Archive for the ‘fitness’ Category
I don’t know why I can eat right and exercise throughout the Winter, Spring, and Summer, but Autumn always makes me crave more calories. Is it the increasingly colder temperatures? The lure of holiday baked goods and other unhealthy fare?
This particular Fall a number of various events have made it harder to eat right or get exercise. It’s the busy season at work so I’ve been spending more hours working. The shift to Standard Time means that it gets dark earlier. The weather has gotten cold very quickly, so I don’t take walks as much outside. My wife started a new job so I don’t have a couple of uninterrupted hours in the morning to walk on the treadmill while she’s sleeping anymore. Plus, there are a few other personal issues that have come up that take my time and attention away from Clean Livin’, or require me to eat & run more often.
I can come up with any number of reasons, but what it boils down to is that I’ve slipped. Luckily I have so many healthy habits that they haven’t all fallen by the wayside. I still weigh-in every day. I still record everything I eat (even the unhealthy, high-calorie foods).
How I Start To Slip
At first maybe I’ll grab some food on the run, or not calculate my caloric intake for dinner until the next day. Then maybe I miss recording a meal. Then miss recording a day. Then I get busy with other things and don’t do any research or writing for this site.
So far no matter when I’ve slipped a little (or a lot) I’ve still weighed-in. I think of all of my Clean Livin’ habits, weighing myself and then recording it are the easiest things to do. After four and a half years weigh-ins have become ingrained in my daily routine. Sometimes I forget to weigh in when my routine changes, but barring a day or so every few months where I don’t weigh-in, I have a solid record, and can at least see when I gain weight rather than lose or stay the same.
It’s hard to gauge gaining or losing weight when you weigh in every day, though, because you do go up and down even when you do everything right and are on a trend of losing weight. I think my threshold for thinking “Shit, I’ve got to do better” is going over a five pound mark. For instance, I was down as low as 254.4 a couple of weeks ago (so close to 250!) and then a few days ago weighed-in at 260.0, after going up and down a pound or so here or there for the past three weeks.
So that was a wake-up call. The hard truth is that losing weight takes conscious effort and attention. You have to think about it a lot more than you may want to, and stick to your daily budget most of the time. Sometimes it’s okay to go over budget, but not most of the time. When those indulgences become more frequent than eating right, you’re going to gain weight again. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked too hard and come too far to backtrack now. Fuck that noise.
Back On Track
It’s not like I haven’t written about derailment or plateaus before. When it happens, no matter how many reasons I have no one to blame but myself. A slip can be just the kick in the pants you need to refocus your weight loss efforts, no matter how cold it is outside.
I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to lose the next ten pounds (some of those pounds… again) but I know it’s doable. I’ve done it for weeks, months, years now.
Losing weight may be harder as the weather grows colder, life gets busier, and habits slip by the wayside. Plan for weight loss to be slower then, but as long as you’re aware of the difficulty and consciously plan means and exercise, you can hunker-down and do it.
Update: Slipped on Posting Here, Too
Speaking of slipping, I originally had this post set to publish in late November and haven’t finished it until just now. Everything else still stands, and now that the holidays are over and I’m back to focusing on weight loss, updates should be more regular once again.
I was interviewed by WalkJogRun.net for their podcast a few weeks ago, but there were audio issues so today they posted a transcript of the interview along with some photos from Clean Livin’.
I’ve previously written about WalkJogRun and it’s a great site for plotting the distance and path of my walks, and better yet, finding a great walking or running route when you’re traveling. They also have a fantastic iOS app and their podcast is always full of great information. I talked to Caitlin of WJR about Clean Livin’, my history of being a fat guy, and about my weight loss success over the past four years.
Being interviewed has given me the bug to start a podcast. Any interest in hearing me prattle on about Clean Livin’ for 15–20 minutes a week?
You can read a transcript of the interview at the WalkJogRun blog.
Goal planning is a critical aspect of losing weight and getting or staying fit. Without goals, you’re like a boat caught on the waves without a sail. Sometimes it’s okay to be adrift without any specific goal in mind, but usually if you’re trying to lose weight, you already have a desired outcome. What you may not have is a plan to get there.
Weight loss planning is a lot like driving from one place to another. You know your starting location, and your destination, and you need to plot a course to get there. Turn left here, turn right there, take the highway for four miles, take the exit, turn right, etc. Losing weight is a lot like that, wherein you have long term goals that you reach by setting and achieving shorter and shorter term goals.
By working backwards from your long-term goals to the current moment in time (your starting place) you can actually decide to get there, rather than just aimlessly hoping that you get to your goals.
Most people start out a weight loss or fitness plan with a big overarching goal, like “I want to lose 40 pounds,” or “I’m going to work out every day.” These are great goals, but without planning the intermediate steps to achieve them you’re unlikely to make as much progress as you could with a good plan.
I tend to break my goals up into smaller, more achievable chunks that vary mostly by timeframe:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– attributed to Lao-Tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)
Immediate goals are the easiest to keep because they’re the result of choices that you’re making right now. Exercising, eating right, goal planning, and logging your progress are all things you can just do. You want to go exercise? Go exercise. Your goal is to eat right for this meal? What’s stopping you? Being healthy is just one immediate good choice after another. Like walking from here to there – you put one foot in front of the other. Before you know it, you’ve arrived at your destination.
You don’t really think of something you’re doing now as a “goal,” but rather a choice. Sure. But those choices are going to be informed by, and support, goals that come to fruition in the future.
Daily goals are a little more concrete and measurable. Exercise and calorie goals are daily goals. Your immediate goals will depend on your daily goals, and the results of how well you succeed at your daily goals depend on your immediate goals.
Your daily goals are things that you plan to do every day, or every n days (every other day, three times a week, etc.). You want to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes per day every week day, and then take the weekend’s off? Those are still daily goals.
There are a few goals that I keep track of every day:
- Calorie Intake – 1800–2000 calories/day, currently.
- Water Intake – My goal is to drink at least eight 8oz glasses of water per day, if not more.
- Exercise – 2 miles on the treadmill in the morning, every weekday.
