Nutrition tracking

As you know, my substantive research interest is ‘digital health’. This is a broad and increasingly relevant field as more technologies and technological possibilities emerge for health in both consumer markets as well as clinical and research toolkits – on an almost daily basis.

Among a number of exciting projects on this topic, which I’m either leading or involved with, I’m currently working with Aberdeen University MSc Human Nutrition student, Lainey Gauson (aka the_approachable_nutritionist on Insta), on hers, which is exploring nutrition apps for nutrition research.

Lainey is analysing the potential of smartphone app based alternatives to traditional paper diaries for participants contributing to nutrition research – for ease of use from the outset and throughout their participation (recruitment and retention of participants to and in studies is notoriously difficult and apps vs. paper diaries might improve experiences for research participants and thus help researchers to capture more accurate and complete information).

I’m not convinced, despite being a #quantifiedself for over half my lifetime now:



Watch this space for opportunities to participate in Lainey’s study (online survey and follow up focus groups for public and professionals) to have your say on nutrition studies and apps…

My contribution so far has been: #cba (*can’t be arsed). This is not about taking part in her research, but rather filling out the food diaries full stop. This wasn’t always the case. As a teenager, I used a paper version with a calorie counter book. I subsequently tried apps, but gave up. I tend to track in my head as the day progresses. And I think I overestimate. hmm (also my initials – convenient)

Through meetings with Lainey, I’ve reflected on this and my disaffection with MyFitnessPal. I’ve avoided clicking on the Noom suggestions I get through social media… But I volunteered to take part in a research project using an online tool, Intake24, this week – just to push myself. I was not relishing the prospect, but did complete one day’s entry in full for 13 June (at the end of 14 June, reluctantly, but impressed – it was a better experience than I’d anticipated). I have another one to do on 28 June. Not too onerous?? Doing a whole day recall though is a bit of a pain rather than real-time. Anyway…

Meantime, I considered the idea of thinking beyond calories (my measure of choice) to thinking about food composition and especially my fibre intake (Lainey’s office mate is studying this and said we need to have 30g/day – please correct if I heard this wrong. MyFitnessPal says 25g??). I was curious… so I reverted back to MyFitnessPal for that reason today – to see how my food intake is composed‚Ķ I was pleasantly surprised. Is it right?? I don’t know. I just quite liked considering measures other than calories ūüôā


Moving the goal posts?

I’m just back from a run in the pouring rain. After what must be a month of almost exclusively dry and sunny weather (yes, in North East Scotland during May-June), finally some of the proper wet stuff. I decided to go out running for a couple of reasons. First, because I’ve been running pretty much every day since the end of March (20 March to be exact) and so it’s part of my routine now (see earlier posts on Motivation on Adherence) and, second, because my Apple Watch S3 Activity app now asks me to burn 770 active calories per day and I was sitting at 54% having spent the day (another one) stripping woodchip wall lining paper (and that doesn’t seem to count for much, despite the elbow grease required!).

It’s become a daily challenge, to meet my goals. I set a few every day now and have been consistently meeting them for 47 days. Mostly because I run. I can’t break the cycle (at the moment) and so day 48 could be no different:

  • Move: burn 770 active calories
  • Exercise: 30 minutes (although I aim for 60, but haven’t managed to adjust this in the app – apparently not possible)
  • Stand: 12 hours (at least once, for a minute in each)
  • Steps: do at least 10,000 (I’m averaging 15,000)
  • Distance: cover at least 10k, however covered (walking +/or running)


Now I’m back on track for today (and a bit soggy!). I knew I was behind (before the run) because my watch reminded me that I am usually further ahead…

My watch also moves the goal posts, or at least prompts me to (it makes suggestions and asks permission). I wasn’t always trying to burn 770 calories/day through activity. I was previously at 590/day from beginning to wear the watch in early October 2017 right through to April 2018, and variously making and missing that goal. It prompted me to try 640/day from 11 April 2018 – no doubt because of the increased activity over the previous 21 days through running. From 23 April, because I was pretty much consistently busting that goal through even more running, my watch suggested I try 700/day. Once again, I smashed that. So, from 04 June, it suggested 770/day. I’m up for a challenge, and so I’ve accepted the suggested increments each and every time.

