My Review of Inside Tracker DIY Plan

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diet optimization and biohacking using Inside Tracker toolA couple of months ago bioanalytics company Inside Tracker tweeted a nice one-time discount on their services, so I jumped at this opportunity and purchased their DIY plan. The cheapest of all (after discount, I paid $34.30 instead of regular $49), DIY plan allows you to upload your blood test results to receive personalized nutrition, lifestyle and exercise recommendations. I finally got a chance to test drive their services, and will share my personal experiences in this post.

The whole process begins with you registering on the www.insidetracker.com. and filling out a brief questionnaire, in which you provide your gender, age, ethnicity, height/weight, and some lifestyle information (supplements taken, current athletic condition, how often you are physically active, and what in what activities do you typically engage, etc.). The next step is to enter the blood test results.

Now, InsideTracker analyzes data for up to 20 biomarkers (click on image to enlarge):
hacking metabolism and diet - personal analytics and quantified self tools review by Measured Me blog

During my recent visit to doctor (luckily, it was a different doctor this time), I showed him the list of biomarkers and asked which of these tests are covered by my insurance. He suggested that based on my overall health status (no major complaints or symptoms), anything beyond the regular blood test would raise a red flag with my insurance company, and I would have to play for the tests. Some of these tests can cost up to 200 dollars. So I went ahead with the regular blood test; it cost me only 20 dollars in copayment, and covered the following 5 biomarkers:

  • Fasting Glucose
  • Total Cholesterol
  • HDL
  • LDL
  • Tryglicerids

Interestingly, these are the same biomarkers, related to energy and metabolism, that are also covered in Inside Tracker’s “Trial” plan, which costs $99. So if you have insurance, it may be much cheaper to purchase DIY test and then get regular blood analysis, instead of using their “Trial” plan. At least in my case, it helped me to save $99- ($34 + $20) = 45 dollars (after discount).

diet and metabolism optimization using quantified self tools As soon as I got print out with my lab results, I entered the numbers and almost immediately got my detailed Bloodwork Profile. For each biomarker, its optimal range and my current levels were shown along with the very detailed description of what that biomarker represents, and how it is related to my energy levels and/or metabolism. My glucose and triglycerides were within the normal range, but total cholesterol and LDL levels were alarmingly high. Of course, I already knew that: the lab report also had “healthy” ranges, and my doctor called me to warn me of the high cholesterol levels.

personal analytics and personal informatics tool Inside Tracker - review by Measured Me blogThe high cholesterol numbers came as a big surprise to me. Perhaps, it has to do with my high-protein, low-fat diet? My doctor suggested revising my diet, but was not specific enough (beyond common “eat less eggs” advice). Luckily, my detailed Nutrition Profile from Inside Tracker had more helpful information on how to optimize my total cholesterol, LDL (“bad cholesterol’) and HDL (“good cholesterol”) levels. The “eat less” section of the profile immediately helped me to identify the culprits of high cholesterol levels: ground beef, chicken thighs and shrimp. Indeed, my diet for the past couple of months consisted of beef chili, roasted chicken thighs and quarters, and grilled shrimp. The “eat more” section suggested including more fish, bran cereal and oatmeal, legumes and nuts in my diet. The profile also listed foods to maintain my current optimal levels of glucose and triglycerides. Each of the foods had explanation of how it affects essential biomarkers and body, and recommendations on how to cook and eat it. If you have certain food allergies, dietary preferences or religious restrictions (e.g., vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, pork free, paleo, minimal preparation, etc.), the additional “dietary requirements” filter allows you to further narrow down the list. Alas, there was no “low fat/low carb/high protein diet” filter, which could be very handy in my case.

personal analytics personal informatics health optimization tools reviews by Measured Me blogFinally, the Food Menu part of the generated report listed foods to include in my everyday menu. I think of it as a grocery list, automatically prepared for you. This list made planning my shopping and cooking much easier! The list can be further customized by specifying the total daily caloric intake. Interestingly, Inside Tracker set my personalized “default” total intake at 2,700 calories a day. I think they calculated this value based on my physiological (age, gender, ethnicity, height, weight) and lifestyle (physical activity levels) characteristics. Of course, you can always change that number (I turned mine down to 1,500 calories a day).

At the end, I was very satisfied with my Inside Tracker report. No doubt, information provided to me was very useful and actionable. I am already following nutrition recommendations, and giving myself 6 months to lower my cholesterol levels. With my results already stored online, tracking my progress should be easy. Would I go for a more comprehensive plan next time? I have to think about it. The “Fitness” plan certainly looks interesting. It includes analysis of 12 biomarkers that cover energy and metabolism, brain and body, strength and endurance, and bone and muscle health, and the cost ($149) seems reasonable. If I request analysis of those additional seven biomarkers (hemoglobin, ferritin, creatine kinase, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and folic acid) through my doctor, it would easily cost me over 250 dollars, so using Inside Tracker lab services will save me money. But testing for more biomarkers will also require giving up more blood (up to five tubes!), and even with the specialist coming to my house to draw blood, I find it somewhat inconvenient.

