Recently I’ve been using technology to help me lose weight. Actually, I have a bit of history of being most successful at losing weight when helped by technology – my last reasonably successful period was when the Wii Fit was launched.
This time my technological friend is the Fitbit. It’s really just a supercharged pedometer. You wear it clipped to your belt and it monitors your activity during the day. It then automatically uploads the data to a web site so that you can keep track of how active you’ve been and how your activity changes over time.
You can get one from Amazon. At £80 it’s a bit pricy, but I guess there’s a lot electronics in that little plastic package. And you can use the price as an reason to get as much use as possible out of it. Something similar worked for me when I first got the Wii Fit – which cost about the same amount.
As I said, the Fitbit monitors your activity. It measures the number of steps you take, the distance you walk and the number of flights of stairs you climb. It recommends that you aim at taking 10,000 steps, walking five miles and climbing ten flights of stairs a day.
When I first got the Fitbit a few months ago I was doing nothing like that (well, except the stairs – that’s never been a problem). But by having targets and knowing how far you are falling short it becomes pretty simple to improve. These days I generally meet all of the targets easily. Well, except on days like today when I’ve sat at the computer all day writing a training course. On a day when I think I might be falling short, I just make sure I get up and walk around the office a bit more. Three or four times a week I try to fit in a two-mile walk – that will add 4,000 or so steps.
And talking about my two-mile walks brings me to my next technological friend – RunKeeper. With smartphones we now all carry a GPS around with us all the time. And RunKeeper is a smartphone app that uses your phone’s GPS to track exercise like walking, running or cycling. You can set targets by distance or time (“I want to walk for two miles” or “I want to jog for twenty minutes”) and break the activity up into intervals (“two minutes of walking followed by three minutes or running”). All the time you’re exercising the app will give you updates every few minutes telling you how you’re doing. At the end of the activity it will upload the details to the web site so you have a history of your exercises. And the whole thing ties up with Google Maps so you can see exactly where you’ve been going.
I started by using it to track my two-mile walks. But over the last week I’ve finally got round to starting running. So now it tracks that for me too.
Of course, exercise is only one half of the equation. You also need to address your diet – both in quantity and quality. And technology can make that easy too. Calorie counting is too hard when you have to remember everything you eat and work out the calories at the end of the day. Now there are smartphone apps which will make that easy.
I’ve been using MyFitnessPal. A lot of these apps have food databases that are very US-centric. MyFitnessPal contains a lot of British information too. And a smartphone comes with a barcode scanner. So if you’re eating or drinking something that comes in a packet with a barcode then it’s often just a case of scanning it in order to get all the data you need.
Calorie counting can be a pretty soul-destroying activity. I’m trying to stick to a pretty aggressive limit per day – which often leaves no room for treats. But MyFitnessPal can be linked to Fitbit so that if I do more than my base level of exercise, MyFitnessPal knows and will give me some more calories to compensate. On a day when I’ve walked a long way, I can get up to 600 calories added to my allowance. Which is enough to sneak in the occasional bar of chocolate.
So, there you have it. That’s the technology that I’m currently using to lose weight. Three smartphone apps, all of which have associated web sites. And all of which are happy to share information with each other.
So far it seems to be working. In the last couple of months I’ve lost a stone. It’s not as fast as it could be, but steady progress is more likely to be a permanent change. More noticeably, I’ve had to buy a new, smaller, belt. I’m happy with the way things are going.
Oh, and being web sites they all have a social aspect. If you use any of those sites and you want to become my friend and share my pain, then please feel free. Find me on Fitbit, RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal.
Update: I’m on Fitocracy too. I’d forgotten about that one.