Technology and Your Healthy Lifestyle
Welcome ! Since you're reading this article online, it's obvious that you're already using technology as an aid in your quest for a healthy lifestyle. In addition to reading other articles here, you've probably also looked around the World Wide Web from time to time, seeking more information and other ways you can use technology.
In this article, we'll try to focus on specific applications for the technology you already own or are planning to buy. We'll focus primarily on computers that run Windows. If you have a Macintosh, there are equivalent programs for everything we'll be discussing. If you have trouble finding them, there will undoubtedly be Mac users on the message board who can help you find them. Some programs, like Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works, are available for both kinds of computers, and the downloads we'll be making available will work with those programs on either type system.
In two short lsections, we'll explore resources you already have at hand, and suggest other resources that are available to you either for free, or for a small charge.
We'll be looking at:
Hardware: Putting your computer, printer and even portable music player or PDA to work for you
Software: Using various programs (some of which you probably already have)you can run on your computer to maximize your quest for lifelong health and energy
Online resources: Finding and using a wide variety of Web sites to help you along the way, whether you want to ramp up your fitness program, find great recipes, or research health and nutrition issues
Each section includes a brief quiz to help confirm that you understand the concepts we'll explore, and an exercise to get you started as you actually begin to apply what you learn.
There is also a Message Board where you can ask questions, make comments and explore ideas with the instructors and your fellow Discussion Board members. The more you use it, the more you'll learn, and the more fun you'll have here.
In this article, we'll be looking at hardware and software. In the second lesson, we'll venture out into the World Wide Web.
Now, let's get started!
Hardware and what you can do with it.
Look around you right now. What do you see? Chances are you're seeing at least a monitor, a computer and a printer; and in one way or another, your computer is connected to the rest of the world either with a telephone line or through your cable TV system.
That's all you really need!
Now, let's look at your software. First, you have a browser. It's the program you're using right this minute to read these lessons. It's probably Internet Explorer, Netscape, or Firefox.
You will also have some kind of word processing program. It may be the word processor segment of Microsoft Works, or Microsoft's full-scale word processing program, Word.
If you have Microsoft Works, you also have a somewhat limited electronic spreadsheet, and if you have Office, you have Excel, which is the premier spreadsheet for microcomputers.
We'll be using both word processing and spreadsheets--in addition to your browser, of course--for what we'll be doing in this lesson.
Tracking Your Progress
Tracking your progress can be a really powerful motivational tool, whether you're just getting starting with a fitness program or need encouragement to maintain your healthy lifestyle. Tracking is a very useful tool for keeping up with:
Fitness: Distances or times for running, swimming or bicycling; number of workout sessions per week; heart rate; type of workout (interval, endurance, etc)
Nutrition: Grams of protein, fiber or net carbs, consumed on a daily or weekly basis; number of meals and snacks per day; vitamin or mineral intake; daily water consumption
Health statistics: Weight, BMI (body mass index), body measurements; health variables if you have a condition that needs monitoring (blood pressure or blood sugar levels, for example)
If you're following any of the four phases with the Atkins Nutritional Approach, a spreadsheet is a great way to keep track of your carbohydrate intake. There are programs you can buy and download., of course, but if you're the do-it-yourself type, use a spreadsheet that will do the job for you. You can also adapt a spreadsheet to track any of the variables in the list above--or anything else you need to track!
Using a Tracker
A tracker will total your carbs for the day, give you weekly total and average daily carbs by meal, weekly totals, as well as chart and track your net carb intake and weight.
Granted, you still have to look up and add up your net carbs, but if all you want to do is track them, this is a useful sheet to have. If you have Microsoft Works, the sheet will still load and the math functions will work, but the charts are too much for the program, so you'll have to do without the graphics.
If you like, you can also buy the downloadable version of the tracking software available online from FitDay. It does everything the online version does and more. We'll explore FitDay in more depth in Lesson 2.
Finding Data Sources
Of course, to enter net carb data in the first place, you need to know the numbers.
There are a couple of places you can download the information.
The Atkins Carb Counter
Naturally, you can get the Atkins Carb Counter on this site downloaded as an Adobe Acrobat file.
