If you've been following my weight loss adventures, then you know I recently completed a cycle of 21 Day Fix with moderate success, and that I am planning to participate in another cycle beginning March 7. In the meantime, I've decided to do my own thing, and by that I mean I wanted to see whether I could achieve similar results by tracking what I ate using free apps, and structuring a workout routine around video content I could obtain at no cost without resorting to piracy.
I'm not really big on calorie counting. Not all calories are created equal, and I don't think most people—myself included— really know what to do with the data that comes from counting calories, or even really what to do with the data that comes from a breakdown of the nutrients those calories are comprised of.
The Lose It! app has some really pretty data visualization, but holy shit! 50% of my intake that day was carbs! I think carbs are bad. Are carbs bad? Is butter a carb? What I'm trying to get at here is that the app—at least the free version—offers no context as to what percentage of your daily intake should be carbohydrates, and consequently no benchmark to compare your day to.
While maybe not as visually attractive as the breakdown in the Lose It! app, I do think the data My Fitness Pal shares in its free version is more helpful, especially where it shows you how much of a certain nutrient you've consumed versus how much you should consume. However, I do think the breakdown may be somewhat misleading and difficult to understand. For instance, I have no idea what Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated fats are, but I guess I had too many of them. Also, I was apparently way over on my cholesterol intake that day, 99% of which was at breakfast from the two eggs I had, but two eggs count as one protein on 21 Day Fix, and I thought it's been determined that eggs contain good cholesterol and are okay to eat now.
I think the majority of people who download these apps are just looking to eat a little healthier and lose some weight, not become amateur nutritionists. The paid versions of these apps promise more insights, and I am sure there is value in paying for premium content, but my focus was on the effectiveness of tracking using free apps, and—despite the abundance of data offered—I didn't find there to be a lot of information that was digestible or all that helpful.
Additionally, I noticed a lot of discrepancies between the two apps, and even some pretty egregious errors. One day, I adjusted the serving size of some chickpeas to a smaller quantity, and noticed a 300 calorie increase. There were days where I tracked the same foods in both apps, but would see a 200-400 calorie difference. Not to mention tracking gets tedious. Especially when doing it in two distinct apps. I couldn't find a straightforward way to accurately track my workouts, so I just didn't.
Lastly, I think there's potential for apps like these to have a damaging effect on the people who use them. Both apps allow you to choose how much weight you'd like to lose each week, then adjusts your settings accordingly. In the My Fitness Pal app, when you indicate you've logged all your food and activity for the day, a box pops up with a hypothetical weight loss scenario based on your intake that day. If you have an awesome day, it's probably very encouraging to be told, "If every day was like today, you'd lose 15 pounds by November", but on a day when you maybe went out for a nice dinner for the first time in a month, hearing "If every day was like today, you'd gain 20 pounds by November" might make you feel like complete shit, even if it's something you only do occasionally.
I'm the type of person who becomes slightly obsessive when I commit to something. Don't get me wrong, I will totally go on a donut date or have a beer without hesitation, but usually those things are planned, and I make it a point to eat as healthily as possible surrounding those snacktivities. Case in point: we were low on groceries the other day and grabbed an impromptu lunch out. I ordered what was basically tempeh, avocado, and cheese on a piece of toasted bread. I had a side of kale instead of fries, and I shared a beer with Casey. While this is way healthier than what I would have ordered even only a couple of months ago, I beat myself up over the cheese and the beer as I entered it into both tracking apps.
This probably doesn't come as a surprise to you, but I stopped tracking after the first week.
Going into my DIY plan, I underestimated the convenience of being on a regimented exercise plan. I knew I didn't want to work out seven days a week, so I set a goal of trying to get thirty minutes of exercise at least four days a week. I figured that way, I'd at least be exercising on more days than I wasn't—some sound Rainis logic, if I say so myself!
The first day, I woke up feeling under the weather, and skipped my workout. Starting out at an exercise deficit for sure set the tone for the week, and I only worked out three times—unless you count the two times Casey and I walked to get food instead of driving. It was less than a mile both times, so it doesn't count.
So, here's what I did do during my first week.
My friend Kristy who writes The Fit Wanderluster blog suggested this app. It offers a ton of options, from single workouts to full blown weeks-long training plans to help you achieve whatever fitness-related goals you may have. Thinking 21 Day Fix had pushed me beyond a beginner level, I naively did a 30-minute intermediate workout called "Slim Effect". To say it completely kicked my ass would be an understatement, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it felt good to complete the workout—mostly because that meant it was over. The video content for the app is shot in a large, empty warehouse, and I had to modify some of the workouts to make them work in my very small, not-so-empty living room. My only other complaint about the app was that I didn't like having to press a play button every time I wanted to see a demonstration of an exercise—which I had to do frequently, because this was my first time doing the workout.
The other app I found via the iTunes store is the Daily Workouts App. Upon entering the app, you are prompted to choose which part of the body you'd like to focus on, then you can choose the length of your workout, and the difficulty level. The longest workout is only 10 minutes long, so I opted to do three 10-minute workouts each time I used this app. Also, the free version of this app only allows access to the first and second difficulty levels, I believe the more challenging workouts can be unlocked either by completing many minutes of workouts, or by purchasing the full version of the app.