- Steps – I break this out from exercise as it’s a slightly different goal, but because I wear a Fitbit I can measure every step I take. My current step goal is 10,000 steps/day, minimum.
- Floors Climbed – Also counted by the Fitbit. My current goal is at least 20 floors/day.
- Writing – I get up two hours earlier than I need to get ready for work so I can write a little every day. You’re reading the results of this writing right now. I tend to keep a dozen or so drafts on various topics going at any given time, and then when one starts to gain critical mass I’ll decide on a publication date and plan to work on that particular article every day until then. Since I usually publish on Monday mornings I’ll spend my morning work and reflection time on Monday editing the article I’m about to publish.
Short-term goals are my weekly or monthly goals. They may be simple like “lose 1–2 pounds per week” or “maintain my current weight while on vacation next week.”
While immediate goals are immediately achievable (because they’re the result of choices), and daily goals are easy enough to achieve, short-term goals are trickier because they should be the result of your daily goals.
Think about the short-term goals as an extension of your daily goals. I use the phrase “short-term” rather than “weekly” or “monthly” – but let’s say that short-term goals encompass both of those.
One of my standing, repeating short-term goals is to lose 1–2 pounds per week. That’s reasonable, right? It won’t happen, however, unless I follow through on my daily and immediate goals.
Mid-Term Goals: A Bundle of Short-Term Goals
I don’t know if a “mid-term” goal is quarterly, bi-annual, or even yearly. It depends on how far out your long-term goals are. These will tend to be set by working backwards from your long-term goals, and will probably roll-up some short-term goals together. For example, if my short-term goal is to lose 1–2 pounds this week, and my monthly goal is to lose 5–10 pounds per month, then maybe a good mid-term goal would include a few weeks or months together.
For example, my current mid-term goal is to weigh under 275 pounds by the end of the summer (Labor Day). I actually set this goal a month ago, based on my projections from my current average rate of weight loss.
I’m keeping this as my next weight loss goal until I hit it, at which case I’ll probably keep to the same timeline but update the weight I want to lose by then. I just did this with another mid-term goal that I’ve already achieved. My company is having an event at the end of June and two months ago I set a goal to be under 290 by then. The only problem? I weighed under 290 by the beginning of June. So I could either check that one off and move to the next goal, or keep that date but now try to weigh even less by then. So that’s what I did. New goal: 280. Will I make it? I have about five pounds to go and one week to do it, so probably not.
Would it have been better to set the goal to 285 and hit it rather than just missing my new goal of 280? I don’t see how. You’re going to try to punch your goal weight in the face and you’re not trying to hit a spot on its face – you’re trying to hit a spot that’s six inches behind its face. You’re going to try to swing through your goal, not just make it. Punch through your goals.
How about a baseball metaphor? If you hit the ball and start running towards first base, you don’t have to reach the base exactly and stop – you can just keep running as fast as you can and run right over that base to be “safe.”
Charge at your goals like you’re William Wallace leading his blue-skinned Scotsmen into battle against the English.
Setting Long-Term Goals
One word of caution I’ll offer about setting long-term goals is to not focus on numbers as much as condition. In other words, while one of my long-term goals is to weigh under 200 pounds, my stronger long term goal is to maintain 23–25% body fat, to continue to eat healthily, and be more active. The problem with many people’s long-term goals, and the reason I think that a lot of people gain weight back after dieting is that they stop doing what it was they did to lose the weight once they’ve crossed the finish line.
The finish line never really comes. The race never ends. You just keep on going. That’s not as dismal as it sounds, and achieving goals feels great. Just don’t expect to ever be “done.” You may, however, eventually be done with setting mid-term and long-term goals. The other short term goals will just become your habits and you’ll go on to be a fitter, healthier you. I think I’ll happily trade the thrill of victory for the steady and ongoing success of being fit and not needing to lose weight anymore.
How to Set Weight Loss Goals
- Write Them Down – Goals that you don’t record somewhere aren’t goals; they’re dreams. This isn’t a wishlist – these are things you are going to make happen. Write your goals down somewhere, whether that’s in a special weight loss goal journal, your calendar, or in a piece of software made to record weight loss goals.
- Be Specific – You don’t just want to “lose weight” – you want to lose a certain amount of weight. You don’t want to “eat right” – you want to eat certain things, or stay within a specific calorie range.
- Set A Timeframe – Goals are a statement of your expected condition at a certain time. Without setting a timeframe you don’t have a goal.
- Make Them Measurable – If you can’t measure it, you can’t know when you’ve achieved it. Success means defining something that has a clear means of measuring your achievement.
- Measure Them – Of course you’ve been getting constant feedback about your weight loss, so measuring your progress toward your goals is just a further extrapolation out from those stats you’re already keeping.
- Be Positive – You can’t really plan to not do something. Or rather, whatever you plan to do, you’re planning to not do everything else. Rather than a negative goal like “Don’t eat poorly,” plan a goal that sets a positive tone “Eat a salad for lunch today.” You’d be amazed how more easily achievable positive goals are than negative goals.
- Goals Are Actions – Sure, you can set a long term goal to lose 100 pounds, but most of your supporting goals will be action-oriented. Things you do. Walk everyday for 30 minutes. Limit your daily intake to 2,000 calories. Ride your bike to work at least 2–3x per week. Go to the gym after work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Setting goals based on numbers on a scale are okay as long as you also set intermediate goals based on actions that will help you get there. You’re not going to lose the weight magically no matter how much you want to.
- Start Small – You don’t need to set all of your goals in stone when you’re first starting out. Set a few small and easily achievable goals first. You never get off the couch and want to walk for an hour a day? That’s great. Start with walking five minutes per day, and then if that seems too easy, do more. You can always do more later. Don’t discourage yourself by biting off more than you can chew (excuse the pun) from the get-go.
- Don’t Choke After Success – You set a goal to walk 15 minutes a day, and now that you’ve done your 15 you still feel like walking? Don’t stop just because it exceeds your goal. Your goals should be minimum effort or otherwise achievable without desperate measures. They’re easily achievable because you started small and built upon that solid foundation over time.