However, I am now wondering what’s next for me and my goals. As you can see from the featured image, I am racking up a fair number of workouts per month, which help me to achieve my current daily goals and more, especially on particularly otherwise active days. But where will it end? Have I found a happy and manageable number or will I be pushed further? Who knows (maybe Apple’s algorithm?)? Either way, I am pretty pleased with the support my watch and app combo offer in terms of helping me to maintain and (perhaps) increase my physical activity. So far, so sustainable. I don’t know who Martin Henderson is *googles*, but:

I just want to keep challenging myself. Keep moving the goalposts and raising my game. Martin Henderson
Read more at:


A few weeks ago, I posted a blog entry on Motivation. I wrote it following a lecture I gave on the same topic to Exercise and Health undergraduates at Aberdeen Uni. The lecture was on the Monday of that week (19 March 2018) and was theory-based. Giving the lecture had made me think about my own experience of exercise as I talked about running examples to illustrate concepts and I’d subsequently tried to reflect on what motivates me and how theory might explain my relationship with exercise and specifically running.

I was a kid who hated PE at school. I was terrible. I was healthy (eating and weight), but unfit and disinterested. There wasn’t a sport I liked or was good at, save for the brief and unlikely time during which I played volleyball for the school in 1998. I seemed to be good at that and the teacher had suggested I join the team. Conversely, another teacher used to clap while running behind me to make me move during cross country classes, which did little to motivate. I rejoiced the day I didn’t have to do PE anymore in 1999.

As a young adult at University, I went to the gym twice. In 2002. Because my friends were going. Once for a taster thing and another time for a spinning class (following which I couldn’t sit or stand comfortably for at least a week). I can’t recall whether they continued, but I didn’t think about exercise again until I broke my ankle in 2011.

Relearning to walk, I set myself a goal of being able to run and to like it. It was both a physical and psychological challenge among a catalogue of challenges I set myself over the weeks I spent in bed recovering from a total metal rebuild. That was in 2011 and run I did. Initially in the wrong footwear (boxing boots with no arch support or cushioning), which resulted in further physio, but I was undeterred and tried again.

I built up my running and ran a lot for pleasure as well as fitness (and weight loss) well into 2013. I transformed my experience by switching from ‘proper’ running trainers to ‘barefoot’ minimalist skins. I didn’t track at first, but, as technologies became available, I adopted them early. Data helped me to set new time and distance targets and this contributed to my motivation. At some point, I became obsessed and was running five 10ks a week and was grumpy if I had to miss one through travel or being invited to socials that I had to attend.

But it was unsustainable and I crashed. I don’t remember exactly when or precisely why, but a combination of personal life circumstances and probably workaholism meant that I just stopped running. Over time, I stopped seeing myself as a runner and gave away my kit. All of it. I put on weight and didn’t talk about running any more, on or offline. Adherence, the topic of my second lecture on the Thursday of that week, was a problem.

I counted steps, of course, as I’ve been tracking pretty much continuously now for a few years (except during periods of enforced withdrawal), but I didn’t really think about increasing my daily counts through running. It didn’t cross my mind – I didn’t have that identity anymore. One day, though, I decided to run again. I don’t know why, or can’t remember. But it cost me at least ¬£100 of Nike stuff – I’d had to replace my kit. Oh, I do remember – I was using a Microsoft Band and had begun sharing activity data with a colleague. I wanted to up my steps and exercise to beat him each day. That was late 2015/early 2016 and I established a regular running pattern again.

I found quickly that my fitness had not disappeared or diminished that much and I was soon able to reach times and distances of a couple of years prior. I was hooked and running five 10ks a week, grumpy if not. But yet again, at some point, I stopped. That was late 2016. It wasn’t that it was winter – I like running in winter more than summer – but I just didn’t make the effort. I didn’t get rid of my stuff this time, though. I don’t know why, but maybe somewhere deep inside I knew I’d return to running at some point…

… and I did – one run when I had a stinking cold in Autumn 2017 and I thought it might help. I managed a 10k out of nowhere. I didn’t ache, but it didn’t last. I didn’t run again until 20 March 2018. This was prompted by the Motivation lecture, but had also been influenced by my supervision of a BSc Sports and Exercise Science final year student project on running and wearables. This was driven by the student’s areas of interest, but maps very well to my own re digital health and, intermittently, running. Although Jennifer‘s project started in December 2017 and I was really excited about and into it, inspired by her enthusiasm for running, I still took my time… but a return to running was on my mind.

I’ve been running again for a few weeks now, 4-5 times a week. I’ve done 5ks, one 8k and a 10k. 16 runs in total (plus one to come later today). Of course, I’m loving it as usual, and tracking everything I can (this time with my Apple Watch S3). I’m also tweeting my data. I’ve already reached previous form and it’s improving with each run. This is all sustainable at the moment, but how can I ensure that my initial motivation is matched with adherence? Third time lucky?

