I’ve been on a diet now for three years, during which time I have lost a net amount of zero pounds. My technique is flawless. For me, dieting has always consisted mainly of eating all the things I usually eat anyway but then feeling really bad about it. Still, counting calories is the perfect hobby for me, combining as it does my love of simple accounting with my natural tendencies towards obsessive self-scrutiny and needless unhappiness.
Late last year, I discovered Fitday.com, a website that allows you to enter all the foods you eat every day and track their nutritional values. You can also subtract calories by adding common daily activities like brisk walking, kickboxing, and crying. Fitday is a great place to learn some disturbing facts about a lot of disturbing foods, like the amount of riboflavin to be gained from chasing a handful of quail eggs with 36 ounces of human breast milk. You can then use these facts to construct miserable imaginary lifestyles (combine “Food: 2 boxes, Frozen corn dogs” with “Activities: Lying quietly in bed, awake”). Fitday also taught me the utter futility of trying to burn two slices of pound cake with 45 minutes of yoga. With Fitday I still eat more or less whatever I want, but now my guilty indigestion comes aided by full-color pie charts.
Since it was obvious that Fitday wasn’t getting me very far, I decided to start tracking my progress at the gym instead. There are dozens of sites that allow you to track how many miles each week you run and at what speed. I spent the first week feeling extraordinarily fit and proud until the day I realized my treadmill was set to kilometers, not miles. Then I had to go back and change all my Fitday calorie scores for the previous week, including an extra 350 calories for consolation cake.
This led me to wonder, exactly how much money am I spending each week on consolation cake? My spending patterns have always been a little erratic, coming in alternating bursts of shamed asceticism and FICO-be-damned indulgences. I wouldn’t dare spend $90 on a new sweater I don’t really need, but six small dog sweaters at $15 each are a bargain not to be missed. This past spring I decided to tackle tax time with the aid of Mint.com, a comprehensive website that pulls together your financial data across the globe, allowing you to see at a glance the amount of money you spent last month on things like dog sweaters and novelty paperclips. So far my level of spending remains unchanged, but I have created dozens of different categories to label my indulgences, including “pet necessities: apparel” and “business expenses: decorative office supplies.”
Logging every thing you eat, spend, and do becomes very time-consuming. In order to improve my overall efficiency, I started reading the Lifehacker blog, an efficiency-maximizing website that now deposits more than 20 lengthy new entries into my inbox every day. It takes me awhile to keep up with them, especially as I’m also reading blogs on diet, fitness, finance, and cake recipes. Many Lifehacker entries suggest you become more efficient by keeping track of things. I now keep track of everything, in dozens of different notebooks, including wine logs, recipe collections, gifts ideas, weight training statistics, interesting quotations, design ideas, and pet vaccination schedules. Then I enter them all under “misc. expenditures: notebooks” on Mint. Number of calories burned for 2.5 hours of data entry = 74.