The Chexican

Weight Loss

Fitness Tech Tools: The Essentials

Being a “pro-sumer” tech enthusiast, I’ve downloaded and experimented with more apps — in this case, fitness apps specifically — than I care to admit. Since they’ve managed to become important support tools in my weight loss journey, I feel they’re due their own entries. Though my primary goal with this is to log the progress I make, I do carry this secret hope that maybe all this writing may end up motivating others, and capturing how it is that I achieve my progress feels like it’d help in that regard.
In this initial leg of the journey, the personal profile hasn’t changed much: I started a sedentary male in his mid-late 20’s with a long standing smoking habit who resumed his regular running to lose weight and actually started to enjoy it. Without a gym membership at my disposal, my exercise options are fairly limited. At home, the only equipment I have is a swiss ball, a yoga strap, and a pair of 30lb dumbbells, leaving cardio and body weight exercises as my only other available choices. I only do light/moderate weight training, so as to avoid muscle soreness that can get in the way of my running. While there are plenty of services/apps I have bookmarked for advanced workout & weight training, right now my focus is tied primarily to the core tools that I use to quantify myself and my running.

Withings

Back when I was in the market for a bathroom scale, Withings had just released their WS–30 scale, a $99 entry in response to the market price for wifi connected scales pushing below the $100 price point. Being a “smart” device, the scale has a companion app for smartphone connectivity. For the first few months of ownership, the scale & app carried out their intended functions but left a lot to be desired in regard to utility and presentation, so much to the point that I briefly regretted not opting for the competition, Fitbit’s Aria scale. Though the reviews at the time rated them as mostly comparable, the Fitbit scale tended to win out due to it’s aesthetic and integration with their wearable devices. I opted for the Withings ecosystem because it had wider integration with other fitness services/webapps then.
Withings Dashboard Comparison
In the time since I first purchased the scale, my initial investment has more than paid off. Withings redesigned the web dashboard from a very minimal line-graph interface to its present HealthMate platform, optimizing readability of information at a glance and introducing gamification elements. A recent update to the iOS app brought pedometer functionality, which MyFitnessPal also put into their native smartphone app. The timing of this addition was very fortunate, since I recently uninstalled the popular Moves pedometer app after it got Facebook and immediately suffered a privacy policy fiasco. Thanks to the developed level of communication & interaction between the two services, step tracking can be designated to one app and logged metrics will be pushed to both. Step count presence on the webapp and smarthphone dashboards helps centralize the data, giving a more assistive and holistic tracking experience than Moves ever provided.

MyFitnessPal

Withings does a great job facilitating tracking overall progress, but doesn’t provide much by way of nutrition or activity logging (beyond step counting). However, thanks to the aforementioned integration with various third-party services, it’s easy and painless to extend the scale’s functionality. MyFitnessPal is arguably home the web’s most robust food database. In addition to logging food for calorie intake tracking, it also allows users to log exercise to keep a running estimate of calories burned. Since MyFitnessPal has it’s own set of API’s to plug into other services, a lot of the exercise logging ends up being automated — calories burned are calculated off the running step count (from either the Withings app or the MyFitnessPal app), as are activities logged in other support apps.
MyFitnessPal Dashboard
Admittedly, MyFitnessPal is a service that I’ve been underutilizing. The action of food logging and the inherent accountability mechanism makes is easier to resist cravings and stick to dietary guidelines, but the prospect of yet another thing to have to check in with my phone on has dissuaded my use. That, and the frustration in trying to log food that’s cooked at home or off a menu that doesn’t list nutritional data. Yet I realize that the MyFitnessPal service only really works if food intake is regularly logged, and that even rough approximations from similar entries in its database is better than nothing at all. On top of actively logging calories consumed/burned, I’d also like to start tapping into the community on the site. From what I read, it’s really worth checking out.

RunKeeper

MyFitnessPal’s activity tracking features are sufficient for calorie tracking purposes, but the data collected and presented on the user dashboard doesn’t do much in regard to deeper analysis and training. With my efforts being so strongly concentrated on cardiovascular activity via distance running, run tracking apps are a sub-category of fitness apps that I’ve done plenty of experimenting with. The two I’ve ended up liking the most are Strava and RunKeeper. Though I prefer Strava’s design and data presentation, RunKeeper is still attractive in its own right and has the popularity & wide third-party integration that influenced my wifi scale purchasing decision when I was weighing Withings against Fitbit back in 2012.
RunKeeper Dashboard
As with most technology, the service/platform has improved exponentially since I first signed up with it. Free accounts come with a pretty extensive feature set, though putting down the cash for their premium Elite account level opens up some useful extra options such as additional training plans and granular data analysis. As one of the first and leading run tracking apps, RunKeeper supports data capture using fitness sensor accessories, specifically the Wahoo heart rate monitor strap and stride sensor that I own. This assures me that I’m getting as accurate of an estimate as technology can allow at present, and have it automatically shared to my Withings and MyFitnessPal accounts.

