Life-Logging: The Problem with Food and Mood Tracking

So it seems that what I call “personal analytics” or “quantified self” is also called “life-logging” out in the wild. As regular readers know, I have a kind of fascination with this. I collect quite a bit of data about my life:

  • My activity (how much I walk, how active I am, etc.)
  • My writing (how much I write, how much I blog, how many keystrokes I make)
  • My reading (how much I read, how long it takes me, etc.)

I see a lot of people out there tracking other things, and two of the most common other things I see people tracking are food and mood.

I have tried to track both, and have been overwhelmingly unsuccessful. I think there are two reasons for this, one for food and one for mood.

For food, the reason is pretty straightforward: it takes too much time. I’ve tried it with the FitBit app, for instance, and although there is a nice interface and some shortcuts that you can use, it still takes too long to make it worthwhile to capture the data. First, I have to remember to do it. Second, I have to take the time to do it accurately.

For mood, the problem is different: it is entirely subjective, based on subjective measures, like your own opinion about your mood. Unlike steps, or activity levels, which are objective measures of activity, mood can be influenced by, well, mood.

It seems to me that for lifelogging, the things we track fall into two categories:

  1. Automated logging
  2. Manual logging

I steer away from manual logging (with one exception1) because the real beauty of life-logging, or quantified-self, whatever you want to call it, is that when it is done right, you should not have to think about it.

Part of why the FitBit Flex and the Nike Fuel bands are so successful are for this very reason. You wear these devices and you don’t have to take any action. They collect the data, they sync automatically, and if you have some coding skill, you can pull down the data and analyze it in an automated way.

Not so with food track, which requires not only active input from the user, but some way of reminding yourself to track the information. My guess is that, with few exceptions, food tracking datasets are significantly more incomplete than their activity counterparts.

This is not to say that at some point in the future, capturing this information will not be automated. It may be possible. But until it is more automated than it is right now, I won’t be tracking it. It is probably a little easier to track mood and there are dozens of apps available to help you do it, but again, it is a subjective measure, and I have yet to see an application where such a subjective measure provides real value. Indeed, it may be useful to correlate other data, and if so, it may ultimately become unnecessary.

  1. Tracking my reading, the data of which I collected once every 5 days from the Audible app.

One comment

  1. Jamie, you hit the nail on the head with this one! I have been trying to track my food intake, in vain for years. My latest attempt is with the myfitness pal app. I am trying to anticipate my food day and at 5:30 am, I am logging all the food I plan to eat all day. This seems to work most days because I take my breakfast and lunch to work with me but dinner can be a toss up. Weekends are a lost! I find I do a much better job by just keeping a running count in my head of my calorie intake for the day. Not an exact science but seems to be the best method for me, for now. Will give myfitnesspal a few more weeks. Helps that it is now connected to runkeeper, the fitness app I use when I do my daily running. If you ever devise a “food proof” method, be sure to blog on it.


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