Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Measure of a (Wo)man

There was a fascinating "Note to self" podcast early in the archives about the downside to the use of health-tracking technology. About how logging and seeing every step you take, calorie you eat, water you sip, minutes you sleep can make you anxious and hyper-focused on yourself. I definitely experienced this with calorie tracking, as you may remember from several years ago. I found myself really anxious about going over on any given day, and putting way too much of my self-worth on whether I was "good" or "bad" about staying in my calorie goals (and the app makes it easy to assign value judgements by putting you in the green & giving you happy faces, vs. red & exclamation marks!!!!). I was also running running running without any focus on speed or form, just to get a bigger calorie buffer into my day. My perfectionism came out full on, too, the thought of "incomplete data" when I just could not remember every bite I put on my mouth at a potluck, or had not even a ballpark idea of the ingredients or calorie count of some concoction I imbibed drove my CRAZY. I had to stop.

After a couple years of having it sit in a drawer, I pulled out my old fitbit zip in January and replaced the battery and worse it almost daily. I did it only because I signed onto an app that would import data and then award you points that ultimately translated to $$$. A friend of mine told me about it and I figured free money was reason enough to pin the tiny thing to my waistband or bra step. It took me 6 months to get $10, so its not a get-rich-quick scheme. When the battery died yet again in July I put it back in the drawer. The fitbit NEVER motivated me to walk more, maybe because I know I walk plenty most days and if I don't hit my goal by the end of the day, something in my routine was off enough that it would take way too long to do enough pacing around my house to get there.

The perfectionism thing I noticed with MyFitnessPal extends to spending tracking as well. We had a bit of a snafu that ended up with an overdrawn bank account and scrounging our house for cash for pizza last week (long story, it was a good reminder not to slack on keeping an eye on our bank balance and transferring from emergency fund when needed instead of planning to do it "later"). Said snafu had us updating all our Mint passwords and deciding to go back to YNAB. Notice I said "us". G said, "sure, sounds like a good idea" and then promptly never logged a thing unless I reminded him of it. I logged my few meager purchases for 3 days and when I didn't notice the groceries he brought or the packages that came from Amazon, I started getting all twitchy about the incomplete data. I had two options: remind him (i.e. nag) to do it, or let it go. I chose the latter. I'm keeping a close eye on our bills and balances, but we are NOT going back to logging every purchase. If G ever decides he wants to be consistent with it, I'm on board, but I CANNOT keep reminding him daily or, worse, just looking at bills and ATM withdrawals and trying to piece together his spending FOR HIM to enter into YNAB, which is what I was doing for many months before.

There was an episode on the "Happier" podcast where someone mentioned that YNAB similarly made him nuts because of this intrinsic NEED to account for every single penny and he had to quit, and I was so happy to hear I'm not alone in this lunacy. I don't know if it is the scientist in me or what, but if I am collecting data, I want it to be as complete & accurate as possible! How can you begin to make sense of estimates & guesstimates and days of blanks? What conclusions do you draw from that? I think some would argue that some data is better than no data, and "perfect is the enemy..." etc... but I can't get my brain on board with that.

Things I do track currently: water intake (because I sometimes forget to drink enough & then don't feel well), meditation (just a yes or no, so I remember to do it every day), and my plank challenge (again, yes or no, and I try to do it 3X a week, on non-gym days...I'm up to SIX MINUTES). Yes, sometimes I'm chugging water to meet my goal, but there isn't really much of a downside to this. Maybe forcing myself to meditate at night when I'm falling asleep (sometimes I just completely forget during the day!) isn't necessary, but I like seeing that streak (85 days!). Those things are actually more of a to-do-list then really getting into hard numbers and data, so they don't lead to that sort of hyper-focus and anxiety.  I sometimes write down what I've eaten in my planner for a week or two at a time, to make sure I'm not fooling myself with excess snacks or letting my lunch "creep up" (I sometimes start adding more items just to use up excess fruits or because we bought something I wanted to try, for example).

Anyone else let a tracking app make you crazy, or am I truly neurotic? (actually don't answer that second part!)

26 comments:

  1. Tracking spending makes me insane. I get so competitive over nothing and spend each month trying to cut my spending a bit more. Not worth it. Instead I have an amount I don't like to exceed for total spending in a month. That's it. As long as the expenditures come in at or under I don't even give them a second look. It's led to a much happier existence.

    I do wear a Fit Bit Zip to give myself reminders over the day to get some more steps (daily goal 20,000) but I don't track the number of steps day to day. I don't bother to do the app. I just glance down over the course of the day at the little device and see where I stand. If I broke it I don't know if I would replace it. I also keep track of my books read on Goodreads.

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    1. 20K is impressive! My goal was 15K and I almost always hit it with my commute and dog walks, but not if I worked from home. I have a zip, too, and its so inconspicuous. You are inspiring me to change the battery and try for 20K now!
      I forget to add books on Goodreads! I definitely track those. But again, its more to remember what I read then to get to read more. Because I am happy with how much I read.

