quantified self, an addendum

Digital Body Fat Weight Scale by BalanceYesterday I shared a list of apps and tools I’m using to monitor and track things, mainly health-related. Well, my Amazon packages arrived last night, and I now have a new scale. The old one started acting weird a week or two ago, coinciding with what appeared to be a three or four pound gain in weight in a week. The new scale indicates my weight is right around where it was before my old scale went haywire. So, that’s reassuring.

My new scale also measures body fat %, muscle mass %, bone density %, and water weight %. As I mentioned yesterday, I already have a hand-held body fat monitoring tool, but I was curious to know if the electrical impulses running from foot to foot would encounter different types of data points than those running from hand to hand. Sure enough, my body fat % is much higher on the scale than with the hand-held device. For my own tracking purposes, I’m recording the average between the two.

the quantified self

Over the past few years, I’ve been using a variety of apps and devices to keep track of all sorts of things about myself, primarily related to my health and well-being. It’s been on my mind lately that you might be interested in these as well, so here’s a brief run-down of what I’m using today.

Fitbit OneThe Fitbit One is no longer manufactured by Fitbit, which is too bad. I’ve had one of these devices for a little over five years (thanks to Marie), and I’m on my third one with a fourth in reserve. It’s small enough to fit in my pocket, even with the holder/clip. It tracks my steps fairly accurately (I’ve tested it periodically), as well as distance covered and the quality of my sleep. It has been my primary health app/device for most of the time I’ve been measuring myself, and though it has its limitations, I still appreciate the core functions. [Side note: I have tried one of the wristband style trackers and I didn’t like it. The neoprene strap made my wrist sweaty, and the step counts seemed less accurate. I liked the heart-rate monitor aspect, but not enough to deal with the annoyances of a thing on my wrist. How I managed to wear a wristwatch for most of the first quarter of my life, I can’t imagine now.]

SyncSolver app iconFitbit decided to not play nicely with the Apple Health universe, but another app developer built SyncSolver to fix that. Since I have my Fitbit on me more than my phone (and it seems to be more accurate than the built-in pedometer on the iPhone), I use this to sync my steps to Apple Health for other apps to read. More on those below.

SleepCycle regular sleep graphA little over a year ago, I became concerned about the quality of my sleep. I downloaded an app that I no longer use and can’t remember the name of to track my snoring, which was far more frequent and vociferous than I thought. I began experimenting with things to improve my sleep quality, from nasal strips (not helpful) to a contoured memory foam pillow (helpful). In the process, I ran across the SleepCycle app. It’s a smart alarm that listens to your sleep and based on the programming, can determine where you are in your sleep cycle throughout the night. As it gets closer to when the alarm is set (within a half an hour, to be exact), if it sounds like you are in a lighter part of your sleep cycle, it will play the sound or song you selected to wake you up. It can also note (and record) when you are snoring and assesses the over-all quality of your sleep. I have two cats, and it seems to know when the noise making is coming from me versus them, which is both amazing and kinda weirds me out. Anyway, it’s been useful for figuring out what I need to do to sleep better. I can sync the sleep data to Apple Health, were it can be read by other apps as needed.

Strides app screenshotLast fall, as a part of my ongoing effort to get better sleep, I was looking for a tool to help encourage me to go to bed on time and wake up when my alarm goes off, rather than staying up too late and hitting snooze or turning off the alarm altogether. A regular schedule is generally believed to be helpful for sleeping better. I started using an app called Strides to keep track of my progress. In January, I added a workouts tracker to provide me with an easy overview of how often I’m doing that this year and how close to the 218 in 2018 I’m able to hit. At the current rate (37  out of 112 days), it will be more like 118, but it’s better than sitting on the couch. None of this syncs with Apple Health, but I don’t need it to.

