Sometimes, seemingly ordinary comments set off an unexpected chain of events. For Bridget McCray, that moment came in 2012, when her husband casually mentioned he could hear her breathing from across the room.
Since she was only 45 years old, the observation made her think seriously about her health and she decided to check a few health markers. She didn’t like what she saw.
Her resting heart rate was 100 — the high end of the recommended range — and her blood pressure came in at 188 over 100. According to the American Heart Association, that classified her as having hypertension. She also recalls her body fat percentage coming in at 34.
McCray also wondered about the severe migraines and acne she’d had for decades. She’d grown up in New Orleans and wasn’t particularly active, so nutrition and fitness had never been part of her life. As she recalled her husband’s comment and thought about her poor health indicators, she realized she needed to make a major change.
She began walking every day and joined a gym, which improved her resting heart rate. But the results felt slow. One of her new gym buddies suggested jotting down what she ate for a few days, and McCray was struck by the amount of sugar and sodium she regularly consumed.
That’s when she decided to get serious about her food tracking. As a trained accountant, McCray loved the idea of gathering data and seeing numbers that could represent progress. She started using MyFitnessPal to plan her meals and snacks, tracking protein, fat, carbs and calories.
“This has been so helpful as I transform my health,” says McCray, now 50. “I can see at a glance what my numbers are, and that allows me to make smart choices.” Tracking doesn’t stop her from having treats occasionally, she says, but it allows her to be more mindful about those indulgences.
The effect of her nutrition tracking has been profound. She hasn’t had a migraine in five years, and her acne has cleared up to only the occasional outbreak. McCray says she’s also more aware of how specific food choices make her feel. For example, she noticed she had more acne after a few days of eating dairy — an insight made possible by skimming through her meal log on MyFitnessPal.
She tracks her activity, too, and that’s helped to kick off major changes. Just a few years ago, she described her life as very sedentary, but now McCray teaches Zumba classes, helps seniors with strength training and works as a weight-loss coach. She also recently became a certified personal trainer.
“With MyFitnessPal, I love that I can do everything in one place,” she says. “I can track my food, water and exercise. I can import recipes, I can change portion sizes to adjust for how many calories I want. It’s really helped me to see progress over the years.”
Now, her resting heart rate and blood pressure are within normal range, and her body fat percentage has dropped to 22, she notes. She’s lost 20 pounds, representing 10 inches off her waist, and went from a size 10 to a size 6.
Even her kids, ages 11 and 13, are benefiting from the tracking. McCray showed them her numbers, and her son recently decided not to have a Sno-Cone at school because he saw the amount of sugar listed on a nutritional chart.
McCray has faced challenges over the past five years, particularly when she felt like there wasn’t enough time to plan and shop for healthy meals and that getting more active would be too difficult. But she never gave up and appreciates how far she’s come in just a few years.
“For me, it took a potential health crisis to get my attention,” she says. “Now that I’m on this track, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been and I can’t wait for what comes next.”
Written by Elizabeth Millard, a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness. She’s also an organic farmer, yoga teacher, obstacle course aficionado and 5K junkie. Her work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN and other publications.