I read an entertaining column in the weekend magazine of the StarTribune last Sunday, by a woman who was enjoying her new “toy:” a clip-on gadget that’s today’s version of a pedometer. Not only did it keep track of how many steps she took in a day, but it registered how many of those steps were going up and down stairs. She was excited about the fact that it was motivating her to do things she hadn’t been doing before, such as parking far away from store entrances, taking the dog on extra walks, and running upstairs to answer the phone when it rang instead of grabbing the kitchen extension.

These are some of the things health experts have been advising us to do all along in order to put more physical activity into our days. But it was being able to see and document the results that gave this woman such a thrill.

I know exactly how she feels. A number of years ago, I bought a hand-held nutrition counter. I logged in everything I ate each day, and it let me know how many calories I had consumed, as well as the breakdown of things such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, and sodium. I was pretty healthy as a rule, and considered myself fairly knowledgeable about food and nutrition. But I really had no idea of how many calories I consumed in a day, or what the percentage was of my carbs, fat, and protein. So it was more for curiosity than anything else that I bought the nutrition counter, but I quickly became addicted to it.

Once I figured out how to program and personalize it, and how to add my own recipes and favorite foods into the databank, it became like a game to me to get the proper numbers and ratios in every day. Also, it showed me – in black-and-white – some things that I already knew but that somehow sank in a little more deeply when I logged them in on the nutrition counter.

Whenever I made a salad, for instance, it could take five minutes to input all the ingredients, and the calories and fat grams would still be ridiculously low. But as soon as I added just a teaspoon of dressing, or a bit of shredded cheese, the count would skyrocket. I didn’t give up the foods I enjoyed that my nutrition counter frowned on, but I started cutting back on them or making smarter substitutions. And on the days or occasions when I splurged, I still dutifully logged in everything I ate, and accepted the consequences.

I used that nutrition counter for a long time, until I was unable to find a replacement battery for it after the make and model became obsolete, which happens regularly with digital and electronic devices. I bought another one later, but it turned out to have a few too many bells and whistles, and was more of a pain to use than it was worth. It’s been buried in a kitchen drawer ever since.

I recently tried again and downloaded a free app that has about a million different foods, supermarket brands, and restaurant menus in its databank. It didn’t take me too long to figure out how to input my own recipes, or to log in my personal vital statistics, which included current weight, desired weight, and how many pounds per week I wanted to lose. I decided to drop the few extra pounds I’ve put on over the last few years, as long as I was making the effort to use the new nutrition counter anyway, and to make sure my daily intake was in keeping with what health guidelines recommended.

The program keeps a running total of where I am in relation to my daily and weekly quotas, and it also balances calories burned during exercise against calories consumed in a day. So I get automatic bonus points for exercising. Another thing I love is that it has a simple pie chart showing the percentage of carbs, fats, and proteins I’ve consumed.

So healthy eating is like a game to me now. It’s a personal challenge, and that’s something I’ve always found enjoyable and motivating. And it’s definitely working, since people have started noticing that I’ve lost a bit of weight. And I have more energy now than I did before.

Since the program was a free download, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about it becoming obsolete, or about not being able to find a battery or replacement parts to keep it running. But either way, I’m enjoying the game I play every day in meeting my health and nutrition goals. And I like the way I look and feel as a result.

I’d love to someday meet that columnist who feels the same way about her step-counter that I do about my nutrition counter. We could compare notes, show each other our gadgets, and talk about whatever else in our lives has changed as a result of our healthier habits. I might even challenge her to a race up the stairs.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 17, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013

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