- Be Realistic – You want to lose 50 pounds … before your sister’s wedding next month? Far be it for me to be a naysayer, but that’s probably not going to happen. You need to set your timelines forward from a measurable and realistic present. For instance, if you are losing 1–2 pounds per week, then you can kinda sorta predict how long it’ll take you to lose any number of pounds.
- Treat Yo’ Self – Establish a reward for achieving a goal that’s something to look forward to, and preferably has something to do with the goal. Have your eye on a new Fitbit? Set a goal to walk every day for a month, and reward yourself with a new tool to help you better track your progress. Your reward for doing the Right Thing should reinforce that right thing, or at least other right things. Don’t reward good performance with food, especially the unhealthy food that you’ve been avoiding to achieve this goal. Don’t make the reward something that slides you back past the goal line again.
- Readjust. Realign. Resume. – You’re probably not going to achieve every single goal, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. When you drive you probably don’t even think about the thousands of tiny course corrections that you make constantly just to keep your car in the correct lane. You adjust your speed to ensure that you don’t run into the person in front of you. If you turn the wheel, or use your brakes, are you a failure at driving? No. Your fitness goals are a lot like that. You will need to make adjustments. It’s just part of the process. Nothing to get hung about.
When To Start
You thought about your goals, you have pencil in hand and paper in front of you, and now you’re ready to start, right?
Your starting timeframe is easy. How’s now? Is now good for you? Oh, you want to start later? No you don’t. You already have momentum just thinking about it. You don’t need to finish what you already have in your pantry. The starving children in Africa will still be starving regardless of whether or not you throw away that half-package of uneaten Ding-Dongs.
Don’t wait until next Monday. I know the beginning of the week seems a good time to start, but really anytime is a good time to start. You were going to start after your last birthday, or after the holidays, or after the new year started, or after some other special occasion, but didn’t because you were waiting for that nice round “start date.” There will always be a new special occasion. In fact, there are so many of them I don’t even know why we call them special.
Start now. There will never be a better time.
So I set a goal in early May to weigh under 275 by the end of the summer. I weighed just under 300 pounds then, so I gave myself about four months to lose about 25 pounds. That’s doable… isn’t it?
Let’s work forward. If I lose one pound per week, over the 16 weeks until early September I’ll only be 16 pounds lighter. If I lose 2 pounds per week, then it’s easy to lose only 25 pounds.
So how have I been doing over the past few weeks, and is this level of activity and calorie budget enough to get me there?
Looking at my weigh-ins, it looks like I’ve been losing an average of 1.5 pounds per week, so projecting outwards in 16 weeks I should lose around 24 pounds, which is pretty close to my goal of 25.
I’ll call that one close enough.
Time to Reflect, Review, and Tweak
You should take a few moments each day to reflect on how you’ve done, where you faltered, and what you can do better tomorrow. I actually find it easier and am more consistent in it when I do my Clean Livin’ planning in the morning after I first get up, rather than just before bed. When I’m tired the last thing I want to do is beat myself up about bad choices just before I go to sleep.
In the morning you can start over, reflect on yesterday and plan better for today. Plus, if you weigh yourself in the morning then you can get feedback for how you did and plan to make better choices today. What’s done is done, but you can always do better if you know you didn’t do the right thing. Sometimes I’m going to eat a cheeseburger. I probably won’t regret it or beat myself up about it unless it’s becoming a regular habit. Then I’ll need to adjust.
How To Recover When You Miss A Goal
Goals are definitely more fun when you charge triumphantly across the finish line, fists in the air, head tilted back. Victory is yours. It’s fleeting, but for now, you get to enjoy that rush.
Falling flat on your face a few steps before the goal is a different feeling entirely. You set a goal, you set smaller goals to work towards that larger goal, but still you failed. Clearly, this is the end of the world.
You’re upset about the result you didn’t get because of the work you didn’t do. Let’s think about how we can fix that.
First of all, you should’ve seen this coming because if you were reassessing your immediate, short-term, and mid-term goals you could project that you’d be missing your goal if you remain on the same trajectory.
By how far did you miss the mark? It may not be that big of a problem if you set a weight goal for a certain date and you hit it a week later instead. You should revise your goals after that accordingly, but it’s probably not a problem. We’ll ignore for a moment the problems with setting goals for how much you weigh at any given time, as your weight will fluctuate day to day and weight goals, like the one I set for myself to lose a certain amount of weight by the end of the Summer, for instance, is more of a general target than something I’ll be depressed about if I miss it. I also try to set as realistic goals as possible, based on current data from my weigh-ins. I’ve been losing a consistent 1.5 pounds per week for the past eight weeks. Setting goals in the future, provided I continue with the behavior that got me to where I currently am, isn’t so much a goal plan as it is a projection.
If you miss your goals by a wide-margin there are two likely reasons:
- You stopped doing what you needed to in order to reach your goal, or
- You’re bad at math.
If you set a mid-term goal to run 20 out of every 30 days for the next three months and only ended up running 10 times in 90 days, then of course you’re going to miss your goal. Did you re-evaluate that goal after you missed most of your runs in the first 30 days? Was that much running an unrealistic goal for you to begin with?
It’s hard to say because when you’re starting out with setting weight loss goals everything seems unrealistic, and the work you haven’t done yet is easier in your mind than it is when you need to put rubber to the road and actually do the things you’ve planned to do.
So start small, with something you know you can do every day, like keep a log of what you eat, weigh-in, or walk for fifteen minutes a day, and build from there.
You may not notice the benefits of your new activities immediately, but over time they’ll compound. Every little bit helps.