I definitely got a decent workout each time I used this app, and unlike the Nike+ App, a video demonstration of each exercise runs automatically for the duration of the whole workout. The production quality of the video content resembles amateur porn, and there are a fuckton of ads for fitness apps and other products, so if either of those things are a deal breaker, then this app probably isn't for you.
I downloaded both the Nike+ app and the Workouts app on my phone, so it's nice to know that I can get a workout in away from home—on the off chance that I ever actually want to get a workout in away from home.
The other website I happened upon while looking for a beginner kettlebell routine was Fitness Blender. The site offers tons of free workout videos, and allows you to filter based on length and type of workout.
The production quality is very straightforward, and there are ads, but I like the pacing of the workouts I've tried so far, and I like that you can apply all kinds of filters in order to find the ideal workout. This has become my go to resource for the time being.
I also managed to go for a bike ride (!!!) this past Sunday with my neighbors. Given this is maybe the third time I've ridden a bike in my adult life, I'd say it went remarkably well, and is something I would consider doing more of in 2016.
I'm sure you'll all be shocked to know I stuck with my go-to breakfast bowls for another week.
Our friend, Victoria, gave us some kickass sauerkraut she made—have I mentioned how much I love living in Asheville?!—and we had to use it. I opted to top Field Roast smoked apple sage sausages with the kraut and a little bit of dijon mustard. I threw some sautéed zucchini and onion on the side.
Dairy-free, gluten-free macaroni and cheese with roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts. Before you gag, let me tell you that it was initially a challenge getting Casey on board with trying this dish. Once I assured him that the cheese sauce—Eazy Breezy Cheezy Sauce from the Post Punk Kitchen...scroll down the page for the recipe—was nut free and didn't have processed fake cheese in it, he acquiesced, and we've made this dinner three times over the last three weeks. To make the dish gluten free, use gluten free pasta—I like the brown rice elbow pasta from Tinkyáda—and gluten free flour. I like to assemble the pasta, Cheese sauce, and roasted vegetables in a casserole dish, and bake at 350° for 7-10 minutes so that it browns slightly.
In celebration of my 33rd birthday, Casey took me to Nightbell. We have adopted a new philosophy around taking pictures at nice restaurants, and it's that we don't. So, instead, here is a picture from my birthday brunch at my parents' house the previous week.
I finally decided to switch it up for breakfast, trading quinoa and sautéed veggies for avocado toast topped with alfalfa sprouts and radishes.
For lunches, I attempted a healthier variation of a taco salad. While I maybe missed the tortilla chips and cheese a little, the black beans and salsa went a long way to making it taste like the real thing.
Casey made Hoppin' John from Sean Brock's Heritage cookbook. It was delicious, but also deceptively loaded with butter. I'm definitely not complaining, but this served as a good reminder that sometimes even things that look super healthy aren't always as healthy as they seem!
We went out for our weekly taco breakfast date at Taco Billy, where I now order only one taco, instead of the two I was ordering previously.
I had some zucchini and squash I'd forgotten to use, so I made a zucchini bread using a recipe for Healthy Zucchini Bread from Popsugar. Quickbreads are wicked easy to make, and I'm always pleasantly surprised to find I typically have all the ingredients on hand. Being able to bake stuff without having to buy anything somehow makes me feel more adult-y.
White bean vegan cassoulet with biscuits from the Veganomicon cookbook. This was my first time making this meal, and it came out great!
On Saturday, we volunteered at a Beer Festival downtown, so when I had to grab a quick lunch out, I tried to make the best decision possible and went with a Buddha Bowl at Green Sage Cafe.
I believe the Buddha Bowl was the last good decision I made that day, as we attended the second session of the beer festival , and proceeded to drink beers and eat vendor snacks in lieu of actual dinner. This carried over into the next day, when we attended a thank-you party for festival volunteers, and stopped at Vortex Donuts before heading home. I'm pretty sure I could have lived a happy healthy life never having known that during the last hour they are open, Vortex's donuts are buy one get one free.
I concluded my weekend with what I am now referring to as an apology bowl. I grabbed all of the vegetables I had leftover from last week, sautéed them in a little bit of oil, then tossed them with quinoa, black beans, alfalfa sprouts, and cucumbers. It made me feel a little better about going off plan, and was a great way to set the tone for the week ahead!
There were a few small fluctuations in my weight, and overall I was down about a pound. While it isn't much, it did bring me down a "weight-decade", which is great motivation to keep going. This week, I am focusing on maintaining these healthier habits and preparing for my next cycle of 21 Day Fix. I'm also preparing to spend a long weekend in Atlanta with my best good friend, celebrating my birthday and her engagement! Atlanta has a ton of great places to eat and drink. It also has some great outdoor space for exercising. I'm hoping I can strike a healthy balance and maximize the best of both worlds while I'm on my mini vacation.