you are entering rather than when you post them. Best of luck.
    1819 days ago
    I completely agree with where is the easy tracking option!! When I went to Jenny Craig, the meals were all laid out. Just eat what was on the paper. Now I'm doing the Weight Watchers plan and it is a bit easier to track on their site. But you have to be a member. I don't have an easy answer for you. But I'll stay tuned in case you come up with one!

    1819 days ago

    You blog is always so interesting. I'm sure it is keeping a lot of people engaged.

    I have been quite fanatic about tracking my food over the past few years, first on paper charts, then with SP. The main negative for me is that I tend to eat from a limited group of recipes and meals because it's just easier to record them. It also limits my going to restaurants, but that is probably a good thing.
    1819 days ago
    Great blog!
    I'm an enthusiastic tracker normally, but now I haven't tracked anything for weeks being so busy at work.
    I can see how not-tracking can undermine motivation.
    For me tracking means I'm aware how well I'm doing.
    I'll return to tracking fitness minutes, sleep, water, running soon, hopefully starting this Sunday.
    1819 days ago
    Congratulations on becoming a QS. :)

    I got better at tracking food when I went online although I still grumble about it. But when those good habits become true habits, life just gets a whole lot better, doesn't it?
    1819 days ago
    I enjoyed your blog. I tried planning meals in Spark a week in advance, but I am impulsive and often change things. However I see the benefits, you can create a grocery list and see how many calories for the whole we and plan for a splurge. Enjoy the conference!
    1819 days ago
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