I received the happy news last month that my blood’s current population of LDL cholesterol, compared to its prior measurement from early 2013, had dropped from 156 mg per deciliter to 136. That’s still higher than the generally regarded “safe” upper limit of 129 mg/dL, but very much suggests a move in the right direction my part. Still, as the son of a man who suffered a midlife stroke that left him significantly diminished for the rest of his days, and the grandson of one who died outright from heart failure, I’d like to keep pushing that number down, far beneath that ceiling. If genetic destiny has handed me loaded dice, then I very much want to counterweigh them in my own favor as much as I reasonably can.

I credit my taking up near-daily high-intensity interval training by way of the seven-minute workout as the one major change to my physical lifestyle I’ve successfully introduced over the last two and a half years. Common sense suggests that it remains for me to now turn my attention to my diet — which I’ve been allowing common sense alone to govern for my whole post-college life. I know enough to avoid eating pizza and burgers every day, and to sneak a nice green salad in there now and again. But I have never truly watched what I ate, not in the sense that I would actually set benchmarks, keep a food diary, or literally count calories, even though I’ve heard the indisputable benefits of these practices for years. I knew I’d never stick to that level of self-quantification. Better to eat by ear, making every day’s bodily intake an educated but memory-free improvisation.

Today, though, an epiphany struck. Modern computing technology helped me figure out an exercise regimen I’d actually adhere to. Didn’t it seem likely that it could help me examine and improve my diet, as well? I dimly recalled searching for food-logging apps and such after I got my first iPhone and coming up disappointed — but that was many years ago. Looking again this afternoon, I found all sorts of promising tools for both Mac and iOS.

And so, after a modicum of initial research, I have begun a new and hopeful experiment by dropping four dollars on the blandly named but much lauded Calorie Counter Pro. It seems very friendly and polished. After I set it up with my vital information — biological gender, age, height and weight — I found it borderline fun to plug in the details of my breakfast and lunch, an action which included scanning the barcode on my oatmeal box and seeing all its nutritional information snap into place from an unknown database. (I was forced to make a guess regarding the enormous slice from Crazy Dough’s I had quite recently consumed, claiming I’d eaten a quarter of some other brand of super-deluxe veggie pizza and nodding at the appropriately ponderous calorie count.)

As I write this post in the evening, the app tells me that I’ve about 50 calories left in today’s budget. This fact, plus the novelty of the situation, stays my hand from reaching into the chip-bag from which I have already withdrawn 417 calories today (as well as 45 grams of carbs and 250 mg of sodium). It also leads me to better appreciate the fact that I am full, having eaten three nice meals plus the chips and a beer. When I turn my mind to it, I can feel how pleasantly full I remain from tonight’s mac-and-cheese dinner (850 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat, most of the latter via the butter I opted to add). If I weren’t consciously aware of my fullness — an effort I rarely make, most nights — I’d like as not polish off that bag of chips in thoughtless idleness.

So you understand how, while couching my enthusiasm with the understanding that we’re only one day in, I feel quite hopeful for the behavior-tweaking potential of smart, database-connected tools like this.

My assigned daily calorie budget (as well as various other limits and goals the app suggests) come from another of its setup questions, and one that I have mixed feelings about. Having collected your height and weight, the app — much like every similar tool I’ve used in the past — asks for your target weight. I appreciate that it frees the user to just plug in their current weight, if they wish; if so, the app will set a course for ongoing equilibrium.

But in my case, I do wish to “lose weight” insofar as making that a side effect of my real goal: reducing the amount of visceral fat I carry. I first learned of this, the malignant variety of fat found in human bodies (distinct from shape-giving and beneficial subcutaneous fat) from my time with Bill Gifford’s Spring Chicken earlier this year, and I’ve come across further references to it in my reading about health since then; it even had a mention in the Emperor of All Maladies documentary as a correlated companion to cancer.

Now, I don’t have a huge belly. A dear friend once called what pooches over my belt a “programmer’s gut”, taking the edge off (if you will) by suggesting it as something like a badge of office. But even if I have come to terms with the outward appearance of my midsection, I cannot cotton to the thoughts of its likely internal dynamics, befouled with the presence of a vile visceral anti-organ threading through my guts, seeping toxins and generally getting in the way of things.

I don’t want to just “lose weight” — I want specifically to melt this awful stuff away as much as I can. But my only route for expressing this desire for targeted lightness to the new app involved naming a target overall body weight. So, I held my nose and looked up a BMI chart, despite rather all my friends and loved ones disregarding that entire method of calculation as utterly bogus; at least it gave me some numbers to ponder. Its upper boundary for “normal weight” for my height lies more than 20 pounds beneath my current weight, so I poked that number in. The app proceeded to set budgets that would, in theory, see me drop around one pound per week over the next six months. I figured that I could always adjust these goals later, and then there proceeded the very impressive interactions with the program that I have already described. I look forward to seeing how these weeks do end up proceeding, in this regard.

Another purchase today: a digital bathroom scale which — so says its Amazon page — includes a cloth tape measure, with which I suppose I shall fretfully determine my middle circumference like a dieting cartoon character. Well, yes, that is in fact the literal intent, and it offers a much more accurate way to measure any passage of abdominal fat than mere weighing. So, here’s me slipping on my red-polka-dot boxers for maximum iconic verisimilitude when the time comes.


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