Wrap Up

These three apps/services work very well together and cover the basic areas of body tracking: weight, food, and exercise.
With the slight exception of the Withings scale which requires the $99 purchase of the scale, these services can also be used for free. As such, they’re what I’d recommend to anyone trying to lose weight or improve their physical awareness and performance. Once my efforts start to move past running and into other forms of training that can make use of other apps and services, I’ll likely write about them in a similar fashion. To anyone simply looking for advice on how to get started, a wifi connected scale, MyFitnessPal, and RunKeeper are a winning combination.

Impediments

This past Monday, I hit reset on the counter for the weight loss project. I took new starting measurements, and was pleasantly surprised at where I weighed in. When I go through prolonged stints without regular exercise, I feel like I gain more weight from what I eat than I actually do. I was expecting to have set myself back as high as 210 lbs, and was greeted by a pleasant 200.3 on my digital scale’s display. As I noted in my check-in post a couple days ago, I managed to knock almost 4 lbs in a 5-day period.
However, I’ve noticed that it seems that almost every time I mentally coach myself up to a point of complete dedication, a new obstacle immediately presents itself and sends me veering off course. Two weeks ago, the county caught fire and climate conditions made even trying to relax at home hard and uncomfortable. This past week, I decided to get a jump on the week by completing a run on Sunday night (05/18) . The following morning, I had a pains in my left leg that made even just walking a painful effort.

Muscle Soreness Map - May 19, 2014
The Latest Pain Points

In my right knee, I felt a strong dull pain along the outer edge of the joint, as if bruised after being accidentally slammed into a small table. On my foot, I was forced to acknowledge proof that my earlier claim of having grown impervious to blistering wasn’t entirely true — I’ve apparently just become more accustomed to them. When I examined the end of my big toe, I was reminded of the time I went running and formed a new blister under a pre-existing one.
Toe Blister & Shoe Wear
I think there may be a correlation here…

When I looked at my left shoe, I noticed that the biggest wear-point coincided with where my big toe lies in the toe box when I have the shoe on foot. I always assumed the worn patches were just wear-and-tear on the decorative mesh and a perceived outer-layer of the shoe upper. The fact that all of my running socks are black helped maintain that illusion. But when I put the shoe on my foot without any socks on, I was forced to deal with the truth of reality:
Holes in My Running Shoes
I’ve been running in ratty hole-riddled shoes for weeks now.

So, in the spirit of stoicism and turning the obstacle into opportunity, I went on a few runs this week turning a blind-eye to the fact that my only pair of running shoes are falling apart and overdue for replacement. Additionally, I’ve also been going on walks with a co-worker on my lunch break, which has added 1.5 miles at a brisk pace every workday. I started doing some internet research in hopes of finding a good deal on a pair of new shoes from major retailers (Amazon, SportChalet, REI), but then remembered a local running store that I’d mentally bookmarked awhile back. After tracking down their website, I decided I’d find the time soon to go in for the free gait analysis that they offer and to pick up a new pair of kicks while supporting a local business. I did some additional poking around and found their Meetup.com group, which apparently hosts a weekly Wednesday run get-together and offers a 15% off a pair of running shoes at the Milestone Running store; a promotional discount, and the opportunity to add a social aspect to my running efforts.
I’ll probably have to take the run-down shoes out on one last jaunt tomorrow, since I expect most places will be closed for memorial day. A new set of footwear is in my short-term future, as will hopefully be another 3 to 4 lbs lost be the end of next week.

Check In

I’ve been preoccupied this week to where I haven’t been able to make the proper updates, but the body logging reset and the subsequent workouts have been getting done.

