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Guest Post by Brenda Betham.

I met Brenda Betham at Wordcamp KC a few years ago. We chat on Twitter occassionally and recently she shared her success with food tracking. I thought her experience might be helpful to those still fighting to track food, workouts and anything else they need to in order reach their fitness goals.

Fitness Goals and The Quantified Self
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If you had told me seven months ago that I would become a dedicated food and exercise tracker (or, heck, even an exerciser), I would have said you were crazy. And I would have been wrong — aside from a short break while traveling internationally, I have logged all of my meals since August 1, and also tracked my workouts and daily activities. In this post, I want to talk about why I changed my mind, what tools I use for tracking and logging, and how doing so has helped me meet my fitness goals.

First, the why. As I have written about elsewhere, this past summer was a wakeup call for me in regard to fitness. Obviously, I knew previously that I was out of shape and heavier than I wanted to be (it’s hard to ignore your clothes not fitting), but finding myself unable to climb a not-terribly-difficult trail without getting severely winded made me realize just how bad things had gotten. So, I signed up for personal training after that trip and started my fitness project. A visit to the BodPod gave me my RMR and my trainer advised that I start slowly by cutting my net calorie intake by 250 per day.

There was only one problem with the above piece of advice — I had no idea how many calories I took in or burned throughout the day, despite having invested in a FitBit a while back (as I mostly used it as an expensive pedometer). What that meant was that if I was going to track, I would need to figure out what tools to use. After some experimenting, I decided on the following tools:

  • Fitbit One: For tracking steps, sleep, and calories burned, I use the Firbit One, which is their clip-on style tracker. My goal is to reach 10,000 steps per day and have 30 active minutes. I decided not to use the Fitbit for food tracking as their database is as good as others out there. But it is possible to do so if you wish.
  • MyFitnessPal: This is my go-to food tracking app. Their database is HUGE – so huge that it is rare for me to not be able to find the food I am trying to add. There’s also a scanner to scan food labels for quick additions and the app/website remembers your recent foods for each meal, which also allows for quick additions
  • Digifit: I use the Digift iCardio app, paired with the Wahoo Blue Heart Rate Monitor, to track my workouts – both cardio and strength training – the app is set up to track just about any type of exercise and you can add types if yours isn’t on their list. The heart rate monitor uses Bluetooth to pair with the app, turning my iPhone into a workout tracker – for each workout I get stats on calories burned, duration, average heart rate, etc. I can also see if my heart rate is too high or too low and adjust my intensity as needed.

Once I had chosen the tools, I set them up to automate and sync together, as clearly tracking all of this without that kind of setup would take over my life! My setup is to link my Fitbit and MyFitnessPal accounts so that Fitbit sends the calories burned to MFP (it shows up as cardio exercise) and then MFP sends the calories logged to Fitbit. My Digifit workouts are pushed to Fitbit, which logs the activity and includes it in the information sent to MFP. All I need to do manually is log my food (which really doesn’t take long once your database in MFP gets built up), remember to wear my Fitbit for daily activity and the heart rate monitor for workouts, and start the Digifit app at the beginning of workouts. Writing it up was actually more time consuming than actually doing it. Writing it up was actually more time-consuming than actually doing it.

And the time it takes was worth it – I have tried many times in the past to get to the gym more, move more, eat more healthily, etc., and failed miserably every single time. With tracking, I can see what I have (or haven’t) done and find the date motivating. It was also pretty shocking to see JUST how sedentary I was. Since starting this in August, I have lost 15 pounds and decreased my body fat by 7%, as well as developed a consistent workout habit that has increased my overall fitness level.

I know I wouldn’t have managed to do this without tracking, with brings up the question of whether I will continue to do so. For now, the answer is yes (at least for the foreseeable future) – I would like to get to the point where I no longer need to track my food, but I believe I will continue to use the Fitbit and heart rate monitor as I like having that data to go back and look at. If you’re struggling to meet your goals and haven’t tried tracking, I highly recommend it.

Brenda Bethman is the Director of the UMKC Women’s Center. She also holds appointments as Director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program, and as Affiliated Faculty in German. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and (now) taking Kinesis classes and strength training. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and two cats. You can follow her on Twitter at @brendabethman

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