If you're counting carbs, the Atkins Carb Counter is an invaluable resource.
If you don't already have it, you'll need the free download of the Acrobat Reader. Just click the link to go to the download page. It's a fairly large file, but a lot of online sources use it now because of the features it offers, so it's worth it.
The USDA Nutrition Database
Another highly useful source of nutritional information is the nutrition database of the United States Department of Agriculture. You can always look foods up online at that site, and we'll get into that more in Lesson 2. But if your hard disk has the space to spare, it's wonderful to be able to call it up on- or off-line.
Once you've downloaded and installed it, looking up any food or food product is simplicity itself.
Searching the USDA database.
First, you enter a search category, like "beef."
Then you can select a food group, to limit the search if you want to. In this case, you probably wouldn't have a need to search baby foods, for example, if you wanted to find information about boneless beef top sirloin. So you'd probably select "Beef products" in the second window.
Finally, you'd scroll down until you found the cut of beef you were searching for (and in some cases, the grade and cooking method), click on it, then click the Nutrients button.
Almost immediately, you'll get the nutrient report window. In a great many cases, you can select both the measure and the amount. In this case, we've chosen to report on a six-ounce chunk of steak. But if you want, you can change the measure and amounts as much as you like.
When you've entered both the measure and amount, the window immediately displays more information about that piece of beef than you probably imagined there was to know, all the way from the water content to how much hydroxyproline there is (about 0.362 grams, if you're curious).
The database itself contains an immense amount of information about a vast number of edible foods, and it can be very handy. It's downloadable, free of charge, from the USDA Web site. The Windows version is about 9.3Mbs. There's also a version for PDAs using the Palm operating system, but it will use about 2Mb of memory in your PDA.
If you're looking for a resident cookbook to live in your computer, you'll find a huge number of them out there, both free and fee. Run a Google search for "downloadable low-carb cookbooks" and explore some of the cookbooks available for sale in various formats.
Or run a less restrictive search for "downloadable low carb recipes" and explore what comes up.
If you've never used Google.com, it's the Web's premier search engine, and it's a valuable resource in its own right. And it will come as no surprise to you that we'll talk more about it in Lesson 2, where you'll get some general tips for fine-tuning your searches to get great results every time!
We'll look at some other uses for your computer and printer.
We've already explored some of the things you can do with an electronic spreadsheet like Excel or the one in Microsoft Works, but if you use a pedometer as part of an exercise or fitness program, you can easily set up a spreadsheet to chart your footsteps daily, and you can even chart them against your weight and do a cool graph you can view for encouragement on those days when you really don't want to mess with it.
In fact, you can chart just about any exercise program you're following, and you might be surprised at how encouraging it can be to see the lines on the graph go up or down-- whatever the desired direction is--on a day-to-day basis. And if things start to go the wrong way, the lines suddenly starting to go the wrong direction, too, may be just the spur you need to turn things around.
No matter what computer or operating system you have, you've got some kind of word processor on-board. It can be useful either for direct entry, or for creating a master form you can print over and over again, to use as you need it.
Many people, whether they're maintaining a healthy lifestyle or losing weight so they can have one, find some sort of a day-to-day record to be extremely helpful. Whether you call it a journal or a diary, or you don't call it anything and keep it in a spiral-bound notebook, such a record of your days can be remarkably useful:
It serves as a daily reminder of your goals and what you're doing to reach them
It serves as a reference when you want to see how you coped with a similar problem in the past
It can help you keep track of what and how much you eat, and whether you liked a particular dish or not
It can help you track your exercise routine
Interestingly, many people find journaling easier to do with a ball-point and paper because it's so convenient. That's hardly high-tech, but your hardware can even help you out in this area.
You can print your own journal pages and keep them in notebook.
Here's a Microsoft Word file you can download and use to generate journal pages. It's offset, so you can use a three-hole punch and keep the pages in a loose-leaf notebook in the kitchen or wherever else it will always be handy, and will always serve as a reminder to record your measurements, meals, snacks, exercises and any thoughts you may have about the day and your feelings. (It will load in Microsoft Works, too.)
