Saturday, March 8, 2014

Health and Tools

When I first switched over to a low-oil, vegan diet, I was concerned about making sure I would be getting the right amounts of nutrients.

(Content Note: This post discusses disordered eating and dieting.) I've been warning people of my impending veganism for a few years. I'm not a person who makes life changes on a whim, and I make it a point to go into any and every situation with as much information as my brain can hold. I've been working up to it because it's not an easy thing to be vegan in this world, especially being a chronic migraineur and so incapacitated some days that I can't cook at all. I knew my best chance of success lie with educating myself, because if I allowed myself to become nutritionally deficient, I could get sicker. And I also worried about my mental health.

My history of disordered eating has made this change an interesting one for me. Because I have this history, dieting in any way is a minefield. I have to ride this fine line of paying close attention to what I eat, but not obsessing. Exercising frequently, but not too much. I have not been entirely successful in my past attempts to healthfully diet, mental slips have happened, bad habits have reignited, and I've slid down that slippery slope too many times to enter into any exercise or dietary changes without a certain amount of trepidation. I hesitated to embrace these changes I've been wanting to make for years because I wanted to do it right, and I wanted to make sure I stayed ok.

So, education: There are a myriad number of ways to learn about food and nutrition. Some of the sources I've delved into include: documentaries (Super Size Me; Food Inc; Forks Over Knives; Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead), tv series (Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution), books (The Food Revolution, The China Study), cookbooks (Veganomicon), and blogs (Happy Herbivore).

I also took nutrition and health courses at my local community college, which gave me a lot of information about biology and how our bodies use food. Learning the objective facts of nutrition has been excellent for beating back those always-wrong demons that continue to live in my head. They'll always be there, I think, but facts sure do keep them quieter.

I decided pretty early on that I would need some kind of monitoring system in place, and while hand-tallying my calories would surely have led to obsessive thoughts and behavior, I was excited to realize that using an app for the same purpose hasn't had (too) much of that effect at all. The first and only app I tried is My Fitness Pal for Android, and it has been really helpful for keeping me accountable.

Upon sign-up, I entered my weight, my activity level and my goals into the app, and it formulated a basic caloric-intake plan for me. Every day since, I've entered 99% of my food and exercise, the app tallies up all the micro and macro nutrients, adds and subtracts calories consumed and burned, tells me how I'm meeting my immediate needs, and, even better, allows me to see my patterns and progress over time. Check it out, you guys: CHARTS!!!!

Look at that progress! It's so much easier to keep going when I can see the evidence of all the hard work I've put in so far. (Also, this is my excuse for the sparse blogging happening around here. I've been busy hiking! SEE!)

This app is good for dieters because it's easy to see how each meal, each food, each ingredient can influence your overall nutritional intake, and it makes it easier to make good choices, when we can immediately experience our consequences. This app can also be a good tool for people with eating or exercise disorders, because it holds us accountable for eating enough calories, and gives a red-tinged alert if the daily tally isn't sustainable.

However, I haven't made it through this without a single unhealthy thought or behavior, just less of them than I've experienced in the past. I'm not recommending this app as any kind of a panacea for ED because: of course not. But this works well for me, helps me stay accountable to myself, and I've maintained a consistently healthy diet and exercise routine for over 100 days, thanks in part to My Fitness Pal.

I was not compensated for this review, just love the product. The app and online tools offered by My Fitness Pal are free.


Carl said...

Love the chart! I remember a saying "What gets measured gets improved." Which is why I chart my migraine condition and triggers. Funnily enough it actually does work.