The Importance of Tracking

There are some things people consistently track in life, such as bank transactions, hours worked against tasks for work, or the number of jelly bellys my daughter has put up her nose.  Why do we do this?  Easy… So we can have knowledge and control over these things:

  • So I know how much money I have and where my money is going.
  • So I know how long a work task has taken in the past so I can estimate and schedule better in the future.
  • So I can know whether my daughter still has jelly bellies in her nose.

The ability to track these things give us the knowledge to set our limits for the coming days, weeks, months, or years.  It also gives us the insight into what has helped and hurt us in the past.  This knowledge is what is needed to stay in control of the critical things that define how we live and work.

Tracking your fitness and nutrition is no different.  In fact, it is probably more important that the examples above.  The ability for us to know our progress and see our current status gives us the power to control our body and meet our goals.  I want to show some examples from my personal experience to help bring my point home.

Tracking Body Weight

Rollercoaster! Of fat. Say What!?

Roller coaster! Of weight... Say What!? Roller coaster! Hoo Hoo Hoo!

Look at my body tracking chart.  You can clearly see the a trend:  The time periods I consistently tracked my weight (look for the clusters of dots), I lost weight.  The time periods that I took a break from tracking my weight, I gained weight.  I found out, that during the time periods in which I went more than a week without recording my weight, I gained an average of 1.5 pounds.  During the time periods that I consistently tracked my weight, I lost about 2.5 pounds.  Even during the times that I tracked when I wasn’t dieting or I wasn’t consistently exercising, I could easily see if I was gaining weight.  I knew I needed to to make adjustments in my diet that week or step up the workouts.  The simple knowledge of what was going on helped me make smarter decisions.

Tracking Nutrition

Photo courtesy of Clint M Chilcott

Photo courtesy of Clint M Chilcott

The same type of knowledge applies to tracking what you eat.  One of my friends was having a hard time losing weight.  They exercised consistently, around 5 times a week for 30+ minutes a session, but they were stuck at being a little heavier than they should be.  They had plateaued.  One day I suggested they start tracking what they ate during the day, and the results were surprising to them.  They were unknowingly taking in ~2500 calories each day,  which is not bad in itself given the amount of exercising they were doing, but most of their calories were from fat and carbs.  They thought they ate somewhat healthy… at least not unhealthy… But when they actually paid attention to what they were eating, they realized they needed to change.  They knew which of their favorite foods was hurting them, and which foods were helping them.  Once they modified their eating habits, they crushed through the plateau and was back on their way to their goal.

Motivation

I am, admittedly, not very consistent in my fitness endeavors.  I believe this to be true for most people as well.  We all have great intentions and hit the ground running, and somehow fizzle into old, bad habits.   I don’t have any good solutions for this problem, but the one thing I strongly recommend is to keep on tracking.  Who cares if you didn’t work out for a week and slipped on your diet.  Log your weight.  Log your calories.  Continue to track your weight and your food intake no matter what.  This way, when you start slipping, you recognize it much quicker.  You are much less likely to stray too far from the course.  You are constantly aware of your current status, your progress towards your goals, your weak spots in your fitness routine, and most importantly, your triumphs.  Knowing these things will continue to motivate you to be better, because, as Sir Francis Bacon once said, knowledge is power.  Mmmmm. Bacon.  No wait, bacon would put me over my calorie limit for the day… See.  Knowledge.

Where To Go From Here

So how do you start tracking your weight and nutrition.  Well it’s as easy as a pen and paper. … Ha!  Did I just say to use a pen and paper!  Don’t be crazy!  What is this, the 90s?  Ha!

There are many other ways to do this in the modern world.  I’ll list a few:

I personally suggest Gyminee.  I have used this one for a while now and absolutely love it.  But it doesn’t really matter which one you choose to use, as long as you consistently use it.  Most of these services offer a mobile option as well so you can log what your eating in real time (wives and girlfriends love it when you ignore them for your iPhone… trust me).  So what are you waiting for?  Get started!

August Weight Loss Update

So, last month I sucked it up and only lost one pound.  Since I decided to run a 5K race today (more on that later), I spent all of August getting ready for it so I wouldn’t die.  3 runs a week sure does help the weight come off!  See for yourself.

