wait. diet and exercise actually work?

Back on July 16th of this year, my wife and I started a little bet to see who could lose the highest body fat percentage by the time we left for our trip to Vegas on August 13th. While she did end up winning by a hair, I learned something shocking that will carry me to my next goal: a healthy diet combined with a little daily exercise will cause you to lose weight and feel good doing it.

I know, I was shocked too. I mean, who knew?

So to get started, I didn’t want to do anything drastic like I’d done in the past (South Beach, Master Cleanse, etc.); this time, I wanted to go about it the right way. The healthy way without shortcuts. Well, almost without.

Earlier this year, I picked up a Fitbit to start tracking my daily steps and such, with the added bonus of having a few of my friends to compete with. I also purchased the Aria Scale to track my weight and body fat percentage. Probably overboard but I like the simplicity. In any case, it has kept me very aware of how active I am during the day and how I’m impacting my weight over time as opposed to just trying to recollect how things have changed.

There is something to be said for the ability to look at things objectively.

So I had my exercise tracking in place and I was making sure to aim for about 12,000 steps per day. The next thing to worry about was the diet, but I didn’t really need to think about it. The nice thing about having tried so many things to lose weight, I do understand what makes me gain weight and even more so now that I’ve treated it as a sort of experiment. What I did this time was start to limit my portion size to get used to eating less and I threw daily intake of carbohydrates and sugar out the window. That’s not to say that I did so completely; in fact, my aim with this change is to make it lifelong so I want to be able to eat stuff when I want to. That includes the bread at my favorite Indian joint, or cake at birthday parties, or a little bit of rice or frozen yogurt from Yogurtland. I just didn’t want to eat carbs every day, so that was it. Smaller portions and reduced carbs.

An example breakfast was a simple scramble of eggs over sautéed, thinly sliced mushrooms and sausage. Most days, lunch was Chipotle. My favorite dish is just a salad bowl with double chicken (2 ounces, I believe) and sometimes some of their vinaigrette over the top. Dinner would either be something chicken-based but equally un-carby, or something egg-based. Then, I’d just snack on roasted almonds or pistachios with a stick of string cheese in between.

You may recognize this general diet as part of the South Beach regimen and indeed that is where I borrowed a lot of this from. I just sort of adjusted it to exist without phases. Instead of phases, I just default to a standard life diet and eat whatever I want at other times. You get the idea.

So, I started this sort of thing back in mid-July and by the time the trip rolled around a month later, I had lost around fourteen (14) pounds. And it wasn’t water weight this time (stupid Master Cleanse). My biggest worry at that point was gaining all the weight back at the notorious Vegas buffets, along with the tradition of gorging oneself while in a different city (why is that a thing, anyway)?

And eat, I did! We ate at the Caesar Palace’s Bacchanal Buffet, which is pretty amazing in terms of what they offer. We also ate at various restaurants around town. All told, I gained about five pounds over four days. I’m sure in some colder climate that could have been a higher number, but it sounded about right for a vacation — a pound a day.

As you can see from this graph I pulled from Fitbit, the gain from the trip ended up being sort of a minor setback before I continued on.

2014-09-20 at 9.07 PM

The other thing you can see on this graph is the difference in my weight loss before and after the trip, and this is where the learning came in. My restricted diet and an average of 12,000 steps per day caused me to lose roughly .44 pounds or .2 kilograms per day.

However, once the trip was over, I stopped walking as much due to things like increased activity at work and taking the kids to soccer practice. I noticed the stark contrast. Today is 9/20 and in the 31 days since 8/20 I’ve gone from 198 to 194.8. In other words, .10 pounds or .045 kilograms per day.

Now, I’m not accounting for other things that happen due to stress and having a baby around, like lack of sleep and increased coffee consumption, but by and large I have stuck to the same diet, yet my daily step count has been stuck at around 5,000 on average (less than half of my pre-Vegas 12,000). That’s also not accounting for the steep hills I was walking with an increased heart rate.

So the takeaway here is that aiming for a daily step count of 12,000 combined with my current diet leads to a difference of an additional .34 pounds or .15 kilograms per day.

From the perspective of trying to reach my goal, I can do it in either twenty-three (23) days with the combination of diet and exercise or one hundred (100) days with just diet alone. There is nothing really wrong with either way but in terms of achieving goals, this one is far more reachable when I am taking an hour a day to go on a walk.

