Monitoring as a Lifestyle

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entry about losing weight using the Wii Fit. This worked really well for me and I was quite happy with the weight I lost. But I found, over time, that I put at least some of the weight back on. Most of this, I believe, was due to not having a full understanding of how much I was eating.

I’ve since switched from using the Wii Fit to using the XBox Kinect for fitness. I also go to fitness classes outside of home, but that’s a more recent change. But this blog entry isn’t really about fitness alone. It’s about monitoring your lifestyle, keeping track of the data you generate on a daily basis. Right now, I track a lot of personal data about my weight, what I eat, how often I work out, how I sleep, etc.

Allow me to lay out some of the tools I use on a daily basis. First off, my phone. I happen to be an iPhone user at the moment, though any modern smartphone has somewhat similar capabilities. Using my phone, I can view and edit my data whenever I need to, wherever I am. There are literally thousands of applications that can be used to track data about yourself. I’m hoping to be able to aggregate all or most of this data in a single location at some point, but for now, it’s spread across a few different services.

I’m typically fairly private about my data and I tend to avoid most cloud services. However, I have found that it’s virtually impossible to do the type of tracking I want without having to building every single tool myself. So, instead, I use a few online services and provide them with virtually no personal information about myself beyond what is required to make the service work.

So what am I using, anyway? Let’s start with how I track my diet. I’m using a service called My Fitness Pal to track what my daily caloric intake is. This has significantly helped me redefine my dietary habits and helped me to realize how much I should be eating. Previously, I would try to reduce my intake by spreading out meals over the course of the day. While this is a great habit, in the end I believe I was eating more than I should have been, despite my intent. Using the MyFitnessPal application, I get a clear view of where I stand at any point during the day. I’ve been able to significantly reduce my intake without having to shun the foods I love.

On the fitness side of things, I work out every morning before work using XBox Kinect and Your Shape Fitness. I switched over to this when the original Your Shape game came out and I’ve been quite happy. The Wii Fit is a great tool to start with, and it has the benefit of checking your weight every time you play, something I do miss with Your Shape, but the exercises became far too easy to complete. Your Shape pushes a bit harder, bringing a higher level of exercise to my daily routine. And now with the new version, they’ve raised the bar a bit, allowing me to push even harder. There are a few areas I’d like to see improvements in, but overall, I don’t have many complaints.

Using the Your Shape app on my phone, I get a readout of my exercise for the day, as well as an estimate of the calories I burned. I take this information and enter it into the My Fitness Pal application. Doing this allows me to increase my allotment of calories for the day based on how active I have been. In a way, I guess it works like a reward system, granting me the ability to enjoy a little more each day I spend time to work out.

I also wear a Jawbone Up. The Up is a pretty cool little device that tracks your movement during the day and your sleep patterns at night. It can also be used to track your food, though the interface for this is a bit lacking, which is why I use MyFitnessPal. The Up gives me a great view of how active I am during the day, as well as a view of how well I’m sleeping at night. Jawbone has had a bit of a hard time with this particular product, but my personal experience has been pretty positive thus far.

I have a few applications on my phone for tracking runs, though I use them for walking instead.. I’m not much of a runner. These applications are a dime a dozen, and I don’t really have a preference at this point. As long as the application has feedback on distance and route, it’s typically good enough. The application for the Up has this capability as well, though I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

And finally, I use an application to track my weight on a daily basis. One of the first things I do in the morning is weigh myself. I’m currently using an application called TargetWeight by Tactio. Basically, this application tracks your weight over time, offering up a few features to help along the way. If you enter a target weight, the application will show you the weight left to lose as part of the icon on your phone. Additionally, it will attempt to predict when you’ll hit your target rate based on the historical date it has collected. There’s a nice graphical view of your weight over time as well. Entering your weight is a quick process each morning and is one of the biggest motivators for me. There’s also an option to use a WiFi enabled Withings scale to wirelessly enter your data.

All together, these various applications and tools allow me to gain better insight into my daily health. This is obviously not for everyone, but for myself it has worked wonders. I’ve lost about 30 pounds or so in the past 2 months, and I’m getting quite close to my current target weight. To each his own, but this is working wonders for me.

Play with your Wii and get Fit!

The Wii is pretty popular these days. Nintendo has done an excellent job providing entertainment for just about anyone with this one device. Funnily enough, that includes fitness buffs. About 3 months ago (91 days, actually), Nintendo launched the Wii Fit.

The Wii Fit is one cool little device. It’s essentially a flat surface, about 3 inches tall, packed full of electronics. The board is broken down, internally, into four quadrants, each quadrant having its own scale. What this means is that when you stand on it, four scale simultaneously weigh you, resulting in both an accurate total weight, as well as a weight distribution that can be used to identify your balance. Thus they named the board the Wii Balance Board. Yeah.. Marketing.. They’re such geniuses.