If you have a color printer and a loose-leaf notebook into which you can insert a page for the front cover, you can design a personal journal cover as well. You can probably do better yourself with your word processing program, perhaps adding a photo.
A sample journal cover--why not create a custom version just for you?
In fact, there are a great many things you may find your printer useful for. For example, you can print out motivational quotes to post around your house. f you don't ultimately end up using one of the recipe databases or Web sites that generate their own shopping lists for recipes, you can create a master shopping list in your spreadsheet according to recipes you know you'll be fixing, and if you'll note the aisle in your own supermarket where each item is located, you can sort the list by aisle to shorten the time you spend shopping. Many people who are just starting the Atkins Nutritional Approach find it helpful to print copies of the Acceptable Foods List and the Rules of Induction. They tape the Rules to the refrigerator and pantry doors, and take the Acceptable Foods List with them whenever they go grocery shopping.
We hope you can see the possibilities, and based on what you've learned here, you may come up with some other ideas of your own. If you do, be sure to share them with your fellow students on the Message Board.
We'll consider some of the uses for portable devices like PDAs.
Do you remember when people started getting their own home computers? The first so-called "mini-computers" were about the size of an executive office desk. Everyone thought they were the ultimate in speed and miniaturization, and of course, everyone was wrong.
Next came the microcomputers: the desktops, the portables (sometimes called "luggable" because they were big and heavy, but at least they had handles), the laptops and notebooks. Now we have PDAs like the Palm Pilot, mobile e-mail devices like the Blackberry, portable devices like the iPod that can carry an astounding amount of music and cell phones that are becoming more capable and flexible almost by the minute.
If you have an iPod or other portable player, consider building your own playlist of music to walk, jog, or exercise to. And if you only have a portable CD player, you can still put together your own exercise mix CDs and burn them on your home system.
Another great idea that many active people--especially runners and people who enjoy aerobics--enjoy is creating music collections calibrated to your ideal beats per minute. You can do this with Apple's free iTunes software, which works on Windows as well as Mac operating systems. To use this feature, make sure you've downloaded the latest version of iTunes.
Put Your PDA to Work for You
If you already have a PDA, you're probably aware of some resources for it. If your PDA has sufficient memory, for example, you can take the USDA database we mentioned earlier with you wherever you go, and with some PDA operating systems, you can take along a limited spreadsheet or word processor file that you generate with your desktop or laptop computer. PDAs are great for keeping lists and reminders all types, so make sure you understand all that your device can do and explore all the applications available for it.
If you do a Google search on "diet tracking software for PDAs" or " PDA fitness tracking software" you'll get a number of hits for sources like Handango, but here's a word of advice: Don't buy anything that you can't try out first, and be aware that some software for PDAs requires "parent" software on your main system as well.
It's important to keep a sense of perspective about this whole technology thing. If you're more comfortable with a yellow legal pad and a low-tech device like a #2 pencil to keep your journal, do it that way. If you really enjoy seeing your net carb numbers dance around in a spreadsheet and like to graphically chart your progress, do it that way. Whatever tool you use, what's most important is that you use it!
In this lesson we've looked at some of the things you can do with the technology you have at your fingertips right now, and perhaps some you may buy in the future. We hope that examining some of the possibilities has opened your mind to applications of your own.
In the next section, we'll venture out into the World Wide Web and look at some of the resources available to you, ranging from simple recipe sites, to complete tracking online, to telling the world how you're doing.
Until then, please join your instructors and fellow community members on the Message Board to ask questions and discuss the possibilities that interest and excite you.
Even if you've got the latest, hottest computer available and it's loaded with the newest software, without information it's just a box full of circuit boards and expensive parts.
You can certainly get a great deal of information from books, from other people, from professionals you may know and from media like TV and magazines. But there's another source out there with literally billions of words of information, and it's right at your fingertips. It's the World Wide Web, and you're using it right now.
The possibilities are endless and all that data is wonderful, but the Web also presents some problems. So before we start, let's explore a few things to watch out for.