Okay, nerd time. So weight loss tends to be logarithmic, where you’ll lose more at the start and it becomes harder to lose more weight the nearer you get to your “ideal weight.” There are a whole bunch of reasons for that, and you can solve some of the weight loss slowdown by re-adjusting your calorie budget based on your new percentage of muscle mass, body fat, and the ratio of your fat to lean mass. But it’s hard. You also tend to lose a lot of fluid you’ve been holding onto early in the weight loss game, and water weighs a little more than fat does (a pound of water is about two cups by volume – a pound of fat is about 2.13). ↩
When you throw away your junk food, rather than eating it or bringing it to work for others, don’t think of it as wasting something, think of it as reducing the amount of crap in the world by a little bit. You threw away the sugary cereal and potato chips? You’ve just made the world a little bit of a better place. ↩
As a geek I tend to love to play with new gadgets, so when I first heard about the Fitbit, a lightweight, elegant pedometer that counts steps accurately and syncs wireless to a web site, of course I was intrigued. At around $100 it’s on the expensive side for a pedometer, but the technology in the Fitbit is so much better than a standard step counter that I felt it was well worth the extra cost. I pre-ordered it even before it was available for sale, and six months later, in February 2010, I finally got my Fitbit tracker.
I wore it every day since then (give or take a few days where I accidentally left it on my nightstand at home and didn’t get to track my steps). Earlier this year I noticed that the battery, which used to last a week to ten days between charges, was needing to be recharged every other day. Ah well, rechargeable batteries don’t last forever. Then about a month ago the OLED display started getting gradually dimmer. It eventually got so dim that I could barely read it at all, even in a completely dark room.
Part of the advantage of using something like a Fitbit is that the device itself gives you feedback. There have been a number of times where I’d check my step count and if I wasn’t yet over my goal of 10,000 steps per day (about 5–6 miles, depending on your gait) I’d hop on the treadmill for a bit before going to bed. Not having a display made the Fitbit substantially less useful.
Since the packaging contains no instruction manual, I checked the Fitbit website to see what the warranty period was. Damn. Only one year. I searched Google to see if anyone else had problems with a dim Fitbit display and found that the problem, while probably not widespread, was affecting others as well.
I contacted Fitbit via their online form and they walked me through updating the firmware of the device and the Fitbit software on my computer. No dice. When I informed them that it didn’t help they replied that they had sent me a replacement at no charge. Not only did they replace my tracker, but they replaced it with the new Fitbit Ultra model that includes features that the original didn’t, most notably an altimeter that tracks the flights of stairs you’ve climbed. I am completely blown away by this level of customer service. While I loved my Fitbit before, I now have an increased respect for the company. This is the type of customer service that turns people from mere customers to evangelists for your product.
The Fitbit hardware alone is impressive, and the combination of Fitbit device and Fitbit.com software makes it truly useful instead of a mere novelty step tracker.
Fitbit Ultra Pedometer
Since the Fitbit includes an accelerometer (like the ones found in many mobile phones to determine which way you’re holding or moving them) it not only works in any orientation, but can also measure the intensity of your activity and how far apart your steps are. Both the steps and distance measurements are uncannily accurate, even if you vary your stride length. I tried the original on a track, and by measuring a hallway and then walking up and down it a few times, and over short and long distances the Fitbit holds up.
The new model (which retains the $99.95 price tag of the original tracker) includes an altimeter which records how many flights of stairs you climbed, as well as a clock and personalized greeting (which is cute but of course not a necessity).
Subsequent presses of the device’s single button rotates through each of the Fitbit’s display modes:
- Steps – Shows how many steps you’ve walked today (“today” starts at midnight in your timezone, so if you’re a night owl your “day” may differ from Fitbit’s calendar day). When I travel my walking habits are sometimes a little different than while at home, but since I tend to not change my location settings it just registers whatever my steps are for that day in Chicago time (CST/CDT). Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, but it would be nice to be able to specify when you want your day to start and end.
- Distance – The number of miles you’ve walked. I couldn’t find a setting for changing from miles to kilometers, but maybe it uses your general profile settings for height and weight as a hint.
- Calories Burned – This of course is a wildly inaccurate estimation, and the calories that Fitbit shows you includes your resting caloric burn from your basal metabolic rate, so if I left my Fitbit on the nightstand it would still read about 3000 calories burned at the end of the day. There doesn’t seem to be a way to limit the caloric burn data to only show calories burned through activity without doing the subtraction yourself. I could see how people may want it to work either way, so I think it should be an option, but in general the design aesthetic of the Fitbit is simplicity. There aren’t too many things you can fiddle with, which is probably a good thing more often than not.
- Floors Climbed – The Fitbit Ultra model added an altimeter to the step counting accelerometer. It considers a “floor” as increments of about ten feet in altitude, so unfortunately it won’t count any movement on a gym stair climber. I tested walking up and down two steps of my staircase and it didn’t register another floor even after 30 steps up and down, so it really does measure the change in altitude and not fractional steps up. Of course, my steps were counted as I stepped up and down. I read a review that claimed the Fitbit counted walking up a hill as a few flights of stairs, but since Chicago is mostly flat I’ll have to wait until I can walk on hillier terrain to test that. Anyway, if your stair climbing is less than ten feet it doesn’t look like the Fitbit will count those as floors climbed at all.
- Flower – The activity flower shows how active you’ve been… recently? Is it relative to your previous activity or based on some absolute pre-programmed activity level? I’m not sure how it’s measured or how much activity constitutes another petal on the growing flower stem, but some people may like the softer show of how active you’ve been rather than the hard data of steps and distance. Personally, I prefer the hard data. Since you can show a graph of your minute-to-minute activity on the web site the flower isn’t terribly useful to me.
- Clock/Stopwatch – You can hold down the button for two seconds to start the stopwatch to time certain events. I haven’t really used it yet. This is another new feature of the Fitbit Ultra over the original tracker. I don’t know why the original couldn’t be updated via firmware to include a clock and stopwatch, but maybe there is new hardware for keeping time in the new device.
Installation and Setup
There are no instructions included, but the outside of the box directs you to a quick start web page that will walk you through downloading and installing the Fitbit software (available for Windows and Mac only – if you’re running Linux you may be interested in this open source project).
Once you’ve installed the software it’ll ask you a little bit about yourself (height, current weight, etc.) and then you’re ready to go. The software only uploads your data to Fitbit, so there’s no way to view the data on your computer without logging into Fitbit.com to see your stats. There is an iPhone and Android app as well that pulls data from the web service.