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3.9 lbs in 5 days, and the week isn’t over yet. I’ve got some updating to do this weekend. 🙂

Measure Monday: Reset

Stats
Height 5’ 10”
Goal Weight 165
Day # 1
Date: 05/19/2014
Measurements
Neck  16.5″
Chest 41.25″
Upper Arm (Left) 12.25″
Upper Arm (Right) 12.25″
Waist 39″
Abdomen 39.5″
Hips 39.5″
Upper Thigh (Left) 23″
Upper Thigh (Right) 23.75″
Calf (Left) 16.75″
Calf (Right) 17″
 
Total Inches 280.75
Total Inches Lost
Weight 200.3 lbs.
Weight Lost to Date
BMI 28.7
Change in BMI
Goal Distance 35.3 lbs.

Fattening Up in the Fire

I recently wrote that I’d settled on resetting the day counter on the weight loss project and recommit to the regular checkins to keep myself accountable and actively measure progress. I was raring and ready to go at the start of this week. I got caught up with personal errands on Monday, and decided I’d get started one day late. Tuesday after work, I went on a run, took a shower, and started taking initial measurements. I stepped on my Withings scale, only to be greeted by a dead battery indicator. I told myself I’d get a replacement set, and update measurements the following day on Wednesday. However, by the end of the following workday, climate conditions aggravated by the fire storm that had started on Tuesday made going on my runs too great of a challenge to take on. As used to the desert climate as I am being a born and raised San Diego native, the heat was too oppressive for me handle. Worse, the lethargy it induced throw the door wide open for gluttony and sloth to take hold, and responsible dieting went flying out the window.
Such has been my week. It wasn’t until yesterday that weather conditions leveled off and dropped back into an agreeable range. I picked up a new set of batteries for the scale, and will be hitting the big reset button tomorrow. Even though it’s only been just under a week since my last workout, it feels like it’s been months. Though I’ve undoubtedly gained weight this week and I would say a realistic maximum that could be gained in that time frame would be at around 5 lbs, I feel like I’ve put on 15. Without my scale and measurement logs, I have a very tenuous grasp on what’s going on with my body.
In short, I’ve been delayed a week, and definitely have some lost ground to make up for. It’s a setback I’ve dealt with quickly before, and having to redo previous work is just as annoying now as it was then. At some point in the near future, I also need to get myself setup with a gym membership again. I could use the access to a more varied set of training equipment, and a fallback for when weather conditions push exercise outdoors off the options table.
It’s going to be a big day for me tomorrow.

Running

In my adult years, running has become a very integral part of my life. When I engage in conversation with others about my experience with the weight loss journey and the progress I’ve made since my teenage years, it feels as if people are disappointed to hear that the drastic changes I’ve made to my body over the years have been brought about by hours spent jogging the city streets and not the result of some magic pill. These conversations ultimately end with myself on the receiving recognition for what I’ve accomplished and praise for all the work I do presently. It’s then that I start feeling both amazed and amused with myself and my life at present — because I used to hate running.
I’ve been a stocky kid. I maxed out on the scale at the end of my time in high school. At the age of 17, I clocked in at almost 260 lbs in a 5’ 10″ average body frame; in other words, with an alarmingly high volume of body fat who somehow still managed to feel comfortable in his own body.

Me as I looked/weighed in 2006-2007
Me, as I looked as a teenager

As I started transitioning into my early adulthood years, I decided to start taking a stronger proactive stance on my health & appearance, and set out to “get in shape”. After sufficient progress, I got complacent at just above the 200lb mark. Over time, I eventually started putting the weight back on. In 2011, I started pushing myself to get onboard the fitness train and fully commit. My initial efforts weren’t so great:
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Average pace of 15 minutes per mile. Rough.

And I paid for them in pain, on multiple levels:
blisters.JPG
EVERY run resulted in new blisters in new places.

 
These days, I’m able to do much better as a runner.
Running Log - Middle School Track
After hiking up and down Cowles Moutain, I decided to swing by the old middle school and run the old “one mile” track. I never finished a mile in under 13 minutes back then.

I have a 5.3 mile route that I run at least 3 times a week, and I’m working on putting together a data capture system so that I can start aggressively applying quantified-self principles and adopt a structured training plan with a system in place to track and measure progress. I’ve also started doing more weight/endurance training to encourage muscle growth, since straight cardio isn’t cutting it on it’s own anymore. In that respect, I’m dealing with basic weight lifting all of the annoyances of building up stamina and hardiness that I encountered when I started running. As soon as I break under 190, I’m going to start experimenting with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as well. I really want to be in prime condition to complete a 10K, at the very least. If I have my way, I’d be interested in testing my merit against the challenge of a half-marathon in the not so distant future.
That’s the story of how I went from being the 250lb teenager who couldn’t run more than 800 ft. without getting a gnarly side-stitch and could barely squeeze in a mile in under 15 minutes that HATED running to an adult in his late 20’s whom, despite having a long-sustained (and resented) smoking habit and still being of a heavier body weight, has developed a deep and real fondness for it. And if I could do it, it’d take a set of really special circumstances for anyone else to not be able to do the same.