Some ideas:

  1. keep tracking (previously not always enough);
  2. keep using social media to reinforce running identity (potentially annoy followers);
  3. keep my hair short and uncoloured (this corresponds with previous phases of running)…

Two out of three might not be bad, but I’m going back to the books to try to apply the theories of adherence I lecture on to my own case… The main issues seem to be that I’m not a member of a club or team, do not have an instructor and run alone. hmm…



On Monday, I gave a one hour lecture to Aberdeen University’s undergrad SR2501 Exercise and Health, class of 2017-18, students. It was on motivation for exercise. Theory-based. I tried to bring it to life by relating real life examples to theories throughout (I can share the link to the lecture recording/slides for anyone who cares… or cares to provide feedback on how I succeeded or failed) because theory is often perceived to be hard and inaccessible. But it still felt ‘dry’. Or maybe that’s talking to a larger room full of faces vs. more interactive, small group teaching I’m used to. Anyway…

Today I went for a run. I last went for a run on… some time in late 2017 when I was ill and stupid (although I definitely did a 10k off the cuff).¬†

Funnily enough, I last weighed myself on 27 Jan 2018. I enforced a daily weight ban after tracking each morning for months (I am 2kg less heavy now, incidentally – not intentional). I have self-tracked something for fifteen years and other stuff for about five now. See previous posts.

However, today I weighed myself and today I ran.

I ran just over 5k. At 2.57k, I considered a 10k (I can always whip them out on command – head rules – again, see previous), but I remembered some emails I wanted to reply to and thought up this blog post I wanted to write. So I decided on 5k.

It was sunny. My car said 9C on the way home. I hate heat, but there was a cool breeze.

I geared up.


I love my cheesy RUNNING playlist on Spotify. The thought jigged me up.

I headed off. Enthusiastic and everything.

I sped up to Dario G/Sunchyme, despite the incline.

I slowed to Phats and Small/Turn Around.

I sped up when I looked at my wrist and saw my average min/km growing.

I ate cheese this afternoon with my office mate. It was left over from a colleague’s leaving celebration this morning.

I promised myself at least a glass of red wine on completion.

I knew that a run would take me to 15k steps + today. I track!

I am supervising a study of smartwatches and running. Am I thinking too much about both and how I’m not running as much as I used to (or at all so far in 2018)?

Was I worried about my bionic right ankle? Erm…¬†

Was I thinking how much I love ‘barefoot’ running?

Was I thinking about that one time when I completed a half marathon on my own? Or the time I didn’t even get to the start line of a marathon I’d agreed to do with a friend?

Was I excited about my Facebook and Twitter posts when I got back (I have since posted pics! 17 likes on Facebook, 4 likes on Twitter)?

Did I love the views (Stonehaven sea behind)?


Was I more excited to generate Apple Health Watch data? (to show my friend I do workouts too)?


Students – I will present this thought explosion at the beginning of Thursday’s follow up lecture (because I doubt v. much you are reading this although I will share the link). I know that theory is dry. I told you it was complex and multi-faceted, contradictory, overwhelming. BUT: analyse THAT! If you can see how the theories we considered on Monday might apply… then please go for it! P.S. I was the kid who was clapped along the running field in school, didn’t exercise until I f*cked up my ankle in 2011 and decided to learn to run not walk in my rehab… and struggle with motivation for exercise (but never motivation for work).




Christmas Tracking

“Bah, humbug” no, that’s too strong
Cause it is my favorite holiday
But all this year’s been a busy blur
Don’t think I have the energy…”

It is my favourite holiday and I usually take three weeks off work to hibernate. As in previous years, 2017 was no different. But hibernation does not mean no energy. OK, my hibernation may involve: not going out (from a field in the North East of Scotland in a car) for at least seven days; consuming copious Chianti, cheese and chocolate; and more sleep than is typical. BUT it does not mean inactivity. I aimed to close my rings every day with the exception of two days off: Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The primary driver for taking those days off was not the holiday though. I have begun to develop a reaction to my Apple Watch S3 band after a couple of months of wear. See Exhibit A below:




I gave it two days, returned the band to my left wrist on 27th and things have been no better. So, I moved it to the right, where it remains until this day (hoping for a switch back soon as it doesn’t feel right). I hate not tracking. As past forced spells of unquantified selfing have proven: not having some numbers is not me.

Although I didn’t manage to close my three rings – move (calories), exercise (minutes), stand (hours) – every day as planned, I have not done too badly and have even managed over 10,000 steps on a few days through taking long walks. I weighed myself every day as normal (entering those all important numbers into my Apple Health app every morning, well, mid-morning) and can confirm that weight loss rather than gain, as in previous years, made Christmas Tracking in 2017 as helpful as ever.

