August 26, 2013
Seven years ago I lost 57 pounds using a spreadsheet. This year my goal is to lose more weight using a variety of iOS apps on my iPhone.
In a nutshell I am hacking my eating and exercise lifestyle. I am watching what I eat in an effort to eat less. And I am tracking what I do in an effort to exercise more. So far I've lost 15 pounds at an average of just under 4 pounds a month.
Seven years ago I used an Excel spreadsheet to record everything I ate. I'd look up the calories on the Internet and record them. I also tracked, using a 5-day running average, my weight.
This time around I'm using LoseIt!, WeightBot, Moves, and a FitBit Flex.
LoseIt is at heart a calorie counter. It allows me to quickly and easily record the foods I eat and gives me a budget of calories for each day. I can also enter exercises or activities, lawn mowing for example, so that I can see at a glance whether I am ahead or behind on calories for the day.
The LoseIt database is large and includes nutrition information for many brand foods and restaurants. One of its best features is the ability to scan a UPC code and look up food item. It also remembers previous meals so you can quickly re-use something you recently had. I tend to eat the same thing for breakfast every day and rather than have to enter milk, cereal, and orange juice, I can just select the meal from the previous day.
LoseIt is free and there is a premium version if you want more features.
WeightBot is a simple weight tracking app. You can quickly and easily record your weight. It also has some very nice graphs allowing you to see your weight trends. I entered in a goal weight and date and each day I can see where I am on reaching that goal at a glance.
The app is very nicely put together and is well worth the $1.99 price.
Moves is a free app that uses the accelerometer and GPS features of your phone to track your movements throughout the day. As long as you keep your phone in your pocket you'll get a pretty good approximation of how many steps you've taken in a day. Moves uses the iOS notification system to send you a morning summary of yesterday's activity meaning you don't ever have to open the app. Just install it and go.
Since it uses the location feature of the phone it does drain the battery. They claim that when the phone isn't moving that battery drain doesn't occur, but I have to charge my phone in the later afternoon or early evening. Otherwise by 9 pm (after being up for 14 hours) the phone will be under 20% charge remaining.
I think Moves is reasonable accurate and over time it lets you see what your average activity is in a very general way. Think of it as a free version of a FitBit.
The latest addition to my arsenal of weight/exercise toys and apps is a FitBit Flex. This is an activity monitor that you wear 24x7. It monitors your activity and sleep patterns.
I've only had mine for a couple of months and it has already proved to be very interesting. There is a companion iOS app that allows me to see at a glance how many steps I've taken or how many "very active" minutes I've had that day.
You can set goals for steps taken and the iOS app then cheers you on through notifications. I haven't changed the default 5 miles or 10,000 steps goal. Most days I'm in the 8500 - 9500 step range, with an occasional 14000 step day just to throw the curve off.
It is interesting to see the sleep patterns it records, with information like time to fall asleep, number of times awake, and actual time asleep versus time in bed. My wife has a Flex too and here sleep patterns are different than mine. Rarely does one person being awake disturb the other.
None of these apps nor the FitBit Flex will by themselves help you lose weight. All they can do is give you an awareness of what you are eating and what you are doing on a regular basis. When I used the spreadsheet in 2006 to lose weight I was shocked at first to discover the amount of snacking I was doing and at how costly (in terms of calories) those snacks were. I was able to eliminate 1000 calories a day from my diet without really working at it. As a consequence I was losing 2 pounds a week for a while.
This time around I am fine tuning my eating and increasing my exercise. The weight loss isn't as dramatic but I am very pleased with the improved lifestyle my refocused awareness is producing. That the apps are fun to use and interact with only makes it easier to accomplish.
I do not believe in diets. To my mind a diet is an aberration of your normal lifestyle. You make a temporary change which does in fact alter your weight but when you end the aberration the weight returns. What I did seven years ago was change my lifestyle to eliminate snacks and to increase my activity. This year I am once again altering my lifestyle. We bought a treadmill last winter and I am walking on it at least 5 times a week. I've covered over 200 miles in the past 3 months.
My ultimate goal is to have a healthy, active lifestyle. If that happens to produce a lower weight that I can maintain without effort all the better.