Fitness: The Week in Review

This week, I’ve found myself in the old pitfall of putting off updates for the sake of “productivity”. I intended for this week to be a highly active and progressive one, but ended up stalling out after Monday. After getting home from work that day, I joined my roommate in a yoga workout by doing the P90X Yoga video before heading out on my five-mile route that day. The next day, I felt a slight soreness in my legs, and started feeling a sharp pain beneath my right shoulder blade. As a little side activity (probably the result of watching so much Bones, I’ve decided to try and start learning the names of the muscles in my body as I feel the localized pain in them from my workouts. That Tuesday (04/29/2014), I was feeling a strain in my semitendinosus muscle in my hamstrings, and in my right latissimus dorsi.
Muscle Soreness Map - May 03, 2014
The soreness beneath my right shoulder blade wore off the following day. The soreness in my hamstrings, that persisted well into Saturday (05/03/2014) night. One of the arms on my eyeglasses fell off the frame on Wednesday, and being unable to go out on my run, I decided that I’d at least get some activity in by walking to my local drug store to pick up an eyeglass repair kit. However, I ended up putting on the wrong pair of shoes, and ended up with a blister on the bottom of my right foot. With all the training I’ve done on the running front, I’m not a stranger to the pain/inconvenience of blisters. Admittedly, I also stopped getting them regularly months ago. This one, though, had a certain specialness to it. Even though I’ve had blisters that have looked worse, this one hurt in a way none of the other ones I’ve had. Instead of the soft burning pain that usually comes from agitating the skin, I was getting a sharp stabbing pain at random, but unable to accurately pinpoint the manner in which my step/weight distribution was setting it off. It was highly reminiscent of that time in 2010 when I impaled my foot on a four inch nail sticking out of a sheet of wood in a friend’s backyard.

Comparing Two Different Foot Injuries
Two very different injuries and causes, yet they’ve shared a common pain sensation.

In addition to the physical injury/recoveries my body’s been dealing with this week, the weather hasn’t been a positively contributing factor. When you’re unable to keep making progress on your goals and the climate becomes so oppressively warm, it’s very easy to let a sense of futility overtake you and let you make bad nutritional choices. To call this week “indulgent” would be a gracious exaggeration (of mitigation) in my favor. I know I’ve gained weight, and I’m averse to stepping on the scale to see just how much. While I’m familiar enough with the cycle in regard to intellectual awareness to where I should be able to avoid these pitfalls much better than I did when I first started taking up running and know that logically my recovery times and endurance will improve with conditioning, I’m still prone to err in that regard.
If I had to identify make takeaways from this week, they’d be:

  • I need to better familiarize myself with my body so that I can better discern between legitimate consideration and lazy rationalization when I’m engaging in “downtime”.
  • The readiness and influence of my willpower when it comes to food choices — there’s always room for improvement.
  • Do better at keeping up with logging and updating.
  • Start working on a better plan to track & quantify nutritional intake.

