Category Archives: Quantified Self

What I learnt from tracking my body fat % every day for 6 months

That’s not me, that’s 50 Cent.

50 Cent likes Vitamin Water. He invested in the company early on and regularly advertises its products.

50 Cent is in good shape, so Vitamin Water must be good for you.

But then… Vitamin Water also contains a remarkable amount of sugar: almost 4 teaspoons per bottle.

So is it healthy (vitamins! water!) or not? And what about other foods? What are the factors that make a real difference to health?

I felt confused by conflicting messages about diet and exercise. So decided to measure it for myself, by tracking my body fat % every day for six months.

Why body fat %?

I figured this would be a good way to capture the effect of both inputs (food/drink) and outputs (exercise). I assume that the body fat % is a net result of those two.

Also, I thought that whatever I saw in the data should be reinforced by visible changes when I looked in the mirror:

Poor guy who went through that before/after photoshoot.

What happened to me?

Headline news: my body fat % went down :)

  • My fat % went down for the first three months, then stabilised
  • Two possible reasons why it stabilised:
    • After three months my daughter was born (less sleep, slightly less healthy eating, slightly less exercise)
    • It took a little while to burn off the excesses of Christmas
  • Fat takes 1-2 days to form in your body (even after a pizza party, the effects would not show up in my body fat % for 24-48 hours)

What did I conclude?

  • You manage what you measure – i.e. the simple act of writing down the numbers influences your choices about what you eat and how often you exercise
  • Tracking this stuff is very easy now (much easier in fact than they way I did it, with a combination of Tanita scales and Evernote – there are devices/apps that record all this automagically)
  • The impacts of bad food/booze and exercise were exactly as I suspected. Bad food/booze = more fat, exercise = less fat (duh!)
  • Pizza is still delicious, no matter what you do…

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If you’re interested in self-tracking, jump to the posts on tracking money and running.

For more miscellaneous musings, follow @toddmgreen on Twitter or sign up for emails.

Cheers ~ Todd

 

 

Quantified Selves

The Quantified Self blog has recently featured not one, but two of my posts – as part of best-of summaries on money tracking and on running.

How kind! Thanks very much to Ernesto Ramirez for that.

My next QS project is about health. Every day since 1 January, I’ve been tracking my body fat %, plus recording what exercise I’ve done, and noting down any ‘bad’ things I’ve eaten/drunk.

I want to find out:

  1. How much body fat do I have – and what is a healthy amount? I assume 0% would look a bit weird
  2. What effect do exercise, sloth, bad foods, and booze actually have on fat? Is the effect immediate, lagging, or seemingly random (i.e. dependent on other factors that I’m not recording)?
  3. How often do I actually eat/drink ‘bad’ stuff?
  4. Will I manage what I measure, and gradually reduce the % as time goes by?

It’s been two months so far, and patterns are starting to emerge. Full write-up coming either later this year or early next, depending on how long I keep up the measuring.

Stay tuned to find out what I learnt, how you cut down your body fat, and whether I am indeed mad enough to keep track of my own for a full 6-12 months.

Cheers!

~ Todd

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To find out what happens, and what you can learn from my experiments in order to manage your body fat %, join the mailing list.

Three Years of Running Data: 1,153km with Nike+ and Mind

In 2014 I did 56 runs, averaged 1:00 hours per run, and covered nearly 400 miles – enough to get me from central London to Aberdeen, Galway, Limouges, Frankfurt, Bremen, or deep deep deep under the North Sea.

I’ve been digging into the data – first for 2014, then all the way back to April 2012 when I first started using the Nike+ app – to see what the patterns are.

Here’s a chart showing km per month (bars) and km per run (line). Orange bars are for months in which I did a proper race event. For imperialists: 10km = 6.2 miles, 21.1km = half marathon (13.1 miles), 42.2km = full marathon (26.2 miles).

So, what does this data show?

  • Inconsistency: I haven’t run evenly across the years – the peaks around the orange bars show that I build up for the race events
  • Specific training schedules: In some cases you can actually see my training/resting schedule for the race months in the data – e.g. in October 2014 I did four half marathons (4 x 21.1km), and it’s clear from the total (84.4km) that I did absolutely no running in between – I needed the rest!
  • Recent sloth: I’ve pretty much taken a break for the past two months :)
  • One crazy month: I went nuts in February 2014 (two months prior to my first full marathon), and did 123km in one month

February 2014 is certainly an outlier. Doing 123km in a month meant an average run of 15km every 3 days. Just thinking about it makes my knees hurt.

What was my motivation for doing so much running that month?

There were three reasons:

  1. I enjoyed it
  2. I wanted the best possible marathon time
  3. The marathon helped to raise money for Mind

The first two reasons are easy to see in the overall numbers. 2014 was a big year: 1.5x more miles than 2013, and over 5x more than 2012. In 2014 I did my first marathon (Manchester, 6 April), and then the Monster Month – which comprised six half marathons on six consecutive weekends (1 training run, 4 half marathon races and 1 Tough Mudder, September-October).

Overall, since starting to track my running in 2012, I’ve done a total of 123 runs, covered 1,153km = 716 miles, and logged almost 100 hours on the road. That would get me to Barcelona, Bologna, or Oslo.

But while the running data is interesting, it’s not the full story. The charity element – reason number 3 for all that running back in February 2014 – is important too.

I combined the Nike+ data with the donations data. What is every mile on the road worth to Mind?

  • £24.03 donated per hour of running
  • £3.32 donated for every mile
  • £2.06 donated for every kilometre

That is unbelievably generous, especially when you scale it up to >1,100 kilometres, >700 miles, and almost 100 hours of running over the past three years.

Total donations to date stand at £2,379.20. Incredible. Thank you so much!

Medium-difficulty sporting events like mine have become a very popular way of raising money for charity. So here are a couple of notes on what I’ve learnt about fundraising:

  1. Ask and ye may receive – or rather, do not ask, and ye certainly shall not receive
  2. Share a personal story – I raise money for Mind because several people close to me suffer with mental health issues. Sharing that information not only laid plain the reason why I had chosen Mind, but also led to donations from long-lost friends – presumably because they know people with mental health problems too.
  3. No pain, no gain. After 7 days with zero donations, I received £150 within 6 hours of posting this photo:

If you’re planning an adventure like this – good luck. Keep track of what you’re doing and you’ll be surprised what you can learn.

And yep – that’s blood coming from my nipples. Don’t forgot your tape!

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Thanks for reading – for more posts like this, sign up for emails or follow @toddmgreen on Twitter.

And if you’re specifically interested in posts about running, the best one I’ve written so far is this: 10 Surprising Discoveries During My First Marathon.