We want to share with you our first case study on how self tracking, otherwise known as the quantified self movement, can help you achieve your health and fitness goals.
We’re well aware of how recording your body metrics and health markers can transform your physique. It’s why we built Fitstream in the first place and to help encourage others to do the same. We love to read as much we can about the quantified self industry and recently we stumbled upon a blog by Chris Angel, used mainly to document his journey into better health. This is his story so far.
Chris started his quantified self project in January 2014, motivated by two goals;
- Lose 25% of body fat and trim down to 104 kg / 16 st. 5 Lbs / 229 Lbs by December 2014 (from a starting weight of 139 Kg)
- Get his blood pressure readings out of the hypertensive zone
Each day started the same, by measuring and recording body statistics to monitor physical progress and help understand his weight loss through data, Chris hoped to design an optimal lifestyle that worked for him and his health goals.
Over the course of the last 9 months Chris has embraced an admirable range of experiments and activities; from simple data gathering and visualisation, to 3D Bodymetrics scans, gratitude journaling and building DIY standing workstations, and it’s really paid off. Check out the body stats below;
|Stats||January 2014||February 2014||June 2014||September 2014|
21 st 12 lbs
19 st 13 lbs
16 st 10 lbs
14 st 1 lbs
|Body Fat %
|Visceral Fat Level
|Blood Pressure (BP)
Obese Class 3
Obese Class 2
Obese Class 1
12.2 kg lost or 8% of body weight reduced in one month
Blood Pressure back in normal range
|Total weight loss since starting 32.8 kg (6 months), 23% of body weight lost
||Total weight loss 49.4 kg since starting (9 months), 35% of body weight lost
As you can see, Chris smashed his initial weight loss goal by April, and reevaluated his weight loss target to 90kg which he also achieved in September this year.
Here are some of the health markers Chris tracked along the way;
- Body weight
- Body Fat Percentage
- Steps taken
- Blood Pressure / BP
- Calorie intake
- Calorie expenditure
- Nutritional intake
- Exercise / Workout logs (heart rate, duration, activity)
- Body Mass Index / BMI
- Visceral fat
- Skeletal muscle
The range of data collected is so important as Chris demonstrated in one of his posts;
"Feeling pretty bad about my sudden lack of weight loss, I’ve been looking at my data to seek encouraging signs. I found something pretty good! This chart shows that the percentage of my body composed of fat has been steadily falling while the percentage of my body that is composed of skeletal muscle has been steadily rising. I’m now at the point where the two are about to converge and then invert."
This serves to illustrate why tracking body weight alone is not a great health marker and we should be more focused on the actual composition of our body!
Overall, Chris has found that taking a quantified self approach to his health has dramatically improved his physical condition and helped him meet goals much quicker than forecasted. Taking regular measurements helped him stay focused, accountable and allowed him to understand his body, and how it responds to his actions and diet. In his own words, the data he’s collected “tells a story of which I am quite proud.”
We caught up with Chris and asked him a few questions about his quantified self journey;
What made you start self tracking?
Before I started with my quantified self approach I’d always had a problem with my weight, losing and regaining it continuously.
Late last year, with my 46th birthday looming I decided to do something about it. I can’t remember quite how I heard about the quantified self method but it really appealed to my personality type so I began using it and started seeing results.
Can you talk us through your routine?
Taking my readings is more or less the first thing I do each morning. I’ll switch on my laptop, open the spreadsheet where I keep my records and jump on my Omron Scale. The scale takes a full set of readings for me and I’ll add these to my spreadsheet with the time of day.
I’ll then have a cup of coffee and take one or two more self tracking measurements and get on with my day.
What fitness equipment and tracking software do you use?
Mainly it’s my Omron Scale, the BF511. There’s also my Polar FT2 heart rate monitor which I use during exercise to make sure that I’m training at the right intensity. I find this really helpful because it’s easy to think that you’re training harder than you actually are, and it’s really quite motivational for me to see how I’m improving over time.
I used to wear the FitBit fitness tracker religiously for a few months and it was useful to prompt me to move but eventually I started to ignore it as I developed the healthy habits myself. It was great transitionary bit of equipment though and I'd describe it as more of a ‘bridging’ device to help get me from completely out of shape into better health.
