January 21, 2013

Food Tracking: The Good, The Bad, and the Insane

Tracking what you eat: is it the secret key to achieving a healthy body weight, optimal nutrition, and superhuman goal-crushing awesomeness? Or it a one-way ticket to crazytown?

For me, I think it's possible that both are true.

And yep, for those of you who have followed the blog for a while, this may sound familiar. I generally prefer an "intuitive" eating style but every now and then I go on a food and exercise tracking rampage.   Remember my tedious Tips for Counting Calories and my advice about keeping a food or exercise journal or my brief love affair with Jilllian Michaels...er, I mean the BodyMedia Fit armband?

I actually suffer from a psychological malady, though oddly enough not one recognized by the textbooks: intermittent Fitness Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Is anyone else severely FOC'D too? 


Crabby's Sad Case History

I eat a 90% healthy diet, but I do love my treats.  And I suck at portion control.  Being "too full for another bite" is a foreign concept to me.


More, Please.

I generally cope with my greediness by trying to choose the sorts of high-volume, relatively low calorie foods that allow me to eat gigantic portions all day long. Veggie/egg white scrambles, huge salads, healthy smoothies, grilled veggies, lots of salmon and chicken and grass-fed meat and whey powder and other protein sources, whole grains and legumes, and a parade of weird looking stirfries and casseroles and soups.

I try to only use "good fats," and do my best to avoid sugar and refined carbs.  Instead I use stevia in ridiculously excessive amounts and will probably die of some weird side effect even lab rats haven't experienced yet, because they don't consume as much as I do. Maybe my hair will start growing inside out, thus strangling my brain and rendering me bald, but that would be preferable to going without sweet things.

 Too Much Stevia on Remulak?

And I also try to compensate for occasional WTF splurges with extra exercise. Mostly, this whole weird system works! And yes, I am kinda nuts.

However, there seems to be a predictable cycle:

1. First comes a creeping increase in portion sizes and treats.  I have no self control at parties or free sample tables or when traveling where healthy options aren't available.  Too many of these splurges in a row will reset my Entitlement Meter, and then even  my regular routine starts to involve a lot more dark chcocolate, trail mix, and other healthier  but still high calorie versions of junk food.

2. I gain weight.

3. Evidence of weight gain is first met with denial and the blaming of the laundering process for shrinking my pants.

4. The denial stage is then followed by half hearted pledges of reform, then some temporary progress, then a whole lot of backsliding, then further, more earnest pledges, followed by failure to actually change much of anything.

5. Often the cycle culminates in an extended self-indulgent blowout. Holidays are awesome for providing these opportunities.

6. But then finally, DING DING DING some mysterious subconscious bell rings, chiming out: Enough, Crabby! Time to DO SOMETHING! (This time, I believe the discovery that I'd gained 10 lbs since I'd last stepped on a scale had something to do with it.)

7. When I finally hear that "enough" bell, I know there's only one sure fire way for me to retrain my brain to be happy with healthier choices and portions. I have to suck it up and track things.

Ordinarily the thought of tracking every bite feels like such a soul-crushing impingement of my personal liberties that I can't even read about other people doing it with out feeling slighty icky.  But when I am ready, I am All Over It.

Food Diaries or Other Forms of Tracking are Not for Everyone.

They can be especially problematic for folks with eating disorder histories, perfectionism issues, body image issues, or rebellion issues.

Also, people who have enough common sense to just eat healthy food in sensible portions and accept whatever healthy weight they end up at have no need of such things.

Food Tracking Can Be Weirdly Helpful.

However, if you can contemplate the notion of tracking without feeling all depressed and barfy, research suggests that keeping food journals or otherwise tracking your food helps with weight loss.

It sure works for me!  Well, if turning one into a total obsessive-compulsive nutbasket can be considered "working." When the time is right and I start to track... suddenly I become insanely motivated to eat properly again and I get totally get into it.  It may be many months later, but I eventually meet my goals and figure out a maintenance plan (alas, not a permanent one) and say Sayonara until the next time.

Right now, I am completely FOC'D and am smack in the middle of the Most Insane Initial Phase.  This is when I'm bursting with enthusiasm and so relieved to be back in control of what I consume that I spend nearly every waking moment thinking about food and how to eat the optimal amounts of the right kinds of it.  Fortunately, the Lobster is also tracking, though not quite as obsessively.

Because virtually every waking hour I am plotting, scheming, counting, weighing, measuring, logging, searching for new recipes, trolling the grocery store aisles for more acceptable treats, and blathering on to anyone who will listen about how great it feels to be back on a Thing.  (We don't use the word "diet" in the Crab/Lobster household, but I have to admit it sure as hell looks like one).  We will be in the middle of a conversation and suddenly one of us will rush off to our tracking app to log three almost forgotten almonds or a walk to the post office.

Gosh are we fun to be around!

Two New Wrinkles and a Request for Help

The Crab goes Low Carb!  Inspired by Mark's Daily Apple's tempting endorsement of the joys of becoming "fat adapted," I'm experimenting with greatly reducing my carbs and upping my fat intake. I am attempting to shun my usual whole grains and beans and sweet potatoes and other starchy things for a while, and even cut back on my fruit consumption.

Will I become an effortlessly lean fat-burning energy machine full of even more vitality and happiness?  I already feel pretty darn good, but the hope of resetting my metabolism to enable easier natural weight loss is indeed enticing.  Or is this going to be one of those eating plans that works for some and not others and will I be a "some" or an "other?"  We shall see.

