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Dean Pomerleau

Calorie Tracking Strategy (Survey Results)

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Here is something I found fascinating in the CR Survey data about people's way of practicing CR, and how it varies with how long they've been practicing.

 

First, I divided the population into three groups, relatively short-term (<= 5 years, n=8), medium-term (6-10 years, n=7) and long-term (12+ years, n=15) practitioners based on data collected from both the Forum and Facebook responders. Then I looked at people's "Calorie Tracking Strategy" as a function of how long they'd be practicing CR, based on this question from the survey "Which statement best characterizes your CR practice?". The question had these response options: 

  1. I eat when I'm hungry and don't try to control my calories
  2. I generally try to eat less but don't think too much about it
  3. I'm usually pretty careful about how much I eat, but don't track calories per se
  4. I eat different foods every day and am pretty diligent about tracking calories
  5. I eat the same thing nearly every day to make sure I'm getting nearly the same calories

None of the 30 respondents included in the analysis (who had complete enough data) chose answer #1, so I eliminated that option from the analysis. Then I combined #2 and #3 into a "Don't Track" group, resulting in three categories (rearranged for clarity):

  1. I eat different foods every day and diligently track calories (labelled "Track" in graph)
  2. I'm careful to try to eat less but I don't track calories (labelled "Don't Track" in graph)
  3. I eat nearly the same thing every day to ensure nearly constant calories (labelled "Eat Same" in graph)

While the number in each of the "duration of CR" categories is relatively small (7, 6, and 12 for short, medium and long-term practitioners) so the results must be taken with a few grains of salt, the results are nevertheless really interesting and at least suggestive. Here is the graph (click to enlarge):

 

post-7043-0-59750900-1442252724_thumb.jpg

 

As you can see from the graph, the style of calorie tracking varies dramatically based on duration of CR practice. CR "novices" (<= 5 years), tend to be diligent about tracking their calories, while the "medium term" practitioners (6-10 years) prefer to carefully eat less but not track calories, and the "long-term" practitioners (12+ years) tend towards eating nearly the same thing every day.

 

Here is my (hypothesized) explanation for this trend across the three duration categories of CRers.

 

The gung-ho but relatively inexperienced short-term practitioners feel they need to track calories diligently to ensure they stick with the program and may even get a kick out of careful tracking, as a hobby. With more years of CR under their belt, the medium-term CR practitioners (6-10 years) shift to a more casual style of CR and stop diligently tracking calories, perhaps because the novelty of careful tracking wears off or becomes too much of a pain, or perhaps they get into a "CR groove" and feel they don't need to track calories carefully anymore. The really long-term CR practitioners might tend towards eating nearly the same thing every day for several, related reasons, based on my personal experience (being one of them):

  1. Perhaps after a while the more casual "eat a low-calorie, varied diet but don't track calories" style of the medium-term practitioners gets too casual, to the point where they fall off the CR wagon. In other words, it is too tempting to cheat when eating a varied diet, and so it is only those medium-term practitioners who adopt a pattern of eating nearly the same thing nearly every day that can stick with the rigors of CR to become long-term practitioners.
  2. Perhaps it becomes too cognitively/psychologically taxing to estimate/control (even casually) one's calorie intake on a varied diet, and so the most successful long-term strategy is to eat a nearly constant diet day-to-day to reduce cognitive load and/or psychological stress. Analogous to Steve Jobs, President Obama and Albert Einstein, who all wore the same outfit every day to reduce the number of mundane choices they had to make so they could focus on other things.
  3. As my previous analysis showed, the really long-term practitioners tend to be the most hardcore practitioners as well, with the lowest BMI and greatest weight loss. Perhaps to maintain a more severe degree of calorie restriction (not just sticking with a moderate program for a long time) requires a more controlled, consistent style of eating, i.e. eating nearly the same thing every day.
  4. Perhaps to stick with CR for the very long term necessitates an indifference to food/taste to the point that only people who naturally find it tolerable/satisfying/enjoyable to eat the same thing every day can stick with the program. In other words, the long-term practitioners may have a different, more 'utilitarian', "food as fuel" attitude that enables them to succeed where 'gourmet-types' fail.
  5. Alternatively, perhaps eating CR for a long time changes one's test preferences, or heightens the pleasure one receives from eating a seemingly monotonous diet, making it more enjoyable.
  6. Or maybe its not as enjoyable to eat the same foods every day, and so its easier to eat less of them and stick to a CR program long-term.
  7. Perhaps practicing CR very long-term eventually triggers or evolves into a form of orthorexia, obsession with eating optimally, and to accomplish such optimality CRers eventually gravitate towards eating the same set of foods everyday which they consider most healthy.
  8. Perhaps CR doesn't trigger orthorexia, but instead only those already obsessed enough with healthy eating to consume the same thing every day can also have the discipline to stick with CR for so many years.

Obviously these explanations aren't mutually exclusive or even completely non-overlapping. 

 

But whatever the reason(s), I think it's cool that we can gain new insights, and evidence regarding existing intuitions about CR practitioners and their habits "in the wild". I don't think anyone has investigated this sort of thing before. It's what citizen science is all about!

 

This kind of information can potentially help new CRers know what to expect over time, and how to structure their CR practice to maximize chances of success based on the experience of others who've been doing it for a long time. Or alternatively it might scare some people away, contemplating what it apparently takes to succeed on CR in the very long term...