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    2. I'm lazy and unless I'm marathon training only get 10000-13000 most weekdays, mayyyybe 15000 on a weekend. It feels like enough :). My Garrin tracks that but I barely look at it. And like you, I don't find it changes my behavior at all.

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  2. I like seeing data. I use good reads and use the Apple activity app. The Apple Watch daily goals are good reminders (stand every hour, 30 min activity & 300 "active" calories) but I find it less helpful for longer term tracking than a Fitbit was. I do hate to do a workout and forget to turn it on!

    For budgeting and MFP I found that I wasn't necessarily anxious but that both took up an enormous amount of bandwidth. Planning, researching, logging, evaluating. I am glad I am not doing either now. I do think both can be helpful for as a short term strategy to check in.

    & it sounds like I had a similar snafu recently. I was at Whole Foods and couldn't pay for groceries!! My credit card had been compromised the day before & therefore was cancelled, hadn't transferred $ into checking from savings & I never activated my "emergency backup" credit card. Yikes. Thankfully all have been fixed now, but geez.

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    1. Yes, it did take a lot of time and mental energy, too. Its just one more thing on the list to get to every day, and it distracts me from other priorities.

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  3. I have used MFP only once--after my second pregnancy when I was trying to lose the baby weight. Once I lost most of it I realized MFP was making me a tad too obsessive and I quit. I totally get where you're coming from.

    I track only books read and workouts completed and that is working well for me now. I would actually like to track spending but like your husband mine would ever go for it so I know it would just become something else to nag/fight about...

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    1. it seems fairly universal that tracking calories makes one obsessive, though we may have a biased sample of women commenting here :)

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  4. I love YNAB and honestly don't know what I would do without it. We are quite exact with our data- it's reflex to put it in whenever I buy ANYTHING, from gas to a parking meter to lunch. And then I go over credit card statements monthly to catch anything (automated charges etc) that slip through the cracks. That process takes about 2 hrs including making the next month's budget but I actually sort of ... like it! I typically do it during the kids movie night.

    As for food tracking I often keep a rough written tab of what I eat (no quantities, no specifics with restaurant meals, just the basics) but hate the idea of actually tracking calories. I feel like it's just too hard to be accurate there and too easy to be obsessive. With YNAB I don't get obsessive, instead it makes me feel free to spend within my budget.

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    1. Was going to add that ynab entry is reflexive for josh too which definitely helps it work.

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    2. For me, I definitely had a moral, judgemental feeling about it. I think I was raised very very much with the mindset that any unnecessary purchases should be avoided, so I felt "bad" anytime I bought something solely for me, even when it fit in my "allowance", because I felt like the goal was to keep that spending as low as possible.

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  5. I could not agree more. I was just commenting to a friend the other day that I am SO completely over the push to track everything. No more Garmins, FitBits, Runkeeper, MyFitnessPal, Sleep Cycle, etc. Enough. None of it has ever actually enhanced my life long-term and in retrospect, it actually did a lot to stoke the fires of my anxiety. :)

    I log books read on Goodreads, but that's about it. We use Pocketsmith for finances because it can project when lean times are coming up so we're neither caught off-guard nor lulled into a false sense of security.

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    1. Whoo! lets be free from it all!

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  6. Any time I've tried to track sleep I've noticed it doesn't help me in any way -- and I may even sleep less, both because I know I'm keeping track and my FitBit isn't comfortable for sleeping. There's nothing like seeing a graph of your crappy sleep hours. :-/

    I use GoodReads for tracking books I've finished and books I want to read. Pushing myself to complete an arbitrary Reading Challenge (20 books) in 2016 got me back into the habit of reading and I realized recently that so far in 2017 I've already read more books than I did in all of 2016 (just finished # 26)! Tracking with GR was a big part of my reading resurgence.

    I also track my miles of biking using Strava. I bike recreationally as well as for errands, some commutes, etc. and I love having the data to see how many miles I've done cumulatively or how many times I've ridden a certain route. (Also, my data combined with other cyclists' data can help make the argument for more bike lanes in a certain area!) BUT sometimes I unintentionally miss tracking some miles of a longer ride and I hate how annoyed I get about it. I don't remember what it feels like to just...go for a bike ride!

    Honestly, sometimes I fantasize about the not so distant past when we just... lived... and it wasn't so easy to track everything.

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    1. Yes, I would similarly get annoyed if I had forgotten my fitbit on a run or long walk! Tracking NOTHING, imagine!

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  7. I don't track... anything. Maybe that is bad? I have had a FitBit, but mostly it made me frustrated when I forgot it... it was like all those steps didn't "count" if they weren't being counted! How silly! I just stopped wearing it one day and never looked back. As you know I have tried, and failed miserably, at budgeting. I am just horrible at it. And my husband is not on board, but I am the bigger spender so I can't get mad at him until I reign in my own spending first. For the first time we made it through the year without accessing our emergency savings so I guess things are okay, but we aren't contributing to 529s yet and my daughter is in 2nd grade so I guess we're not okay... For the first time in a long time I have a long term goal for next summer and it requires having some money to spend next summer, I'm already thinking of ways I might help make that happen, but they all involve just moving the money out of our checking, and not tracking what we spend.