When setting up your Fitbit Ultra you can add a personalized message of only 8 characters or fewer, which is limited by the width of the display:
Then whenever you pick up your Fitbit after it’s been resting for a little while you can see the “chatter” motivational message and/or your personalized greeting:
You can turn each type of data on and off by editing the settings on the web site, which updates your Fitbit the next time it syncs:
You can also choose which orientation the display shows, depending on whether you’re right handed or left-handed. I’m a lefty but I always wear the Fitbit on my right hip for whatever reason, so the right-handed display (button on the right) is the most convenient for me. This is a new feature of the new Fitbit Ultra model, and it’s nice to have the option. It’s curious, though, that this is a setting you must change on the web site settings page, and not a feature that uses the accelerometer to flip the display’s orientation on the fly depending on which way you’re holding it.
The Fitbit syncs wirelessly to its USB base station, which doubles as its charger when you dock it. You can top off the Fitbit for a few minutes while you check your email or surf the web and it’ll keep a charge for several days. The web site claims 5–7 days of use on a single charge, probably depending on how much you use the display or how active you are. It seems to charge pretty quickly.
The Ultra stores about a week’s worth of data even if you’re away from a computer (I tend not to take the dock with me on vacation). If you take the dock for recharging but don’t bring a computer with you, the Fitbit will also store daily totals (calories, distance, and steps) for the next 30 days, but without minute-by-minute stats.
Whenever you’re within about 15 feet of the base station it’ll sync and then upload your data to Fitbit.com using a low-power 2.4 GHz ANT radio transceiver. You can force a sync by docking the Fitbit on its base station. Currently there is no option to purchase additional base stations if you wanted to keep one as a spare for travel, or keep a second dock at the office or your mistress’s apartment.
Also included in the package is a little belt holster so that the Fitbit clip doesn’t have to be stretched over a thick belt. I usually wear my Fitbit on my belt using the holster unless I’m working out and not wearing a belt, in which case I will simply clip it to the top of my t-shirt or even just put it in the pocket of my gym shorts or sweatpants.
Fitbit.com Web Site
The Fitbit.com website is an essential part of the Fitbit experience (for better or worse – there is no way to access your data directly from your computer without being connected to the Internet). Here’s where you’ll see detailed data about your movement. It saves your daily stats, and you can establish various goals:
- Weekly Steps – This is the default, and the one I’ve left as my primary goal on the dashboard. For now my goal is simply 10,000 steps per day, which is about 5 miles for me. Your mileage may vary.
- Weekly Distance – My goal is 35 miles per week, and I tend to exceed this by a little, depending on the season and if I’m traveling (I tend to do more walking on weekends and when I’m on vacation).
- Weekly Climb – The default is 70 floors, or ten floors per day. Seems reasonable. I may increase this goal to encourage me to try to walk up more flights of stairs than necessary. Yesterday I walked up and down the steps just to hit the 25 floors climbed achievement, but today I walked up and down (it only measures floors climbed, not descended) over 25 times without even trying. I’ll be curious to see if the stair counter helps me take the stairs more often just to get my numbers up. I try to be as active as possible and to take the stairs often, but until I got the Ultra I didn’t have an easy means to measure my stair climbing.
- Weight Goal – You can set a target weight and the default goal graph will show you how close you are to your goal weight as you log it. You can also log your percent body fat if you know it, and measurements of various parts of your body.
I tend to take a look at the previous day’s activity every morning before hopping on the treadmill (or sometimes while I’m on the treadmill) and while I rarely look at the more detailed graphs it’s nice that they’re there so you can see the duration and intensity-level of your activity throughout the day. As my friend Scott noted, it’s great to see specific active periods of your day, like a walk to work or the times you climbed stairs. It’s like a mini record of your life, in terms of activity, for as long as you wear the Fitbit.
You can also log your activity and what food you’ve eaten, but I tend not to use these features. The activity log is fine and lets you add other activities you’ve done, like weight-lifting, that the Fitbit raw data can’t really account for, and if I cared about how Fitbit logged my caloric burn for the day it might be nice to have all of your calorie data logged in one place that’s also tied-into your daily activity.
Unfortunately, the food database is pretty light on foods (it contains mostly USDA data for generic foods) so it tends to miss a lot of restaurant and packaged foods, and the interface for logging what you’ve eaten isn’t as polished as some other services, but it’s serviceable, and maybe the convenience of having all of this data in one place outweighs (excuse the pun) its deficiencies. I expect their food database to improve over time, of course, as people add new items and the Fitbit developers make incremental updates.
The site has evolved quite a bit over the past two years (most notably, a lot of the graphs that used to be Flash are now built with web standards so they work on the iPad and any web browser – although not all of them have been converted). This isn’t one of those projects that launched and then was forgotten about. They seem to be continually tweaking and adding onto the experience.
The Fitbit includes a wrist band so you can wear it when you sleep. Just hold the button down for a few seconds and it’ll initiate sleep mode where the Fitbit will record how well you’ve slept based on your movement throughout the night. I find the wristband to be uncomfortable, and I tend to accidentally press the button at times with my head when I put my arm under my pillow as I sleep (on my stomach).
However, since the Fitbit is pretty sensitive to even light movement I’ve discovered that just putting it into sleep mode before I go to sleep, and then turning it off when I wake up, it can actually measure the vibrations of when I get up to pee in the middle of the night. While it’s not as accurate a portrait of how well you’ve slept, it’s not too shabby. Plus, you can have a record of at least how many hours you’ve slept each night, giving yourself another health metric.
As of last August Fitbit introduced achievement badges for various milestones. The badges are separated into two groups: daily and lifetime (cumulative) milestones.
You can earn the daily badges every day (the badges screen shows you when you last earned it) and the lifetime badges activate when you cross that milestone.
I’m a fan of gamification when it’s done well, but since Fitbit doesn’t publicly show daily badges there’s not a whole lot of ego incentive to push yourself to earn one. Granted, a little icon on a web site is hardly incentive for the work it takes to improve your body, but it gives you some bragging-rights.
