Health Technology to Make Your Life Better
First time patients who visit Dr Gary Brewton’s physician office in Houston’s Museum District soon figure out that medical information technology plays an important role in keeping things running smoothly in our medical office. As one of the first doctors in Houston to implement Electronic Health Records, Dr Brewton’s office now has handheld electronic tablet “kiosks” in the waiting room for patients to sign in on and update their medical history. The information goes straight into our secure database, avoiding transcription errors that can crop up when using paper clipboards. It’s all part of our commitment to make your day’s visit to the doctor an effective, efficient use of your time.
Like Dr Brewton, many of our patients also are avid users of technology — like smartphones and fitness trackers — so we’re kicking off a series that reviews of some of the healthcare technology that our patients find useful.
Eating Sensibly During the Holidays can be a Challenge
We all know how the dieting cycle works. During the holidays there is often ample food at office parties, family get-togethers, Christmas Dinner and New Year’s Eve festivities. Come January First, you get on the scale and come face-to-face with the toll all that food has had on your weight. Then you feel guilty and re-join the gym in January but never really go that much. How can you break this cycle?
“Lose It” offers Simple Calorie Counting — with a Little Help from Your Friends
Calorie counting is one of the tried-and-true methods for managing your weight. In the pre-Smartphone App days, you had to write out everything you wanted to eat, line-by-line, all by hand. Then you had to assign caloric values for each different food item you planned to eat.
Calorie counting can be quite effective: it helps you understand the which foods are especially calorie-rich and you can zero in on problem areas, like too many carbs or dairy in your diet, or managing an overall reduction of calorie count by choosing to eat smaller portions.
But doing this by all by hand makes it a fairly time consuming, repetitive process; in response there have been many solutions using “points” and specially prepared foods, like those from Weight-Watchers and Jenny Craig, that are designed to simplify the calorie counting process. If these programs work for you, excellent! But in the coming weeks we want to introduce a variety of health technology programs, starting with Lose It. Next time we’ll look at MyFitnessPal, another app Dr. Brewton recommends which also syncs with a variety of activity tracking devices and apps.
Lose It is a smartphone app that helps automate the drudgery of calorie counting. Many prepared foods at grocery stores and menu items at major restaurants have already been entered into the system, including their protein, carbohydrate and fat breakdowns. And the basic version of the program is free.
How do you get started? First, download the free version of Lose It app on Google Play (if you are using an Android phone) or the free version of Lose It for iPhone / iPad on the Apple iTunes store.
Set Up a Weight Goal using Lose It
One of the first things you’ll want to do is set up a goal for your weight. Generally, Lose It will suggest you work toward a goal of losing a pound a week, e.g. four pounds a month. This is a reasonable approach. Remember, if you are overweight, it took a long time to gain the weight and you should lose it slowly, to avoid a yo-yo effect of intense dieting and then gaining the weight back.
If after consultation with Dr Brewton, it’s determined you need to try a more aggressive weight loss plan (for example, to address cases of hypertension or pre-diabetes that pose an immediate risk to your health) you can set a more aggressive Lose It goal, such as losing two pounds a week. Trying to lose weight at this rapid rate should be done in consultation with your doctor.
Once you’ve determined your weight loss goal, Lose It calculates a daily calorie intake budget for you automatically, based on your current weight stats.
Once you’ve set up your weight goal, you should enter your weight each day — preferably in the morning (ideally after a bowel movement) — to get more consistent measurements. Also, try to use the same scale each day, there is a lot of variation (5 pounds is not different) between different home scales, but as long as you keep track of your weight loss on the same device, you’ll be fine.
Entering Your Food and Exercise Each Day
If you have never counted calories before, be prepared for a shock. Some foods are unspeakably calorie-intensive. If you want to make it through the whole day’s total caloric goal, you’ll soon realize a trip to the drive-thru can literally eat up your whole day’s food budget.
Here is the screen to begin entering your daily meals and your daily exercise. (Soon you’ll be craving a 45 minute walk so you can eat another 300 odd calories for dinner.)
Once you pick a meal (lunch is shown below), you can search for foods you eat. Many choices might show up for a particular choice; for example if you are looking for bean chili, you might have to scroll through choices of bean chili served at different restaurants, pre-packed foods brands at the grocery store and home prepared made items.
Once you pick a food item, it’s added to today’s meal list (lunch in this case) and — most importantly — it’s saved in your My Foods list, which makes it easier to find next time.
You can also copy previous meals you’ve eaten recently, and then edit quantities or delete individual items to match what you are eating now.
Finally, you can create and select recipes for some of you favorite home-made items or combination dishes at your favorite restaurant. (To add a new recipe you have to first exit the food picker menu, then chose “Me > More > Foods > Recipes ” from the main menu.)
Making Tradeoffs in Your Daily Eating Plan
In the following screenshot, we see part of a very healthy lunch menu.
Soon you’ll discover you can have a more balanced and less fattening meals when you cook at home. You’ll also learn why spinach is your friend. We recommend you get a kitchen scale to measure things, especially high caloric foods, like pasta. You’ll certainlyl be surprised how many calories pasta has.
One of the good aspects of this being ‘computerized’ is you can do some “what if” planning — can you eat a serving of pasta with the fish and still stay under your calorie count for the day? Does it mean skipping dinner because you expended all your calories on a big lunch?
Starting to consider these daily tradeoffs is important step in managing your diet.
Managing Your Diet like a Game
One of the benefits of using a smartphone app is the ‘game-like’ positive feedback you can get. Lose It offers all kinds of ‘badges’ (like a Foursquare App) and other ways to share your accomplishments with friends, set up group challenges and so on. Maybe that’s just the incentive you need to keep with your diet. But the weekly graphs showing how “good” or “bad” you were over the past week are pretty motivational too.
The weekly tracking graph also helps you come to terms with the social eating pressure during the holidays. It’s quite likely you’ll exceed your daily caloric quota during a Christmas Day food feast or a New Year’s Eve party. But if you are handy with the Lose It app, you can enter your foods as you go along. If you go over the limit on one of these days, try to eat a little less the remaining day of the week to balance things out.
You might also consider checking out check out Dr Brewton’s complete list of healthy recipes that we’ve featured in our Newsletter. This month we have a delicious soup and sandwich combination: Egg Salad Sandwich Supreme — made with egg whites for high protein and lower fat and cholesterol — which goes great with a tasty Butternut Zucchini Apple Soup.