As an integrative health coach, I consciously make an effort to keep up with the latest trends in health and well-being so I’m aware of what my clients may be using or may find to be useful. Over the past few months, I’ve heard people express excitement about moving around so they can pile up the numbers on an activity tracker. This, I noticed, seemed hugely motivating to people and encouraged them to get up and move more during the day. These devices measure real-time activity, and go by names such as Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Nike+ Fuelband, and the like. I’ve used my heart rate monitor to watch my heart rate and calorie expenditure while exercising, but these new devices measure all types of activity, no matter what you are doing, and make the information easily available to track on your iPhone, Android phone, Windows phone or computer.
So, with that in mind, I decided to see what all the excitement was about.
After being away from home for more than a month this summer, I returned with five extra pounds. Ok, I know how to lose weight, but I thought it would be interesting to see how using an activity tracker might help me do so, given that this is what it seems most people who buy these devices want to do with them. So, for $99 I purchased the Fitbit Flex.
I found it super easy to use immediately. If I can figure out something “techie” this quickly, then it must be easy. The FitBit device I chose is a lightweight wristband that I hardly know I’m wearing. FitBit also provides a device that fits in your pocket, if that is your preference.
I also wanted to track my food intake. Fitbit has a food diary, but several people told me that MyFitnessPal is a great free app with a huge catalogue of foods, so I decided to try this. There is an easy way to link the food diary from MyFitnessPal to Fitbit so the information “dumps” automatically into Fitbit; you don’t need to enter information in the food diary in both places. I have both the Fitbit and MyFitnessPal apps on my iPhone and on my computer so I can look at information and log information into both tools from either the phone or computer. Again, all of this is super easy to use.
I must admit, I find the activity tracker to be hugely motivating. As soon as I finish exercising I look at the phone app to see how many steps I’ve taken, how much high activity I’ve clocked and how many calories I’ve burned during my workout. As my husband will tell you, in the evening if I am two-hundred or so steps shy of getting to another 1,000-step level, I will walk around our condo until I see the number click over! I have been astonished each week when Fitbit sends me an email with the cumulative activity from the previous week. Really, I moved 64 miles last week? Wow, that makes me feel like Wonder Woman!
MyFitnessPal: A Great Complement
I’m equally enamored with MyFitnessPal. I continue to be astonished by the vastness of the app’s food catalogue. I type in something as random as “three-egg white omelet with goat cheese and red peppers” and somehow it’s there! I also like how the app takes into account my calories burned from exercise (as provided from the Fitbit) and adds that into my set point for daily calories. This provides net calories consumed.
For example, I have my daily calorie intake set to 1,200. MyFitnessPal takes into account the number of calories burned, say 500, and adds that into my daily calorie needs and tells me how many calories I have available to get me to the 1,200. In this example, I’d have 1,700 calories of food available since I burned an extra 500 calories with exercise.
The application also takes into account your basal metabolic rate. Those are the calories you need just to maintain your weight without exercise. This makes it so easy to understand why my weight goes up or down because I can see each day what my calorie deficit is or isn’t. We know it takes a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose a pound, so at the end of the week if my deficit is something less than that, I know why I didn’t lose a pound. MyFitnessPal has a graph where you can see just what your calorie intake was each day as it relates to your goal, again, mine is 1,200 calories a day. It’s a great visual that helps you see the big picture.
Overall I’ve enjoyed these new toys the past three months, and I’m still going. I love having the information in real-time at my fingertips! I’ve managed to lose the five pounds I had previously gained, and even a little more. And I certainly will continue to use them as I maintain my weight.
If you are looking to lose or maintain your weight, I recommend the use of these two tools as aides. The most important tool, however, is what’s inside your head and framing your health and well-being goals in a way that doesn’t feel burdensome or overwhelming. This is where an integrative health coach can make the difference in your success. It’s about keeping it real for the long-term, and that takes a shift in our thinking. We can have all the latest devices and apps there are, but if we don’t change how we think, we don’t accomplish anything sustainable, and that’s what it’s all about.