    I used to have VERY disordered feelings about food and while tracking what I eat does help, it also pulls me back into that disordered thinking place. When I was on my last two trips I knew I wasn't working out as much as I usually do so I just skipped on most treats and that seemed to work surprisingly well. It was a great trade off for me, I didn't eat that yummy frozen custard to not feel bad about not running. It felt like an awesome compromise. I have been interested in the wearable trackers that also track sleep, but only to see if I have any unknown (to me) issues and then address them (if possible). I haven't been interested enough to spend the $$$ on one of them though, probably because I am not interested in tracking anything else.

    I do think one valuable thing I learned from my FitBit was how little calorie burn my higher step days resulted in. It helped me remember that exercise does not really help you lose weight except when you're building muscle. Just doing something the get your heart rate up is great for me because it does wonder for my mental health, but it isn't enough to justify eating more. So I learned that and don't need to keep wearing something to remember it. And now I workout for my mental health and because it's good for me in other ways, not to keep my weight down.

    I should track my water intake because I never get enough and then I end up with a four day tension headache that is even more annoying because I am aware it's totally preventable...

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    1. The sleep tracker was discussed in the podcast as NOT particularly accurate, and possibly crazy-making. Save your $$. and yes, exercise is for cardiovascular & mental health, while diet is for weight loss. AND those fitbits notoriously OVERestimate calorie burn from exercise. Tracking water has really helped me stay hydrated. Its becoming more habitual now, but I still sometimes forget, especially when out of my routine.

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    2. Do you remember which ep of the Happier podcast this was from? I'd like to listen to it now.

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  8. When I find myself gaining weight, I track calories in my head for a little while, anyway. Nothing else though. I don't seem to have the attention span to keep up with tracking things like this long term. For things like money we seem to be able to just eyeball our accounts and keep things in balance, but my husband is like me -- pretty frugal. I don't know, I'm really glad I don't track everything. I think I would find the experience completely miserable and a waste of time. I guess I understand the urge, but it's just not for me.

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    1. I don't think I could very accurately count calories in my head, but that is why I do write down what I ate for a short period of time, when I'm suspecting its creeping up.

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    2. Yeah I agree, it's easier to forget if you don't write it down immediately. It's depressing how little you get to eat if you don't want to gain weight. 😭

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  9. I tracked calories on MFP for a while, and it made me absolutely obsessive about food. It did change my eating habits, mostly for the better, but at the expense of giving up a lot of happiness and mental well-being. It also led me to do unhealthy things like eating a popsicle instead of an apple because it had fewer calories. So I gave it up.

    I used a budget app (Visual Budget) for two years when I was trying to get out of debt, and it worked really well for me because I had a concrete goal that I was very motivated to meet. I was a little obsessive about it, but not in the same way as I was with MFP, possibly because spending money doesn't feel morally wrong to me in the way that eating sometimes does. (I may have food issues.) After two years of tracking my budget, once I had achieved my target net worth of zero, I lost motivation and stopped all of a sudden. I'm still saving a lot every month, so I don't think my spending habits are dramatically worse now that I've stopped tracking them.

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    1. spending money absolutely DOES feel morally wrong to me. Maybe even more than food. Everytime I had to log a purchase that was simply for ME (I got a coffee, or a drink with a friend, etc...)I felt some kind of remorse/shame.

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    2. I definitely understand the "spending money feeling morally wrong" piece. I was just saying to my husband the other day that I often feel like we should be spending less money, but I can't really say there's any particular thing I'd like to spend less on, any particular goal of how much I think would be an appropriate amount to spend, or any particular goal we're saving for.
      I think a large part of it is that I have always worked with people that are low income so it seems somehow unfair/morally wrong to be spending way more than almost everyone I spend my day with... though I think in the grand scheme of things we spend much less than many people with a similar income and try to be pretty intentional on what we're spending money on. Also, let's get real, I enjoy things like meals out, trips, a climbing gym membership etc.
      Let me know if you sort that one out...

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  10. We use MINT but I only tend to look at it when I'm anxious or we need to plan something.

    Really the only thing I track these days is my period, and even then sometimes it takes me a few days to get it in my calendar.

    Tracking does tend to make me think more about whatever it is I'm tracking, be that food or money. Thinking about food makes me hungry. So not so great for me.

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  11. I stopped using the FitBit for the same reason. I had a need to hit the next marker, so if I was at, say, 9700 for the day, I would pace around to get over 10,000, even though I doubt those extra 300 steps really did much for me (other than making me feel silly).

    I do track my time a wee bit obsessively, but that's got a work rationale as much as a personal rationale. Plenty of fodder to write about.

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  12. i was really obsessive about steps with my fitbit but then switched to the apple watch which is less dependent on steps to meet your goals- Its more about movement.
    We do need to be better about tracking spending and just signed up for ynab, so we'll see how that goes!

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