Online Food Tracking--Anyone got a favorite or least favorite program? I've abandoned my old "scribble wild approximations down in a notebook" method of tracking and signed up for an online program that's making the whole logging process a lot easier. Right now I'm using the My Daily Plate thingy. But there are lots of other online tools, some great and some sucky, and I can't help wondering if there might be something even better out there.  Plus I encountered a few that totally suck, so I thought it might be nice to write a food tracking app review post because google loves shit like that because it could save people a lot of frustration in spending time getting set up on the wrong one.

So if any of you who are also suffering from Fitness Obsessive Compulsive disorder have a favorite or unfavorite food/exercise logging program or app, and you have some feedback about it, I'd love to incorporate it into an upcoming post.  If you're a blogger and have a link to your blog (especially if you've blogged about it, but also just if you'd like an identifying link), that would great to have too.  Ideally, random people looking for food tracking programs may google and find us here all talking about our favorites, and, impressed with our knowledge and keen observations and wit, may become new fans of our blogs.  Or may google off to find a magic diet pill that will make tracking unnecessary, whatever.

You can email me, or leave something in the comments here, or if you don't want to be in the post but have things to say, you can wait and leave a comment then.  It's all good!

What do you all think of tracking your food and exercise? Does it strike you as a helpful tool or a sign of mental illness?


Food Scale: Free Digital Images
Pig: World of Animal Welfare
Coneheads: All Over the Web. Sue me, SNL.

97 comments:

  1. Myfitnesspal.com - love that one. It's a simple, easy-to-use tracker; worked for me nearly 5 years ago, and it's working for my son now.

    I don't really track my food when I'm not trying to lose, but I do still measure certain things. Good luck with the new plan! I hope it get you the reset you want.

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    1. Interesting Shelley, 'cause I found MyFitnessPal to be a bit frustrating, though of course now I've forgotten why. So glad it worked for you and is helping your son! And congrats for no longer needing one yourself, sounds like you are much better at the whole maintenance thing than I am.

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    2. Funny how what works for one person doesn't for another...Sparkpeople was all the rage when I got started, but I couldn't make that thing work for love nor money.

      And as far as maintenance, nah. You are the bomb when it comes to healthy living, my friend!

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    3. Just could. not. stand. Sparkpeople. I have no idea why. I liked MFP for a minute, but was in a slacking mode and didn't keep it up. I hear good things about Lose It! (Another one I have and don't use.). MFP is my app of choice for the foreseeable, in part because I won a Fitbit (!) in a thing at work and have been liking the ease with which it tracks (some of) my activity.

      My best results tracking? Pencil and paper. I'm old school like that. Plus - awesome excuse for a trip to the stationary store! Not that I need an excuse for a lovely new notebook and pen and oh look! Paintbrushes! I could use those for... Where was I? Oh yes...paper journaling works for me.

      essbee

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    4. You crack me up essbee, so glad the blogger Comment Overlords are letting you in!

      And now I want paintbrushes too. For what, exactly, since I haven't painted anything since 1st grade? Lemme think on that...

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    5. I've had the most success with Gymshout.com it lets you track food and workouts without be so tedious and it's super simple and fast.

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  2. Food tracking doesn't seem to work for me - I've tried it out a couple of times, and end up "forgetting" to write down the bad stuff or obsessing over them. It works for many, though!

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    1. You are not alone Irina! And yeah, the honesty part is challenging at times. I'm trying to not "forget" but it's always tempting!

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  3. I have been tracking my food intake every day since May 2011. I am maintaining a 50 pound weight loss. I use Tap & Track on my iPad - it also has an iPhone and web based version. But my iPad is always with me so that is the most convenient form-factor for me.

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    1. Wow, what a great streak of tracking Gadget Girl and that's great on the 50lb weight loss & maintenance. I have a PC and a droid, but that's great info about tap & track for iFolks!

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  4. I'm not a food tracker - tried it once, got frustrated, gave up!
    For the most part I would rather just work out a little harder. When I get to the point where that doesn't help, I cut out my evening happy hour (for a short time!!).
    Basically, I'm no help here!!! Good luck with the tracking - glad Lobster is tracking, too so y'all can work together!!!

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    1. Cut out the evening happy hour? Horrors! I was much more open to the whole low carb thing when I discovered a glass of two buck chuck merlot only has 4 carbs. :) And you are an awesome workout machine, so that seems a great alternative to the nutso tracking I've been doing.

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  5. The food tracking ship has sailed for me. When I track my calories, I maintain or lose weight. When I don't, I gain weight.

    Experimental results verified over the course of 8 years.

    http://iloverealfood.wordpress.com/weight-control/

    ~Rick

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  6. It's another one of those things I know I won't do. I've kept informal track, from time to time, as a way of sorting out allergy foods, but that's it.

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    1. Good to know yourself Leah! I can't track at all if I'm not in this weird zone. Sort of like turning into a werewolf or something, kinda of an All of a Sudden, Fierce, but Short Lived phenomenon.

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  7. I've used MyFitnessPal for quite a while now, and find it easy to use. The food database is great, and the recipe builder is very useful. I also like the little bit of social pressure that comes from posting a link to my food and exercise diary on the newsfeed. The one thing that makes me nuts is that the data (there's a lot: calories, carbs, fats, sugar, salt, etc) is not exportable to excel, and if I want to really analyze the data I have to type it in by hand.