August Weight Loss Chart

August Weight Loss Chart

269.2 lbs!  That makes my weight loss for the month about 5.5 lbs.  I’m very satisfied with the results and hope that I can continue my momentum into September.

It’s not all good news though.  I fell off towards the end of the month due to me stressing out.  I ended up eating out a lot more than usual at lunch as a result.  Also, the running makes me want to snack more and that’s not too good either.

My plan for this month is to continue with the running and to try to cut back my eating to what it was.  For this month my goal is to lose another 5 lbs.

Online Tool: PhysicsDiet.com

Today I’m going to point you, dear reader, towards a tool I’ve found that has really helped me track and visualize my weight loss.  I started using physicsdiet.com about a month and a half ago to track my weight loss.  The website is easy to use, low friction for data entry, and very basic.  Some people might frown at the lack-luster appearance of the site in this time of web 2.0 goodness, but for me it’s not always about the eye-candy.

Every morning I get up, jump on the scale, and then go to my office to record the weight.  I simply click on the fitness log and I’m greeted with a prompt to enter my weight for the day and a table listing my previous weigh ins.  If I manage to forget to weigh in, then the website estimates my weight based on the other two weigh-ins.

Physics Diet uses moving averages to show a trend line.  Daily weight readings will vary (sometimes wildly), and that can get frustrating to watch.  The moving average will show your overall trend and help make sense of all the noise that is your body weight.  This really helps me to focus in on what matters, and that is which direction am I going. Earlier I mentioned how it handles missed weigh ins.  When the chart is displayed, those missed dates will show as a circle instead of a diamond.  This lets you know that that part of the chart is incomplete. If you would like to read more about the trend line, then please read Signal and Noise from the Hacker’s Diet.

Ultimately what I care about is the data.  One of the reasons I like physics diet is that I can export my weigh ins from it.  That makes me feel less locked into their website.  Regardless, physics diet provides me just what I need without the fluff: a place to record my daily weight and a chart showing relevant visualizations of the data.

If you want to keep tabs on how I’m doing, please visit my about page. It contains an updated graph from Physics Diet.

Online Fitness Tracking Face Off: Traineo vs. Gyminee

One of the most important things to do when starting to lose weight is keeping a good journal of what you are doing and what you plan to do.  While this is one of the best methods for meeting your goals, it always been the most tedious part of the whole routine.   Like a lot of people, I live for the here and now and only look forward.  While I recognize the benefit of maintaining important data, the time needed to keep that log and maintain it just seems pointless.  Well… no more.  In the age of Web 2.0, RIAs, and kick ass mobile devices, keeping track of your workout routine is no longer a hassle.  It’s now fun and motivating.  There are a TON of online (and offline) fitness tracking applications, including FitDay, Online Fitness Log, and even WeightWatchers. Today, we will be looking at two free online apps: Traineo and Gyminee.

Part 1: Traineo.com

George's Traineo Homepage

I really like Traineo’s design.  It is slick, easy to navigate, and even easier to use.  After you set up your account and set your goals, you can easily see your progress in the upper right hand corner.  You are able to quickly, and I mean quickly, enter your weight and workouts for the day and see you progress on a pretty graph.  The workout entry system is extremely simple: “What did you do today?”  “Crunches, 10 min, it was hard.”  You are limited to 3 workouts a day though.  So if you like mixing it up by walking, running, weight training, and making love (yes, making love is considered a workout), you are going to have to leave something off.  You can also make custom logs, such as distance run or … Cans of Tuna?  Hmmm, I guess that is useful…?  Traineo also has a nice group system in which you can join together with others that have similar goals and interests and motivate each other via the groups’ forums.  Where I feel Traineo is lacking is in it nutrition tracking system.  It gives you two sliders: How did you eat today, poor->outstanding.  And how many calories did you eat.  It then gives you a link to the USDA food database.  I think this is a weak way to track your nutrition.  This means I will have to keep track of food all day on …. *gasp* pen and paper, and then enter it at the end of the night or the next day.  Overall, Traineo is a great site.