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8 Responses to My Review of Inside Tracker DIY Plan

  1. Brian says:

    Hmm…
    Not so sure about some of the things you’re writing…
    There’s one clear error. HDL is the ‘good cholesterol’ and LDL the ‘bad’. Not the other way around.
    I also don’t think you’re dietary strategy is all that wise. Why are you trying to eat a low fat diet? And what’s up with the 1500 calories? That seems way too low. Also, nothing against protein but unless you’re trying to add muscles you really don’t need to try for super high amounts. And if you are trying to add muscles, there’s no way you can do that and eat 1500 calories.
    Also, I wouldn’t necessarily listen to your doctor when he says your cholesterol is too high. Total cholesterol is not a very meaningful predictor. What were your actual HDL and triglycerides? If your HDL is above 60 or so and your triglycerides less than 100, your values would actually look perfectly fine. If you’re really worried there would also be a further test (VAP test) to look at the composition of your LDL to see if it might actually be problematic. Given that your doctor is worried about your cholesterol your insurance should cover that, I think…

  2. Hi Brian,
    Regarding LDL vs HDL, great catch, thanks a lot! It was a typo, just corrected it. Regarding 1,500 – it is just an estimate. I am trying to cut my body fat from 13% down to 8% in 4 weeks (my #fitsperiment challenge), so it amounts to burning around 6,000 a week. I figured I could maximize the negative balance by both increasing the caloric expenditure (exercises) and cutting down the intake (food). My goal is to gain lean muscle mass while burning the fat, hence I cut down on fats, switch to low-calorie carbs, and increase protein intake. I will be publishing soon more info (and data) on my diet and fitness regimen in the past 4 weeks (this is the last week of experiment).
    Both my total cholesterol and LDL levels were elevated (264 and 189, accordingly), while HDL was a bit low (57).
    I would love to hear your opinion on why we should not interpret the “healthy” ranges literally, and whether services that offer automatic interpretation of test results are acceptable. It’s always good to have a different perspective. Do you have a blog or, perhaps, you could recommend a website?

  3. Bri-Tri says:

    The reason they don’t list a low fat/low carb/high protein diet is because it is unhealthy. Hence your elevated cholesterol levels. Yeah you may lose weight with it, but that is because you are starving your body of nutrients. It is not a sensible way of eating that will last, therefore you will eventually gain it back. A whole foods diet consisting mostly of fruits, grains and vegetables is a more sensible way to go, which is what InsideTracker is trying to to tell you. Cut out the refined processed foods(i.e. things that come from a package) and you will lose weight and become healthy for the long haul. Also you will not have to eat as much because your body will be nourished with good food pack with nutrients.

  4. Thank you, Bri-Tri,
    My diet is mostly chicken/turkey/fish and a lot of steamed and grilled vegetables (squash, carrots, asparagus, eggplant, plantains, edamame, brussel sprouts) and fruits. I don’t eat rice, bread or pasta, cook most of the time and don’t eat processed/pre-packaged foods. I agree with you, whole foods are the way to go. Let’s hope that the source of cholesterol was those chicken thighs and quarters!

  5. Brian says:

    I saw your results on your experiment. Congrats! I honestly don’t think what you’re doing is all that healthy, but you really did lose a lot of fat!
    In general, I think a high-fat/low-carb diet is healthiest and also best to lose fat.
    Regarding your cholesterol levels, again, I disagree they don’t look too bad. (Assuming your triglycerides aren’t out of whack, which you didn’t mention.) Doctors simply don’t have very accurate/up-to-date information. For example, for men overall mortality is lowest for total cholesterol levels between 200 and 260. You’re just slightly above that. (For women, mortality is actually lower the higher cholesterol levels). In any case, the more significant predictors are Triglyceride/HDL ratio (<2) and LDL/HDL (<4.3). You're fine with both. Then VLDL really matter but you'd have to do further tests for that.
    As far as resources on this stuff you should read 'Good Calories, Bad Calories' by Gary Taubes. That book is amazing. You must read it!
    A friend also recommended me this guy who wrote a monster-series on cholesterol: http://eatingacademy.com/nutrition/the-straight-dope-on-cholesterol-part-i. I haven’t actually read it yet, though.
    I don’t have a blog at the moment, but will start one within the next two weeks (Mainly on my sleep experiments though.)
    Cheers

  6. Brian says:

    Somehow it didn’t post everything I wrote:
    Go read ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ by Gary Taubes. The book is amazing and will tell you more about cholesterol and heart disease research than you want to know.

  7. Thank you, Brian! I actually hit “plateau” this week, stuck at 10% so far, and this is the last week of my challenge 🙁
    The high-fat/low-carb diet sounds very counterintuitive, but this is not the first time i hear about it. I will definitely look into the book you recommend. I love the Triglyceride/HDL ratio metrics, and surprised that Inside Tracker does not take that into account.
    Let me know how your sleep experiments are going, I will be more than happy to link to your posts and your blog. You are also welcome to write a guest post or two. I am starting my own zzzsperiment next month, will be posting more details soon.

  8. erik folsom says:

    whoah this blog is fantastic i like reading your posts. Keep up the good work!

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