    Interesting that you're going to try to eat Primal. I went to a talk about this Sat. and am very interested in Charlotte's (at GFE) experience eating more fats. I have high LDL and I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to start eating saturated fats. Almost as if my doctor had me take up smoking to increase the health of my lungs. Let us know how it goes.

    Lyn

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    1. That's great you had good luck with MyFitnessPal Lyn; I may have just approached it in a cranky mood.

      And I know exactly what you mean about cholesterol levels and fat! I have high numbers, of both good and bad. My dr isn't worried 'cause the good kind is so high, but I'd like to see the bad go down.

      I'm not going full-on primal, and while I'll be eating saturated fats (mostly from coconut milk and grass fed meat and dairy) I'm going to attempt to get most of my extra from olive oil, avocados etc.

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  8. I use Sparkpeople when I'm tracking. After using is for years I've built up quite a database of custom foods and since I like to cook, I love their recipe calculator which connects to the tracker. I say "when" because I could have written this very post myself lol!

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    1. I've heard good things about SparkPeople too Helen, and was going to try it but was sure I already had an account and couldn't find it and wandered off and completely forgot about it. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    2. Ditto to everything Helen said. I also really like the mobile app for Sparkpeople--I found it to be much easier to use than MFP.

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    3. I find the Spark recipe calculator is generally easy to use until you find some ingredient that it has never heard of or some measurement it has not yet encountered. Then you have to enter that yourself. But there are so many recipes already out there in their files that you can use or adapt so it is great for giving you ideas.

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    4. Another Spark lover over here. Love that users can enter foods/recipes so just about everything you could possibly think of is in there already (although sometimes parsing out the portion size requires a PhD). I like the daily reports. I even like the fitness tracker. WHEN I use it, it's awesome. Count me another soul who could have written this very post. Although I weigh myself enough to add in berating myself as my weight creeps up but still being too lazy to do anything about it.

      I did low carb for a loooong time. It worked okay for me. Wasn't a home run, but wasn't a strike either. Having kids has thrown a wrench into that eating plan. Because I am not cooking 2 meals every night. And I love homemade bread. Now, once I'm done spiraling out of control and reel myself back in, I aim to stick with the "better" carbs and limit them to a small portion. But I can tell when it gets to much. You might find a link to your insomnia...

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    5. Thanks you guys! My hangup is the part bdaiss says about "parsing out the portion size requires a PhD". The thing MyDailyPlate does well is usually give you tons of options for portion size, in cups, ounces, servings, etc, so you enter the info you have and the program does the converting automatically. But man would I love having the nutrition info!

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  9. Another vote for MyFitnessPal. I find it easy to use and they have a pretty good database. I did use Daily Plate for a while, but the site got to be so slow that I couldn't stand it.

    That said, these days I find I can't seem to stick to calorie counting. I did it for quite a few years (back then I used fitday.com, but there are many more sites to choose from now) but now I can't seem to stick with it. For this week I am just working on writing things down, but leaning more toward the mindful eating method than calorie counting.

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    1. Yeah, Daily Plate is slow, I thought it was just my hosed up computer.

      And I think mindful eating journaling is a GREAT and less crazypants alternative than what I'm doing JavaChick!

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  11. Cron-o-meter because you can track food in grams and make custom foods/recipes rather easily. I have found that tracking by grams makes for much "surer" tracking than cups/tablespoons. Cron-o-meter also has a lot of nutrient tracking options and you can make your own macro (pro/carb/fat) goals!

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    1. Oooh, haven't heard of cronometer but that sounds promising Robin! And interesting about grams; I'll have to see if my food scale will go to that setting rather than ounces.

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  12. I have to say I love this post, Crabby!!! One question: do you know your cholesterol numbers and are you going to do any kind of associated baseline "test" for the before and after for your new approach? Just curious....

    I am schizo when it comes to tracking. Even when I eschew tracking (so that I might think myself a bit less consumed/bat-shit crazy) - I really AM still tracking at least total calories in my head over the course of a day.... For some of us of the obsessed persuasion, I suppose this kind of self-delusion is inevitable. So - why not embrace it? (answer: because the crazed data tracking, number crunching and constant 'how-am-I-doing' thought pattern/self-monitoring can become exhausting and makes me look & feel a bit more nutty than usual.)

    I've tried on-line tracking apps and always run into the same problem: the time I spend finding the data for that one, oddball item I snarfed down. It's a pain in the proverbial - and I suppose if I just stuck with whole foods All The Time, this wouldn't be an issue....

    Anyhow - I don't track how many calories I burn so much anymore (even though the Garmin tells me). I have no clue how to track what might be burned by strength training anyway - so, I just figure that if I do stuff, it's all good and I'm doing what I should be doing. On harder workout days, I allow a bit more caloric consumption (but not a LOT) that supports the effort. Or - I go get a cheeseburger. Depends on whether I am feeling smugly sanctimonious in my healthy ways or have been saving up the dark side urges for a bit....

    One thing someone else shared with me and I believe is true is that shaking up the routine a bit (even with not so healthy stuff) every now and then is a good thing to do and can make your body respond with a strong enough "huh?!?!" to jolt the metabolism. Plus - it's my way of justifying that jump off the tracks every now & then. The good news for me these days is that the duration of the "now & then" periods is shorter and not as frequent.

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    1. You said cheeseburger, drool....

      Although I guess I can have one, just skip the bun!

      And I think you may be on to something about shaking things up. It helps psychologically if nothing else!

