Tracking for Personal Wellness
More Than Scale Watching
While I have always been relatively active and generally healthy, I can honestly say that as a guy in my mid-30s my health was never a true priority. Over the years I have run a bunch of half marathons, competed in triathlons, completed obstacle course races, and even taken part in some adult football and softball leagues. At times my weight has been solid and my running times somewhat admirable, but this was often in spite of my overall choices which includes loads of sweet baked goods, a job that has me in front of a screen all day, post workout beers and burgers and everything else that gets justified as a generally active person.
During Covid, after three months of working from home and a few quarantine beards, I finally decided to start taking things seriously. I know the things that I should be doing, and decided to start as people always suggested by logging all my food.
Without knowing where to start I downloaded a few different apps. The first was Noom, which I used for a bit, but within a day someone suggested MyFitnessPal. Scanning barcodes and taking a few minutes after each meal to mark things down seemed helpful. MyFitnessPal for weight loss is a great option, but it also works just to get more insight into a diet and creating good habits. There are some issues with MyFitnessPal calorie accuracy, but overall it is a solid source. More impactful was the feeling that, late in the evening, the process of logging a couple beers, most of the leftover banana bread, and a few spoonfuls of peanut butter would create some sort of guilt.
Of course to get a sense of how this would affect me I also went online and bought a new scale so that I could monitor my weight. Being a bit of a tech nerd, I picked one that also tracked BMI, calculated body fat percentage, and was connected to wifi so that it automatically tied back to an app. Having done that, I picked up a blood pressure cuff from the same company. The connected nature of it meant again that any time I would take a reading it would be logged to my phone and I would have a central dashboard.
Are Noom, Whoop, Go Forward, and Others Covered in an FSA?
Though these things set me back a few dollars, the benefit was that I had a fully loaded Flexible Savings Account (FSA) through work and a bunch of these items are covered. This meant that I was able to submit the receipts and get reimbursed, albeit through a tax free account that I funded, for each of the tracking items. I also discovered that some of the more popular genetic tests, as well as food sensitivity tests were covered in an FSA. Quickly I went online to find one in order to understand if I had an undiscovered aversion to a particular food, or a genetic likelihood of any health issues that I should be talking to my doctor about.
Speaking of doctors, that was the other piece to track. In the past I had a primary care physician that I saw for annual checkups and was part of a larger medical network that included a great online portal. I could still see all my old vitals from various visits, including my weight and blood pressure readings, as well as various standard blood work. My current doctor didn’t have nearly the same setup and I had resorted to personally logging these in my phone when I went into the office. Instead of settling for this, I was able to find a new service that offers a subscription service to medical care.
Go Forward, or just Forward, happened to be available in my area – and when I reached out to them I also found out they were doing Covid tests for patients as a part of the subscription. Again knowing the monthly fee was part of my still available FSA, I went ahead and signed up. The first virtual visit was the longest individual interaction I have ever had with a doctor. A tech was sent to my house a few days prior, and during the visit we spent almost two hours going over every measurement from the blood work, discussing the details of my medical history, my diet, my goals, sleep patterns, and even my general mental state (especially poignant given the stressors of the still occurring pandemic).
A few weeks went by and the first 10 pounds fell off easily. My new doctor even reached out via the app, having seen my logged weights since everything was linked, with encouragement and a reminder to be aware of an overly aggressive weight loss schedule. The logging cut out the late night snacks and also encouraged me to get to bed earlier, although I did eventually increase my calorie intake during other meals. The lack of late night heavy snacking had the added benefit of making me feel lighter and more rested, an amazing own two punch to helping overall health. And of course seeing these types of results encouraged me to start learning more. From the tracking I was able to tell that my protein intake was lower than recommended if I wanted to be building muscle while losing weight.
Typically, if you are carrying enough weight it’s possible to be in a calorie deficit and still build muscle, but it requires strength training and enough nutrients (and a small enough calorie deficit) to still repair the muscles broken down during workouts. There are a number of formulas for finding out what type of energy your body is burning. Many of these are related to popular fad diets, like Keto, but overall there are existing metabolic rate and metabolic market tests that are available.
First I picked up a Lumen device, which is designed to help understand your metabolism, but I also went deeper and found a wellness center that had BMR (basal metabolic rate) tests available. This is important as a BMR is crucial, along with energy burned, to understand how many calories you should be eating to stay at the same weight. Having all this information was a great start that really got me to track things about my health that went well beyond the simple number on a scale, or annual physical told me.