28 Years of Tracking, But What Have I Learned?
diet and weight loss | social life & social media
Nan Shellabarger has been tracking her life including her weight, activity and sleep for 28 years. She started tracking her weight since 1998. In this talk, she discusses the ways she is constantly analyzing and visualizing her data in different ways to learn something new about herself.
Fitbit | Jawbone
Hi, I’m Nan. What I do in my day job is nothing to do with health or tech, but I am a data analyst. Once upon a time I was a hand’s on data analyst. Now I have people that do that at work so I do my own data.
I’ve been tracking my weight since 1998, every day and since 1988 are the first point on this graph. And when I look at this curve, I see the arc of all of these years of my life. I can hang the whole narrative of what I was doing and what was going on in my life then. But I’m going to talk about some of the context for you guys.
How I did this originally was. I just had a calendar hanging on the wall next to the scales. Now I have got the Withing’s scale, but I still do a cut and paste into Excel.
So one of the things that I found was I need to motivate myself by activities, and I found that I had a big success back in 1992 with the big deal in Alaska trip, and that really helped me go forward. I’ve had a number of other activities over the years. Most recently, I’ve been running a lot of 5K races, and too many now to put all the arrows in.
I’ve also had some health challenges, like most people do. Not life-threatening things, but things that disrupted my daily life and made it hard for me to move, or to eat what I wanted and control what I wanted, so those are some of the impacts in those years.
And then I’ve had a couple of cataclysmic little life changing events that have occurred, things that change pretty much every day for the rest of my life. Basically, the trajectory of what I was doing.
I’ve also been tracking my activity. This is a completely arbitrary scale, although I tried to be consistent; more color means more movement. And you can see 98 and 2008, 98 was my first big loss, 2008 I started losing weight and then something happened, so that I couldn’t then continue that anymore.
Then fitness trackers came out, and so in 2010 I acquired for the first time a body media fit, which I like to refer to as the Sony Betamax of the fitness trackers. Arguably, the most accurate and highest quality but lost in the consumer marketplace for other reasons.
When it did, I got a Jawbone Up24, and now I have a Fitbit Charge HR.
Looking at my life since I got the fitness trackers, in 2010 you can see I lost a big chunk of weight there. That’s about 30 pounds, and then I plateaud. Eventually, that plateau became maintenance, but it took me a long time to reconcile 15 pounds short of where I wanted to be, that I was in maintenance and I wasn’t just in a plateau.
I finally got used to that idea and for the first time in my adult life. I’m actually wearing out clothes rather than having my size change so that I can’t wear them anymore.
Recently, I decided to see if I could apply what I’ve learned and blow through that floor and lose some more weight so, so far so good on that.
Looking at my monthly calorie burn, that’s the average daily calories so that I could equalize for the month line and the blue is the Body Media Fit, the red is the Jawbone Up24, and the green is the Charge HR. You can see that they are not consistent with each other. Who knows what the actual average calorie burn is. Frankly, that’s not very important, it’s the monthly trend; am I moving more or less than I was before that really matters.
So I’ve worked to keep moving more, I do find it’s motivating to feed the beast and try and get those steps in and other sets of activity in.
But the relationship between activity and weight loss is not at all apparent to me. I can’t see that there is any type of a correlation when either I line them up together. In January 2014, you can see, I started to up my activity levels and my weight stayed completely consistent as I was working out more. So I’m not sure entirely what is going on there, but I like exercise for its own sake now.
These are the key to maps of the Body Media Fit data. I have got sleep in purple there on the left; I sleep more on weekends. Activity is in brown and I am more active on weekends and on Mondays, because I taper off during the week.
But what’s really interesting to me is weight’s in blue and my calories consumed, which I tracked through myfitnesspal are in green, what this has showed me is that tracking my food is essential for losing weight. It’s way less a function of the exact calories that I happen to track when I was tracking, it’s the fact that I am tracking that makes a difference.
And so, I got my game on the tracking in this latest cycle of trying to lose those last 15 pounds. These are my calories at the beginning of the year at the top, net carbs at the bottom. There is a white reference line, and it appears that around 20 net carbs is my crucial number for actually being able to lose weight. That big spike they are by the way that was my birthday, and I made the whole family run a 5K with me and then we went out and at a bunch of ice cream.
So stepping back and looking at the big picture and looking at this arc, and this particular journal of my life, what does that mean, and what have I really learned. And why weight. Weight, is an inaccessible, general objective measurement. For me, it correlates well with fitness. For me, this is all about wanting to get up there and do fun stuff and have more fun doing it.
So I have learned that I’m not in fact an engineering problem of calories in and calories out. There is a lot more complex and subtle interactions going on that keep me constantly adjusting. What worked the first time didn’t work the second time in my big losses and that some of the things that doing the more detailed tracking helps me figure out.
I have to pay attention to what I eat in enormous detail. I have to track. I have to shop. I have to cook. I have to plan, and frankly sometimes there’s just too much work and I’m not going to do it.
I really like exercise. I plan my vacations around being able to get exercise in, but does it tied to weight loss? No, but it certainly ties to might real goal of getting out there and doing fun things and having more fun while doing them.
Lastly, life happens. There are times when that goal is not going to be my goal. There is no Nirvana balance point that I’m going to achieve for my whole life. But, I’m going to keep constantly looking at this data, adjusting my balance and seeing how things turn out.