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Data Geek Loses Weight

Data Geek Loses Weight

by macdaddy on February 2, 2009 · 13 comments

During the month of January, my goal was to establish one fitness habit: tracking my calorie consumption. At the same time, however, I did something I always do. Any time I focus on fitness, I also track my weight.

We have a bathroom scale that measures weight in half pound increments. It also does a body-fat approximation using bioelectrical impedance. It’s second nature for me to jot down my stats every morning, and then to transfer them to a spreadsheet.

I love creating spreadsheets of fitness stats. I have twelve years of spotty data on my weigh loss (and gains). (The data is spotty because it only exists for those periods during which I was recording it.) I often maintain spreadsheets of my exercise, as well. My number-one all-time favorite spreadsheet records my cycling activity during the summer of 1998:


Click on image to open full-size version in a new window.

The data I collected regarding my January weight loss was less obsessive. I simply tracked weight and body fat percentage:

As you can see, I started January 1st at 200 pounds. I ended the month at 192 pounds. But I didn’t really lose eight pounds in January. That 200 reading on New Year’s Day was an anomaly. For the three days before, I weighed in at 197.

Whenever I accumulate weight-loss data in a spreadsheet, I’m more concerned about the trendline than I am about the day-to-day results. I’ve done this long enough now that I know there will be bizarre datapoints from time-to-time. Did I really lose five pounds between January 8th and January 9th? Of course not. The daily readings are affected by a variety of things, including:

  • When I last ate the night before.
  • What I last ate the night before.
  • How much water I’ve been drinking.
  • Whether I get on the scale at 7am — or 11am.

Instead of decreases day after day, I’m more interested in watching my weekly average creep ever lower.

Again, from experience I know that the most I can expect to lose in a month — with regular exercise and smart eating — is about seven pounds. When I lost 40 pounds in 1997, nearly every month I shed the same amount: 6.3 pounds. I can’t find my 1997 spreadsheet, but I did find this awesome piece of work, which collects weight-loss and exercise data for several years, summarizing monthly results. (It’s shocking how many individual pieces of data are behind this simple table. I am a geek!)

(Look at the weight column! It’s like a story unto itself. Do you know why I’m gained so much weight in 2001? It’s because I wasn’t exercising anymore — Kris and I were spending all of our spare time with Mac and Pam, playing bridge and eating Good & Plenty.)

Spreadsheets aren’t for everyone. Not all of us are motivated by numbers. And, of course, the numbers aren’t the actual goal. The goal is health. But for me (and geeks like me), the numbers can be an excellent motivator. They’re a concrete indication of how well I’m doing!

It’s spreadsheet day for me today! I also wrote about my love of financial spreadsheets at Get Rich Slowly.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ann February 2, 2009 at 6:43 am

JD – Thanks for posting this. I’m a bit of a data geek myself. I used to keep pretty good records and for the past year or so, have not. My weight has been creeping up. I just created a new spreadsheet thanks to your post and am going to get geeky again.

One question — what’s 7d Weight? The average over the past 7 days?

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2 Ayesha97 February 2, 2009 at 7:53 am

ah JD, you are not alone! I’m practically drooling all over the spreadsheet goodness! You are also lending more credibility to my own spreadsheets! :D

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3 J.D. February 2, 2009 at 8:08 am

@Ann

Yes, “7d weight” is the average weight for the past seven days. It’s the number I really care about…

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4 Joel February 2, 2009 at 8:58 am

Hi, just subscribed and I’m liking it so far :)

I do something similar but I use a 20-day moving average rather than 7, as inspired by the Hacker’s Diet.

http://www.fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/www/hackdiet.html

Since the 20-day mov-avg implies 20 days of lag, when I’m doing well there’s a noticeable difference between the trendline and the line connecting the raw daily weights. It can be a real motivator to keep up the gap between the two :)

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5 Ash February 2, 2009 at 9:23 am

I love it!! I have a thing for Spreadsheets too – it brings out my inner geek… And yes, I do weigh myself every day though I hate looking at the Body Fat measurement… I might have to ‘borrow’ your Spreadsheet idea and make it my own JD… Love it!!

P.S. Congratulations on the weight loss…. My much more modest loss is 2 pounds for the month… not what I had planned for but anything in the downwards direction is a gain…

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6 Avistew February 2, 2009 at 9:54 am

I used to weigh myself everyday too, but I started being a bit obsessive about it, and my doctor recommended I only do it once a week, on the same day and at the same time.

I guess looking at the average over 7 days is about the same. For me, though, it helped me realise that the weight wasn’t a goal in itself, just the way to track how the rest was going. Once a week, not more, allowed me to focus on more essential things.

Not everybody works the same way though. I think what matters is not to start depressing if you gain from one day to the next. It’s the average that counts, and weighing yourself less often allows you to just look at the trend if you’re too focused on each individual weight and don’t see the big picture.

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7 AndrewE February 2, 2009 at 10:19 am

I love following the trend as well. I use Physics Diet to record mine nowadays rather than a spreadsheet.

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8 Getz February 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I have never used a spreadsheet, though I have considered it. I too do better when I track things, but have been very poor at doing it lately or not doing it at all. I think the spreadsheet would work better than the way I have been doing it(for by budget as well). Also, I have tried the once a week weighing thing, but I seemed to have done better when I weighed in everyday.

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9 Bill Jelen February 2, 2009 at 2:09 pm

A technical question… in the spreadsheet with one row per month, did you use Excel’s subtotal command to hide the rows with daily data, or is that a summary worksheet that points back to various monthly worksheets?

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10 Greg February 2, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Wow! You’re way more disciplined than I am about your weight loss record-keeping. I’m impressed. Were you an engineer in another life?

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11 leonghw February 3, 2009 at 1:32 am

lack of discipline is THE reason most people put on weight to begin with.

they’re not disciplined in:

1. eating the right food

2. getting the right amount of exercise.

it’s catch-22. if they’re disciplined enough to do a spreadsheet like yours, they wouldn’t be needing that spreadsheet to begin with.

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12 Zorfling February 3, 2009 at 7:51 am

I like to use http://www.physicsdiet.com.

It’s loosely based around the Hackers Diet as mentioned by Joel, and makes for some nice data geekage.

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