Fitbit emails you whenever you earn a new badge in case you miss it.
You can also view your best daily and lifetime totals. Since 04 February 2010 I’ve accumulated:
- 6,470,688 total lifetime steps
- 60 total lifetime floors (since 05 May 2012)
- 3,294.32 miles total lifetime distance
The total lifetime calories burned and activity tabs currently show this message:
This stat is unavailable while we tune a couple things. Don’t worry, your data is safe. Be back soon – Team Fitbit.
Hopefully they’ll finish building this.
If one of your friends or coworkers also has a Fitbit you can add them as a friend and choose to share some or all of your data with them so you can compete with each other (or at least see where you stack-up against your friends – the Fitbit dashboard shows you a leaderboard of where you stand against your friends for the past week). You can also join a group via the Fitbit community forums and find like-minded people that have similar goals to yourself. They really round-out the group fitness ecosystem.
If you have a Fitbit and want to be friends, I’m “jough” on Fitbit.com, although it looks like you may have to be friends with me on Facebook, or know my email address in order to add me as a friend, so if you leave a comment with your email address I’ll add you and not post your address here. You can also contact me on Twitter: @jough Being able to request someone add you as a friend by knowing the link to their profile seems like a glaring oversight.
It’s also a little weird that I can pick a unique Fitbit username, but my profile’s URL doesn’t use it, instead opting for a short hash (I’m “229BSN”, nice to meet you).
All of the above is included with the purchase of a Fitbit Ultra tracker, but Fitbit also offers a premium membership for about $50 per year that includes even more detailed benchmarks, food, activity, and sleep reports, a “trainer” that offers fitness advice (automatically?) and an export of your data in CSV or Excel spreadsheet format.
While I have no need for these premium services I like that they’re offered, and the price isn’t really all that steep (although you’ve have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it to you).
It’s a little shitty that the only way to get a copy of your data is to pay them $50, but they did introduce an API for developers to pull Fitbit data into other services, so maybe there will be a cheap or free way to get to your data in the future.
When my Fitbit’s display was dimming I decided to check out other offerings that have come onto the market in the past two years before I considered buying a replacement. I didn’t find anything even close to the Fitbit in either hardware or software.
- Jawbone Up – The Jawbone Up is an uncomfortable-looking wristband that syncs by plugging into the headphone jack of your iOS device like an iPhone or iPad. Rather than upload to a web site, the Jawbone Up data is visible only via the free iOS app. Being able to sync data directly to your iPhone while on the go is either a plus or minus, depending on whether you own an iPhone, and whether you want to use that data elsewhere. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get your data out of the device (although maybe that’s a feature of the app that Jawbone doesn’t disclose – I haven’t tried it). One interesting feature unique to the Up is that it contains a vibrating motor (like the silent vibrator in most mobile phones) that can be set to vibrate at certain intervals when you’ve been sedentary in order to prod you to get up and move around, which is an interesting idea. The Up had some early problems but Jawbone has been issuing refunds to people who have the problem. Sounds bad. I’m a big fan of Jawbone’s audio products, though, and was disappointed by their first health device offering.
- Nike+ FuelBand – Nike’s Plus system has been around for a while, and works by putting a pedometer in your shoe and then syncing to your phone to count your steps, but it requires special shoes with a compartment for the plus receiver, and I never found it to be particularly accurate. The FuelBand, like the Jawbone Up, is a bracelet you’re supposed to wear on your wrist. It has a display built-in like the Fitbit (although it looks like it contains 120 tiny LEDs instead of an OLED), and tracks your activity in terms of “NikeFuel” which is abstract like Fitbit’s flower meter, but requires watching a video on Nike’s web site to explain what it means. The FuelBand comes in three sizes with some spacers available to fit properly on your wrist. Seems really weird to me. Maybe I’m missing its advantages to the Fitbit, but this just looks awful. I’ll be interested to hear about how well it works once it’s been on the market for a while.
- Bodybugg – The first to market in this space (I believe), the Bodybugg is an armband that records all of the same data that the other devices record, except the Bodybugg is much larger and heavier. One advantage of the Bodybugg is that it has thermometers built-in to take your skin temperature. It also uses its thermometer on the side of the device to record the heat that’s coming off of your skin. I don’t know how useful this is, but it seems to be unique to the Bodybugg. Another disadvantage is that you have to pay $10 a month (or $80/year) to get access to your data. Or something. I couldn’t find anything on their web site about what the subscription is for, or what you get with it. Sounds expensive for something so vague.
- Polar FT40 – The Polar is a wristwatch that also tracks your steps and heart rate. It lets you connect to a cell-phone-sized GPS receiver to track your runs. You know, if you don’t have a smartphone.
There are numerous other heart rate monitor watches from Garmin, Timex, Omron, etc. that also track your steps and distance, but these things are in a different category than other pedometers.
The problem with the big armbands or giant watches is that they’re intrusive. I like that you can wear the Fitbit on your belt, clip it to your bra (hello, ladies), or just put it in your pocket.
The Quantified Self
As technology marches on, having access to devices that will help us record data about our lives will grow more prevalent.
I’ve been recording my weight daily for nearly four years now. I’ve been considering getting a Withings scale but now Fitbit (the company) has released the Aria scale which looks like the only strong competitor to the Withing. I have yet to buy either of these, though, so I can’t comment how the integration of a WiFi scale makes the Fitbit even more effective. It’s nice that you can link a Withings scale to your Fitbit account to get your daily weigh-ins logged at Fitbit.com. Since both scales sync with your Fitbit data you need only compare the hardware. The Aria is $30 cheaper than the Withings so it’ll be interesting to see if Withings lowers their price to be more competitive with the recently released Aria.
Both scales also measure your percentage of body fat, automatically detect multiple family members, upload your data to their web site, and allow you to post your weight to Facebook or Twitter. The two intelligent scales have so much feature parity that I’m not really sure which one to get (if either – my current scale works great). If/when I upgrade to a fancy scale I’ll post about it.
