Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting in Shape: I love me some data.

Until I was about 27, weight gain was never an issue, and boy did I take advantage of it. My worst eating habits were probably in college, when I was addicted to caffeine (in the form of Pepsi and Mountain Dew) and second suppers of Ramen and macaroni and cheese. Also consider the long, sleepless, miserable nights of debugging code and you have a recipe for an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle. But I suppose my youth saved me, and the wear and tear hardly showed on the outside.

I at least cut out the soda habit after graduating, but that never stopped me from eating portions that were far bigger than I ever needed (ask any of my friends who knew me then). And it wasn't just quantity; I still didn't pay much attention to what I was eating. I knew it would likely catch up with me eventually, but so long as I was hovering around 100 pounds, I never took those concerns seriously, and even thought it was a good thing to consume as many calories as possible. It was always hard to pass up a good burger (especially if it was the size of my head), and starch has always been a weakness for me (fancy some pasta, anyone?).

Well, it did catch up with me. My metabolism finally slowed down, or maybe it was a change in lifestyle and eating habits, but I've gained more weight than I feel comfortable with. At first it was nice, and actually seemed healthy. But then the pounds kept increasing, and I realized this trend is just going to continue if I don't shape up. Yes, I don't like the puffiness and the way the extra flab looks, but it goes deeper than that. I feel sluggish...heavy...tired. It made me realize that my whole eating-exercise-sleeping routine needs to be scrutinized. Time to live a little more mindfully. Time for a lifestyle change.

Right now, it's a work in progress. It's unrealistic and unsustainable to demand a world-shaking change of myself, but I'm slowly introducing some healthier habits in my life. Some weeks are better than others, especially when stress and deadlines get in the way, but there's one thing I really want to emphasize:

Data is paramount! I know I'm stating the obvious, but it's worth repeating. (And who doesn't love a good chart?) In late January I started using an exercise and food tracker on, and while I was at it, I decided to start logging my sleep every day (which includes hours, type of sleep, quality of sleep, whether or not I used any treatments like Tylenol PM, etc.). I've been bad about keeping up with the food tracker, because I'm still not very good at estimating calories and nutritional information of foods that don't come with labels, and thus get a little lazy. At this point I'm not aiming for absolute accuracy, but the simple act of starting a food diary of sorts gets you to consciously think about what you're putting in your body.

Again, this is basic, obvious stuff, but I've never tried it before. One thing I've been really good at updating (since it's so easy) is my sleep schedule. As you can imagine (yeah, what time am I writing this post...?), it's all over the bloody place. But something changes when you actually see it spelled out in front of you with clear numbers and charts and trends. It boosts your motivation and focus. You're no longer blind to the process, and it's easier to figure out where things are going wrong -- and what things are working.

Anyway, I'm just excited about this new development and felt like sharing.

EDIT: A friend mentioned watching this video, which I love for its simplicity and inspiration:

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