I won’t go into all the side benefits of these walks, but there are plenty. It’s just a matter of fitting it into my day, which probably means waking up a lot earlier. In either case, it does feel good to know that I will reach the goal eventually. Then I’ll have to worry about losing too much weight.

Oh what a problem to have.

xcode right key disabled

I just wanted to make a quick note for anyone else that might have this very strange behavior when messing around in XCode. I was messing with making an iOS app and found that I couldn’t use the right key while editing code; it would just beep at me.

After searching for a solution and finding nothing, I decided to look for the obvious — some unmapped key sequence and, as it turns out, I was right to look for it.

If you go to XCode’s preferences under XCode > Preferences. Then go to Key Bindings and do a search for “move right.”

xcode_right_key_disabled

Once you see the “Move Right (Selection)” command come up, click on the corresponding “Key” column and press the “right” key on your keyboard to set the mapping. Once that’s done, click elsewhere to exit the keymap text input. Close preferences, and that’s it.

I’ll admit, I’ve dealt with this for a few hours. Hopefully you won’t have to.

why fitbit is still terrible

Not too long ago, I started using the Fitbit One. I’d been toying with the idea of buying one for a few months, and then a friend of mine purchased one. He told me all about the neat little features (minus the need to constantly sport a bracelet), and not long after, I too was basking in the glory of having my each and every step counted. Not only that, but I got to see how I measured up to my fellow Fitbitters, nearly step by step. I even started tracking my weight, diet and sleep habits, just to see how my diet, steps and sleep impacted my weight. In fact, I am wearing it right now. It’s beautiful having all of this data tracked.

But what is it really doing for me?

Some call this sort of digital fitness tracker a “glorified pedometer,” and in many ways, they are right. Aside from its ability to track my sleeping patterns (when expressly commanded to do so1), I could technically just wear an old-fashioned pedometer, then track my steps at the end of each day in an Excel spreadsheet. I could just use an iPhone app to track my sleeping patterns. I could even share this information with my friends, as annoying as that would be. Yet, the difference is that I wouldn’t. The convenience of this little device means that data gets tracked and I barely have to lift a finger. However, now that I have that data, I am left wanting more.

No, Fitbit, I am not blaming you; it’s not your fault. Quite the contrary — it’s my fault. As a consumer, I have essentially stated, “I need a sleek, out-of-the-way device that tracks my every move,” and then stopped there. What I should be saying is, “I need a convenient device that tracks me well and provides meaningful suggestions for me.”

Yes, just as I could wear an old-fashioned pedometer, I very well could just read the data that my wonderful device gives me and correlate it myself in order to extract some sort of useful information. Again, the difference is that I won’t. Why would I do something that could be done for me? The data is there, after all. Why not put it to work? For example, why can’t it tell me whether I sleep enough to be considered healthy, or when I should go to sleep based on my previous sleeping patterns if I want to get enough rest, or whether my step pattern indicates I’m not getting up from my seated position enough times per day. That’s useful information that could help me do my job better, develop fewer health issues and generally feel less stressed. I’m not asking for miracles here; I’m asking for information in the form of suggestions.

To me, there’s a difference between data and information. Data is unstructured facts and numbers; in essence, simply a log. On the other hand, information tells me what the data means, hopefully in the context of something I can understand. This is an extremely important distinction.

Looking at the Fitbit website, there are a number of items (data) I am currently able to log: Food, Activities, Weight, Sleep, Journal, Heart, BP (Blood Pressure) and Glucose. Out of those eight, one is technically automatic, and the other (sleep) is nearly automatic. The rest require external input. I’m not saying they should have packed all these features in as automatic; I understand the importance of doing a few things really well as opposed to doing many things not so well. However, I also understand incremental (read: slow and steady) changes for the benefit of a product.

Take the “Journal” feature, for example. On the Fitbit website, this screen asks me what my mood is, whether I’m suffering from allergies and asks me to write a nice little entry. In the blog entry they wrote on the subject, they highlight its usefulness:

Now you can track your mood, allergy level and generally record your daily observations with the new fitbit journal feature. And use the information you record to identify trends and correlate your sleep and mood with other factors that may be affecting your activity level.

Notice they don’t mention anything about their service correlating sleep, mood and other factors. They’re talking about me doing the work. Me. The guy who won’t even bother tracking my steps in an Excel spreadsheet. Again, I am understanding here. After all, how are they to get that sort of data out of the existing device? Unless it has a heart rate monitor built in that I don’t know about, I’d imagine the task next to impossible. Yet, I have seen small devices that track heart rate, so why am I hearing nothing about plans for this feature?

