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Facing Up — The All-Powerful Food Diary

So, OK — I’m not going to eat between meals and I’m not going to take seconds and I’m going to walk for 3 miles. And yes, doing this regularly does work. The trick is in the “doing this regularly” part. And that’s where blogging helps. When I actually do my daily thought pieces (which kind of stopped during the election-season) I’m more committed. And my commitment has more power if I write down what I eat and do.

Weight Watchers is where I first learned to “Journal” what I eat. And the Weight Watcher food diaries are still helpful. It’s really nice to tuck their diary into my purse and write down my meals no matter where I am. But the written format has serious limitations compared to the computer tools that are now available.

With online and desktop diaries you can create charts of your progress, track exercise (and the calories burned) and in some — menus of regular meals and recipes.

I can’t seem to stick to just one journaling tool. I like the colorful charts of one tool and the ability to record recipes and log them as single servings in another and I love the moving-weighted-average weight chart of another. So, getting back on track is a little complicated for me as I get each of them set up for my renewed commitment. Luckily one of them has updated the software to make it easy to adjust goals (I thought I was going to have to create a New-Fake-Me.)

(clearing my throat)

First up is FitDay which has two versions: a free Online Diary and a Desktop Version (which is what I use.) I love FitDay’s colorful charts and the display on the opening page. They make it easy to track Overall progress as well as the relationship of Food-Eaten with Calories-Burned. Entering food is simple you just list everything you’ve eaten in a spreadsheet-like page. Exercise works exactly the same way. Standard foods and exercise are included in a database. All you have to do is select these.

The drawback to FitDay is that we eat a lot of casserole-type dishes. Mashups of vegetables & meat and Rice or Noodles or Potatoes (my favorite, “Zucchini Stuff” is the base of many of these meals.) Well, FitDay doesn’t make it easy to enter recipes. It’s possible to do by entering “Custom Foods” (which you also use to enter food that isn’t in their standard database). But (in the PC Desktop version), it’s a drag and if you get it wrong you pretty much have to start over.

Which is why I kept looking. . . . .

My dad discovered Nutribase. He was looking for something that would let him track specific proteins in his diet. And the Nutribase database includes amino acids. What I like is that it’s relatively easy to create recipes of regular foods and combine foods into meals. It’s really incredible. I can enter any recipe and specify how many servings it makes. Nutribase calculates the calories (actually all the nutrition information) for just that serving when you use it. Meals work pretty much the same way. If you have the same breakfast everyday you can group those foods into a meal — you can even have Nutribase enter it in your journal automatically.

Nutribase has very good (and customizable) reports. But, the grey background of the main window makes the charts a little less pleasing than the FitDay charts. Still, it’s much more powerful and Nutribase has become my main daily journal.

Finally. The last tool, The Hacker’s Diet Online isn’t a food journal. It’s a tool for tracking your weight. But, it has a twist. The author of these tools isn’t interested in his weight on a particular day. He’s created a tool that lets us track a moving-weighted-average of our weight. So the affect of eating a big Thanksgiving Dinner is spread over the two weeks that are included in the average.

The Charts produced by the Hacker’s Diet Online are really fun. He displays “Floaters” and “Sinkers” to emphasize your trends — are you making more or less progress than your goal?

John Walker (the author of the Hacker’s Diet) believes in a daily-weigh-in like I do. I am more successful at weight management if I monitor my weight everyday. But, I don’t expect instant results and it doesn’t depress me to see little change in my weight from day to day. If that lack of change in your weight does bother you, the Hacker’s Diet Online isn’t the tool for you. That moving weighted averages does NOT change quickly — that’s the whole point of it. But, for me, it’s perfect.

So, I’m spending this snowy day getting things set up in Nutribase again (happily I’ve got most of my recipes and meals already entered) and the Hacker’s Diet. What tools make your healthy goals easier to manage? And how easy are they to use?

(Crossposted at Eat4Today and The Confluence)

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22 Responses

  1. Hi Katiebird,

    I’m a pediatrician and have a great interest in nutrition and obesity prevention/treatment in kids–preferably prevention.

    I like Nutribase very much also. Though laborious at first when you’re entering in new recipes and meals, it really is comprehensive and saves a lot of time overall. I use it to modify recipes and lighten up family favorites. I like that I can take it anywhere on my laptop.

    I’ll check out these other sites, too. Good luck with your plan!

  2. Hi,
    Very nice post.Weight loss is obviously a big issue for such a huge percentage of society these days.
    Great blog by the way. I’ll be back:)Matteo Callahan

  3. My favorite is just the USDA nutrient database. It is the goto place for nutritional analysis of any food. For instance, want to know how much tryptophan (or any other nutrient) in carrots? Go here:

    <a href=”http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/”Link

  4. Whoops, I screwed the link up:

    Here ’tis again:

    USDA Nutrient Database

  5. Hi T — the USDA Nutrient Database is the basis of the databases in both Nutribase and Fitday. Nutribase uses the entire database (all the fields) AND they also use the Canadian Nutritional Database and several others.

    It’s the data entry and display aspects that set them apart from each other.

  6. Okay I know I sound like a broken record, but please believe me when I say interval train. It’s the best and most effective way to get increase your metabolism AT REST which is where you want it to be working harder.
    I’ve been personal training and teaching group fitness for 22 years. Ouch that’s a long time but I love my job and could totally geek out on anatomy and
    kinesiology for days. Let me know if you want more info. Good luck! Stay focussed. I think I met your sister in Seattle by the way. Is that possible?