Fitocracy app screenshot mid-workoutI’ve been a member of the Fitocracy website for several years now, but only in the past couple years did it become useful to me thanks to a more functional app. I prefer to do strength training rather than cardio at the gym (though I make myself do some cardio), and this app is very helpful for keeping track of what I did the last time and guiding me through the workout this time. There’s also a community/social aspect, as well as gamification (you get points for each exercise depending on how challenging it is to do), if that’s your thing. Since so few of my friends use it regularly, I don’t focus on those features much. As you’re going through your workout, you can edit the weight, reps, and sets if you end up doing more or less than you planned. If there is an example video, it will be at the top of the screen, and clicking on it will make the video play. This is helpful if you want to make sure you’re using proper form or need to remember an exercise you haven’t done in a while. It also indicates how many more exercises you have planned (the circles at the bottom of the screen) and what the next exercise set will be. None of the data from this app will sync with anything else, but it’s so useful in an of itself, I don’t mind.

MyFitnessPal screenshotI reinstalled MyFitnessPal in mid-January and have been diligently tracking my food, water, and cardio minutes. This syncs with Apple Health and Fitbit, which is useful for keeping tabs on key nutrients, since Fitbit’s food logger is not great. I used this app a few years ago, and as with others, got frustrated because it was so hard to be precise without measuring out every morsel I consumed. This time it seems to be easier, in part because the food database has expanded, and in part because I’ve let myself not care about the details too much. Part of changing my diet means eating less convenience food and eating more whole foods, preferably that I cooked myself. The challenge is that convenience foods also conveniently have their nutritional content displayed on the package with a barcode to save me even the effort of typing. I’m taking a horseshoes and hand-grenades approach this time — close enough will work. Also, I’m trying to focus more on the macro goals in addition to the caloric limits. What I’ve re-learned in all of this is that lean protein is not nearly as appealing as fatty protein, and I tend to eat very dense foods such that I can consume a lot of calories without feeling like I’m over-eating.

Happy Scale app screenshotLastly (and most recently), on the recommendation of my friend Jenica, I’ve started using the Happy Scale app to track my weight trends. It takes a long-term goal and break it down in to smaller, more immediately achievable goals, showing progress along the way. Although I am logging my weight every day (immediately after I wake up and use the toilet), it’s focused more on averages than that specific day’s weight. The data syncs with Apple Health, which is how other apps like MyFitnessPal and Fitbit get updated. The scale and this app only measure my entire body mass, which isn’t the whole focus of my fitness goals, so I also have a hand-held body fat monitor that I check periodically, usually only when the scale numbers have moved. Since I’m strength training, the scale numbers might go up with the addition of muscle mass that is denser than fat mass. At some point, I should do tape measurements, but for now I’m relying on the fit of my clothing to let me know if things are changing there.

numbers

Birthday Cake
“Birthday Cake” by Paul Downey

The number on my age is changing this week, and because the first number is changing as well as the second number, this is A Really Big Deal. Part of me is uncomfortable with the change, part of me feels nothing about the change, but all of me is feeling weird about how other people are making this A Really Big Deal. The last time the numbers changed like this, I thought it was going to be A Really Big Deal, and…it wasn’t. I was just as clueless and awkward as I was before the change. I suspect it’s going to be the same thing. I’m going to wake up the next day and it’s going to be just another work day in the life, followed by weeks and months and years of the same until the both numbers change again and it’s A Really Big Deal.

battle decks

my #erl15 Battle Decks topic
my #erl15 Battle Decks topic

I participated in my first Battle Decks competition at ER&L this year. I almost did last year, and a friend encouraged me to put my name in the hat this year, so I did.

I was somewhat surprisingly not nervous as I waited for my name to be chosen to present next (the order was random — names drawn from a bag). Rather, I was anxiously waiting for my turn, because I knew I could pull it off, and well.

This confidence is not some arrogance I carry with me all the time. I’ve got spades of impostor syndrome when it comes to conference presentations and the like. Battle Decks, however, is not a presentation on a topic I’m supposed to know more about but secretly suspect I know less about than the audience. They are more in the dark than I am, and my job isn’t to inform so much as to entertain.