Pursuing The Quantified Self

Having owned an iPhone since the launch of the 3G and being an avid app explorer from the get-go, I’ve long experimented with using technology as a supporting mechanism in my weight loss efforts. Initially, they were really unimpressive. Back in the late 2000’s, LoseIt! was the go-to app for calorie and exercise tracking. I found it really limited and lacking. As mobile computing evolved as a platform, my technological investments scaled accordingly. For a long time now, I’ve used a Wahoo heart rate monitor strap and a stride sensor to capture detailed data about my workouts. However, as I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve found myself plateaued, fluctuating between a 195–200 lb weight range. Part of it, I realize, has to do with the reality that I think I’ve accomplished as much as I can using strictly cardio. As much as I run, I do very little by way of working out muscles. I avoid non-cardio workouts because the muscle recovery time renders me unable to run, and getting back on the cardio kick after a break of even a few days is always a complete drag, not to mention the guilt I feel over days gone without running. To that end, I’ve been coaching myself to get over it and jump the hurdle. Last week, I only went running two days after getting started on an arm workout. Two days ago, I did a light arm workout and some squats before heading out on my run; I felt it all day yesterday, but was mostly recovered by the end of the workday today. Slowly but surely, I suppose.
The other part of it concerns motivation. I’ve analyzed and broken that down into two factors: some fear-based aversions which I’ve dealt with in my head, and the realization that I’m not actually using the data I’m collecting and the tools at my disposal to really make structured progress. In other words, lack of focus. That’s due to the overwhelming number of options that are available today. With so many solutions of varying areas of focus and feature depth, it’s easy to fall into the productivity trap of investing time seeking out the “perfect” tool instead of using a suitable one to get the job done. Even once you settle on a set, it’s just as easy to collect the data and never actually review it. i have my Withings smart scale piping data to it’s online dashboard and my other fitness services. I have a MyFitnessPal account that I don’t actively use because I get frustrated when it comes to logging food that doesn’t come from a menu with calorie info or packaged with a scannable barcode. Though I could enumerate the apps and services I’ve experimented with ad nauseam, the bottom line is that I’ve weeded out a good clutch of highly capable and integrated services that I use but don’t utilize.
So, problem identified, I’ve brainstormed my solution set. First, I need to start fulfilling the commitment to the weekly weight/measurement table update and taking the progress photos. There are data points that can be outsourced to my phone, and the effort that goes into it is so minimal it shouldn’t deter me from doing the necessary work. I also need to take same time and put a little design into that table; another reason I dislike those updates is because they look so drab and do not present the data in a visually attractive format; it fails to hold even my own attention. Secondly, I need to loosen my expectations. With all the running I do, it’s frustrating to not see any progress, but as I already mentioned, I’m well aware that more and different kinds of effort are required. Plus, I’ve been doing a very abysmal job on the nutritional front lately. Lastly, I need to actually need to take my scheduled review times (a la GTD methodology), and incorporate fitness tracking data into part of the review process.

The Fitness Fraud

Since my post on plateauing on the fitness front, I’ve been in a state of complete lack of motivation. I kept on top of my weekly three 5-mile run absolute minimum, and even overshot the mark with one of them, clocking in at a total of over 7 miles. I didn’t feel any desire to push myself to my 20 mile weekly quota, and what I ran I did mostly to compensate for the horrible things I was doing to my body nutritionally. After clocking in so many miles on a regular basis and failing to see measurable progress, it all started to feel pointless. Getting in shape is something I’ve aspired to do since I was a teenager, and though I made a lot of progress in my early 20’s, it frustrates me to no end how little has happened with my weight loss blogging. Physically because I no longer have the luxury of feeling comfortable in my own body like I used to and am constantly kinesthetically aware of my excess weight, and mentally because of the personal shame of having such a long-running project yielding no progress.
Though I would think that fitness minded people would say that I’m doing well enough running and simply need to make some modifications to my eating habits (which is true), I’m also entirely convinced that it’s because I’ve lacked focus and haven’t been pushing myself enough. When I get home after putting so many miles behind me, I immediately clean up and go about my night. Between my work & sleep schedule and the daily commute, I have approximately five hours of free time, some of which is usually already taken by cooking duties and eating. My running route takes up one hour, which leaves me four hours to cook dinner, eat, handle mundane miscellaneous personal affairs, and try to get some writing done on this blog & my journal, as well as getting in some study time on the various knowledges I’m pursuing. It’s easy to let myself fall in the “too busy” trap and feel frustrated that my one hour isn’t enough, but I’m also aware that output is dependent on input. There are plenty of small windows of opportunity, like doing a set of 25 pushups immediately after getting out of bed, that I haven’t implemented, leaving me with no real reason to complain.
On top of that self-imposed mental stress, I’m now starting to find that people I’ve inspired along the way to start taking a proactive approach to fitness & running are now outpacing me. I have a coworker who’s dropped more total pounds than I have, and friend who’s training to join the military that’s made a highly impressive physical transformation. Meanwhile, I’ve been allowing myself to make the mistake of focusing on the outcome instead of the process, getting frustrated on the fact that I’m not there instead of focusing on doing the work that needs to be done and trusting that I will get there. In turn, I’m getting passed by those who tell me I’ve inspired them on their own workout endeavors, making me feel like a failure and a hypocrite, armed with all the technology and gadgets that I have at my disposal.
Having done my analysis of the problem, and under the pressure of comparison to real-life peers and the accountability mechanism of this blog, it’s time to drive all my planning towards action. As much as I hate the idea of doing it yet again (for what, the third time now?), I’m thinking of hitting reset on the day counter in terms to the overall weight-loss project. I’m attacking it with a whole new angle now, and discounting the time past will do better for me motivationally in the short-term.

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