So, 3 months ago, I went out and bought one of these beasts. Yes, I stood in line, at midnight, just to make sure I got one. Not a bad idea, apparently, as they have become somewhat scarce these days. At ay rate, I got one, and I started using it that morning. A lot has been said about the benefits of the Wii Fit, but I will tell you, from experience, that I’m damn happy I spent the $90 or so on it. I’ve missed weighing myself once since I bought it.

What’s so special about this thing anyway? Well, I’ve done a lot of thinking about that because I’ve fought with weight loss in the past, and I’ve always failed miserably. In fact, for the last 3 years or so, I’ve neither gained nor lost a pound. And while that may sound good, what you don’t realize is that I spent about a year and a half hitting the gym 2-3 times a week, I tried dieting, and I’ve tried casual exercise at home. Nothing seemed to work, and I was getting a tad frustrated. I wasn’t massively overweight, but my doctor did categorize me as morbidly obese. That puts my BMI over 30. In fact, my BMI was almost 38 when I started using the Wii Fit.

There are those that will argue that BMI is a bad measurement. I agree, to an extent. BMI is 100% a calculation of your body weight and your height. It does not take into account other factors such as muscle versus fat, or activity level. In fact, taller people tend to have an unnaturally high BMI, purely because of how BMI is calculated. Regardless, the intention of BMI is to provide a general idea of the optimum body weight for any given person.

Arguments aside, I wasn’t happy with my weight, or my BMI. I’m not the most active person in the world, and I don’t really enjoy exercise that much. But I had to do something, and the Wii Fit seemed, at least to me, to be a good idea. So far, it has worked out better than I ever hoped. I’ve dropped 35 pounds in 3 months, lowering my BMI to under 33. I feel fantastic, energetic, and a hell of a lot more confident. On the downside, though, I’m going to need a new wardrobe pretty soon.. Belts will only hold me over for so long. :)

So how did I do this? How did I lose so much weight in such a relatively short time? Well, first and foremost, I have to hand a lot of the credit to the Wii Fit. No, not because I use it to exercise, although that does help, but more-so because it tracks my weight. Seriously! Every morning I get up and weigh myself, and I immediately know where I stand. I know if I’ve slacked off too much, or if I’m on track to losing the weight I want to. It’s incredibly satisfying to look at the graphs every so often and see the curve of the line indicating the weight you’ve lost.

I do about 20-25 minutes of exercise on the Wii Fit 3-4 times a week. My schedule has changed a little recently, so one day a week I’m usually on the Wii Fit for a little over 30 minutes. That’s it for the Wii Fit! The rest of it is on my own.

I’ve reduced my food intake by a lot, which is probably the hardest thing I’ve done. I love food. I’m not keen on gorging myself, but I absolutely love my wife’s cooking. I also love pizza and chinese. I used to be able to eat half a pizza with no problem at all. So, reducing my intake was difficult. I cut out soda and candy right from the start. Occasionally I’ll have a soda, but not often. Reducing the rest was a matter of spreading it out a bit over the day. I eat smaller meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I usually have a snack or two during the day. That snack is anything from a handful of vegetables, to something like a handful of pretzels or a small bowl of pudding. I don’t watch calories or fat that much, but I am aware, somewhat, of what I’m taking in.

Next, I spend about 30 minutes a day walking. This is usually the first half of my lunch break. I’ll head out of the office, and walk around town for a while. I end up covering about 1.5 miles during that walk. It’s a casual walk, but at a somewhat brisk pace. I don’t make any lengthy stops, mostly just stop at street corners so I don’t become road pizza. It rains once in a while, and I’ll miss out on walking that day. That hasn’t happened too often, though, so I guess I’ve been lucky. My plan is to do laps up and down the parking garage if it rains for more than a day, though.

Finally, I do a little exercise before bed. It’s about a 5-10 minute workout routine. I spend about 5 minutes lifting barbells to strengthen my upper body, and then I do a series of abdominal crunches and finally I do the Plank for about 60 seconds. Occasionally I do an exercise I learned in the military called a butterfly, though I’ve only found it referenced online as a six-inch killers. It’s pretty simple, just lay on your back with your hands underneath your buttocks. Lift your feet about six inches above the ground and hold them there for 10-30 seconds, depending on your exercise level. Drop them slowly down, rest for a moment, and then start again. Another variant on this is to hold both feet at six inches, then move one foot up to about 12 inches. Switch feet, bringing one down and one up, sort of in a kicking motion. Each “kick” counts as half a rep. Do about 10 reps, then rest. The idea is to do a small set of exercises just before bed, enough to get the heart pumping, but not enough to work up a real sweat.

Overall, I do roughly an hours worth of exercise a day, and I usually end up taking the weekend off, though I’m always watching what I eat, and I endeavor to do my nightly routine every night. It’s working so far, and I truly feel great. I want to shave off another 50 or so pounds before I’m really satisfied, but I’ve definitely started moving in the right direction!