  7. “EricaLeigh, on November 29th, 2008 at 1:14 pm Said:
    Hi Katiebird,
    I’m a pediatrician and have a great interest in nutrition and obesity prevention/treatment in kids–preferably prevention.
    **************
    It’s an “epidemic”…Over the past 30 years,the % of overweight and obese children has increased from 4.0% to >17.5%. One result of that increase is that obesity related liver disease is now the #1 reason for liver transplant.

  8. SHV — I don’t see any kids in my neighborhood outside playing. They are inside sitting on the couch or computer chair playing games. Eye hand coordination over the years might have improved all the while their asses have doubled in size.

  9. Hi Katherine, you don’t sound like a broken record at all — the interval training is something I do want to get to and I’m aiming for the 1st of the year or so. My brother in law is a trainer and I’m hoping that he’ll get me going. I just want to get my house in order first and that starts with the stuff I know how to do.

    I’d love more info– do you have a website?

    And, it is very possible that you met my sister in Seattle — she’s a Confluencian.

  10. SHV,

    Yes, it is an epidemic. The numbers are startling and alarming. I personally think that if we do not get a handle on pediatric obesity and its complications, we will see the American health care system overwhelmed and the consequences for individuals and our society will be disastrous.

    That being said, I am optimistic. It is a preventable condition/disease. We just have to want to conquer the problem bad enough.

  11. what is interval train?

  12. Katiebird: Yeah, that’s right. And I’m pretty certain that the USDA will give you the raw data and one can write their own interface to it.

    KatherineSeattle: I agree that interval training is important. People also talk about “interval eating” where you eat a slightly higher number of calories on one day and a lower number on another, but the calories average out over a week to the amount you need. The idea is to trick your body out of getting into a “metabolic rut”.

    Next quarter, I’m taking a skeletal muscle physiology class at U-Wash from a man who studies methods for overcoming paralysis (Chet Moritz). Maybe we can talk kines….

  13. SHV, a couple of years ago, I was very worried about my grandchildren. Especially the girl who from earliest childhood was very obese. Her family life was very fragile with an unstable mother and an overwhelmed father. I’m sure she wasn’t getting enough attention (except when she was at our house)

    Then the parents broke up and our son moved down to Florida with the kids. Since then everything has turned around for them. They are obviously living outdoors more and getting exercise — you’d never known the kids had a weight problem.

    Also, the stress that came from living with a crazy mother showed in their eyes. Now they look happy and relaxed for the first time.

    Obesity in kids is serious but, sometimes controllable. I guess.

  14. T – “I’m pretty certain that the USDA will give you the raw data and one can write their own interface to it.”

    You can and I have. I thought I was going to have to do exactly that when my Dad found Nutribase. Lucky for me their stuff is configurable enough to meet my needs.

  15. EricaLeigh, on November 29th, 2008 at 4:11 pm Said:
    That being said, I am optimistic. It is a preventable condition/disease. We just have to want to conquer the problem bad enough.
    **************
    Maybe the only good thing about the “ethanol scam” is the rising cost of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

  16. SHV, on November 29th, 2008 at 4:22 pm Said:

    Maybe the only good thing about the “ethanol scam” is the rising cost of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

    *****
    That’s funny, SHV. I hadn’t thought of that little bonus.

  17. katiebird, on November 29th, 2008 at 4:16 pm Said:
    Then the parents broke up and our son moved down to Florida with the kids. Since then everything has turned around for them. They are obviously living outdoors more and getting exercise — you’d never known the kids had a weight problem.
    ****************
    Good for them for overcoming the “odds”. If a child is obese at age 12, there is a 75% chance that they will be an obese adult. The problem has gotten so serious that Bariatric Surgery is now being done with increasing frequency in the adolescent patient population.

  18. Hi Katiebird. I liked DietPower. It also tracked nutrients and I found that when I aimed at getting the full complement of nutrients, I was less prone to strange cravings. It also makes charts and other cool stuff. You can enter recipes and then get the calorie and nutrient count per serving. It has lost of pre-existing foods in the database. It lets you swap exercise for more calories (and it does the math for you). I intensely disliked entering my daily food intake, so I tended to stick to simple one or two ingredient items. I found that helped a lot; I was able to pass on many dishes simply out for dread of having to enter it into the program! I lost 47 lbs and have maintained my goal weight for eight months now.

    Good luck to you!

  19. I’m about to join http://www.myfooddiary.com

    A friend demoed it for me, and I like what I saw! I’m hoping that I can lose 20 lbs. in ten weeks and keep it off.

  20. Thx KB for this post. I downloaded the trial version of Nutribase but found it complicated.
    Is there anything simpler?

  21. Laurie, I haven’t seen what Nutribase distributes free (my dad bought Nutribase for me and I originally saw it at his house). For me, it was worth the effort to get Nutribase set up. We eat almost all off-brand and fresh food and never go out to restaurants (my husband does all the cooking and he hates eating out.)

    And the really powerful thing about Nutribase is that it makes it easier than any other program I’ve tried to enter all that custom food. Create recipes. And pull all that together into set meals.

    But, I agree — it’s probably overwhelming for a first try at this.

    I also liked FitDay. It has the online component (which I didn’t use because I didn’t want my personal information in the hands of a corporation) and a Desktop version. It’s harder to do the custom stuff but easier to do the routine stuff. And the Charts and Graphs are terrific.

    Someone in the comments mentioned another tool but, I’ve never used it.

    I know it’s a pain to get these programs set up. But, I think once you get through it you’ll REALLY be committed to keeping it up.

    Would you like to email me with specific questions? katiebird@gmail.com — I’d be happy to help

  22. I am using bitelog.com to track my food. It is an online diary. It does not have the recipe but I manage by writing the cooked ingredients.

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