Food and Exercise Tracking

There was a point when I believed tracking my food intake and exercise was a total and complete waste of my time. I mean, seriously, who has time to write that down? As the mom of 6 kids ranging from 13 – 2, I certainly didn’t. And, I rationalized, I’d made some drastic and health-promoting changes to my diet that led to significant improvement in my health, so I really didn’t need to track my food.

A few years ago, my health focus changed from “managing the MS and improving my symptoms” to losing weight and improving my fitness levels.”  I could do that because my diet, supplement, herb, and energy protocols were doing the job– the MS progression stopped, and symptoms that interfered with my daily functioning improved or went away completely. So, like most people trying to lose weight, I focused on reducing my calorie intake.

I lost about 40 pounds over the space of a year with the reduced calories and increasing activity as I was able. It wasn’t difficult, and I was never hungry. But then, I stopped losing weight. I hovered at the same weight for several years, wondering why those last 20 pounds refused to come off.

A writer friend suggested I try logging my food in a nutrition tracker and see where I stood. At that point, I’d done everything else, and figured it couldn’t hurt. So, I joined After a few days of logging food intake it became clear that part of my problem was that I simply was not eating enough. I was averaging about 950 calories each day. Now, keep in mind that I was NEVER hungry. Not feeling hunger has been a lifelong “thing” for me. Today, I understand why (that’s a post all of its own), but at the time I pretty much thought it was normal to never feel hunger even if it had been 24 hours since the last time you remembered to eat. For me, eating was something I did because the clock said it was time for lunch, or dinner. Sometimes, I ate because the people around me were eating, other times I ate because I knew that I “should.” But, I never got hungry.

So, with the food tracking I learned that I was not eating enough, but I had no real desire to do anything about it. I tracked my food for a while and then stopped.

A year or so later, I adjusted my diet to low oxalate. In order to track oxalates, and the minerals that help remove oxalates from the body I needed to start tracking my food intake occasionally. I had heard good things about, so I joined. I tracked my food every day until I got the hang of counting oxalates. It took me about two months. I was still only eating about 950 calories each day, but, I felt great and was experiencing even more MS symptom relief, so I didn’t pay much attention to it.

About a year later, we eliminated grains from our diet. The reasons for that had to do with the health of my step-son. I was concerned that the kids wouldn’t get enough calories or nutrients without the grains, so I went back to SparkPeople and started tracking again. I made adjustments to the foods we ate, added a little more fat to the foods the kids were eating, and made certain they were getting the calories and nutrients they needed to grow.

My calorie intake went up a little to about 990 calories a day.  My weight stayed stable, and my health and MS symptoms continued to improve.

Earlier this year, I decided to get serious about losing those extra pounds. By this time, I had gained an additional 10 pounds, so I had about 30 pounds to lose. I realized that what were were doing with the elimination of grains was “mostly Paleo.” So, I started deeply researching the Paleo diet. I re-found Mark Sisson and the Primal lifestyle. I compared Sisson to Dr. Mercola, and realized they were saying very similar things about what to eat, when to eat, and *how much* to eat. So, I decided to go full on Primal.

Of course, in order to do that, I had to start tracking my food intake. I went back to SparkPeople, and got serious about logging every single thing I ate and drank.

What I learned was that I was still only eating between 950 and 1000 calories per day. I took a leap of faith and listened to Sisson and Dr. Mercola and made a concerted effort to increase my calories. I started by adding eggs and coconut oil to my morning coffee because according to both experts I wasn’t eating enough fat or protein. I’ve never been a breakfast person, and making myself eat breakfast has always resulted in an upset stomach. So, I figured, if I could DRINK those nutrients in my morning coffee, that would help solve the problem.

I made my morning coffee with 3 cups of coffee, 2 medium to large eggs, 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil, and 2 scoops of pure stevia.

At first it took me 2 hours to drink this coffee. Not because I didn’t like it– I love this recipe for Bulletproof Coffee– but because my stomach was unhappy with the calories and nutrients first thing in the morning. But, I continued because…. well… have you seen pictures of either Mark Sisson or Dr. Mercola? They both look GOOD, and report being in amazing health, and they are both several years older than I am. I want to be as healthy as they are when I get to be their ages.

So, I made myself drink my Bulletproof coffee every morning. Eventually, I could drink it in under and hour while I went about my morning business.

Checking my food log, the Bulletproof Coffee added about 200 calories to my daily diet. So, I was averaging about 1100 calories.  At the same time, I stopped eating my occasional beef stick, and started throwing away the salad dressing when I bought store-made salads, and I gave up my daily Altoids mint. Those were just about the only “non-Primal” foods I was eating. With those changes my net calorie increase was about 100 calories.

Sometime last year, I started making a focused effort to get in 10,000 steps each day. At first I used a Wii U step counter. By March of this year I was easily and consistently taking 10,000 or more steps most days.

But, I still was not losing weight. My weight was stable. Sure, I’d gain and lose water weight, but I’m not counting that. My weight stayed in the same range.

When I added the Bulletproof coffee and cut the very few “non-Primal” foods that I was eating, I expected my weight to decrease a little bit. And it did. I realized that I still had systemic inflammation, and cutting the non-Primal foods helped clear it up.