The Fitbit is one of a precious few things I wear or carry with me on a daily basis. I put it on right after my wedding ring, and even when I first get out of bed I’ll clip it to my t-shirt before staggering downstairs bleary-eyed to review my email before my morning workout. I can’t think of many ways it could be improved other than making it thinner, lighter, or longer-lasting than it already is. It’s so thoughtfully designed you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for an Apple product.
The Fitbit Ultra gets my highest recommendation.
The most frequent question that I am asked when I tell people that I’ve lost over 150 pounds (so far) is “How did you do it?” The short and possibly glib answer is that I eat right and exercise. The truer answer is a bit longer and more abstract.
Before I can address the real answer, though, I’d like to rephrase the question to: “How do you change from being overweight and out of shape to being fit and healthy?” The real answer is easier to understand now: By becoming a fit person and then acting naturally. Your body will catch up.
Of course, that’s not quite it either. The real question is the follow-up “Well… how do you do that?”
It’s a decision. Losing weight is simple, but it’s not easy. I’ve struggled with writing this post because it’s hard to explain. I think I’ve found a shortcut, though. If you change yourself you’ll change your body. If you start to change your body, you’ll change yourself. Either way you’re going to be on the road to being fitter.
I could prescribe exactly what you should do – certain things like walk two miles a day, or track everything you eat, count your calories, and only intake so many per a daily budget. There are innumerable specifics that would likely result in your weight loss, at least temporarily – but that wouldn’t be useful to you in the long term because doing those things would be outside your nature, and eventually those habits that aren’t yours will fade away. You won’t keep up my habits. You have to make them your own. Losing good habits and re-introducing bad habits has happened to me, too. Any time you try to fight nature, even your own, nature wins every time.
Instead, I’ll offer this general bit of advice that will lead to your inevitable success. I believe this advice is pertinent to success in all things, not just weight loss or general fitness, but I’ll talk of it in these terms. In order to be a success, you must:
Make Things Harder Than They Need To Be
We live in a culture of convenience. Every product, service, program plan, diet, exercise regime, class, and so forth are meant to make your life easier. Work is treated like a four letter word. Companies are happy to take your money so that they can help you do less work. Unfortunately for you, you’ve been conditioned to be fat, dumb, and happy. I can’t help you with the latter two.
Losing weight is like swimming against the current. You have to fight against every impulse, instinct, societal convention, the food service industry, and even other people’s expectations. You’re basically a salmon, except that you don’t have a spawning ground to look forward to once you reach your goal. Although, if you get fitter along the way, maybe you do.
What does it mean to make things harder than they need to be? It means walking when you could drive. It means taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It means cooking instead of eating out or ordering in. It means taking ten steps when five will do. Squaring the corner instead of rounding it. Doing things yourself instead of relying on someone else (or a machine) to do them. It means when you come to any fork in the road you need to take the path that sucks.
Granted, I haven’t given up every convenience. I still use TV remote controls (given modern electronics you kinda have to – most TVs and media players don’t have many buttons anymore). I like to eat out sometimes (sometimes too often). I have texted my wife from a different floor of the house rather than go talk to her. Doing those things doesn’t make me any healthier, though.
If I know what the Right Thing is, and it’s not that hard to do, why don’t I do it all the time?
I fail whenever I try to deny myself something I want. I fail when I give into despair instead of acknowledging my setback and moving on.
How to Resist Temptation
If you give up everything you enjoy you’ll never keep up with it. Oh sure, you can sacrifice what you enjoy for a while, but eventually your old habits, the things you want to do while you’ve been doing things you don’t want to do, will come screaming back with a vengeance.
You’re never going to succeed if you punish yourself to get there. The “yo-yo diet” effect of losing weight and then gaining even more back again (lather, rinse, repeat) is a common theme in most diets because they’re all about giving up stuff you like to eat. That sounds like a shitty life to me. No thanks.
Much better is to adjust your desire. Change what it is that you want. Remember that scene in The Matrix when Morpheus was explaining the nature of what being The One and how that works in the Matrix?
Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?
Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.
A lot of weight loss advice I’ve read suggests getting rid of unhealthy snacks when you’re trying to lose weight – literally throwing them away – because if you don’t have them in the house, you can’t eat them, right? While there’s a certain logic in that, you can’t really fool yourself into doing the right thing if you really want to do the wrong thing.
If you’re trying to avoid the foods you really enjoy eating because you know that they’re bad for you, you’re doing it wrong. You can always eat the unhealthy thing later. It’ll be there. They’ll make more.
When you’re just starting out doing is almost as good as being. It’s hard to make new habits, but if you can keep the momentum going for a few weeks to a month you’ll start being what you’ve been doing. You’ll be the success you’ve been pretending to be.
When you’ve truly embraced Clean Livin’ you won’t need to avoid the bad foods because they will no longer be a temptation. I’m the guy who can eat a single potato chip. Fear me.
<Lawrence extinguishes a match between his thumb and forefinger. William Potter tries it and burns himself.>
William Potter: <screams> It damn well hurts!
Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Potter: What’s the trick then?
Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
— Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The word “willpower” comes up a lot when people talk about dieting.
Your body burns fat far more efficiently than it stores it. Metabolically speaking, losing weight is a lot easier than gaining weight. You just have to let it. As soon as you create a caloric deficit (eating less food than your body needs to power itself) you’ll burn fat (well, sometimes you’ll also lose some lean muscle mass, but we’ll ignore that for now). The system works if you work the system. Your body is burning calories just to keep you alive. You burn calories even while sleeping, although not nearly as many as being more active.
Remember Newton’s first Law of Inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion. He wasn’t talking about a human body, but it still applies. Keep your body in motion.
The best part about Clean Livin’ is that it’s not a diet. It’s a means of replacing bad habits with better habits without missing the bad. Diets have a shelf life, like any fad. Diets have an assumed end date. I mean, you’ll just diet for a while and then you can stop, right?
Clean Livin’ means eating healthily and being more active… forever. Well, most of the time. Hey, why not try it just for this next meal. Just for today. See if you can do it through the end of the week. We tend to have an “all or nothing” mentality, especially where our diet is concerned.
