The story doesn’t end with just achieving weight loss. There is still work to make sure it stays off and technology is there to help do just that.
This new maintenance phase was kind of strange because I no longer really needed to struggle. But then again after working at it for six years prior I wasn’t really sure about how to proceed. If you’re regularly exercising and eating the right things you can get used to a certain rate of weight loss, but now I just wanted to level off and keep it regulated. What I learned during this process consisted of a succession of things that I probably could have used to remove a lot of the guesswork out of the weight loss phase as well.
For about a year into my new maintenance phase I noticed that despite continuing the same exercise program my weight was fluctuating up and down about a stone (14 pounds) from month to month. There was no science to what I was doing: maybe a little less exercise and little more food, then overreact by doing the old weight loss things again, and repeat as necessary. Although I was tracking my weight, there was no way I could quantify the process in order to regulate properly.
Around Christmas 2010 all that started to change. We had just upgraded our phones to brand new smart phones. You all know the routine: you buy a new phone; first thing you do is loading it up with a bunch of new apps.
Calorie Counting Apps
While searching for diet-related things, I came across MyFitnessPal. It was highly rated so I gave it a shot. It seemed pretty easy to use. You just entered date of birth, height, desired weight, desired weight loss rate per week (zero), and level of daily activity (sedentary, lightly active, active, very active). The app then calculates the target calorie budget per day.
From there, you keep a daily diary of what you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any between meal snacks, as well as the quantity of each. It automatically knows what the nutritional content (carbohydrates, fat, protein, sodium, potassium, etc.) and intrinsic caloric value each item has.
It also has a massive database of things to choose from and users are encouraged to help update it. If the item isn’t there, you can pick something close in description, or use the integrated bar code scanner that you can use to find it via the UPC code on the box. Once the item and quantity is entered it calculates the total calories and nutritional value per meal, as well as a daily total – subtracting it from the daily target budget.
It also looks at the exercises you perform and estimates the caloric burn for each. For example, I was entering my 20 minutes of pushups and sit-ups in the beginning, for which it estimated to be about 186 calories per session. This would then be mathematically added to the daily target budget.
In theory, by doing this daily balancing act between calories taken in and calories going out you can control any potential weight gain or loss. Keep in mind that by itself, it is not an exact science. Not every day is completely sedentary and the calories burnt through exercise are only a rough estimate.
Because of these factors, it initially takes some experimentation to figure the actual target number. For example, my target was 1700 calories at first. After continuing to lose weight for three months I started to increase the number until it stabilized. You may have to do this for several months of tweaking until you can zero in on the right number.
I eventually settled on 1800, however, there were a number of secondary factors that came into play. If you do the same exercises repeatedly, eventually they become easier and will not require the same amount of calories to burn.
As such, the 186 calories I was allotting myself for exercise was now adding too much to the calorie budget and my weight began to slowly increase as a result. I countered that by dialing back my total target budget until it re-stabilized. This was clear through the integrated charts that showed how my weight (as well as fat mass) varied over time.
The lesson learned is that calorie counting is more effective than guessing and hoping for the best, but it can also be complicated without accurate inputs.
MyFitnessPal quickly became the keystone of my maintenance plan, which is really what this More Technology section will be all about. Over the next few weeks we will explore how we can supplement this by using technology to accurately measuring the calories we burn from exercise, better quantify our daily activity in terms of energy used, and how we can pull all of these things together to accurately regulate our weight, while also getting fit.
Next Week: Technology to Help Track Exercises.