But, I didn’t lose any fat.

I bought a FitBit in an effort to keep more accurate track of my steps.

I felt my fitness level improve, and became fairly hooked on my Fitbit, but the weight did not change.

Finally, it dawned on me– I simply was not eating enough for my body to release the stored up fat. At 900- 1000 calories a day I was keeping my body in starvation mode.

I decided to fully commit to tracking my food intake every single day and eat between 1200 – 1400 calories. Both SparkPeople and Fitbit said with my activity levels, I should be eating close to 1900 calories most days. I decided there was no possible way I could eat that much food, and I picked a much lower number that seemed more reasonable. I adjusted the SparkPeople macronutrient recommendations to be in-line with what Mercola and Sisson recommend. So, I was trying to eat about 77 grams of protein, 50 grams or fewer of carbs, and the rest fat. I changed the recipe to 3 eggs and 2 Tablespoons of coconut oil to 3 cups of coffee. That’s the recipe I use now.

The first several weeks were HARD. I was constantly feeling overly full and uncomfortable. I was forcing myself to eat dinner. I made myself add a tablespoon of coconut oil to my food to increase calorie intake and fat grams. I started eating meat with lunch, instead off my usual salad or fruit.

And, even though I was uncomfortable, overly full, and often felt sick to my stomach from the extra food, I started losing weight. Not water weight from systemic inflammation (although there is still some of that), but I started losing fat.

And I started feeling even better than I had before. The MS symptoms weren’t effected, because I have very few real symptoms anymore, but I had more energy.

Even better, my fasting blood sugar levels came down to normal, and my typically high blood pressure dropped to within a few points of normal.

A few weeks ago, I got on the scale, and it read 174. 7. I was below 175 pounds for the first time in 11 years. Up until now, I’ve been able to lose weight until I hit 175lbs, and then the weight loss stalled. I’ve been trying for 10 years.. and in those 10 years, have never been able to get below 175.

I decided then, that there really was something to this food tracking thing, and that the real test would be if I could continue to lose weight, or even maintain that 175lbs for the next several months.

So, here we are 3 weeks after I first hit that 175 pound mark. I am still tracking my food very closely, and I am still eating about 1200 calories most days. Some days, I fall into old habits because I’m busy  and forget to eat. On those days I get about 900 calories or so. But, I make a point not to let that happen more than one day a week.

It’s working. I’m still losing the fat, and I am close to hitting 169 lbs– something I have not done since the birth of my youngest child almost 11 years ago. My goal, is 150– that’s what I weighed when I became pregnant with my youngest. Until now, I didn’t really believe it would happen.

As I’ve been tracking my food intake, I’ve learned a lot about my nutrition status. I struggle to eat enough protein, and I’m usually lacking in a couple of minerals.

Until a few days ago, I was using SparkPeople to track my foods. But I saw several problems with the ap. First of which is that they push the US Government recommendations for high amounts of grains, and they are very “anti-Paleo/Primal.” Secondly, there were nutrients and ratios I wanted to track because I know they are vital for optimal health that were unavailable on SparkPeople. For these reasons I went in search of a Paleo friendly tracker.

I found Paleotrack, and started using that. It worked fine, but I didn’t really like it. I went back to SparkPeople after a few days.

Earlier this week, Dr. Mercola posted and talked about what he does daily to maintain his own health. In his article, he mentioned a tracker called  CRON-O-Meter. Mercola’s recommendations are usually worth my time, so I decided to create a free account and check it out.

I love it. It’s about as perfect a food tracker as you can get. It looks nice, it’s easy to use, you can easily adjust the minimum and maximum of every single nutrient. For people who just want to set it and go, there are auto-settings based on your height and weight for every major diet theory out there: Basic calories in/calories out, Zone, LFRV, Paleo, Primal, and Ketogenic in three different levels. Or, if you prefer, you can set your own custom macro amounts.

It’s easy to add foods that aren’t in the database, and it’s easy to add your own recipes. Plus, you can record just about every biomarker you might want to track. Personally, I track blood glucose levels, A1C, and blood pressure, along with weight and waist size. With other trackers, I had to use a separate program for some of them. I really love the convenience of keeping all this data in one location.

The website is free to use. They do offer a paid subscription, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t tell you what the differences are between free and paid. I can tell you that the free website has everything I need. It was easy to hook up my Fitbit to the CRON-O-Meter website.

This morning, I bought the phone ap because I decide this is the tracker I will use from now on. Sure, I can get to the website from my phone, but it’s clunky and I wanted something easier to navigate from my phone.

I’ve been playing with the phone ap this morning. I am one of those people that resists paying for a phone ap. There are plenty of free aps available, and so, I have to really like a phone or web ap in order to pay for for it. I paid $2.99 for the phone ap, and I love it.

The phone ap is easy to use and displays all the data on the web account. With SparkPeople you can only access some of the website features from the phone ap. You have to go into the website for others.  I really like the ability to get to all of my data from the phone ap.

CRON-O-Meter is a great tool for tracking food and exercise intake. It doesn’t have the social aspect of some of the others, but it’s easy to use, fully customizable, and accurate.

Tell me your thoughts.