Notation matters…for weight loss? (Building an app with Glide)

For the last 10+ years, I weighed myself everyday. It was a habit that I started when I started bike racing in college. While I quit bike racing long ago, I kept it up. It was not an obsession over weight, but it gave me a good barometer for how I felt every day. Did I feel lethargic or bloated? My weight was generally a little higher. Did I feel energetic and ripped? My weight was a little lower that day. These day-to-day fluctuations were, at best, a reason behind how I felt or, at worst, something interesting for me to think about more when feel and weight were not logically correlated.

Context: My weight loss journey.

For me, I am trying to lose weight for a lot of reasons: physique, athletic performance, and health. I felt like I am pretty familiar with how to lose weight and create a better physique. In this 10 years, while it’s not healthy, I effectively cut weight and reconfigured my body numerous times. I know what it’s like to drop 20-40 pounds under a number of conditions: getting into riding shape, traveling in India, and cutting weight for boxing. However, dropping 20-40 pounds in 6-12 weeks does not last.

Over the last six years, through these unsustainable fluctuations, I also really lost my fitness. I will not go into the details, but everyone can relate to how life can throw you a lot of curveballs, making it easy to get off track. So, in addition to losing weight, I needed a lifestyle change. Years of experience with all of this taught me that building muscle and figuring out the weight loss later led to the best results.

In January, I changed my workout schedule from 3 days a week to 6-7 days a week. I already knew from experience that as I got more fit, my glucose sensitivity increased, and this would support changes in diet. Then I made sure I ate get 1 gram of protein per pound a day. Over the last nine months, my physique has noticeably changed. I am happy with how I look, and I am proud of the strength I built. However, I know I can do more, and I need to make another progression.

Problem: Better insight into me.

This winter, I am currently planning on taking HAMS, High Altitude Mountaineering School, with the Colorado Mountain Club, and a recent family issue has once again brought health and weight to the top of mind. However, I feel like I have plateaued, and the goal is to get better insight to test how to be effective on moving forward.

The answer is not wearables. I bought a Polar heart rate monitor in high school (2004), when I started bike racing, I bought a Garmin Edge 305, I bought a Nike Fuel Band, and I currently wear my Garmin Fenix 5 on my days in the mountains. They are all useful devices, but they do not work for my lifestyle. I do not like things on my wrists, and I never found the proprietary metrics actually useful or inspiring because they were impossible to decode.

However, the one thing I do actually use is the Tanita scale that I upgraded to after college. It tells me weight, body fat percentage, and water percentage. I always looked at these numbers, and they were insightful. However, it is hard to know absolute progress when body fat percentage and water percentage are, by definition, relative.

Solution: Build a simple app with Glide

Last week, I read this awesome post, “How I built ClassPass x Instagram for fitness without code” by Arjun Mahadevan on Makerpad showing the power of Glide. At this point, I was so desperate for a solution, I was actually learning to build an iOS app with Swift. However, Arjun’s more in-depth blog post, “Why (and how) I built ClassPass x Instagram for fitness with friends (without writing a line of code)” was a great guide to getting started with Glide.

1. Make a Google Sheet

Glide requires a Google Sheet to start. After already building an app in Glide I know that there are four types of columns that you will need.

  1. User and date time (Yellow) columns. Glide provides an autofill feature for your app. The two values they provide are the user and a timestamp of the date time for the app. If you care about these values, then you should add the columns.
  2. Raw data (White). For me this was the output of my scale: weight, body fat %, and water %. NOTE: Glide does not consider column data formatting! So the numbers in the sheet will need to be adjusted in Calculations.
  3. Calculations (Green). There may be some values to calculate from the raw data. The point of my app was to get body fat in pounds and lean body mass in pounds.
  4. Titles (Blue). Finally, the output that you want to show the user might not be exactly what you record or calculate. I wanted a titles to show both the raw data and calculated data in a more readable format.

2. Create the app, change the Settings, and the Layout

Creating the app is pretty easy once you get into Glide. The real trick is to change the Settings at the beginning because every time Settings change, the app needs to be reinstalled.

From here, adjusting the Layout is just a matter of picking styles and data columns.

3. Add calculations and proper titles

This is where Glide becomes tricky. Well, this, and Relations (not covered). Glide has a great tutorial on adding calculated values using the ARRAYFORMULA function in Google Sheets.

The trick here is to make sure you delete all the rows that is not included in your data.

Formatting titles can get a bit extensive with the length of the formulas. However, the look is much more user friendly!

4. Add a chart!

This is not a function of Glide, yet. However, this is my hack. If you create a chart in Google Sheets, you can publish an image.

Then, it’s simply adding the image to your app.

5. Share your app with the world

You can add my app to your phone (iPhone and Android) by going to https://weight-tracker.glideapp.io/. Also, you can copy this app as a template for your own app.

What I learned and why this matters

After a few days of using this app, I learned that I am indeed at a plateau. The small fluctuations in weight are really not changing my lean body mass. So it’s now time to change some things up and up my progression, and it’s clear now more than ever.

© Interpretable AI 2018. All Rights Reserved.

This project is actually part of a broader project that I am working on for overall wellness. Weight is actually a really important indicator. In addition to body composition, it is used to tell be a heuristic for hydration in everything from racing in the Tour de France to responding to cancer treatments. Today, we can also get even more sophisticated about this simple metric. Advancements in personalized medicine showed that weight is actually both a positive and really negative indictor of responding to a cancer treatment (shown above, paper).

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