A Few Words of Caution
We don't want to make you paranoid, but we do want you to be careful, so here are some things to look out for:
Data source accuracy: It's easy to create a page or a whole Web site to look authoritative and even official. And anyone can park a "Dr." in front of their name or an "M.D." or "Ph.D." at the end of it, whether they've even graduated high school or not. So just because information you find on the Web looks good and/or official, don't hesitate to question it if something about it arouses suspicion in you. There are a lot of remarkable things a computer can do, but no one has yet come up with a filter for truth or honesty. That's still up to you.
Identity theft: Even before it became possible to buy nearly anything online with just a computer and a credit card, identity theft was a problem. Today, it's an epidemic. So when you register for a Web site that requires information about you to join, never give your Social Security number to any Web site that doesn't have a legitimate reason to know it. And those sites are very few in number.
Security: If you're going to buy anything on the Web using a credit card, be sure that when you get to the part where you enter your credit information, you're sending it to a secure site. You can tell because there will be a little closed padlock symbol in the lower right corner of your browser window. If that's not there, either order by phone, or order from someone else.
Malware: In the good old days of five or six years ago, a lot of people hadn't even heard of computer viruses. Now there are viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware and probably a few other kinds of malicious software that nobody's come up with a name for yet; so now everything like that is grouped under the category of "malware." The point is, do not download anything from a site you don't fully trust, and even then, run it through a good set of malware scanners with up-to-date signature or data files before you open or install anything.
As the old adage goes, "Don't be scared, but be careful."
What Are You Looking For?
Before we move on, just a few words about search engines.
All the great data in the world doesn't mean a thing if you can't find what you're looking for, and that's probably more true of the Web than anything else. That's why it's very important that you become comfortable with search engines--not just Google, but the search engine that you'll find at nearly all worthwhile informational Web sites.
You'll want to get familiar with the Atkins.com search function.
A good example is the entry box for the search engine on the Atkins.com main page; it appears in the upper right corner of every page on the primary site.
You might want to try it out if you haven't already. Let's say you want information about sugar alcohols. If you search on the word "sugar" you'll get over 80 links because you'll get a hit for every page on the site containing that word. If you search on "sugar alcohol," you'll only get one hit. But if you search on "sugar alcohols" you'll get eight hits, because most search engines are quite literal and search for whole words only. Keep that in mind when you use the search engines on various sites, and remember--when you want to find specific information on a site, the first thing to search for is the search engine entry box.
Let's visit some of the best of the interactive sites.
Many of the most useful Web sites are interactive--that is, you can do more with them than simply follow links or drill down through layers of pages. With some sites, it's almost as if you're having a dialog with someone, and at some sites, you really are.
Sites like these can offer interaction levels from simple search selection to giving you your own personal space for journaling, tracking health and fitness information, generating shopping lists from selected recipes, discussion sites with other participants and many other useful operations.
Interactive Features from Atkins
Here on the Atkins site, you can interact with the Carb Counter, the Recipes section and of course with the Atkins store, when you buy all sorts of high-protein, high fiber products for your healthy lifestyle. Here in the Learning Center your level of interaction can increase dramatically from the interactive quizzes you take after each lesson of a course, as well as personal Message Board interaction with the course instructors and fellow students.
Another Helpful Resource: FitDay.com
You may recall that we mentioned FitDay in Lesson 1 as a source for tracking software. A modified version of that software is available free, for those who register with the site. There are some advantages to using the on-line software:
Except for any connect charges you may pay to your Internet service provider, it really is free
You can log in and use it from any computer in the world that's connected to the Web
You can easily share, if you wish, your information with other FitDay members
You're just a couple of clicks away from the other resources at the FitDay Web site
Here are some possible disadvantages (your mileage may vary):
You have to be online to access your data
You have to do your own math to figure net carbs, if you're counting those
You miss out on a lot of nifty charts, graphs and extra data
You may have concerns about the privacy of your data. This is a concern any time you go online. So whether you're at FitDay, here at Atkins or at any interactive site on the Web, it's probably a good idea not to post anything about yourself you wouldn't want your mother to see.