 

I'd love to hear what others think about the cause of these different eating patterns between difference lengths of CR practice, especially based on your personal experience. 

 

Stay tuned for a new survey I'm putting together to explore other areas of how we practice CR...

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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New CR folk have to track and experiment, because they are still learning how to CR. Once people come up with some patterns that work, they tend to just repeat those.

 

I love to cook, enjoy trying new recipes and adapting them, and really prefer my own cooking. I have been the primary family cook for most of my adult life. For me, cooking healthy food for my family is one of the ways I show them my love.  Sharing the meal with them is important to me.  So, dinners must vary enough to keep non-CR people happy. Meals other than dinner are something I prepare only for myself and tend to be repetitive and designed to give me a good foundation for the rest of the day.

 

The family cooking role for women is one of the reasons I think women are under-represented in CR. It's hard to pull off CR when you are the mom - and even the wife. 

Edited by Mary Robinson

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Hi Mary, and welcome! You raise an excellent point. Mostly, when contemplating the underrepresentation of women among CR practitioners, people have focused on a relative lack of interest among women in longevity in general. But I think you're raising another important point about a more practical, and probably more powerful variable. It would be interesting to see whether there's a generational difference here.

 

- Brian

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Hi Mary!

 

I agree with you that eating, and family mealtimes, are important occasions for family bonding. Its been one of the most difficult things in my practice of CR to balance my desire to eat "optimally" with my family's desire that both I and they eat "normally".  Since these days I eat only one large meal a day, early in the morning, eating together with them isn't an option. But I do sit with them for a family dinner every night, and sometimes cook for them as well. It was a bit awkward (for them) at first, but these days it seems natural and we have quite good conversations. They don't seem to mind I'm not eating with them.

 

I'm wondering how others, particularly other long-term CRers whose family doesn't practice CR, handle the tension between eating in a very meticulous way, and trying to maintain normal familial relationships, which in most cultures inevitably involves food and shared dining experiences.

 

--Dean

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Hi, Dean and Brian.  It's nice to catch up with people.  Dean, I think you raise a very good point.  Families can adapt to CR members not eating "with" them, as long as everyone keeps it positive. The CR practitioner could eat most of their food prior to the shared dinner and then eat a salad or other "normal", but low calorie, nutritious item with everyone for socializing.

 

The positive atmosphere is really important to make it work.  My kids are grown and it's usually just me and my husband.  He's always been very supportive of my CR and interested in improving his own nutritional content.  However, my mom lived with me for 3 years recently, and it was quite difficult to maintain CR with her around.  She was constantly tempting me and basically trying to sabotage CR. She did not respect my decision to do CR and considered it silly. Similarly, my mother-in-law spent a year or so with us and was constantly making and eating desserts and other anti-CR foods, which she would leave out on the counter. She has dementia, and could not quite understand why I did not want to partake. By the end, I had somewhat devolved into barely CR, but healthy eating.  Now that I have more control over my food environment again, I am back on track.  

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The results are really interesting! And match my personal experience as well! :) 

Eating almost the exact same thing for long periods of time is no problem for me. In fact, I prefer it this way because it's convenient; and it frees up some mental resources and time not tracking everything..

 

In the beginning it was really important for me, though. I had to make sure I got everything I needed and practiced CR in a healthy way - especially given that my BMI was around 16.5 at the time. The obsessive researching, tracking and all that went away after a few years, but even by the first year I was easing up a bit. Despite not measuring absolutely everything, I have been able to maintain constant weight for years. (whatever target I set).  I have relaxed my CR a little since those days as a trade-off to simply look better... but even so, I'm still well below my pre CR weight, and stable. That being said, I do get the scales out sometimes to check my caloric intake. And it usually lies between 1700-1800.  In the early days I was getting around 1550 k/cal! 


 

Edited by Matt

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Dean,

 

I didn't say thanks for your work above. Fascinating! I've gone back to careful tracking only because I've been making changes in my diet.

 

Matt, traditionally, I've been like you: no problem eating the same thing every day. The only reason I've varied is to try to avoid food allergies. So some things I eat on a 2- or 3-day rotating schedule.

 

Stay tuned for a new survey I'm putting together to explore other areas of how we practice CR...

 

Look forward to it!

 

- Brian

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I just wanted to add one other thought to this rather comprehensive thread.  I find that I feel less healthy when I stray from my CR diet for a few weeks.  That shows up in my daily life when I run to catch the bus or walk up a steep hill.  Going back onto my diet where I mostly eat the same foods each day brings me back to what I consider to be "peak" performance for me. 

 

Perhaps others may experience this in other ways such as allergies returning, differences in skin texture, digestive system performance, cognitive performance or just general aches and pains.  Whatever your metric for measuring your peak self, it generally seems to improve with  CRON adherence. This provides a negative feedback loop if one is sensitive enough to feel it and mindful enough to react to it.

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Keith,

 

Whatever your metric for measuring your peak self, it generally seems to improve with  CRON adherence. This provides a negative feedback loop if one is sensitive enough to feel it and mindful enough to react to it.

 

Good point! I too find that I'm particularly sensitive to physical and psychological health metrics that help me to adjust, and to stick with, my CR regime. The "negative feedback loop" you mention may be strong in long-term CR practitioners, encouraging us to keep with our program.

 

This is interesting in light of the post I just made on the "Genetics of Obesity" thread about a new study of how variants of the FTO "obesity gene" are associated with poorer performance on tasks involving learning from negative reinforcement.

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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