      So I do know my cholesterol numbers going in (high bad cholesterol since the hysterectomy, dang it, they used to be low; but also very high good cholesterol). If I decide to stick with low carb until my next physical I can compare, but I have no idea if this is going to be a longterm diet modification or a short term experiment.

      And I applaud you jumping off the tracks every now and then! We obsessive types have to loosen up sometimes. It's just the getting back on that I sometimes find challenging. :)

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  13. I am a Weight Watchers nut, so most of my online tracking experience is with them. I have also tracked using SparkPeople (I went through a phase when I wanted to know more detail about the nutrients I was consuming, and their tracker allows for that). In my perfect world there would be a hybrid of the two, because there are some things SparkPeople can do (copy a meal to another day, showing of all the nutrients detail) that WW can't, and vice versa. Since I live my life counting PointsPlus, anything that doesn't do that has limited utility for me.

    I use the SparkPeople recipe calculator all the time, though! It's a great way to convert all the recipes I find online without nutritional information in a non-proprietary way that I can share with non-WW members.

    When it comes down to it though, my tracking is usually done on paper. I've recently realized that because I "learned to track" back before online tools were a thing. So my training (so to speak) in tracking my food intake came when one would write things down on some sort of paper tracker. So I always seem to come back to the old school methods rather than the internet-based ones.

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    1. Ah, well I guess that's a nice thing about WW, that it provides its own built in system of tracking. And I'll have to see if I follow your lead and revert to old school! I still do a little scribbling when the laptop or phone isn't handy but I do love the way the online things look everything up and fill in all the fields, especially now that I'm looking at calories, carbs, fiber, protein, etc.

      Good to hear about SparkPeople, seems like a good system!

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  14. When I was tracking food I wasn't interested in calories, I was interested in nutritional content, and I found the online tools completely maddening for that. If you people above say that SparkPeople's recipe thingy is easy to use, it has changed since I last tried it. (But I found all the site bling highly annoying to wade through, so I gave up quickly. Fitday may not be great, but nothing FlAsHeS.) Getting analysis of vitamins and minerals was too difficult and I didn't trust their accuracy, especially since cooked broccoli appeared to magically have more fat grams than the same amount raw. Were they just assuming that you MUST put something on it?

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. I know what you mean Mary Anne, the interesting nutritional data often isn't in the databases. The one I'm using you have to pay extra to even get into vitamin/mineral territory and I'm not gonna go there.

      And I had a similar experience with the exact same quantity of kale magically losing calories when translated from chopped cups to ounces.

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  15. I think food tracking is a huge eye-opener for a lot of overweight people who insist they "really don't eat that much" or really "don't eat anything bad." Having to jot down every lick off the spoon when you're making your kid's peanut butter sandwich and realize you took two scoops of mashed potatoes and then decided the spoonful left after dinner wasn't worth saving so that went down your gullet too really demonstrates how mindless eating can be the culprit. I think it's a very helpful tool in developing new habits.

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    1. Good point Norma! Just the challenge to mindless eating that happens if you know you have to go log something is a great behavior tool on it's own. It's so easy to fudge on accountability if you don't have some sort of system. I know some people are naturally just moderate in all they do, but I'm one who has to force it a bit.

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  16. I'm back to tracking at the moment. Like you I'm having a low carb phase. I read Gary Taubes Good Calories Bad Calories over Christmas and some of the things he said really struck a chord with me so thought I would give it a go again.

    I'm using SparkPeople at the moment, in the past that has been the tracker I've found to be the best. Its got a lot of nutrients, and great for counting carbs at the moment. Its also got a great database of food because you can access all the foods other people type in - very handy here in the UK as people enter UK specific supermarket foods, whereas all the generic stuff is American based.

    I used to use PureLifeStyle which I think is actually a UK one. Its quite good, but I preferred Sparkpeople overall.

    I recognise that cycle of yours. I do the same. I'm hoping this time I can learn what to eat and where to stop and maintain weight without the cycle - but we shall see.

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    1. Good luck Sarah, and I keep seeing lots of references to that book, I really need to check it out!

      And while in a perfect world I'd never cycle out of balance in the first place, the whole thing is now so predictable that I almost don't mind it. Gaining weight usually happens when too many other interesting thing are going on for me to put proper effort into moderating, and a shift in focus seems to be inevitable for me. I've learned not to get too upset because eventually, that alarm bell chimes and balance is restored.

      But still... it would be great to get a long term maintenance routine so satisfying I never needed to track again!

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  17. "Because virtually every waking hour I am plotting, scheming, counting, weighing, measuring, logging, searching for new recipes, trolling the grocery store aisles for more acceptable treats, and blathering on to anyone who will listen about how great it feels to be back on a Thing."
    Yup...me too. I get a bit crazy when I track too much but I need to wrangle myself in every once in a while to correct myself when I creep up 5-10 Lbs and get back down again. My husband goes nutty when I blab about it to him too much, so I try and keep it to myself...and ramble on on my blog instead :)

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    1. Wow Geosomin, sounds like we have the exact same pattern! And good thing for our spouses that we have blogs. The poor lobster hears enough as is, but only half as much as she'd have to put up with if I didn't have this outlet. Instead, I get to bore other health nuts or random strangers!

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  18. Get out of my head, Crabby! Seriously, you could be writing about my life.