Other Interactive Resources
We've gone into some depth at FitDay because a lot of folks who follow the principles of the Atkins Advantage™ and the Atkins Nutritional Approach™ use it and like it, but there are plenty of other tracking, recipe, and information sites on the Web, too. Among others you may run across, you might want to check out:
The Low Carb Cafe for a huge (well over 1,000) collection of recipes
LowCarbEating is another recipe site, and some of the recipes have user comments attached that are sometimes amusing, often helpful
Check out Linda's Low Carb Menus and Recipes for a great many menu plans and a bunch of recipes. This is a great resource and her menu listings go all the way back to 2001!
The USDA online version of the nutritional information database we mentioned in Lesson 1
If you're into exercise--and you certainly should be--try some of these:
Netfit is a great resource if you're interested in a huge variety of exercise routines.
Self Shape offers a collection of free, downloadable, exercise instruction videos. You should have either a DSL or cable connection, because these files are big and will take some time to download.
If you'd like to interact with your own personal trainer online, start by checking out Changing Shape and Global Health & Fitness to get an idea of the range and style of services available. There's a fee, of course, but it's less than what an in-person personal trainer would charge, and what you can get on-line may be just enough to fill your needs.
If walking is your cup of green tea, take a look at the 10,000 Steps program--it's a new take on exercising, and all you need are good shoes and a pedometer.
Check out Music Search, iTunes or Napster for exercise and motivational music. (Note: There is a fee involved at all three sites if you want to download music; however, you can download a free iTunes player that lets you organize music from your CD collection on your PC or Mac.)
If your computer has a CD burner, create your own workout music by downloading the free iTunes software to your PC or Mac, copying tracks from your own CD collection to your computer, and burning custom CDs of your favorite high-energy music.
There are lots of great yoga and Pilates sites out there; yoga.about.com and pilates.about.com are good places to start.
Or go to Google or Yahoo or whatever your favorite web search engine is, and see what you can find. Part of the fun of this is just digging around to see what's out there, and the World Wide Web is a huge sandbox to dig in.
Putting your story on the World Wide Web.
Rather than interacting with a Web site, you may be interested in interacting with other people who are on the same or a similar quest for health and fitness as yourself.
Many sites have message boards, discussion boards or online communities where you can join in the discussion about topics of mutual interest.
The Atkins web site offers Message Boards and discussion groups on a wide range of topics.
The Healthy Living Discussion Group is a great place for talking about all aspects of healthy living.
Whenever you find a site you're interested in, check for a discussion group there. It's generally found in the top menu bar, but you may have to look around for it a bit. Most such groups require membership, and unless full participation in what the site has to offer has a fee attached, the registration is usually free.
Some sites call their discussion groups "forums," and you'll also find live chat functionality on some sites.
Yahoo, one of the original mega-search engines, offers a vast number of groups spanning a large variety of subjects, and if you can't find one that addresses what you want to talk about, you can start your own. There is no charge. Check out the groups in Yahoo's Fitness and Nutrition category.
Beyond Message Boards and Forums
If you want to have a larger presence on the Web, there are a number of options:
Your own Web site
Your own blog
An online journal
Your own picture site
Your Own Web Site
Because of huge advances in Web site design programs, this isn't nearly as intimidating as it once was. Web sites are written in HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which is basically a set of instructions that tell your browser how to display information and what information to display.
That may sound pretty scary, but there are a number of programs that simply let you put a Web page together--text, photographs, drawings, whatever--the way you want it to look, and then the program itself generates the HTML code. It can be a lot easier than you think. You can even build simple Web pages in Microsoft Word, just as you would a brochure or other illustrated piece, and Word will save it as a Web page. Some Web site providers even offer Web creation programs as part of their service.
To investigate building your own Web site, a good place to get basic information is at About.com.
Building your Web page is one thing. Getting it out to the world is another. You're going to need a provider which will host your page. Some will do it for free, generally because they'll run advertising on your page to support the hosting cost. But you can also get ad-free hosting for under five dollars a month. There are limits on the size of your site and on how much traffic the site will allow, but generally if you're running a personal page rather than a commercial site, the limits are adequate. A Web site like the Atkins Learning Center where you are right now requires dedicated servers and a bunch of money each month, but you don't need anything close to what this site requires.
