How to Win a Food Fight
diet and weight loss | food tracking
Tone Fonseca talks about the ups and downs of his attempt to to lose a hundred pounds with the help of tools tracking the food he consumed. He concluded that the only way to win a food fight or any fight is you have to change the rules, and that’s what self-tracking gives you, the ability to change the rules just enough so that winning is possible.
MyNetDiary | Weight Watchers
How to Win a Food Fight – Boston
This is the story of how I lost 80 pounds using self-tracking, and by the end you’ll know how to do the same thing if you ever need to.
It’s no big deal except for one little problem, how do you win a fight you were born to lose; A fight that evolution selected you to lose. When it comes to fighting bad food choices, we’re literally fighting against the instincts that keep us alive.
Food is a friend to our emotions, it’s energy to our bodies, it’s a drug to our brains. The gravity of that feedback loop is so strong it’s virtually inescapable. As I went from being an athlete to being obese in a few short years, by October 2011, I was 220 pounds with a BMI of 36, and it would have stayed like that but one day I got fired up and decided to fight back.
The difference was this time was data was part of the plan. I started doing pushups that morning and started tracking them in Evernote. I would also record ideas about how I could improve my diet. If you think of self-tracking experiments as a software release cycle this was the alpha.
I dropped from 220 to 200 pounds as a result. This validated the idea that self-tracking could work. I set a new goal for myself to hit 180 pounds and it was time to level up. The next up was to really get into tracking and quantifying food. The Weightwatchers Plus Program guided my transition.
Weightwatchers points represent quantity as well as quality. This made it easy to see the impact of my choices. As a result I was able to start breaking away from the gravity of the feedback loops I was born with. But even with this there was a nagging problem that threatened to undermine everything I was doing.
If you can’t remember to track and reflect in real-time you just end up with a lot of regret and no progress. So I set alarms on my phone. I stuck post-it’s to my desk and I would even vary the location of the kitchen scale where I weighed my food, like all over the room to find out where was most unavoidable.
I had to literally hack my environment to make tracking inevitable. Once I got things set up it became a routine; track, eat, check. Repeat.
I was able to hit my goal of 180 pounds and I had learned how to create the behaviors to make tracking food successful. But there was a serious problem with this system. In a real world, food is quantified by calories not by points. So that extra bit of translation I had to do between Weightwatchers points and the calories on a nutrition label, it made quick decisions difficult without consulting the app. So I knew it was time to level up again.
I made the switch to MyNetDiary and began tracking calories instead of points. It was jarring at first but I soon realized that I had made the right decision. My new goal was to hit 140 pounds, which to understand how obscured that is that’s actually less than I weighed when I played varsity lacrosse in high school.
Tracking calories allowed the data to become a part of my intuition. For example I noticed that diced tomatoes had a ridiculously low amount of calories for the volume. I started including them in all my meals right away.
At this point I had the full system running and it was paying off big time. In just over a little over a year I had gone from 220 pounds to 145 pounds. I lost 75 pounds and I knew nothing could stop me from reaching 140.
Then the worst thing that could possibly happen, happened. An epic relapse that threatened to break all the new habits and reinstall the bad ones; it’s called Thanksgiving. And I had seen this punch before. It always destroys the plan, but how could this happen after all of that work to change.
Well the usual suspects ganged up and they attacked all at once, and the system cracked. It turned out tracking was not in itself the savior that I thought it was. As the reality set in I remembered all the previous attempts had managed in ways that had failed in the same way. I wondered, if this can’t work is there any hope left at all.
I had no one to blame but myself of course. This is what happens to those who are stupid enough to think they can change things. I was born to lose this fight and the rules of biology guaranteed it. I expected to fall right back into gravity of eating habits.
But as the weeks went by something amazing happened, instead of gaining weight from the holidays I lost it. The relapse that had always signaled a final defeat turned out to be a single defeat. And instead of taking months to get back on track, it only took one day. The usual suspects were still a threat, but this time something was different.
This time the habits to reflect and track were already there. I didn’t need to rebuild them, it was automatic. So the weight kept going down along with the BMI. The 140 pound barrier was shattered and by July 2013, I had reached 132 pounds with a BMI of 21.
It turned out I had already won the food fight, but I didn’t know it until my system was pushed to failure. The habits I built in the earlier months had quietly changed the rules in my favor.
The only way to win a food fight or any fight you were born to lose is to change the rules, and that’s what self-tracking gives you, the ability to change the rules just enough so that winning is possible.