    When I had my lifetime weight crisis - late 1999, over 180 lbs, OMG - I started tracking. Then I started obsessing. Then I started REALLY obsessing. At the time, I was not aware of any online food tracking sites like we have now, and there was no such thing as an app, so it was pencil and paper and looking up stuff on the USDA nutrient database. I got to the probably-disordered point where I weighed everything in grams and measured about five or six macronutrients and graphed nearly everything after copying it into Excel...okay, I guess "probably" disordered is an understatement.

    However, that level of batshit crazy did yield me a forty pound weightloss. I've managed to keep most of it off, although as noted in your post above about my life my mileage has varied. At the moment I'm feeling like it's about time to buckle the hell back down. We'll see how that goes...it's going to be a very intense year at work, and work stress tends to make it hard for me to focus on other things. Even things, like going to the gym regularly, that would help me deal with work stress. Ah, the cycle of suckage.

    essbee

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    1. Hooray! You got in to comment!!! Hope the stupid blogger platform has decided to play nice for a while.

      So congrats on the 40lb loss the batshit crazy tracking got you! (And how funny is it that as you were describing your spreadsheet obsession I was thinking, oh cool, she managed to get all that data on a graph?? Wonder how hard that would be?).

      It sounds tough though with work being intense, because if you're anything like me the whole "exercise more and eat less crap" thing involves a lot of planning and mental effort. Finding ways to make shopping & cooking easy and fun and to work exercise into a busy day is SuperHero type behavior. Plus vanquishing the Evil Stress Vilian. And I imagine you'd like to sleep too? On the other hand, given your past success you may have a bit of superhero in you!

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    2. Heh. If there's one thing I am for sure, it's an Excel ninja. I can graph anything! Many, many years of practice....

      We'll see how long the commenting lasts. Right now I'm being patient - much select all/copy/refresh page/paste is involved - but at least I seem to be able to identify when I'm stuck and solve it, however clunkily.

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    3. Except when I brag, apparently. :(

      Speaking of sleep...I LOVE to do that. I've got an early morning ahead, so it's under the covers for me!

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  19. I thought I was reading something by myself then! Being too full for another bite definitely resonates with me, I had to chuckle to myself for a moment...

    It was interesting for me to come across this article, as tracking has been brilliant for me. Being able to see what I've eaten right before my eyes definitely helped me to become aware of what I was eating, and how much for that matter. 2 slices of lemon meringue pie didn't look so good on paper as it did on the plate, so that helped change my mindset to a much healthier one!

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    1. "2 slices of lemon meringue pie didn't look so good on paper as it did on the plate"

      Har! Nick, you've perfectly encapsulated what I've found tracking!

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    2. Nick and Rachel, so glad you are both FOC'd too and that I'm not totally crazy in finding it so helpful!

      And mmm, lemon meringue pie... wonder if there's a stevia-laced low carb version that would be edible? It's one of the few non-chocolate desserts I DIE over.

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  20. in fall of 2004 i was going to prove to my dr that something must be wrong because i just wasn't eating that much and still not losing weight. surely i had some metabolic mutation. i'm 5'10" and was hovering around 198 - determined not to go over 200 but somehow unable to go downward!! using "Diet and Exercise Tracker" by Keyoe for Palm, I only proved to myself that I was eating a whole lot more than I realized. so i kept using it and lost weight!

    in May 2008 shortly after joining weight watchers i joined fatsecret.com. it was free. lost 30 lbs. stopped tracking, gained 20. tracking works. whenever i stop i invariable gain weight, fast or slow, but fo sho.

    don't recall how i got onto fatsecret but it has served well. i'm looking forward to your information about the other trackers. i have a windows phone so i sometimes get left out because of that.

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    1. Hi Sharon!

      Too funny about trying to prove the Dr wrong, but so glad it had a happy outcome! Will have to look into fatsecret and the Keyoe thing.

      The list of possibilities is getting even longer than I thought!!

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  21. I am not a tracker and whenever I've forced myself to do it, it doesn't usually end well. But for those who love it? Have at it...doesn't make them crazy, just different :-) That said, I agree with those who say that for someone who has no clue, tracking can be an enlightening exercise.

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    1. Good for you Karen for not needing to go all crazypants psycho to eat healthy reasonable portions!

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  22. My secret is fasted cardio plus eating Warrior IF. I break all the "rules" and come out fine on the BMI, waist, waist to hip, and body fat. Go figure.

    My next column, due out tomorrow or the next day is my take on the Paleo Diet.

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    1. Oh cool, Dr. J., looking forward to your take on Paleo. I'm not actually doing full-on paleo, as I have plenty of quibbles myself, but am definitely curious about tweaking my carb/fat percentages.

      And Warrior IF? Sounds intriguing!

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    2. I was thinking that maybe my combination of broken rules equals a successful dietary system. For example, but doing IF I help insulin sensitivity along with eating protein with carbs I support a lower glycemic load and affect the glycemic index results.

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    3. I'm a big fan of broken rules and sounds like you have a great system Dr. J!

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  23. I have tried tracking....on SparkPeople. Mary Anne is right that the crap they put on the site can be irritating, but once you are in the trackers, you don't get that as much. I like the fact you can enter your own recipes as well as store bought stuff like types of crackers or chocolate. It is funny though to see some of the stuff that people have entered...like Kraft Mac & Cheese or worse (it comes up when you are searching, you can't tell who entered it though). Of course, once I figured out that my calorie count is not that bad and I really need to just exercise, I kind of let it fall by the wayside. I do still put in my weight to track that & my measurements though.

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    1. Hey that's great that SparkPeople helped and that you eat pretty moderately anyway even without it!