If you want to start shopping for a Web host, check out this site. It's a list of the site's pick of the top 10 hosting companies, with links to the sites themselves, prices and other information.
Or, of course, you can do a Google search on personal web site hosting and explore the possibilities on your own.
Other ways to go online.
This section covers some of the newer tends in building community online.
Be a Blogger!
"Blog" is short for "Weblog." Blogs have been around, at least conceptually, for over a decade. They used to just be components of larger Web sites that were updated regularly, and the updates were displayed in reverse chronological order. Today, there are blog hosting sites all over the Web. One of the early ones is now owned by Google, but with so many of them out there, you can pick and choose a host that you'll be comfortable with. Free blog sites are almost all supported by advertising which will take up part of your blog space. Most sites offer some kind of premium service which is ad-free and gives you higher space and traffic limits.
What can you do with your blog? Just about anything. A great many people use their blogs simply for journaling, but the ease of use of the software and features offered often prove irresistible, so many blogs become considerably more elaborate, with links, pictures and at some sites, even audio and video.
As with anything you put up on the Web, from posting on a message board to blogging to your own personal Web site, your privacy and safety should always be a concern when you're deciding just how much personal information you make available.
If you'd like an interesting overview of blogs from a media standpoint, this article from Wired online is a good read. This entry in Wikipedia will give you a brief history of blogging.
Keeping an Online Journal
If your own blog seems like a bit much, but you'd still like to record your feelings and days online, journaling is for you, and there are a number of journal sites available at little or no charge.
The differences between journal sites and blog hosts may not seem obvious at first, but journal sites are more amenable to controlling who has access to your journal via password protection, so only those to whom you give your password can read your entries. Some journal sites offer the ability for your readers to post comments or make additions to what you write; others don't.
Here are some journaling sites you might want to investigate, and if you don't find one you like and are comfortable with, you can always--you guessed it--do a search with Google or some other search engine.
But first, take a look at OurStory, MyFamily and LiveJournal, to get an idea of what online journaling is all about.
If you're not sure you want to keep a journal, whether online or on your own computer or in a notebook; or if you're not sure how to start, check out this page at writingthejourney. It includes interactive exercises to help you along the way.
If you want something even more basic, this page at eHow will be helpful.
Online Photo Albums
If you'd rather post a picture than write a thousand words--or even a hundred words--one of the photo-sharing sites may be just what you're looking for. These sites are a great way to share everything from images of the new healthy you to a shot of you crossing the finish line at the race you ran last month.
Most sites offer a fairly large amount of space, easy uploading, password access and the ability to post captions or descriptions. Some also allow comments about the photos to be posted by others who see them. Nearly all the sites modify the incoming file size of the original photo to conserve disk space on their servers, but in general, the modification doesn't degrade the photos noticeably at computer screen resolution levels, although you wouldn't want to rely on those sites as ultimate storage of your digital pictures.
For a comprehensive look at different photo sharing Web sites, read this review of sites at cnet.com. It includes a comparison chart that lists features, space allowed, additional services, user comments and fees--if any--along with links to the sites themselves. Reviews are divided up according to the user's level of interest and expertise.
We've covered a lot of ground in this article, but with all that technology has to offer these days, we've only scratched the surface. The possibilities and potential for the future are simply immense. But you have to start somewhere, and the links we've given you to explore will take you considerably deeper into each subject we've touched on.
Of course, you can also discuss any of the subject matter we've mentioned here on the discussion board and we urge you to do that--when you share your ideas and discoveries, everyone benefits.
Thanks for taking the time and participating in the discussion, and we'll see you online!
Phase 1: Induction
Two-Week Induction Meal Plan
The Rules of Induction
What Induction Can Do For You
Atkins Is a Low-Glycemic Approach
Atkins Products for Induction
Quick, Simple Kitchen Tips for High-Energy Nutrition
The Atkins Nutritional Approach: Getting Started, Staying Focused
Myths and Facts of the Atkins Nutritional Approach