I’m not saying you can directly derive mood from heart rate2, but since the Fitbit is already talking to my iPhone, why not detect sharp changes in heart rate and then prompt me for my current mood? And sure, I can write a journal entry later if I feel like it. What’s important is that, at my discretion, mood can now be linked to heart rate, along with my sleeping and step patterns. Now, on top of the other examples given earlier, I can receive even better information: how my sleep patterns correlate to instances of anxiety or stress in a given day, how sleep length impacts happiness, how my level of activity impacts happiness, etc. I could go on with these examples. Why leave the correlating up to me? Sure, give us access to the data; I’m sure some people could come up with charts and graphs of their own to provide themselves with meaningful information, but not me.

And, of course, I know Fitbit works with the Aria Scale to track weight. I haven’t used it yet, so I don’t know whether it yields the kind of information I’m after, but given the rest of the Fitbit experience, I’d bet not.

If I’m not limiting myself to the real world, there is a magical device that tracks me, runs algorithms to determine optimal progress, then interacts with me non-judgmentally to work toward goals. If that means automatically tracking my daily activities, moods, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, glucose and cortisol levels3, so be it. That’s the future I want to live in, even if it takes a few device iterations to get there.

On the other hand, Fitbit, what’s stopping you from crunching some numbers in the mean time? While I’m waiting for the next tracking feature on your amazing little device, why not work on the information you’re providing to us through your service? I mean, the data is there for the taking. In my case, you’ve got three months work with.

But maybe I’m oversimplifying things. To me, it seems like you could do what Google does with search data to my fitness data. Why not run my seemingly simple information through a number of different algorithms to give me meaningful, tailored suggestions? It seems like the next logical step. And while I am still loyal to Fitbit, someone is bound to come along and do this even if you don’t. In fact, there’s really nothing stopping another company from using the data provided by Fitbit to grant my digital wishes.

Now there’s an idea.

 


 

  1. In order to put my Fitbit One in Sleep Tracker Mode, I must wear a special wrist band and, when I am about to sleep, press its little button for ~2 seconds to signal sleep readiness. Once I wake up, I hold the same button for ~2 seconds to signal the fact that I am now awake.
  2. In a study titled The Relationship Between Heart Rate and Mood in Real Life conducted by Derek W. Johnston and Pavlos Anastasiades, it was stated that, “Heart rate related to emotional state in very few subjects when time-series statistical methods, which take into account the autocorrelated nature of the data, were used.” To me, that says you can’t consistently determine mood from heart rate. Just saying.
  3. Have you heard of Cue? “Cue is a revolutionary new device that connects you to your health at the molecular level. Simply load a cartridge and add a sample to access deep information about your body, on demand and on your schedule. Discover every day how activity, food, and sleep shape your body’s story. And achieve meaningful, daily improvments to tell a new one.” Now that’s what I’m talking about.

the wise are children who know

But the adult is not the highest stage of development. The end of the cycle is that of the independent, clear-minded, all-seeing Child. … Why do the enlightened seem filled with light and happiness like children? Why do they sometimes even look and talk like children? Because they are. The wise are Children Who Know. Their minds have been emptied of the countless minute somethings of small learning and filled with the great wisdom of the Great Nothing, the Way of the Universe.

Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff

Don’t ask me why, but I don’t often find myself agreeing with Mark Zuckerberg. Call it a gut instinct, I suppose. However, after reading this short story titled, “Say what? Young people are just smarter” by Margaret Kane, I found myself partially agreeing with the guy but not for the same reasons. In the article, Zuckerberg talks about how people under 30 are “just smarter.” And while I’m sure anecdotally this is true in his eyes, overall I think he’s missing the point.

“I don’t know… Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family.”

There it is. Young people tend to have fewer things, fewer responsibilities, fewer elsewheres for their minds to drift to. While I don’t think this is a quality that is restricted by age, I do believe that people tend to collect distractions as they age. Coupled with self-doubt and a nice case of impostor syndrome, these distractions can cause an older person in a technical field to perform badly. The reality is that this type of stress can cause anyone1 to have reduced productivity.