Improv — I can do that. I spent a few seasons with the improv troupe in college, and while I was certainly not remarkable or talented, I did learn a lot about “yes, and”. My “yes, and” with the Battle Decks was the slides — no matter what came up, I took it and connected it back to the topic and vice-versa.

There was one slide that came up that was dense with text or imagery or something that just couldn’t register in the split second I looked at it. I turned back to the audience and found I had nothing to say, so I looked at it again, and then made an apology, stating that my assistant had put together the slide deck and I wasn’t sure what this one was supposed to be about. It brought the laughs and on I went.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jesse Koennecke for organizing the event, as well as Bonnie Tijerina, Elizabeth Winters, and Carmen Mitchell for judging the event. And, of course, thanks also to April Hathcock for sharing the win with me.

#erl15 Battledecks Monday
photo by Sandy Tijerina

on milestones

singing with the Ellensburg Women’s Chorus in the 2005

Some of you may know that I enjoy singing in choirs/choruses/chorales these days, even doing a solo every now and then, but I’ll bet few of you know that I was too shy to sing in front of most people until my second year of college. Most of my college friends could sing pretty well, and many of them were in the university chorale or the chamber choir. I loved singing, but I was too nervous and shy to audition, as much as I wanted to. Somehow, they convinced me to take a voice class. Not private lessons, but with a small group of students and one teacher, all at once.

This was safe for me to start out in. We sang everything together, until our final, and that was the first time I’d sung for real, alone, in front of anyone. It was terrifying! But it also gave me the courage to go through the audition process the next year, and I was in the chorale for the second half of my college career.

Since then, I’ve sung with Sacred Harp groups, church choirs, community women’s choruses, and a university women’s chorus (I still sing with two groups that fit in the last two categories). It’s been an amazing learning experience, and I sometimes marvel at how a person who was too shy to sing in front of a handfull of friends can now stand on stage and sing in front of hundreds of strangers.

In college, I was obsessed with singing low. I was proud to sing the alto part, and one of my fellow altos and I would frequently try to hide with the basses until our director made us go back to our section. For me, alto meant harmony and something interesting. Soprano seemed, well, boring.

These days, I sing first alto or second soprano, depending on the group and the arrangement. And the strange thing is, I’m finding that the low notes aren’t as much fun anymore, and sometimes are rather uncomfortable to sing. My voice, as women’s voices do, has been changing and maturing over the years. When I moved over to the second soprano section in my community women’s chorus last year, it was the first time I acknowledge that shift to anyone, including myself. It was a bit of an identity crisis at first, but I’ve come to embrace it.

Back in that voice class in college, my instructor called me a “chicken soprano,” and she was right. I could sing higher than I was willing to (or brave enough to) back then. Now I know I can, and I have quite often. The strange thing is, I can feel my voice changing. I started noticing this on octave leaps that would take me up to the C above middle-C, and beyond. They didn’t feel strained anymore — I just thought it, and then sang it with confidence.

My ear is much better. I have a good sense of certain notes and placement and intervals, although I couldn’t tell you what a perfect fourth or a major seventh sounded like to save my life. Those names never stuck with me. But, I can sight read pretty well, if you give me a starting point, and back in the day I had to hear it a few times before I could follow along.

So, I’m moving into my upper range, and it feels fine. But also weird. Sometimes, I can’t trust my sense of place anymore, because what feels like a G may be something else entirely now. My voice breaks are shifting, or maybe I’m just not as aware of them anymore.

This makes me feel less certain. Unbalanced. And it doesn’t help that I’m turning 37 this year.

Back to that voice class and the instructor who told me I was a chicken soprano… she also told us that women’s voices hit their peak maturity around age 37. To my 19-year-old mind, that seemed like a future so distant I couldn’t even imagine it, and now I’m here. Or nearly there.

People talk about how turning 30 wasn’t as big of a deal as turning 31. I get that. For me, as a woman and a singer, I think this 37th birthday is going to be more significant than either of those previous milestones. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that to happen yet. Luckily, I have about six months to figure it out.