This is a graph of my meteoric, catastrophic, and just plain ic weight gain since i began using MyFitnessPal three years ago, on January 27 2014.
The little craggy areas where my weight slowly, subtly decreases depict those times when i was using the app faithfully. The huge Dukes of Hazzard ramps where my weight launches into the stratosphere are where i stopped using the app.
i think, there for i am… not fat
MyFitnessPal really works to help me manage (and decrease) my weight. My weight problem is due to mindless eating (which i discovered in an epiphany after reading Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink – a hilarious book, and a great read even if you don’t care about weight). It’s not the type of food i eat that is the problem – it’s just the amount. i eat too much throughout the day — not at a single sitting. And i eat too much throughout the day for the simple, dumb reason that i have a poor memory. MyFitnessPal acts as my surrogate memory.
So at this point, skinny bitches would read this far and say “Well, the answer is clear: just keep using MyFitnessPal, because it works for you.” And despite not being a heartless waif with assbones like axe blades, i thought the same thing. The graph makes that clear. So why, if the app works so well for me, do i not just simply use it all the time and lose weight? Why, over three years, have i spent most of my life not using the app?
This is the thought that’s concerned me the most as i’ve started using MyFitnessPal over the past five weeks (and, predictably, have lost weight doing it). What happened in those periods right before the jaggy lines of progress stopped, and the straight lines of unfettered gastronomical abandon took over? More than being careful about my MyFitnessPal usage, i’ve been trying to key into my MyFitnessPal NON-usage, or the things that cause me to stop using the app. i think i’ve figured it out. And what i discovered surprised me. <-- SPECIAL THANKS TO DR. HERNANDEZ'S CLICKBAIT SCHOOL OF INTERNET WRITING
Let’s break it DOWN
i read an article recently, in the maelstrom of self-improvement that glut social media channels this time of year, about psychologist BJ Fogg’s “Tiny Habits” method of fomenting automatic behaviours. Fogg’s approach is to take something that, to many of us, is an absolutely gigantic pain in the ass, and breaking it down into smaller steps, so that you can have success instead of failure, and build on that success.
So instead of aiming to go to the gym three days a week, which is a recipe for self-hatred for many of us, just go once. If that’s not tiny enough, go ZERO times to the gym, and instead, just put your gym stuff in the car once a week. If that’s too big a hill to climb, just PACK your gym stuff once a week. When you make that a habit, then worry about getting it to the car. One of Fogg’s better more evocative examples is “floss one tooth.” The idea is that once you’re already flossing one tooth, you’ll figure “i might as well floss the others while i’m here.”
Whenever i climb back on the MyFitnessPal wagon, i am absolutely fastidious about tracking my calories. i eat something, and then immediately punch it into the app. This time around, i’ve developed the Pro Tip of logging a food before i even eat it, so that i set expectations in my own mind about an appropriate portion size and how eating that food factors into my overall intake for the day.
Fountains of wane
But as i go along, i’ve noticed that this zealousness starts to die down a little. “i’ll log it later,” i think. And i do… i can count on using the app at least once per day. But as i’ve mentioned, because my memory is so poor, i’ll often lie in bed with my phone trying to recall what i had eaten that day, and at that point not only is it too challenging to recall, but it’s too late to finagle. The point of bargaining and number management should come when the food is available to me. MyFitnessPal works best “in-the-moment,” not as a historical record.
i thought even harder about this, with Fogg’s Tiny Habits on my mind. It’s not just that. It’s not just being lazy about logging calories in the heat of the moment. There’s something else going on. And that’s when, i think, God willing and my weight don’t rise, that i hit on it.
My wife Cheryl has a phone charger next to her side of the bed. i don’t. This past year, for the first time in 8 years, i have a steady routine, and i charge my phone in the car when i commute to work. But my commute to work is only two days a week. That’s not enough. My phone runs out of juice. And when it does, i think “bah – i’ll charge it later. In the car. Two days from now.”
Here are the facts, ma’am: when the phone’s not charged, i can’t track calories. And if i don’t track calories when i eat, i don’t remember what i ate. And if i fall too far behind in remembering, i feel badly, and i think “to Hell with MyFitnessPal.” And i don’t track. And my weight climbs, steadily and predictably.
The problem is my memory. But the habit i need to change to solve this entire puzzle is keeping my phone and Fitbit charged. And that’s why it’s well worth my money to hit the stores today and shell out for a new power cube and cable to plug into the outlet next to my side of the bed (which has only been convenient for me since my wife and i rotated the bed against a different wall in our room).
Squeezing my ample ass past the Arby’s drive-thru
As reliable as my weight loss is with MyFitnessPal, there are a few Tiny Habits i could stand to develop. i managed one of them on my own: since our move from urbia to suburbia over a year ago, the siren song of convenient fast food drive-thrus has called us again and again, seductively dragging us under waves of gravy to drown in the fat, salty abyss. We had a takeout problem. i like to write, so i developed the habit of writing every week on Facebook about what our family ate the preceding week.
To my Facebook friends, these posts ostensibly looked like me sharing recipe ideas. My original goal was to crowdsource meal plans, so that i would have to do a lot less searching for tried-and-true weeknight meals. But the more i made a habit out of it, the more i knew that the shame of publicly admitting that we ate takeout fried chicken three nights a week would drive me to adopt better practices.
And it has! Our family’s takeout habit has been cut way back, and we cook dinner six or seven nights a week, thanks in part to the support and suggestions from my Facebook community.
So now, after reading that Tiny Habits article (and seriously considering signing up for the study), i’m eyeing other places in my life where i can make small changes that will snowball to big impacts.
Our family doesn’t eat dinner together at the table, despite research that strongly indicates that’s a very, very good idea. Instead, we eat dinner in front of the teevee, and we watch a half hour sitcom together on Netflix. The show is 24 minutes long, and by about minute 18, i’ve finished eating. When the initial episode is over, the kids usually beg to watch another, and my wife and i often capitulate if it’s early enough.
That’s the moment that Better-Me should put on his sneakers and watch the next episode from the nearby treadmill. But i don’t.
i don’t, because shoes. Shooooooooooes.
i mean, socks are hard enough. They’re the most challenging part of my morning. Often, i cannot bear to face the day because i know it means putting on socks. And shoes? Well, shoes are so much worse. They’re like socks, but with tiny fabric chains on them. So much bending down and fussing and fitting to get them just right. Man: i hate socks, but shoes can fuck entirely off.
The Tiny Habits method suggests, then, that instead of putting on shoes and using the treadmill for that second episode, i should just concentrate on putting on shoes. And really, honestly, since that is such a mountain for me to climb, my goal should only be to put on ONE shoe. Or to put on both shoes, but not lace them up. Like, let’s not get insane. i’ll lace them up some other time. i’m not Hercules.