Here’s to a tracky 2018!

Quick Add: No Brainer?

I’ve¬†quantified and monitored¬†the¬†calories I¬†consume¬†since being a teenager. I had a ‘nutritional values’ book (still have) and began by writing food diaries daily, adding up, reflecting, setting goals. I think I wanted to lose weight, although the book was a gift (c. Christmas 1999)… Maybe someone was trying to tell me something. I sometimes weighed myself, but not always.¬†Not like now.


Back then, I had become so familiar with the values contained within and the types of foods I ate (still eat) that I could (still can) do a mental tot up in my head as I went along in a day. Rough, granted, but enough to give me a picture to work with. To know how close to 2000 I was (my daily calorie limit, not the year).

Inkedbook 2_LI.jpg

Since then, as technologies have advanced beyond printed tables,¬†a book of leaves and ink (and then the shredder), I have upgraded to the likes of MyFitnessPal, using my smartphone to painstakingly accurately (try to) enter every morsel that passes my lips (and track over time – a lasting electronic record vs. disposing of the increasingly flammable¬†archive). Intermittently (I’ve had it installed on my ‘phone for, what, five years?), I¬†find it annoying and I give up. The recording bit is frustrating and dull: not the act of recording, but the process (steps and effort) it requires.

I’ve searched¬†its database to identify perfect or best matches. I can’t use the scanner as I don’t generally eat¬†foods with barcodes (are they UK anyway?).¬†The portion sizes don’t readily make sense.¬†The whole thing gets on my nerves. And, last week, I’d given up. Again. I was still weighing in, though, and entering my daily step count into the work log – so my #quantifiedself tracking was still¬†alive and kicking (I find that if I stop e-tracking my steps and weight, I get withdrawal symptoms. Even forced hiatuses fail – see previous posts).

I was thinking about why I gave up with the food diarying (again) and perhaps revisiting the #oldskool approach. Then I wondered about combining the two. I have the approximate figures inscribed in my head and consciousness anyway. I have the MyFitnessPal app. Why not use the ‘Quick Add’ function? A ‘no brainer’?

Three days in, and I’m feeling much happier with the entering data bit (from my guestimates¬†and actively recording – my wont). I’m counting anyway (in my head). Although a bit clunky (or maybe I just forget how to get to the bit where I can do that), I find¬†entering a rough¬†running total into the app¬†much more useful¬†than the detail. Perhaps¬†that’s because I focus on calorie count over nutritional content… but,¬†in any case, I’m back on track ūüôā

Running rings around myself

Since¬†adopting an Apple Watch S3, I have been using the Activity app (comes with the watch) as well as the Health one (comes with the¬†iPhone, which I’ve been using¬†for over a year now).

I have to say: I *really* like the ‘rings’ that Activity uses. I’m¬†a sucker for the colours (ironic since I almost exclusively wear black) and love the tri-partite measures of success: movement; exercise; and standing.

The way that Activity works is to encourage the user to ‘close’ all three ‘rings’ by achieving the following each day:

  • 590 calorie burn through movement;
  • 30 min exercise;
  • 12 hours in which you stand (at least once, I think).


Move: burning calories is hard. Not so much if you are advised to set a more achievable target of 590/day (vs. ~900, which was the default before it recommended I switch… after a week). I seem to be busting that daily though¬†and so closing the pink ring. Yay!

Exercise: none of my other fitness trackers/smartwatches have so clearly presented information about how many minutes I have been active for. Given the 30m/day recommendation (for 5 days/week), I am way exceeding expectations. I exercise almost double that every day. The green ring closes mid afternoon each day.

Stand: so, I stand at least once in¬†18-19 h/24. I am not a big sleeper, but… (see my AutoSleep file for more on that…). The target is 12. I usually achieve two thirds of that by lunchtime.¬†#blueboss

I’m doing all this most days, and probably was before¬†without noticing: even though I’ve been tracking and #quantifiedself for over two years now, I wasn’t paying attention to these measures – my attention wasn’t being drawn to them.¬†What’s new is that I’m doing it¬†all without thinking about 10000 steps/day (although I am mostly achieving this according to Activity, while Health suggests a ~1500/day deficit – using the same devices). Where I have noticed a weakness is Mondays. I fall short. Activity’s visualisation of my data allows me to see that very clearly.¬†Roll on Monday: Monday morning, you look so fine (Fleetwood Mac) vs. I don’t like Mondays (Boomtown Rats). Meanwhile, happy weekend!