Monday 6 February 2012

Healthy living: My Vitality

There are a bajillion diets and self-help books and web sites on how to lose weight out there and they're mostly the same; do this thing or that thing, count this or that and you'll lose weight and feel better etc. etc.  If you've read any of my stuff on weight loss, you'll know my views on all of that.

So, when I was asked if I'd like to try a new site, I thought "bah, it's going to be more of the same old crap", but thought I'd try to have an open mind and read the press release at the very least.

It’s Not All About Weight Loss

With the New Year comes a national obsession with trying to get rid of those ‘extra few pounds’, we all put on over the Festive period, as quickly as possible. It sees thousands of us signing up to gyms, weight loss groups and websites and sales of supplements, promising instant weight loss, soar. In the rush to drop weight however many of us forget that it’s not all about losing weight and let the rest of our health slide. A new ‘healthy lifestyle’ website hopes to counter this trend by offering a member’s site with a difference… ‘can’ certainly help you lose weight, but it is so much more than that and is a must for those whose New Year’s resolution isn’t just to drop a few pounds, but to give their general health and wellbeing a boost.

MyVitality is effectively a nutritionist, life coach, beauty therapist and chef all in one. When you sign up to the site you fill in a health questionnaire that asks about your lifestyle and symptoms. It follows this up by asking what your health aims are over the coming months; it’s ok if you just want to lose weight, but what about wanting to get a better night’s sleep, clearing up your skin, beating that bloated belly or having more energy when you come home from work?

Designed by health experts, the system then creates a 24 page profile created specifically for you.  This is no common profile shared by hundreds of people, because the experts behind the site understand that someone who wants to lose fat, but also has issues with energy is going to need a totally different diet plan to someone who wants to get fitter for sport, but struggles with stress.

The profile that is created tells you what your nutritional priorities should be, which foods to eat and what supplements could help you achieve your goals. Alongside these dieting tips the site also helps with ‘lifestyle actions’, whether that’s getting more sleep, deep breathing exercises or getting a better sleeping regime.

Alongside this the site also has a huge resource database to help you achieve your goals and suggests recipes that can help, provides information on herbs, spices, supplements and herbal teas, has a ‘daily action log’ and a ‘hunger scale’ to print off, and even sends you e-mails to steer you in the right direction.

It still looked a bit "we're different from all the rest, honest!", but why not give it a go?  So I filled in a few details and signed up for an account.  The first thing that I was initially confused by was the fact that there was a one month signup after which your account expires, but you could choose to sign up for a rolling monthly subscription thereafter.  Odd, so I thought.  How on earth can you track things and get trends and all the lovely statistics I usually love?  Again, swallowing my preconceptions, I got on with getting started.

The first thing you do is fill in some basics, name, height, weight, measurements and then there's a mahousive, long, long, long questionnaire.  The questions cover all sorts of topics in fine detail... form how often you eat cruciferous vegetables, red meat, dairy, nuts etc. to "do you have loose stools or get diahorrea?(sic)", "do you remember your dreams?"

There are questions about how you feel, physically, mentally and emotionally and whether you're happy with certain things or have feelings of guilt...  in all, somewhere around 200 questions to profile how you are doing in general.

Once you've waded through the quite extensive questions, you are rewarded with the results and a full profile. (I've completed four over the last month; you'd normally only see one listed after your first run through the profiling).

The summary gives you a nice precis of the full 24 section/page report:-

And then you can dive into the full report.  I did get confused at this point as all there is on the site is your report(s), some daily action log sheets to print out, the ability to take a new questionnaire and access to the (rather pathetic) recipe database.  I was expecting other things to log and track, like what I ate or weigh or -something-.  There isn't though.  But... this site is different, so it doesn't matter.  They're proposing a different way of looking at things.

The full report covers a huge range of topics.  All the way through there are reminders that the recommendations on each section don't need to be worried about in isolation - some will say "do more of $x" where the next section says "do less of $x", so in the conclusions at the end there is a final recommendation as to what to do about $x on balance and that's the one you need to take heed of.

