How Food Tracking Supported Becoming a Vegetarian
Jakob Eg Larsen
Jacob Eg Larsen decided to change his diet to become a vegetarian. To support this change, he decided to track the project that he shares in this video. Through using photos on his smart phone, he was able to document his diet and reflect on the process.
About one year ago, I decided to change my diet and become a vegetarian. And I’ll tell you a little bit about the process and how I used self-tracking to journal and reflect all of my diet and also especially on the various that I found.
So the background, my name is Jakob Eg Larsen, and I with several hats here. I’m a researcher, starting the phenomenon of Quantifying Self. But I’m also a self tracker, and I’m the organizer of the QS Copenhagen meet up group.
So I track many different things over the course of my years. You can see some of the sensors that I’ve used here on the slide, and especially physical activity and sleep. But, there was always this one aspect that I never got around to tracking and that was food.
Physical activity and sleep they are key health parameters and I can automatically track those with the sensors that I just showed you on the previous slide. But food, just seemed to be like this really difficult thing to track, really difficult where you at least need a lot of effort.
So I needed motivation to do this, and it came from the need to change my diet. And the background was that I had experienced some problems digestive in, and I suspected primarily meat and carbs were the causes of those problems.
So a long story short, I experimented with changing my diet on and off, and then eventually decided to change my diet to what you see here. So that means no meat except fish and eggs, no dairy products except a little cheese. Less carbs and drink primarily water and tea, and juice and so on.
So a lot of people ask me why I have become vegetarian and I just want to mention it’s not due to any particular belief. It’s because I observed these problems and I wanted to understand it so I could eliminate the problem, and basically be happy and feel better and healthy.
So I needed a solution, and it just seems that this food tracking is this problem that is unsolved. There are to my knowledge, no automatic way of tracking your food. Some claim that they have sensors that will do this, but I haven’t seen any evidence.
So, I started looking around for a solution. I tried apps, I tried websites, paper journaling and so on. But none of the solutions seems like it would be something that I could use, or more importantly, something that I would stick to using.
So my conclusion was that I needed a really simple solution to this, and the simplest possible thing I could think of, that was to take photos of my food with my smart phone.
So that means not even using an app, simply just make it you know one way so that I could really really quickly acquire this data. And of course, the trade-off would be then it would be more difficult to retrieve the data afterwards and process it and so on.
This is how I got started. I tweeted with the Quantified Self hashtag last year in May, this is what my breakfast look like. So you can see this part two digestive broccoli even in the morning I can highly recommend it.
And here is what my first month look like. I managed to capture 13 meals and this is what my food looks like, or as my wife says this is what Jakob’s food looks like when he is taking photos for a talk. But it’s not true, this is what my food really looks like.
So my initial reflection over this was to just simply browse the pictures on my phone, and use that as a way to get inspiration, and also a way to keep an eye on my diet.
So in all the other self-tracking experiments that I have done, it has been very much about capturing data, and data expressed as numbers, but what I quickly learned in this self-tracking project was that it was much much more about the process, about creating this new habit and increasing my awareness and so on.
And then later in the process, I started doing a more sort of systematic analysis of the pictures, and extracting Meta data and compiled these scenes that you see here, calendar sheets.
My initial concern was about this vegetarian diet was that it was totally new to me to eat this way, so I use it as a way to reflect the meals over time and especially to see how varied my meals would be.
This is what one year of food journaling looks like, and one thing that immediately pops out is my compliance rate, and you can see in August and September I didn’t really take that many photos. Whereas in the more recent months I have had much more of a higher compliance rate and sort of got into the habit.
And here is the time of the day when I have taken the photos, and as you can see initially my intention was to try and track all the meals, but I quickly realized that I had to stick to just capturing photos from dinner. But the problem is, I had to totally rely on my memory to take these photos. I can’t set a reminder on my phone, because as you can see in my house did the time is anywhere between 6 and 8 PM.
So as a side effect to this project, I learned a lot about the sort of difficulties of doing this kind of manual tracking. So here is my monthly and weekly compliance rate. And one thing you can see is that I more or less have to start over a couple of times doing this kind of tracking.
And here is my daily compliance rate, and it seems that I was more likely to take photos during the weekend, and for some reason I wasn’t likely to take photos on Wednesday. I don’t really know why, but this is what it looked like.
Then of course, looking more detailed into the pictures revealed other things. And one thing for instance that it told me was about the portion sizes. Because what I would typically do was put all the food that I would eat on a plate and then take the photo. So it is also about establishing this habit around that.
Then again, looking more detailed into the photos of course revealed something about ingredients. The downside of this of course is it requires a lot of effort in order to sit down and analyze the pictures and retrieve the data, but it was also important to keep an eye on the diet.
One aspect was protein, so all the pictures with a brown border that you see here they were photos that I had fish and egg because I would still eat that. And it turned out it was about one third of the meals.
And here, the green borders around the pictures indicate meals that had broccoli, beans, and peas that were other important sources of protein. But again, it is really time consuming to do this kind of analysis, and I would really like to have this automatic analysis algorithm that would spit out the ingredients and that would be fantastic.
So that was a little bit about what I learned, but what I didn’t learn was about all the meals, didn’t learn about breakfast and lunch and didn’t learn all about the ingredients and nothing of what I was drinking.
So not everything went down as planned, and here is a quick announcement. In the next session, I actually host a breakout session on disasters in Quantified Self. The purpose is to discuss things that don’t turn out the way that you expect them to or turn out differently.
So to sum up my sort of key lessons learned here, the photos help me keep an interest to my diet, and it was very much about the process and the data. Manual tracking was really hard, and I ended up with sort of incomplete data. And finally, I only got limited insights on the ingredients.
So I would love to hear your comments and suggestions, so feel free to reach out to me and here is my Twitter handle and I’m also around for the rest of the conference and the Expo, and with those words, thanks for your attention.