      Sure hope the exercise part gets easier, I know it's tough with injuries, but sounds like that's the next step and you're building up some great motivation on that front!

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  24. I used Sparkpeople tracking for a while a couple of years ago and did lose about 20lbs. Have gained it back and would like something easier to use. Tracking is a pain but helped.

    BTW, love the pig. Your progression is much like mine. Back and forth, success and backslide although I have gotten much further out of shape.

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    1. Two steps forward, one step back, an extended stop at the trough, another couple steps forward... it's a process! Great to know you were able to lose 20 when conditions were favorable, mk!

      I find MyDailyPlate easier, once the basics are entered, but as I am discovering there are TONS of alternatives!

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  25. I think MyFitnessPal was rated #1. Me, I just can't do: experimenting with greatly reducing my carbs and upping my fat intake. I am attempting to shun my usual whole grains and beans and sweet potatoes and other starchy things for a while, and even cut back on my fruit consumption.

    I know long term I would not stick to this so I do what I do & modify with age & hormones & what the bod tells me. Hope it works for you. I know Charlotte liked it. I don't eat a lot of beans or starchy stuff anyway. Mostly lean meats & more veggies & less sweet potatoes but I still eat them & less grains but still eat them.. so it for me this works & I adjust of need be. Not giving up fruit or bread for sure! I don't eat rice or pasta anyway so... :)

    On tracking - I think many can benefit because most have no idea of how many calories they eat or even how much. Biggest mistakes for people are underestimating how much they eat & overestimating how much they exercise & the calories burned with that exercise.

    Let me know what you think of what you are doing. I am curious althoug I am not changing over any time soon.. :)

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    1. Thanks Jody, and whatever you do sure seems to work well because you are SO FREAKIN FIT!

      Will keep you posted! I'm going by the notion that once you cut down drastically for a bit your metabolism changes and you can add back more carbs for maintenance. Still somewhat low carb, and lots of healthy fat, but with a bit more leeway on fruits and healthy starches.

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  26. I use Weight Watchers Iphone tracker, but prior to joining, I used the Lose It app and I loved it.

    My parents are both using it now and have lost 15lbs each. They are both relatively new to technology, but they have are reallying getting in to the tracking capabilities with Lose it!
    Kati
    http://fatmomtofitmom3.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thanks Kati, great to hear the success stories!

      I'll have to add Lose It to the list too. And how cute that your parents are getting hip to the whole online thing. Good for them! So many older folks are too easily intimidated and miss out on having their world or interests and interactions shrink to a small screen and retreat from the outside world like our generation! Oh wait... :)

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  27. My tracking experience (all based on having an iPhone, sorry!).

    Fitbit: I have a FitBit, which I love. I don't log my food at Fitbit.com, but I like having apps that share my data with Fitbit.com, and I look at what sort of calorie feedback I get there.

    MyFitnessPal: That's what I'm currently using. Pros are that it has a large database, I have a couple of friends who use it (so there's a social aspect), and it's very easy to do entries (e.g., recently entered food shows up so I don't have to search for coffee, or greek yogurt, or whatever, each time). Oh, and a gorgeous iPad app. Cons: I'm not sure all the data is accurate for the food info, the calorie allowance from MyFitnessPal is 200-300 more a day than Fitbit's recommendations (theoretically, they should converge, since they each share with each other, but they don't), a fair number of ads on the web site.

    LoseIt: What I used before MyFitnessPal. I liked the interface a little more than MyFitnessPal (why, I don't know, since they're very similar). The food database isn't as big as MyFitnessPal's, but maybe better curated. The data entry is a little more cumbersome -- it keeps track of recent food, but only in a separate list, so you still need to look those items up. The web site is less ad heavy. No specific iPad app.

    Thryve: Oh, I wanted to like this one. It's an app where you sort of log holistically. You take a picture of your meal, and then enter in what is there (e.g., peanut butter and jelly sandwich -- bread, peanut butter, jelly). You can then adjust the proportions of the items to match what you ate (lots of bread, less peanut butter and jelly, unless you have a crazy sandwich). A few hours later it asks you how you're feeling. I loved the idea of this sort of overview of the food, but I missed the numbers and didn't really relate to the pictures. Still have it on the top of my iPhone, though. Maybe someday.

    SparkPeople: I never really tracked food with them. I tried tracking exercise with them, but All Those ADS drove me crazy.

    Fleetly: Okay, fine, it's not a food tracker, it's an exercise tracker. Anyone here use it, thought? Love it.

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    1. OMG, thank you Rachel for all the input!! Love all the helpful specifics.

      I am beginning to realize that there is no way in hell I'm gonna be able to try all these out to review, so it's really great to get these pros and cons.

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    2. Forgot to say --

      - LoseIt conformed better to the figures I was getting from Fitbit.com than MyFitnessPal does.

      - Both LoseIt and MyFitnessPal apps have the handy barcode scanner feature, which saves a lot of time.

      - Not sure if I really got across the beauty of Thryve. I think I missed a step. Take a picture. Tell it what the food was. Then you get a bar graph of the food you entered. You slide the bars to make them more proportional. So you end up looking at proportions of types of food without nitpicking on calories or macronutrients. (You can also adjust for general portion size by choosing a size of "plate".) I don't know if they worked out all the kinks for showing porportions over a long time, and I know there were issues about not all foods being categorized so a lot of items ended up in "other" instead of "vegetable" or whatever. But it's new, so still subject to refinement.