I also used the Omron automatic blood pressure cuff whilst I was trying to get my BP back into normal levels.
From a software perspective I really found the online Nutracheck calorie counting and food diary service essential. They also have an on-staff Nutritionist and Personal Trainer for advice too. There’s these rosette icons you’re awarded for hitting various milestones, which might seem a little pointless but I really look forward to unlocking!
Oh, and Google Docs for my spreadsheet that I built to track the metrics.
What kind of data are you now tracking?
I’m still focused on weight loss at the moment as well as tracking BMI, Body Fat %, skeletal muscle, visceral fat, resting metabolism and dietary data via Nutracheck.
In terms of diet information this includes calorie intake and expenditure, and therefore my surplus or deficit each day, and also the composition of my intake such as grams of fat.
I’ve phased out my blood pressure measurement after reaching my goal and it was quite time consuming to take those readings (it took 12 minutes to take three readings and average these out).
There’s also a general sense of wellbeing that I measure on a scale from 1-5 which I guess is more subjective than everything else but helps me to understand how my state of mind affects my stats.
What exercise and physical training are you doing?
Back when I first started in January I was walking. It was pretty shameful at the time but I had to begin with a simple quarter of a mile, and afterwards I’d get home feeling crippled and seriously sweating. I focused hard on walking and quickly increased the distance and duration and I got to the point where it was starting to get a little boring.
I then moved on to some cross trainer work to up the intensity without putting too much stress on the joints and there’s the occasional game of badminton with friends.
Around 6-8 weeks ago I hired a personal trainer and rebuilt my home gym, which sounds grandiose but basically has some weight plates and a bench to let me do more resistance training.
Actually today I’ve just booked my first ever yoga and pilates session in as I want to help develop my flexibility and work on the core body strength.
Do you think you could have made as much progress without taking the quantified self approach?
I will continue to self track and will refine the approach in line with my goals. It’s something I think I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
What are the main lessons you have learned through the process and what would you recommend to others thinking of trying it?
It helps to break your records down into manageable chunks in your spreadsheet so that you can filter by time periods and easily browse your data.
You will have failures but don’t let it get to you. The quantified self approach helps keep you accountable and allows you to reflect on the data and what went wrong. You can look at how far you’ve come and see the big picture rather than dwelling on recent mistakes. The occasional times that I fell off the wagon I was able to see what I’d achieved since the start of the year which really helped to set some perspective instead of locking myself in a short term view.
Saying that, it’s an error to think that data will tell you everything. Data needs interpretation before it’s useful. You need to spend the time looking at the trends and experimenting.
Also, make sure that you take regular progress pics and body measurements. Sadly, it’s not something I did and I really regret not having these to reflect on my progress visually. There were times when the scales told me that I’d lost a lot of weight but I didn’t really think it was noticeable, but progress pictures would have helped me track that and see the changes for myself.
Finally, definitely keep a food diary. It’s been a vital part of my progress!
What’s next for you? Do you have a new set of goals or experiments in the pipeline?
I’m going to slowly bring my weight down to around 75 kg and increase the amount of resistance training that I’m doing. I’ve started looking at CrossFit so that’s something I’m considering too.
Ultimately, I’m moving away from my obsession with weight loss and I’m going to focus on fitness in 2015. It’s all well and good moving towards my ideal weight range but I want to make sure my body looks the way I want too.
Tell us your story
We wanted to thank Chris again for sharing his progress with us and we hope you enjoyed reading about the journey. Just before publishing this Chris emailed us to let us know he’d just hit a 50 kg weight loss milestone since starting his new quantified self tracking lifestyle so the improvements are still coming in quickly for him. If you’d like to follow the rest of his progress you can do so on his Tumblr blog.
If you have any questions, comments, or stories of your own to share we’d love to hear from you on Facebook, Twitter, or email - email@example.com.
You can also use the Fitstream Body Tracking App which is now available on for free on the Apple Store to start tracking your body measurements, progress pictures and notes (Android version is coming soon too!).