What I believe, however, is that this stems more from our culture than from the magical number of 30. Sure, as the barrier to entry gets lower and lower, more young people have started to dominate the technology sector. I remember being eight or nine and sitting with my Dad while he would program, then later on I started writing my own programs. That felt like being ahead of the curve. And it was. At school, with friends, their families, I was the go-to computer guy. I was employed by my high school as the computer technician while attending! But now, I’m 31, and while I am still the go-to computer guy for some friends and family, there’s no denying that things have changed. There’s been a shift. My kids — six and three — are way ahead of the game. I’m sure by now you’ve witnessed a kid walking up to a TV or computer monitor and, with a look of puzzlement, wondering why there’s no response to their touch. Yet, put them in front of something they can actually use and it’s amazing. My three year old builds entire railroad systems on Minecraft using our iPad. So whether they even know it or not, they are learning the utter fundamentals to the way interfaces should work and programming logic. This isn’t to say that we old fogeys can’t do this very same thing. In fact, knowing this, I make it a point to sit with my kids and work in Minecraft, or their puzzle games, or any other app of the week, because it helps me while it spurs them on. But not everyone has the time or patience to even make an attempt to keep their finger on the pulse of the technological world.

Again, I believe the culture we live in is the cause.

Society is more than willing to give us a predefined bucket list. In fact, we are pressured to check as many things as possible off of that bucket list before we kick it. Especially in America, we live with a strong cognitive dissonance between “enjoy life to the fullest” and “work your fingers to the bone.” Part of the former is one of the many design patterns on society: Graduate High School > Graduate College > Get a Career > Get Married > Raise Kids > etc. I don’t know what you’d name this design pattern, but it might be something like the Standard Pattern, or the Default Pattern. While many choose other patterns, I am guilty of following the Standard Pattern, more or less2. However, I try not to let that hold me back but it’s almost impossible to compete with a younger person who hasn’t followed the same pattern. My ability and schedule to focus is set between my early morning runs and the hours my kids are in school or asleep. While I try not to let that impact my mental agility and focus, it obviously takes a toll. But that’s me. There are plenty of people who either know innately or who have discovered early on that children have it right. Children don’t want to be weighed down responsibilities or obligations; they want to be free to explore and build things. To give the dead horse a couple more kicks to the rib, children want to take the road less traveled because it’s amazing and potentially filled with treasure.

Taking the road less traveled3 isn’t just about thinking outside the box. It’s also about a road filled with fewer distractions. Obviously I have no real problem with the Standard Pattern as it is the path I chose, but I think it’s unnecessary and a bit forced. Perhaps the next generation realizes this. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the rails. We do need education and companionship, but it doesn’t have to fit into the same box society has created for us. Not everyone needs to get married, have kids, buy a fancy car and retire at age 65, with some variation along the way to make us unique. The value in being young is that you can choose early on to ignore societal pressure and just live simply, but that doesn’t mean the possibility is open only to young people. With enough dedication, anyone can do it.

 


 

Footnotes

  1. Of course, by “anyone,” I am referring to anyone qualified to work in the field. Don’t get technical on me.
  2. I didn’t fully graduate college, but I’m doing everything else. I’m not even mad.
  3. I realize Frost wasn’t actually talking about taking a road less traveled, but the arbitrary choice between two identical paths, but I went with the popular misconception.

not an impostor but an imitator

Recently, I read an essay by Nick Campbell, titled “Polymath the Impostor.” This really hits home for me, because I’ve been a long-time sufferer, despite having the knowledge that the syndrome exists. As Nick puts it, “despite any praise you receive or even a whiff of dissatisfaction from those in charge of your paycheck, you feel doomed to be found out.” Yes, this is the crux of it, but is it really so bad? I think most people are impostors. According to dictionary.com, the word ‘impostor’ means, “Pretending to be someone else in order to deceive others.” But don’t we do that as a means to aspiration? E.G. I aspire to become a great writer, so I do as writers do. To me, this means that anything we aspire to is a target that is constantly beyond our current grasp — an intentionally unreachable carrot on a stick of failure. (We could talk about all the pitfalls of constant dissatisfaction1 as well and how that’s considered by some to be poison, but I’ll leave that for another post.) So because we desire to be better at something, we start to learn about it. The more we learn, the more we figure out that we don’t know, but in order to move forward on the learning curve, we fake it.