      Delete
    3. Oh, we crossed! You're welcome, Crabby!

      (And also should have said specifically -- LoseIt also integrates with FitBit. SparkPeople also now takes input from Fitbit, but I'm not certain if it uses the numbers to influence calories for a day or if it just tracks them separately.)

      Delete
    4. Had never heard of Fleetly but now I want to check it out!

      Delete
    5. My husband has lost 35 lbs (so far) using MyFitnessPal. It's very easy to use, has a huge database of foods, and both the iPhone and Android apps are great! I started it with him (I'm more like Crabby when it comes to tracking) and it's helped me to balance my meals and not overeat.

      Delete
  28. **tip toes away as shes never tracked...**

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    1. Ah, jealous, Miz, youze a natural at moderation.

      Delete
  29. We change our lives when have an i've had enough! moment.

    When that happens, a switch flips and we figure out what works for us, that puts us on track.

    Writing it all down has worked for me at times, because i didn't want to have to write the word "cookie" or "donut' on the paper, so i didn't have those things.

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    1. Love the switch flipping analogy!

      Funny how sometimes changes are slow and incremental, and sometimes, WHAM, it is just time for a whole new approach. Thanks Messymimi!

      Delete
  30. I use MyNetDiary on the iphone. It scans barcodes and gives me full nutrition for the portion size I choose right away and gives the item a rating. That makes it easier to compare two products at the store. I am the rebellious type. Nobody is going to pressure me into doing anything. I think of this App. as a game and try to get all green thumbs up symbols on the analysis from the program. I get a thumbs down about a quarter of the time for my salt intake.

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    1. Ooh, cool, did not know about this one Cindy! I like the idea of barcode scanning; does it also have a good data base for manual entry & search/matching when you're not next to your packaging? But I guess if you get in the habit in the grocery store and it saves the info you're good anyway?

      Delete
    2. It has a pretty good database and users submit additional items. The only thing I don't like about that is that user submited items often just tell you fat and calories because the person did not fill in salt, vitamins & minerals and what kind of fat. I interesting that I was having trouble getting my daily recommend amount of potasium most days. You can save your own combinations as well. You can also put in your workouts but the calories burned they report for each exercise must be exagerated otherwise I would be wasting away according to their numbers.

      Delete
  31. I'm also a fan of MyFitnesspal.com but sometimes I get really tired of using it because it gets redundant and then I feel like since i've used it so long I know when I'm eating clean and when I'm eating really bad and about how many calories I've had.

    I will admit my major downfall is weekends and always saying "I'll start eating clean again on Monday."

    Anyway, I wanted to hit you up because we're launching a new ad network within the health, fitness, and diet niche and would love to get your website signed up for the launch so we could sell ad space on here. Hit me up when you get a chance so we can chat. Thanks. Blake

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    1. Thanks for the info Blake!

      Though I expect that unless your ads are for awesome products only and are incredibly lucrative I'd make just about enough money for a cup of coffee at the end of the year, as has been the case with most ad services. My readers are not big ad clickers, and if they were I'd be selling tons of ebooks and wouldn't need blog sponsors! But will check it out...

      Delete
  32. I am completely FOC'D too! I think we may be living parallel lives.:) I do the exact same thing...occasionally let my weight float up, finally notice, get FOC'D, realize I've become an obsessive nut job, albeit a thinner, more fit one (tracking really does work,) maintain for a while, (sometimes years) then float up again. Repeat. My latest free APP discovery is Lose It. Pretty easy to use, and handy since it's on my phone and computer. Also, another site I like when I'm FOC'd is DWLZ.com - it's lists tons of restaurants and the calorie counts of menu items.
    Gaye

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    1. Ah Gaye, great to have reassurance I am not alone, and yeah, reading your blog I do see a whole lot of parallels! And will have to check out DWLZ, especially on road trips.

      Delete
  33. I too have started to track my eating and I am like you, I love food! But over this past year I had to cut out gluten (which helps eliminate a whole food group basically) and menopause has hit full time with hot flashes and weight gain. I decided to go change my eating after my daughter (more food allergies than our whole family) started following Just Eat Real Food (which makes sense if you read it). It is what I grew up on as a child since there were no processed foods around (well, none my mom would buy!). I am slowly easing into it as old habits die hard, but so far I like my choices.

    The other thing I noticed is all these women complain about menopausal weight gain, but none of them say they do more than walk at night. I then thought, why not track my activity. I bought a pedometer and learned I wasn't walking as far as I thought. I also thought about what I wasn't doing anymore; I used to clean a house that held five people, now I am down to just two of us. I used to walk my dog three times/day, now only twice. When I went to get the mail, I would stop and pull weeds or pick up sticks, now I just get the mail. These things all add up over the course of the day.

    Think about how active you used to be as compared to how you are now. It is hard to maintain the activity level of youth, but I try. There are days after working for eight hours on my feet, cooking dinner, doing the dishes and walking the dog, I just want to flop on the couch, but I know if I just do that half hour walk or bike ride, I will feel so much better.

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    1. Hi anonymous!

      I think you make a great point about easy it is for activity levels to drift downwards as we get older unless we make a really conscious effort to stay active. That's great if you're getting out there for after dinner exercise even after a really long day! I'm a big fan of after dinner walks myself!

      Delete
  34. I think keeping a food diary is much like dieting. You can do it for so long, but eventually you'll give up and revert back to your previous lifestyle.

