Annual Review 2019: From Not That Bad To Train Wreck

I started 2019 with my annual review of 2018, the second year in a row doing so. While I was down on myself for missing objectives before I did it upon reviewing the data I was pretty content. The same will not be said for my review of 2019, but let’s dissect that further with a health review of 2019.

Coming out of the end of 2018 I had been slacking on hitting my goals across the board but I was hoping that I would be able to improve those in 2019. I didn’t have any definitive targets besides the (hypothetically) trying to hit each of these daily. While I beat myself up too much heading into 2019, that scolding certainly didn’t translate into any forward progress. In fact, 2019 was the worst year so far of me tracking these goals. It was the worst year of the last three in changes in body composition (pretty close to the worst year ever for me actually). It was the worst year of the three in my diet. While 2019 was a good year in terms of levels of happiness, having great times with family, friends, and work, it was a train wreck from a personal health and longevity perspective.

Goal Accountability

For 2019 I continuned tracking of the five daily goals for myself.The idea behind that being that it would keep me more accountable to hitting five structured goals. These goals align with the Blue Zones lifestyle components to some extent. These are the exact same five goals that I started tracking in 2017. The goals are:

  • Goal 1: Dial in the diet to be ~80/20 rule plant based whole foods diet.  Think “Eat-to-Live” mainstream diet method.
  • Goal 2: Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Goal 3: Physical activity levels such that either get 10K or more steps in a day or burn more than 2800 calories. This translates into either moving more or working out or both.
  • Goal 4: Daily calisthenics or yoga in order to increase agility, muscle balance, and strength.
  • Goal 5: Meditation or yoga in order to increase mental acuity and relaxation

I thought 2018 looked like a bad year for these goals but 2019 was an absolute train wreck:

Per Phase Goal Grades
Figure 1: Accountability Grades Per 4-week Phase


What we have is the grade for each of the categories for each of the 4-week periods that make up a whole year (a total of 13).  I started out okay and ended okay, with a slight rally in March, but for the most part it’s a downward trend to the basement where I stayed. I did absolutely no training, calithisthenics, or hint of that sort of exercise for literally four phases, and barely any of it outside of the first and last phases of the year. Meditation was almost as dismal until the beginning and end. Diet, which started out okay, just got worse and worse until it cratered to nearly a zero for the month of August (a series of vacations without dialing it in afterward). I really have no excuse for letting things slip as much as they did. When you look at the daily aggregated grades it’s equally dismal:

Daily Grades
Figure 2: Daily Goal Aggregated Grades


I did have a few highish points in the beginning, in the last few phases of the year too, especially at the end. However for half the year I was below a C average each day. A bit after day 252 I managed to get a literal zero. Ouch. The point of these obseravations and tracking is to supposedly have some kind of accountability. It’s why I call the spreadsheet I use “Goal Accountability” but for the most part it isn’t doing squat. It’s not a total loss though. The first of the end of year bump ups came after I looked at the graphs when entering my data in one day and saw how dreadful they looked. Perhaps looking at the graphs more frequently will help improve my grades.

When we break down the grades for each of the five levels for the entire year things look as disasterous as the charts would lend you to believe:

2019 2018 2017
Goal 1 (Diet) 1.99 (C-) 3.05 (B) 2.94 (B-)
Goal 2 (Sleep) 3.23 (B) 3.60 (B+) 3.58 (B+)
Goal 3 (Activity) 3.13 (B) 2.98 (B-) 2.81 (B-)
Goal 4 (Training) 0.85 (D-) 1.63 (D+) 1.27 (D)
Goal 5 (Meditation) 1.08 (D) 1.79 (C-) 1.52 (D+)
Total GPA 2.05 (C) 2.61 (C+) 2.42 (C+)

Once again the real drags are in training and meditation, but with everything except activity I scored way lower across the board. Thank god we had tons of walking and latent activity with our vacations and people visiting us causing a lot of extra local theme park time. If not for that fact the activity score too would have been in the crapper. Perhaps that’s another reminder about why making all of this latent to ones lifestyle is important. I dropped two grades in most things, one grade in another, but got a slight uptick on activity. The grade for the year subsequently dropped a grade from a C+ to a C. Low scores aren’t going to be good for my long term health and longevity, but with scores this low they have manifestations within the year as we see below.

Nutrition

I scored way worse in diet in 2019 over 2018. Looking at the chart of my actual nutrition compared to my goal accountability grade I’m wondering if part of the much lower grade came from judging myself more harshly than I did in 2018. Best case that’s only part of the problem because there was a fundamental degradation in my nutrition over 2019. On the surface things don’t look radically worse, but digging into the numbers a bit it’s clear that I went from not great to kinda bad on my diet:

Nutrition
Figure 3: Annual Daily Average Nutrition


Lets delve into these numbers a bit. First the Good:

  • I’m getting almost all of my macro/micro nutrients (except just under on Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Magnesium) in my diet. Vitamin E and Magnesium are just a hair under as well, so I wouldn’t be concerned anyway. I’m doing better on several of them and once I add the multivitamin I take every now and then plus a Vitamin D supplement I’m comfortably above the level for all.
  • Unlike previous years I actually exceeded my levels on Calcium and Potassium. They weren’t that far below anyway, but it’s good to see the improvement (especially on the Potassium)
  • Nutrient ratios got substantially better than in 2019 with the exception of alkalinity (addressed below).

