Chapter 4: Using Apps and Trackers to Fix Your Diet
So far this is all very exciting but we’ve yet to see how any of it can be used to accomplish any real results.
All that changes here though. Let’s start with diet: how can you use all this data in order to improve your diet and guarantee weight loss? Because you really can guarantee weight loss when you get serious about health tracking. This isn’t hyperbole and it isn’t any fancy new fad – it’s just simple math.
How Health Tracking Guarantees Weight Loss
Basically, fat loss comes down to one simple rule: in order to lose weight and burn fat, you need to make sure that you burn more calories than you consume.
Therefore, if you are burning off more calories than you’re taking in, you will create a deficit and you will start to get slimmer, more toned and more lean.
Now at this point, some people might be tempted to point out that ‘not all calories are made equal’ or that they can also lose weight by keeping their blood sugar levels down.
Is that true?
Well, that massively depends on who you ask. It probably is true that not all the calories you consume reach your blood and things like the ‘thermogenic effect’ do play a role. But the impact of these factors is also likely to be very small. And they’re even smaller when you compare them to the huge impact of calories.
No matter what else is true, if you eat fewer calories than you burn then you will lose fat. Simple, straightforward and non-negotiable.
So with that in mind, there are just a few metrics you need to record to absolutely guarantee that you lose weight:
Your BMR and BMA (see last chapter)
Your caloric intake
Tools for Tracking Calories
When it comes to tracking the calories that you’re eating, you can use a large number of different apps. MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular options and will sync up with a ton of apps like Microsoft’s Health App for the Band 2. When you combine this data, you can then see how many calories are coming in, how many are being burned and what the difference is.
Otherwise, you can also use apps that come with various fitness trackers. S Health is available for Samsung devices and the Gear Fit, while Microsoft Health also has calorie monitoring capabilities.
To measure your caloric intake, you simply need to look at the back of your food and find the ‘Kcal’. This means ‘Kilo Calorie’ and is what most of us are referring to when we measure calories. Each time you eat something, check out the calories (you can ask in restaurants and look on websites belonging to cafes and takeaways) and then input the amount you consumed. In some cases, apps will have the calories for the food you consume already inputted by another user and that means you only need to find it from a list. Things you eat regularly will find their way to the top of the list and you can then add their calories easily with a swipe and a tap.
Meanwhile, you can use a device with 24 hour heartrate monitoring such as the Microsoft Band 2 or the TomTom Spark in order to get an accurate reading of how many calories you burned. If you don’t have one of those, then you can just look at your AMR for a rough average.
Now you might find that you typically eat 2,300 calories and burn 2,000 (2,000 is an average AMR for most of us). What this means is that you have a ‘surplus’ of 300 calories at the end of each day and where do you think that goes? That’s right: it’s stored as fat.
Meanwhile, if you consume 1,700 calories and manage to burn 2,300 now you have a deficit of 600 calories. This means your body will need to burn fat just to make it through the day and you’ll lose weight.
As you collect more data, you can then look at what you are eating that’s adding the most calories and how much fat you’re burning typically through your training.
What you’ll find is that some clear ways to shift the balance present themselves. Forget that cappuccino or swap it for an Americano on the way to work and you just saved yourself 100 calories. Get off a bus stop earlier and powerwalk into work and you just burned an extra 100 calories. That’s 200 calories back which might just be enough to help you start losing weight again.
Likewise, you can also see what’s working in the gym. Maybe you notice you burn more calories when you’re hitting the heavy bag instead of running. Simple solution? Hit the heavy bag longer.
Logging your health is what makes it possible for you to approach this change in a scientific, bulletproof manner. A fitness tracker isn’t necessary, though it will help you to see which parts of your day are particularly good or bad for you in terms of calories burned.
How to Change Your Calories Without the Headache
With the best app in the world, logging your calories is still unfortunately a massive headache that takes up a lot of time and effort.
There is one device that promises to measure your calories automatically by measuring glucose levels in your cells. That’s the Healbe Gobe. Unfortunately, most reviewers conclude that this technology doesn’t quite work yet – but it’s promising that might be on the horizon someday. For now? Sadly a lot of professionals believe that this type of calorie measuring is just simply impossible.
So back to the problem at hand: how do you measure the calories you’re eating without letting it drive you completely mad?
One option is to take a more ‘general’ approach.
Monitor your caloric intake for a few days. Look at things you eat regularly – for instance maybe you have the same cereal every morning or a pretty consistent lunch. If you don’t? Well then maybe it’s time that you started! Eating consistently makes it much easier to track your calories as well as to find a routine that works for you.
Now what you do is simply looking for the biggest calorie culprits that you can cut out or swap. If that chocolate cereal is full of sugar then you might just want to swap it with something a little plainer such as some oatmeal.
Likewise you can swap out your soda drink for water – this is an area where a lot of calories tend to sneak in under the radar.
Of course your dinners are going to vary but if your breakfast and lunch are fairly consistent then you’ll know how many calories you have left to ‘spend’ come the evening. This then means that you can simply try to avoid consuming anything that will represent a massive calorie dump.
For me it was pizza. I never realized – until I took the time to look – that the pizzas I ate often contained 500-700 calories. As my AMR is 2,200, that was a massive amount for me to spend on dinner! Pie and chips night was even worse…
So the solution was just to cut those out or at least to eat them a lot less often – really simple. And if I knew I was having them that night? Then that was a great time to go for a 6 mile run which would burn me 700-800 calories. You see how this works?
The point here is that it doesn’t have to be precise or exact – just measure enough to get a general idea and then afford yourself a little flexibility to try and avoid driving yourself completely insane.
Another thing to consider in respect to all of this is that there is no way that you can possibly learn your exact calorie intake or burn. It’s just too varied – of course there are different numbers of calories in apples for example! And likewise, your testosterone fluctuates every single day, which in turn has a big impact on your ability to burn calories.
So don’t try and track it precisely. Track is generally and aim to consume about 200 calories less than you burn (while your aim is weight loss). If you manage this, then you’ll be able to consistently burn fat and even when you make a mistake, you still won’t go over your calorie burn.
Of course it’s also super important to be careful what you eat and to make sure you’re fuelling your body with all the crucial vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients that you need. That’s a topic for an entirely different eBook though and a whole subject onto itself.