    I'm sure you will get good results by cutting out a lot of your carbs. It worked for me when I drastically cut back on pasta, bread, rice and white potatoes. In fact this is the only nutrition change I've tried that has made any real difference.

    The problem is now, I need to gain a bit of beef/muscle, and it ain't easy without carbing up!

    Look forward to seeing how you get on.

    Peter

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    1. Yep, in my case I agree Peter; I can only stand it a few months at a time. But I'm notice other commenters have been tracking successfully for years and keeping all those lost pounds from creeping back on!

      Interesting about the carb/muscle thing. Even when I did have carbs they tended to be "slow" carbs, not refined, so will probably be adding some back once I lose a bit and see what sort of program maintenance will require. But I want muscles! So good to know your experience with that.

      Delete
  35. I started with Calorie King's calorie counting book, (it comes in large print for old eyes) and the Calorie King Food journal that kept track, for ten weeks, your food intake and exercise out put. After 30 weeks I discovered Spark People. Yes those blasted ads are a major PITA, however, I used it anyway because it was....free! There are a lot of tools you can use and I admit I like getting those points and trophies every time you level up. I don't chat much in the various groups, but there are groups for all kinda of interests. Where you live, how old you are, if you love biking most, if you are in maintenance mode, etc.
    I recently tried going without counting calories and panicked when trying to fly solo. I am just not secure enough to go without. I am not meticulous in keeping track but I do track what I've eaten. I also like their mileage tracker. One of my goals is to do five or more miles per week. Not only can I track that on Spark People, but I can map out the route to get a real accurate distance to report.
    I've looked at some of the others, but since I am so well vested in SparkPeople, (I have too many points to walk away from) I will just stay there. I also agree with what others said about the recipe calculator...a wonderful tool it is!

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    1. Great to hear about another success story with SparkPeople! So, if you're still around Sherri, are the points redeemable for anything? (asked the greedy crab...) Or are they mainly for the sense of accomplishment?

      Delete
    2. They are for personal satisfaction. However, I have won an exercise DVD since I joined. Just for being a member. Sometimes they have a prize on their daily spin wheels too. Ya it is hokey but hey, it works! I am sure if I had found one of the other programs I would have stuck with them too. Now I have over 30,000 points. They don't mean anything to anyone but me! lol

      OH and I DO like that I can say that I have logged over 500 miles since I joined. They have several graphs and trackers and such too.

      Delete
  36. I use myfitnesspal and I think its key. I count the good, the bad and the ugly because I am human I will fall sometimes, but it also helps for me to look back at week where I was losing well and see, wow that's what I was eating and kind of work off of that for my menu, I tend to get stuck in ruts with food. Right now I'm in the I don't feel like making a dang thing so I'll stop and get a salad or sandwich from Market Basket mode.

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    1. I'm with you in thinking that HONESTY is the key ingredient in successfully using trackers, even when the numbers are ugly. If you're tracking, you're on track in the larger sense!

      Delete
  37. Hoo boy, have you been following me around? I've been doing this for months! I go back and forth between "I should count calories and work on losing weight" and "well, as long as I don't gain much more, and I should really just concentrating on eating better and exercising." So I don't know what's best to do. Sigh!

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    1. I have indeed been following you around, surprised you didn't smell the coffee breath when I looked over your shoulder. :)

      Sounds like you're not quite at that point where the bells chime and the switch gets flipped and you turn into an obsessive compulsive data freak like me. Probably a good thing! Eating better and exercising are very worthy goals even without weight loss. Maintenance is good too!

      Delete
  38. I like counting calories and what I eat when I'm trying to lose weight but as far as maintaining goes I think you shouldn't need to as long as your conscious about what you eat. I like to use myfitnesspal.com to track my weight. I tried using other apps and websites but they weren't as user friendly.

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  39. I am one of the many people who again and again making a goal to be more particular with the food I eat and be more health-conscious. Hope I will be more successful this year. Things were good last year, though I am hoping to do even better this year.

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  40. For me, tracking can be hazardous. I know rationally that tracking helps but for me it can become a trigger toward my binge eating and disordered thinking (the mental illness part of things) But what is helping is to do calculate things as I plan- prepare,cook, and portion out meals for a few days maybe even the week. Then I know ahead of that everything is in align and it takes the stress and shuts up the negative food talk.

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  41. I am SO glad I looked at your blog today! I finally decided to start tracking my calories because although I'm not really interested in losing much weight, I have been working out forever and my body never seems to change. I've heard it a million times... "The real change happens when you change your diet." so here I am, working with a calorie counting app for the first time ever. It is much harder and more tedious than I ever imagined! I thought I had a decent diet but within the first two days I've felt deprived and definitely like I'm on a diet. UGH! Last night I had enough room left for a glass of wine and I felt like an unchained rebel when I drank it. I'm not sure how long I'll keep this up but I just had to thank you for this awesome post. I laughed until I cried at the part below because it's exactly how I have been acting since I started counting calories:

    "We will be in the middle of a conversation and suddenly one of us will rush off to our tracking app to log three almost forgotten almonds or a walk to the post office.

    Gosh are we fun to be around!"

    Hilarious! :)

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  42. Oh shoot, sorry I missed these last few comments, but hey there Nicole, Sarah, Jules, and Becki!!!

    Funny how it affects us all differently, and how to find the balance between information and obsession. For some, best to stay far away, but for others of us it can be really helpful even if we do becomes a bit freakish and scary for a while!

    ReplyDelete

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