There’s a lot less good in here compared to 2018, but there is a lot more bad:

  • While I burned more calories in 2019 than 2017 and 2018, I also ate a lot more. It shows up in the weight graphs too. In fact I think I substantially undercounted some days on these longer vacations such that I have about a 100 calorie a day discrepancy between what it says my calorie deficit/surplus is and what it actually works out to with body composition and weight changes. That’s a 4% error which is pretty darn good concidering how hard it is to eyeball that stuff in a lot of cases.
  • I drank slightly less caffeine in 2019 than in 2018, but still more than the 150 mg a day I was shooting for.
  • Not only did cholesterol levels exceed the level I was shooting for (100 mg) but it exceeded the RDA too. That is a good indication I wasn’t eating as plant based as I was targeting.
  • Fiber levels are the lowest I’ve had in a long time, at just 80% of RDA. That’s a sign I’m definitely not eating enough whole food plant based percentage of the diet and substituting that with more junk food and processed foods as well.
  • Sodium levels came down a bit (from 379% RDA to 280%), however that’s still almost 3x higher than they should be.
  • The alkalinity level is an indirect indicator of how much animal products I’m eating. The fact that needle went positive means I ate way too much of it as a proportion of the diet. That’s consistent with the reduced fiber and excessive cholesterol.
  • Last year I was not happy that 20% of my diet came from junk food: pizza, alcohol, candy, chips, etc. This year that number is over 30%, 8% of that is pizza alone. That’s a major slip in the wrong direction from last year.

Body Composition

Last year I had some success with changes in body composition but with everything going to pot in 2019 that can’t be said again:

Body Fat and Weight Graph
Figure 4: Annual Body Fat and Weight History


Net Calories Graph
Figure 5: Annual Net Calories History


Average weight, which started going down a bit (with good changes in body composition) in the beginning of the year, quickly started shooting up between in late February through April. It plateued again until August when it slowly started creeping up again through the end of the year to be ten pounds, or maybe more, higher than it was when I started the year. Body fat levels also creeped up over similar time periods until the the last month of the year when they started going down. That was when I started dialing in the exercise more, training for my first races in years, started eating a bit better outside of the holiday gorging, and started doing calisthenics and such again. I’m getting consistent drops in body fat even though the weight kept creeping up for the month of December. As long as the body fat keeps dropping I don’t care what happens to the weight. But as expected there is a pretty clear correlation between the net calorie counts going positive and weight/fat gain.

Looking Forward to 2020

Yes, 2019 was a pretty epic disaster. My lifestyle may fall in line with the average American one but that is just not a recipe for longevity or health. Thankfully all my doctor checkups, blood tests, etc. came back in normal ranges. I do think I’m on borrowed time if I keep I keep having repeats of the last two years though. About the worst indicator I have right now is that I could have slightly better blood sugar levels, although they are still in normal ranges. Regardless, continuing to not exercise and not watch diet is not a recipe for health but the opposite of that. The body composition change illustrated that too.

So what is 2020 going to look like? The good news in all of this is that I’m a month into getting things more dialed in. That’s not just an artifact of the charts. A large part of that was me signing up for a local race series that happens in April. It’s finally getting my butt back into running, which I’m picking up pretty easily. I even have a Peloton indoor cycle that we bought back in October that I’m using to do more cross training too. Lastly I was hoping to finish out the year in the mid-190s, or worse just under 200, so I had started dialing in my eating too. So I wasn’t waiting for the new year to start getting things in gear, I’m a full month into it.

The question will be whether I can get things even more in tune than I have. I could rationalize that I would have had better scores if I hadn’t been doing more than my share of holiday indulgences. However my training and movement goals still weren’t great even if I wasn’t having a big ding on diet. I am finding that training for the races is helping focus me more so perhaps what I need to do is start stringing those together. I could just sign up for one race after another until it just takes up a year of training. Either way I really need to make sure I keep up, or even accelerate the cross training though. All of it is moot if I don’t also clamp down on the diet.

For the diet I’m going to try something a little bit different. I’m going to try to stay mostly whole food plant based but I’m going to allow for more animal products than before especially when I’m training. This would be more like 75/25 instead of 80/20. Could I do all of that with just plant based foods? Yes. I think an easier target for me is doing it this way and I’d rather not have perfect be the enemy of good. More than whether the diet is more plant based it’s also about if it is more whole foods based too. I need to cut out the regular junk food and save them for the indulgences they are supposed to be rather than a Pavlovian daily late night treat. I’ll try to indulge on special occasions and vacation and not all the time, which waters the concept of indulgences down anyway. I’m also going to try to work in some fasting intervals to help counteract some of the over indulgences of the past few months. That could look like some intermittent fasting for stretches of time or a literal fast for 1-3 days one or two times this year.

The bottom line is there no secret to this. I just need to do a better job of incorporating this into my daily routines so that it doesn’t feel like a deprivation or something I must do but rather it’s just something that I do automatically. So the five goals are pretty much the same as last year but with some tweaking:

  • Goal 1: Dial in the diet to be ~75/25 rule plant based whole foods diet.  Think “Eat-to-Live” mainstream diet method with slightly more animal products.
  • Goal 2: Get 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Goal 3: Physical activity levels such that either get 10K or more steps in a day or burn more than 2800 calories. This translates into either moving more or working out or both.
  • Goal 4: Daily calisthenics or yoga in order to increase agility, muscle balance, and strength.
  • Goal 5: Meditation or yoga in order to increase mental acuity and relaxation


Picture of Me (Hank)

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