It’s hard to do the right thing all the time. It’s much easier to do it at any particular moment it’s at the forefront of your mind.
Make The Right Thing The Easy Thing
There are some simple and easy things you can do to immediately improve your health that stack the deck in your favor.
Some “right things” that are easy to fit into your life:
- Walking – Adding just 30 minutes a day of extra walking is usually pretty easy. You don’t even have to do it all at once. Take a five minute stroll around the block before you eat lunch, or walk to the store down the street instead of driving there, or hop on the treadmill for 15 minutes twice a day.
- Easy Elimination – Cut out bad foods you won’t miss. There were a lot of unhealthy foods that I ate and didn’t even enjoy very much. If you choose to eat something that’s unhealthy, and it’s going to count towards your daily budget, at least make sure it’s worth it. If you eat unhealthy things you don’t even enjoy that much, cut them out! It’s easy to eliminate the foods that are just there for convenience (especially at the office when you may not even choose them) and spend those calories on something you’d prefer to eat. Make the most out of your calorie budget. Don’t squander those precious calories on something you consider less than delicious. For instance, I used to drink a few cans of Coca-Cola per day, and eat a bagel or muffin every morning. I’ll still have a bagel from time to time, but it was something I could eliminate and not even miss.
- Easy Additions – Rather than concentrating on what you can’t eat, just start planning meals around vegetables, beans, and other high-nutrition food. By the time you get to the meat or fish you should already have a healthy meal. Then you can more easily reduce your portions.
- Get Moving – Whenever you need to do something, ask yourself “Could I do this while moving?” Pace around while on the phone. Get up and walk around during commercial breaks. Use the bathroom on a different floor. Park at the end of the lot. Wash dishes by hand. Fold your laundry. Read while standing.
- Cook – Buy real food from the outside aisles of the supermarket – fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy – and then cook it yourself. Not only will you know better what you’re eating while you likely eat healthier food, but you’ll also burn calories while cooking it. By keeping fruit on-hand you’ll also have a readily available snack for when you feel peckish.
- Drink Water – Drink lots of water to flush out your system. Pound down that water. If you drink soda, get a Sodastream instead of buying bottled soda and make your own fizzy water. Replacing sugary drinks with water will not only hydrate you to help you lose weight, but water (even carbonated water) has zero calories. Plus, drinking a glass of water before, during, and after meals will fill you up more than you’d think.
- Start Slow – You didn’t put excess weight on in a day, so it’s going to take time to take it off, too. Don’t make a thousand changes at once. Make a few small, easy to live with changes first and then add a few more in a little at a time, like when adding dry to wet ingredients while baking.
- Shrink Your Plate – This one sounds stupid, but if you use smaller plates you’ll probably eat less, and it’ll look like you still have a full plate. I use 8" salad plates for most meals even if I’m already serving a fixed portion size. They’re a good size without being too small.
- Write It Down – Before you start restricting your calories, just log everything you eat without concern for how many calories it all adds-up to. If you want to get a little helpful reinforcement you can share your food log with a dietician or even just post it on your blog. The simple act of writing everything down may make you think twice about what you choose to eat. Or not, but at least it’ll make you more aware of what you’re putting into your body. I tend to keep a log in a text file in my Dropbox so it’s available everywhere, but if you work better writing in pen on paper, Field Notes notebooks are small, cheap, and sturdy. The best note-taking system is the one you have with you.
- Make Things More Delicious – Add some umami to your food to increase the flavor while increasing nutrition and decreasing overall calories.
Do or do not. There is no try.
You can’t really fail at this. Even if you don’t do everything right you’re going to make yourself healthier just by paying attention to what you eat, attempting to be more active, etc.
Let’s say you set a goal to go to the gym every day after work. We’ll ignore that setting a goal like that is a bad idea, but you’re just starting out so you’re likely to keep it up for a couple of weeks out of excitement and momentum. Eventually, though, you’ll miss a day. Maybe you have to work late, or you’re meeting friends that night at the time you’d usually be at the gym, etc. You haven’t failed. You just missed that one time. It’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up about it, just go tomorrow.
If you find yourself always putting today’s workout off until tomorrow, maybe you need to find a new workout. Some activities are more fun than others.
Most important, though, is that you can’t change the past. You ate poorly for lunch? It’s not over! You can still eat better for dinner. Don’t give up because you slipped up. Doing the wrong thing is part of the process of doing the right thing. It’s built-in. You don’t need to feel bad about it. Just do the right thing next time. And the time after that, and the time after that you may screw up again, so pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on that bicycle.
What Success Means
Keep your eye on the prize. You’re doing this because you want something. Maybe you want to feel better. Maybe you want to look better. The key word in this is you. You can’t do this for someone else. You have to want it for yourself.
Start slow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You can make small changes and those will compound like interest into bigger savings down the road. I don’t just mean a longer life (although there are innumerable statistics demonstrating just that) but a better life as well.
I guarantee that once you make even a few simple changes that you’ll begin to feel better after only a few weeks. Looking better may take a little longer, but you have to be patient. Even small positive changes add up over time.
How To Set Goals
Let’s say you need to lose 40 pounds. So what’s your goal? It’s not to lose 40 pounds. Your goal is to lose 1–2 lbs per week, or to create a calorie deficit of 500–1000 calories per day. Your goal is to eat right for your next meal. It’s hard to plan far into the future, but it’s easy to plan for a few hours from now. Doing the right thing now means a payout toward your goal later.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be mindful about your overall goal – just that smaller goals are more realistic and also more likely to be goals you can achieve.
Beware of setting deadlines to your goals too. I was going to write “unrealistic deadlines” but deadlines in general are probably a bad idea if it’s a particular date and not a range. For example, saying “I need to lose 20 pounds by our vacation to Mexico so I can fit into this swimsuit” isn’t realistic. Losing four pounds in the next four weeks, though, is perfectly doable. The more you have to lose, the farther your finish line, and the further in the future, the hazier the goal. Work for now, plan for soon, and you’ll be prepared for the future.
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