Using Real-Time Analytics to make the Pudge Budge

I find myself in a situation where I need to drop a few pounds. Common thoughts for this time of year, but I’m taking a different approach this time and want to blog about my experience.

A little personal weight history here to bring some perspective. When I left active duty in the U.S. Air Force in December of 2002, I was 30 years old and overweight, believe it or not. At that time, I was 220lbs, and was the heaviest I had ever been in my life.

fat_sgt_myers

I always held the weight I was when I graduated Basic Training as my ‘ideal’, which was 182lbs. Granted I worked out every day then, and was 22 years old with a raging metabolism. The first civilian doctor I saw post-Air Force told me that my weight was serious because I have high blood pressure (thanks, Grandma, for the genetic gift) and that if I wanted to live a full and healthy life, I needed to get serious about losing some weight.

So, I did. I was fortunate at the time and had a corporate job that had a full-service gym on-site that was free for employees to use. I started going every single work day at lunch time. They had great personal trainers in there to coach me along, and I ended up losing about 45lbs over the course of the next year. I was down to a comfortable and fit 175lbs by 2007.

skinny Greg

I changed jobs, but continued to find time for the gym as I could. It was more effort because it wasn’t on-site any more, but I still made time to go, but it was not every day anymore. I promised myself that I would never get over 200lbs again if I could help it.

Long story short, I switched jobs again and now do consulting here at EVT. Being a consultant means I spend a lot of time at my computer, sitting at my desk, in other words sedentary. Distance between my office and the kitchen are short. No long walks to refill my water bottle, no strolls out to the cafeteria. Normal things you’d find in a corporate setting. While the weather was good, I would take my dogs for a walk over my lunch hour, but once the winter arrived even that stopped. I tried to watch what I ate. I tried a loose exercise schedule with the fitness equipment in the basement, but still just didn’t take the issue very seriously.

On December 26th, 2011, I had my day of reckoning. After years of continuing to let the exercise slip, finding more and more excuses to work longer and longer without breaks, and to eat and drink what I wanted on my off-times because I worked hard and deserved it found me back where I said I would never be again, and then some. On that day, hopped on the scale for the first time in a long time and gasped. I was 215lbs. I knew then it was time to get serious again and make this better.

At work, we started a contest for the new year, “Trim the Tubby Hubby”, and everyone who signed up to compete could try any method they wanted, but everyone had to weigh in every Monday morning and post their weight to our company wiki site. Now there’s some accountability. The first few weeks I continued to do what I had been doing. Tried loosely to watch my diet, made excuses not to exercise. The third week of the contest I posted a weight gain. The fourth week was a minuscule loss. As I sat and thought about what I was doing wrong, I knew there must be a better way to set goals, and keep them, and measure myself against my own key performance indicators. In essence, it was time for me to start applying what I know from work to help tackle the problem of my expanding waistline. I needed real-time Analytics.

I did some research and ended up going with the Fitbit. I chose it for a couple of reasons. First, it monitors passively. Other brands of this type of thing are more invasive, and will actually bug you to get up and move, and do other things that seemed to me just a tad obnoxious. I have enough distractions in my day to be bugged by another device. Second, I chose it because it integrates with the LoseIt! application, which I have been using on and off for years now. The Fitbit is just a little money clip sized device that clips to your belt or pocket, and acts like one smart little pedometer. You input a few stats about yourself during setup, and it figures out your stride length and does pretty neat job tracking your steps, your floors or stairs, and calories burned in a day. It has a OLED display you can check any time, and one charge lasts about six or seven days of normal use. It syncs wirelessly with its base station which connects to your Mac or PC via USB, and uploads all of that data to the Fitbit.com portal. All of the Fitbit.com online tools are free (again unlike competing products which charge a monthly fee for the online services).

LoseIt! is another free app I got on my iPhone back in 2009. I used it over the years with varied degrees of success because of how difficult it was to enter foods in the earlier versions. In the early versions, I found the lists of foods really lacking. There were tons of entries for fast food and restaurant food, but very little in the way of fresh foods you might buy at the supermarket. I rarely eat out and do most of the cooking, so I was finding ti too much work to try and approximate what I was eating each day. The latest version is a piece of cake (but don’t eat that cake because it has a high calorie cost). LoseIt added a barcode scanner that lets you use the phone’s camera to scan in the foods you are eating. This makes it a breeze. Scan the barcode, enter the portion size, and there you go! Now I even use LoseIt to plan what I am going to eat before I eat it and create a “meal budget”. By scanning barcodes and exploring what the various portion sizes will “cost” me in calories, I can make a smart decision about how much of each food I’m preparing to actually consume. Then I dish out my dinner plate according to the budget, and when I’m done, I’m done. No seconds!

Now here’s the kicker. Fitbit is awesome at tracking my activity for the day and how many calories I burn. LoseIt is great at tracking how many calories I take in. The best part is that you can sync foods from LoseIt back into Fitbit, and activity from Fitbit gets placed automatically into LoseIt! It’s a pretty sweet setup and gives me a really powerful view of my caloric activity each day, which is essential to really get the weight off.

Now for the analytics part, How the site provides analytics on my activity levels, food choices, even the quality of my sleep. Here’s a video demonstration on how I use the two sites and their analytics:

Week One:

I wasn’t sure what to expect or how I would react to this little thing clipped to my pocket all day, or attached to my wrist at night. I did notice right away that I wanted to check it constantly, and see where I was with meeting my goals for the day. Instead of a guess, I can tell exactly where I am at any given time throughout the day. I also found that by knowing where I was, I was motivated to do more exercise. The badges that come from Fitbit when I met a goal I found surprisingly motivating. Every badge gives me a pat on the back, but then challenges me to earn the next one, only x steps or x floors away. I spent one of the first days checking out the accuracy of the stair climbing measure by going up and down the main stairs of the house. My younger dog, Paisley, thought it was a game and started following me up and down the stairs, so I started going faster. She and I ran up and down the stairs at least a dozen times, and both of us got a surprisingly good workout in just a few minutes. I struggled a bit this week getting impatient to see some results, but I know that a large, fast weight drop is not very healthy. I do find myself checking the Fitbit frequently and walking around more just to get my step count up. I managed to get a 50 floor stair badge this week as my highest achievement. At the end of my first week of Fitbit analytics, I weigh 206lbs.

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