Weight Loss–What Works? (Part 2)

Over many years of discussing nutrition and exercise with my patients, I’ve encouraged journaling—that is, keeping a daily written record of your diet and activity. This formal accountability is the reason that many people find success with Weight Watchers®. But it’s also the reason that many others feel defeated before they begin. Today’s busy woman can scarcely remember or find time for all that looking up and writing down. But the explosion of new consumer health technology has become a game-changer! It places the food/exercise journal at your fingertips 24/7—via your cell phone! And most users find that it consumes no more than 5 to 10 minutes of the entire day.

Many of you are already familiar with online food trackers and wearable fitness trackers. Some of my patients have used personal health trackers seriously for quite a while. But if brand names like My Fitness Pal, Spark People, Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, etc. don’t mean anything to you, you have lots of company. Online calorie counters have evolved gradually, but they didn’t really take off until after the first smartphones arrived in 2007-2008. Calorie-counter apps and smartphones were “like peas and carrots.” At last you could track your foods at the time and place you were eating them.

Online Food Trackers

The better online food trackers (the most popular is probably My Fitness Pal), provide a searchable database of millions of individual food products, convenience foods, and even restaurant items. Clicking on a food item will automatically enter it into your personal meal record. In 2010-2011, smartphone barcode scanning came along. Now your phone’s camera can snap a picture of a product’s barcode. Instantly, that food is added to your online meal record as well.

The food tracker will total the calories, carbs, fat, protein, sugar, fiber, etc., that you have eaten each day. It will alert you when you exceed the limits of the meal/weight loss plan you have selected.  Are you trying to increase the amount of calcium in your diet so you can do without calcium supplements? The app will track that! Has your doctor recommended less than 2300 mg. of sodium per day? The app will track that! Suddenly healthy eating has become much easier—perhaps easy enough to sustain as a lifestyle. Even better—the food tracker apps are free!

The tracker will record your progress toward your weight goal. You can even purchase a scale that will synchronize directly with your fitness tracker or smartphone recording your weight automatically into your online tracker each time you step on it. (Scale is not required—you can also enter your weights manually).

Fitness/Activity Trackers

Fitness/activity trackers have also evolved gradually. Mechanical pedometers (step counters) have been around since the 18th century! The “10,000-steps” fitness campaign originated in Japan in 1985. The newest digital fitness trackers vary in what they can do. Some track more than steps and distance; including heart rate, calories burned, actual GPS position, and even sleep patterns. They are more or less accurate, the better models claiming accuracy within about 5%. Some claim only to be accurate for walking/running, while others are designed to track other types of workouts. Many fitness trackers will synchronize your exercise record with the food tracker app on your cell phone. Your food tracker will then “adjust” your food plan’s calories allowed to give you credit for exercising. And it’s all recorded right there on your phone.

Choose a fitness tracker that fits your budget and the type of exercise you enjoy. Its accuracy is not critical. You will be comparing your activity each day to the day before and the next day, trying to gradually develop a more active lifestyle. It becomes that nagging little voice in your head. If after dinner your tracker informs you that it’s only been a 4000-step day, you might choose a walk around the neighborhood rather than an evening of TV. A busy 10,000-step day might make you choose to reward yourself (with a little dessert.)  That’s how it works. If your wearable device is less accurate than you’d hoped–claiming you’ve burned calories and you’re not seeing results on the scale—you can adjust your online food tracker’s “plan” to compensate. (Increase your desired pounds lost per week in the food tracker’s “settings” ).

These three pieces of technology (smartphone, food tracker app, wearable fitness/activity tracker), work together. Your food tracker app encourages accountability, your fitness tracker provides motivation, and the smartphone makes tracking your progress convenient and user-friendly.

Some users will take it to the next level. The online apps allow you to interact with support groups. You can give and receive tips from other online users anonymously, or you can form a support group of friends, family, co-workers etc. Your group can share recipes, tips, and set up competition to reach your goals. (Sharing personal information is optional—you choose what to share).

If you’ve again and again had disappointing results from your fitness and weight management resolutions, I hope I’ve at least tempted you that it’s a little easier now. If you are uncomfortable with technology—a generational thing; ask a child, grandchild, young friend or co-worker to get you started. It doesn’t take long. They’ll be impressed with your determination, and you’ll have something new to share.

Wishing you the satisfaction of reaching your goals!