My Get-Healthy Toolkit
This year, I set out to prioritize my health. Rather than finish something for work, or watch another episode on Netflix, from now on, my default priority would always be Choose Health. Choose to work out. Choose to prepare healthy food and snacks for the next days. Choose to prepare my workout bag for the next day.
It is not that I ate poorly prior. I can not remember when I ate at McDonalds. It was perhaps two or three years ago, and only once. At home we cook a lot of our food. We love to cook all kinds of food: homemade pasta with a great tomato sauce, all kind of soups, meat or vegetarian chilis, all kinds of fish, shrimp stir fry, chicken stews, curried lentils and spinach, barbecue, crepes, etc. Not too much red meat, except in a pasta meat sauce, on a barbecue, or in homemade burgers. We try out different recipes. But we also eat out a fair bit, at Mexican, Thai, Sushi or Pizza restaurants. And, I like to drink a glass of wine and pint of beer. That is my biggest vice. In general, I am definitely team-food.
On occasion, I stopped drinking alcohol for a few months. And about a year ago, I stuck with a largely plant-based diet for many months. I aspire to be a “Pollanist.” Michael Pollan captured in his books the simple rule:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
As I set out to lose a few pounds, do more exercise, and eat healthier, I knew I needed a plan. I read a number of articles around the beginning of the year about changing habits. James Clear has number of great articles about building good habits and breaking bad ones.
Start small, increase in small ways, and as you build up, break habits into chunks. Create a ritual and make it a routine. And be patient.
I also knew I needed the right tools, and yet didn’t want to run out for fancy and costly equipment or sign up for an expensive gym membership. This story is about the Get-Healthy Toolkit I came up with.
- A good pair of running shoes. I joined my son, a high school cross country runner, to buy new shoes at a specialty athletics store. I realized that I would pay more for a pair of running shoes. However, I would be buying the right running shoes. The owner got “an imprint of my feet”, and filming my run showed how my right foot rolled out. He recommended a pair of stabilizing Brooks Revel running shoes ($100). They have made a world of difference.
- Generic brand Bluetooth in-ear headphones ($30)
- Fitbit HR fitness tracker ($100)
- An old Trek 1500 road bike, which I bought 10 years ago on Craigslist for $180. I use it in my garage on a CycleOps magnetic trainer ($150 on Craigslist).
- I added to the bicycle sensors from Wahoo: a speed sensor in the back wheel, and a cadence pod on the non-drive side crank arm. Together the pods cost about $70.
- Fitbit Aria Wifi connected scale ($130)
I wasn’t tempted to purchase a $2000 indoor Peloton bicycle, a Polar running watch or an Apple Watch, or any new clothes. Except for the running shoes and Wahoo pods, I owned all the items above already.
- I use the Fitbit application to keep track of my steps, heart rate and sleep pattern.
- I started tracking my runs and bicycle rides using the Strava app, even if it is on the trainer or treadmill. The GPS tracking is pretty accurate and I like how it breaks down the sections of a run. I especially like how the Strava app pipes my mile times in my ear, so I know if I am slowing down or on track to keep a steady pace. I use only the basic free version of the application.
Here are some applications I tried, but have since stopped using:
- Even though both Fitbit and Strava report their activity on MyFitnessPal, I stopped using it. MyFitnesspal appears to have an integration with any health and fitness application. However, it is clear that there is no common way to describe the activity, as a ride on the trainer logged in Strava, shows up as Aerobics, general in MyFitnessPal; a run in Strava is converted into running (jogging) in place (?). Previously I also used MyFitnessPal to log my meals, although that became too cumbersome as I cook a lot of my own food. I did not know how to capture the calories or sodium of my food. And matching my meals with pre-made food resulting equally in incorrect calorie and sodium information.
- Coach.me is all about habit forming. Although Done has a nicer interface, it lacks a social component, which is important when it comes to sticking to a set of goals. I am not convinced this application helps me much. Building rituals, good meal plans and getting into a scheduled rhythm seems more beneficial to sticking a plan. I stopped using Coach.me or Done.
Exercise applications and podcasts
- Peloton ($12.99/month) provides a set of pre-recorded bicycle training videos, as well as some live streaming programs as well. I did not purchase the expensive Peloton bicycle trainer, but hacked one together using my iPad, Wahoo speed and cadence sensors and the Wahoo application. I tried the Peloton application for a trial week or two, and ultimately didn’t subscribe, largely ’cause I was having too much fun running.
- The Guardian beginner guide to running podcast is a free 8-week podcast to get you running 30 minutes without a break. You can download the entire series to your phone via iTunes. This was a great podcast to get me going. I now run 30–45 minutes without a break.
- I contemplated Classpass, or Fitbit Coach ($40/yr), but have not joined either yet. I already have a good set of exercises to start with.
- Rise.us (iPhone-only) ($40/month) puts you in touch with dietitians and nutritionists. The application is easy to use: all you need to do is snap a picture of your food and a simple description. Your dietitian will comment and guide you. The application has been a great motivator. I’ve mostly stopped eating carbs and focus a lot more on vegetarian high protein based meals with beans, tofu, and nuts. Also I eat a lot more vegetables and fruits.
Is it working?
After four months, I’ve lost 20 lbs. I consistently run twice or three times a week between two and six miles. I lowered my cholesterol. Hemoglobin A1c, glucose and sodium are also all in the healthy range. I feel great (and soon in need of a new wardrobe). Tomorrow, I am running my first 5K race and plan to start training for my first 10K in the fall. I hope to lose another 10 lbs and will then have melted away my belly fat.