Perhaps a fancier way to put things is that we channel traits and behaviors. It starts when we’re children. When I was little, I wanted to be a better and faster fighter than Bruce Lee — perfectly reasonable, right? — so I would watch his movies, as well as a variety of other movies2 and I would copy what I saw to the best of my ability. Believe it or not, I got pretty good and would often jump from tall objects and land in a split, causing adults to groan and probably question whether there was anything between the ground and where my body touched it. My friends and I would also perform all kinds of high and low kicks, jump kicks, spin kicks, somersaults and the like. Not that it would do any good against any opponent of Bruce Lee, let alone Bruce Lee himself, but it felt great snapping old fence boards in half. It’s a good thing boards don’t hit back3. Being an impostor was okay. It was because I channeled Bruce Lee and Frank Dux that I was able to achieve any sort of skill, despite realizing there was an ocean of difference between what they could do and what I could.

Maybe, then, the difference is in being paid to do something.

No one was paying me to spend hours of my day watching kung fu movies and practice my (probably embarrassing) moves, but I suppose if someone had, it would have been different. The focus would shift from learning for the sake of wanting to be something, and it would turn to being something for the sake of money, which means I get to buy stuff and keep buying stuff in the future. All of a sudden, there’s pressure to fit a job description and everything that entails. Now I have to shove aside pretending for the sake of just being better in order to pretend to actually be the complete version of something that fits nicely inside the job description. After all, no one wants to pay someone to learn on the job. The best candidate is the one who has all the skills and then some. But how could anyone have 100% of all the skills listed on a job application. Unless the listing is extremely short and to the point, I’d bet the answer is no one. So why do we write job descriptions that way? My guess is, much like people channeling the traits of heroes, we aim higher than where we intend our arrow to land.

Yet the unspoken expectation is that we are that person. Even though there’s a valley between where the expectation is and where we actually are, we are expected to act as if. Is it any wonder we feel the pangs of the impostor syndrome? It’s not that I’m assigning blame to the people above us — hell, they probably experience the same thing in one form or another — but I am saying that a reasonable person should not expect god-like knowledge in a job title. We are not omniscient beings, nor could we be even if we aspired to it. There is just far too much information to take in.

Looking at my Feedly, I currently see over 1,000 articles that I’ve yet to read from a handful of sources I’ve chosen in order to more easily digest information. This is to help me stay current, or in other words, maintain the facade of omniscience in my field. The trade-off is that I feel a ball of anxiety sitting somewhere in my brain — the knowledge that I have so much to learn today, which doesn’t include all the things I missed yesterday or will miss tomorrow. There’s just too much. I’m just one man. There are too many Bruce Lees now, and it’s important to realize that.

So, am I an impostor? No, I’d probably go with “imitator” — one who follows or endeavors to follow as a model or example — since this definition removes the connotation that I am attempting to be a con artist. I am not. However, there are things I have known in the past that I’d have to look up today to use again. So I’m not only imitating others, but myself as well. It’s hard to keep that much information always at hand, always present. I think it was Einstein who said it was more important to know how and where to find information rather than the ability to store it. And I am very good at the finding of information, as I suspect many of the people in my field are.

Knowing this helps to soothe the nagging voice4 that tells me I’m not good enough and people are going to find out5. Beyond that, I’m lazy. I value happiness and tranquility over knowing everything, but I don’t mind taking short power walks on the unending treadmill of new information. I also don’t mind having a variety of interests. I’m sure it would bother some to know that I don’t have a few key subjects that I have mastered, but in the information technology field, mastering an entire subject is nearly impossible. We can master the basics, and then hold a solid grasp on aspects thereof, but since they are ever-changing and the “best practice” is a moving target, we are set up for failure if we hope to master all. When placed in this light, living up to every demand in our job description becomes less of a hard requirement and more of a nice-to-have. In fact, most of the time, us impostors just have to know how to Google It.

 


Footnotes. Because they’re amazing.
  1. As the Sunakkhatta Sutta puts it, “Craving is said by the Contemplative to be an arrow. The poison of ignorance spreads its toxin through desire, passion, and ill will.”
  2. I’m pretty sure, wherever they are, my VHS copies of Enter the Dragon, Bloodsport and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are stretched thin from all my repeated watching.
  3. This is a quote from Enter the Dragon, in case you were wondering.
  4. So far, I only hear one voice, but if I ever start to hear more, I’ll be sure to write a post about it.
  5. Certainly they already know. Someone once told me, “you’re the dumbest smart person I’ve ever met.” If I ever give into the voices, that person is first on the list.