Sometimes, it can be a little confused...

There are additional factors that it takes into consideration, such as whether you are involved in heavy exercise:-

Having had a lot of information from you on a range of subjects, there are calculations and decisions made to give you your top 3 areas to target.  God knows if you try to tackle too many things at once, you're quite likely to fail, so it's good that the report gives you the priority areas overall.

The results of the first questionnaire I took targeted these as my highest priorities...
As you can see, it's really not about weight loss, gain or the basics for someone who is very much adrift with the state of their physical health in terms of being heavily overweight.  There is a strong focus on reducing stress factors, getting more sleep, incorporating relaxation and "me time" as well as hitting any areas of nutrition that are weak.

My main recommendations from the first questionnaire were to eat more nuts and seeds, drink peppermint tea and liquorice tea (thanks to TeaPigs and the delicious mint and liquorice tea for hitting the spot there!), and take some time to relax in every day.  It also suggested some supplements (which there's no questions about so there's no data for it to know whether you are or aren't taking them already - which I was for the main one suggested, EFAs or CLA).  There does seem to be a lot of clevers behind the suggestions in each category.  I get the feeling someone has paid for a lot of data and science to populate "the system" with good algorithms and data,

In the report there were suggestions on which were nutrients to hit by priority:-

And where to get them from, naturally, i.e. which foods.

There does seem to be quite a focus on reducing wheat... though I eat very little of it anyway as we only eat bread at the weekend, we almost never eat pasta - sticking to unpeeled root vegetables, couscous, wholegrain rice sometimes.

And the usual red meat hatred, though, hilariously, it's also in my "superfoods" recommendations.

It's nice to see that herbs and spices are also included in the profile recommendations as important and powerful sources of nutrients.  Often when people make the choice to cook as much as possible from raw ingredients, they forget about herbs and spices and they not only make a heck of a difference to the flavours and variety in dishes, they can be pretty handy for plugging some of the vitamin and mineral gaps for minimal effort.

The weakest section, I think, is the recipe and meal suggestions.  It feels half-hearted and a bit of an after-thought.  You can't search on particular ingredients, nor my recipe name.  A bit of a waste of time really and I'd have left it out completely if I were the guys behind myvitality.

So once you've finished the questionnaire and read through the report to learn what the recommendations are and how to improve your overall score and hopefully your wellbeing, you then get motivational emails in your mail box once a day.  They are reminders of things to do and try and a little "uplifting" thought for the day.  Sounds a bit twee, but I quite like them.

Sometimes there are ones with nothing related to food/eating:-

Over time you may well feel differences.  I wasn't expecting to, but I was good and I followed a couple of the main target recommendations... I've added 20-30g of nuts into pretty much every day's eating and I've started to drink mint and liquorice tea and a few other of the recommendations and over the first 2 weeks I -did- notice feeling perkier.  I took a new questionnaire and the score had gone up!
And if you look at the individual factors, you can see where the changes have been made:-

Checking in periodically every couple of weeks, with the little changes I had been introducing, I could see improvements:-

Each time following a couple more of the recommendations and... well... after 4 stages of adding in little changes, I've gone from a pretty good start:- a really strong finish:-

I really do feel better, less prickly in the head, my skin wasn't bad but it's almost great now, I feel perky even when I've not had enough sleep and mentally really rather positive (though there are a couple more reasons for that to be the case).

In conclusion, I think this is a great resource for people who already have an open mind to food, nutrition and lifestyle changes.  Someone looking for a quick way to lose weight, or a quick fix for their life problems really isn't going to get far.  And that's why I think it's ahead of it's time to make a great success of itself.  The market is certainly there, but I don't think it's all that big.  There are plenty of people in the world who are a lot more tuned in to the "diets are not the way" modern thinking.  There are lots of people who understand that in order to look/feel better/different you really have to make long term, permanent changes.  This site really is for those people.  I'm just not sure there are enough of them who need or want to pay for the sort of help this site provides for it to make a whole lotta money.

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