Going it alone: Bye bye, fitness app

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This is silly. It's an odd thing to feel so conflicted about deleting a smart phone app. How were people ever healthy before iPhones, am I right?

I joke, but as many of you have followed me on, and even participated in your own weight loss journey, you know how big of a role healthy eating plays in our success. "It's 90% about what you eat, and 10% what you do in the gym," Downtown Fitness owner David Winholtz, whose livelihood depends on people coming to his gym, told me.

While the WAND Spring Fit Challenge showcased a lot of the work we did in the gym, my secret weapon was always neatly stored away in my pocket.

Long before we started our challenge, I began logging everything I ate. Literally everything - from the amount of chicken & the spices on it, to bites of a sandwich (yes, I'd make sure to put "1/8 of a sandwich" if need be), to the ounces of water I was drinking. It was a ledger of every calorie I could reasonably count. Don't pass 1,500, and if I did, be that much better the next day.

That sounds like a task, but it really wasn't thanks to my fitness pal, "My Fitness Pal." At the risk of this sounding like an advertisement for a smartphone app, it really is an amazing tool, tailor-made to give you calorie information for almost any food at varying serving sizes, most every restaurant, and lets you build your own recipes to be able to simply log over and over. Early on, it was a little tedious, typing and typing. Truthfully it convinced me to stop snacking on a couple of occasions. "I don't want to have to type another little thing in." But I did, I logged everything.

For me, it was about two things - 1) Accountability. You're less likely to overspend your budget if you write down every purchase, and 2) Mindfulness. Mindless eating is killer. Ever watch a sporting event, chow on chips & deep and enjoy a few adult beverages? Mindlessly do that for a half hour, and that could be an easy 1,500 calories. Chips, dip, and beer. I did that plenty, and at the end of the day when I felt chubby, I'd go, "I just had a couple snacks & a few drinks, shouldn't be a big deal!"

But mindful eating isn't about taking the fun out of eating, it's about learning where & when you can include that fun. That's how the app helped me. I started by eating no dip. Then I ate fewer chips. I stopped casually drinking beer.

Then I started measuring my snacks (logged into My Fitness Pal). Then I began replacing my snacks with healthier options (logged into My Fitness Pal). I started eating more often, literally 6-7 times a day (all logged into My Fitness Pal), never letting more than a couple hours go by, and staying under my calorie limit actually became easier.

And let me be clear, I spent no part of this "starving myself". I ate far more often than I ever have, eating a meal, then a hundred calories snack, another meal, an 80 calorie apple, another meal... and so forth.

And guess what? The pounds melted off like they never had before. I lost 45 pounds before I stepped foot in the gym. In total, as I write this, I've lost 78 pounds in the last 6 months. I'm losing weight during weeks when I've had a couple of "cheat days" - though my cheat days now were probably light days 6 months ago.

Thing is, I never would have known. My life, for decades, was one big cycle of mindless eating. Once I became mindful, my life changed.

And now that I've said all that. I'm deleting "My Fitness Pal".  

Some salesman, I am.

It's time to try and do this alone, in manner of speaking. My support system remains - my wife foremost among them, who cares far more about the function of my heart, lungs & arteries than aesthetics of my body. But I feel the app, which has taught me above all what a healthy day should feel like, served its purpose.

I have the benefit now of not needing to lose any more weight. In fact, for the first time just this past week, I said to myself, "I need to gain some weight." That's a surreal sentence to type for someone who's spent most of his life since age 10 as clinically obese. I weigh less now than I did in 8th grade. Which was, we'll just say, "some time ago" when I was also about 6-7 inches shorter.

I'm also more active. I ran a 5K last weekend! One of the few to actually run the French Fried 5K in Decatur for time. It was the first time I'd ever run in any kind of timed race. Months ago, I couldn't run a quarter mile without shin splints.

I think I'm ready to stop being the weirdo who logs every crumb to count calories. It's time to eat like a person should, which I wasn't doing before, and really, haven't been doing for the last 6 months.

I'm still going to monitor things like my weight on a weekly basis. I'll see my doctor to check my blood pressure & all the other basics. I'll remain active, and I'll keep my health in mind. I now know a reasonable portion when I see one, and I'll no doubt be reciting calorie info in my head when I eat (normal people know there's 30 calories in a carrot, 110 in a banana, 200 in a serving of Chipotle guacamole, and 195 in a standard s'more, right?).

It's the most useful useless information I've ever learned.

I'm sure there will be days I stray, and worry about falling off the path I started on. There might be a week I don't exercise, and I feel like all this work has gone to waste. But I need that to be something for which I'm accountable, not a phone app.

I also don't want the app to stop me from enjoying myself from time to time. That calorie number can be a force, psychologically. There's guilt associated with exceeding it, even if you've been overwhelmingly healthy. As I said in the beginning, it's silly, but such a strict routine is hard to change, even when you know you need to change it. 

It's not the finish line, it's merely a mile marker in a race I hope never ends. And now, if I know I've strayed too far, I have a pal (which is a free app download away) which can help me get back.

Photo Courtesy: George Strohl, Strohl Photography

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