2 years of tracking weight diet and sleep
diet and weight loss | sleep
Randy Sargent, a researcher at Carnegie MacMillan University, talks about what he's learned from tracking his weight for over two years.
Randy Sargent 2 years of tracking weight diet and sleep
Hi my name is Randy Sargent, and I am a researcher at Carnegie MacMillan University, and I’m really happy to be here today to talk with you about my experiences tracking weight and diet for a couple of years. So thank you for being here and listening.
In fact, I have been tracking a number of things in addition to diet and weight. I’ve been tracking sleep. I’ve been tracking activity levels. The Body Media armband I have actually measures the number of calories that I burn each day. So lots and lots of things to track, but what do they all mean.
So the Withings Scale, if you haven’t had a chance to use it before is great fun, you literally step on it and it radios your weight to the net and you can optionally turn on the feature to Tweet the weight each time you weigh but I don’t go for that one.
I take pictures of all the food that I eat, whether it’s a meal, a slack snack, you know at home, at a restaurant. So I have records going back for over two years of every single thing that I’ve eaten.
When I started tracking my weight, I was in a period where my weight was starting to going up, so it was going up from pretty normal weight to an overweight of a BMI of about 26. So what was going on? So if I bring onto the chart, this orange area this is showing a period of time in my life when I wasn’t really eating at home any more, like when I go back and look at the pictures I was eating out. I was eating out for lunch, I was eating out for dinner, and it wasn’t working very well for me and I was gaining weight and the worst thing I was feeling really crappy.
So my energy levels were going up and down. I wasn’t being very productive, and after a lot of the meals I was having this thing, I call it crash you know maybe after 30 minutes after I eat, I get so tired I have trouble keeping my eyes open.
So what did I do? I tried to reduce glycemic index in the foods I was eating. So I got rid of sugar, I got rid of bread, and most processed foods, so I tried to instead eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables you know all the good things that you know are good for you and snack with nuts and cheese. But I didn’t really try to restrict my calories at all, so I ate when I was hungry but I did restrict what I ate.
As a result I was feeling great, you know, things were working really well for me and my energy levels were more even during the day. I didn’t have these crashes anymore, so there was plenty of motivation to stick with that diet.
If you look, we can now fast forward the graph to the future here and see for the next year and a half I lost a fair bit of weight. I went down to a BMI of 24 and I was keeping it off for a year and a half, so this was pretty good for a diet and most diets fail more earlier than that. But what happened at the starting of December last year, I gained most of it back.
So what was happening there? In December, I made an experiment that I wasn’t planning. I became a part-time visiting scientist at a technology company and headquartered in Mountain View here, which feeds its employees free meals and free smacks. So I was doing an inadvertent experiment on myself, and what’s more is I was spending about half of my time there and have my time back home in Pittsburgh.
So if we pull up this new chart with the yellow regions, the yellow regions are here when I am in Mountain View eating free food, and the rest of the time is when I was at home. And you see that my weight gain primarily is during those yellow times. Also, I’m not weighing myself because the scales are back at home in Pittsburgh. In fact I was gaining a pound every five days that I was out here and it was just kind of crazy. I was actually losing its slowly back in Pittsburgh.
So these are the pictures of the food that I was eating; left is in Pittsburgh and right was in California and these are meals. And by a large the meals looked pretty similar, and sometimes I was having trouble finding you know things without a lot of carbs for a meal, but when it went to snacks these are all the snacks. On the left in Pittsburgh I’m eating nut, and cheese, and fruit and maybe a little bit of dark chocolate.
Let’s zoom into the right half, and I am eating chips, I am eating frozen yoghurt, I’m eating candy. I had really fallen off the rails in terms of my diet. It wasn’t looking good and it was kind of embarrassing to go back and look at these pictures.
So what did I draw from all of this data? So for the first conclusion I come to was that when I’m able to stick to my diet my weight does really well. Now when I don’t, it doesn’t. That’s a pretty easy one, but it turns out the data may lead to lots of other hypotheses to.
So one possibility is like free food, motivated eating. Certainly, the hockey stick at the right would be consistent with that. It doesn’t really explain the one on the left. What about measuring? So, we talk a lot about the mindfulness of measuring something, so it turns out you know when I’m in California I’m not measuring my weight and its going up. In fact even that period of time on the left, I wasn’t measuring very often so maybe there is a mindfulness component here.
Variety motivates lots of things, and could it be that variety of eating out or eating at the company is driving me to eat more. Possibly, this is also consistent with my data.
Now when I show you, I’m going to bring up the histogram of how often I snack. So this red graph shows snacks per day, and this right clump at the end shows what happens when my desk moved to within 100 feet of the snack area; a really bad idea.
Now I’m going to bring up the calories burned per day because maybe it’s not like food intake at all, maybe it’s how inactive I’m being. It turns out it was pretty flat over the whole time, and if you divide the calories by 3500 calories per pound, it really doesn’t explain any of my weight gain or loss. In fact I am a little bit more active in California, so in fact I was eating even more than I thought because I was burning some of it back off.
Other conclusions. It takes a long time to discover these correlations because the measurement devices are so bad. Your measuring yourself on a scale, and each day those scales are going to plus or minus 2 or 3 pounds because of different hydration levels. It’s really hard to figure out what’s really going on. If we can have a scale, I don’t know like the previous talk and maybe if I could get to the Stanford performance every day and measure how much body fat and how much muscle I have to the nearest gram, and imagine how that would change your you know idea of what’s going on.
So postscript. This is me working on the talk, my weights been going back down so I’ve lost about five pounds and I’ve found that as I’ve been working on the talk my willpower to stick with the diet has gone through the roof unlike at 11 and I’m losing weight even more quickly than I had done when I was in Pittsburgh. So I think it speaks to some of the benefits of you know, going and looking at yourself closely and figuring out what’s going on.
So thank you guys for being here for my talk.