Part 2: Gyminee.com

George's Gyminee Homepage

Gyminee has a great design.  Big links for the major site areas make for easy navigation with drop down menus to get you to the sub sections.  The “Locker Room” shows you your weight (with a really nice graph), your goal, and a quick way to tell whether you have met your fitness and nutrition goals.  You can also see your Gym Friends’ status and enter quick journals.  You can set what workouts you want to do, walking or the Hundred Pushups challenge, for example.  You then track the progress you have made on each workout.  Where Gyminee really shines is the nutrition tracking.  It has a quick search for foods and their nutritional facts, very quick and tons of foods in the database.  You can add each food item you eat for the day and it will track the calorie intake and give you a breakdown of where your calories are coming from… very nice.  Gyminee also has groups with forums and challenges, where you can challenge your friends or the community to different competitions, such as weight lost, distance ran, pounds benched, etc.  Oh, did I mention Twitter integration and an iPhone app?  Gyminee also maintains a great fitness and nutrition blog.

Part 3: Face-off

Category Traineo Gyminee Aditional Comments
Design

It’s a tie! Both sites have a great design. They are organized well and are easy on the eyes.
Navigation

I’m going to have to give it to Gyminee on this one. Gyminee has one set of bold menus with drop down sub menus vs. Traineo’s 3 rows of different menus. That being said, neither site was hard to work through, so this decision was made on my personal preference.
Weight Tracking

Both site make tracking your current weight and your weight goal a breeze. One thing I like about Traineo’s weight graph is it scales the Y-Axis to the weight values you have entered. So my 3lb. loss over the last week looks like a very happy downward sloping line. This is very motivating. Gyminee, on the other hand, scales the graph to include your target weight goal, so my 3lb loss looks like nothing on the graph spanning 30 pounds, but I do like the fact that I can visually see my progress towards my goal. They both have their benefits, and I’m conflicted on which I like best, so…. A tie!
Workout Tracking

Once again both sites have their pros and cons, and it depends on what you are looking for. Traineo makes entering your workouts so simple. Click a workout, rate your exertion, then click OK. Gyminee is a little more complex, but with that complexity comes some great features. For example, to tell Gyminee you have done some exercise, you have to choose or create a workout for that exercise. Then you can submit your progress towards that workout. This just seems like two many steps to record that I walked a mile.  However, the benefits of doing it this way is that you can choose or create workout plans that lay out how exactly many miles or minutes you want to run, how much weight or how many reps you want to curl, etc. For me, having this forethought into my workout just brings me so much more motivation.  Instead of printing out my Couch-to-5K routine, I can just go look at what I am supposed to do on Gyminee.  But I can’t discount the benefits of just how easy Traineo is to record with no prior setup. Once again, a tie.
Diet Tracking

No question for me, Gyminee wins this. The ability to break down your calorie intake and specify the exact foods you eat (and also choose your favorite food for even quicker entry later on) makes Gyminees diet tracker the winner.
Community

I would have to say Traneo has a better community. The numbers don’t lie:

  • Gyminee: 576 topics, 2,599 posts, 430 voices
  • Traineo: Total Number of Signed Up Users » 91550 Total Number of Topics » 6337 Total Number of Replies » 68430
Features

Gyminee just seems to be more in line with providing features. They have more visualizations, better social connectivity, video examples of workouts, and mobility integration. Not to mention the ability to upgrade to a pro account that goes above just pure tracking, and adds total fitness and diet planning and professional workout plans.

Part 4: Final Thoughts

Both sites are great.  Traineo is extremely easy to use and takes very little time to record my data, so much so that it was part of my nightly shutdown routine within a week.  Gyminee got my geek blood pumping with the sweet design and bundle of cool features.  While it took longer to get my workouts and favorite foods set up, the pre-planned workout routines and accurate calorie tracking got me motivated to work out and eat right.

I really like both of these sites and I could recommend either of them.  But, since I hate sites that give comparisons, but no suggestions, I will tell you which one I am choosing to stick with…

Part 5: George’s Pick

I couldn’t resist all of those features. And with the continuous release of new features, Gyminee seems to be top-notch and only getting better.  You can follow my progress on my Gyminee public profile

As always though, in the world of technology, today’s results are most likely outdated by tonight. So please comment to tell us about your favorite tracking program or let me know if you feel that I missed an important topic. Also just let us know if you like the style of the product comparison. Given some good feedback, we would like to continue these face-offs as a regular topic and make them better and more suited to what you want to know.