Getting Healthy with FitBit Mused on

Point blank, I’m a portly dude. I must carry my weight pretty well since few people believe me when I tell them how much I weight (often upwards of 50 – 60 pounds more than their guess). However, that doesn’t change the fact that I am, in fact, extremely overweight and unfit. I don’t live the most healthy lifestyle; but this year I set out to change that.

Preface

I’ve been overweight since I was fairly little and every year I would get worse and worse. I wouldn’t say I struggled with weight as it never really bothered me until recently. Part of the problem is that I live a sedentary lifestyle. I deeply enjoy my video games and spending time doing random computer things. I also hate being hot… I live in Florida, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Like so many Americans, I also have fallen into the habit of eating out of boredom rather than hunger.

I have tried to curb my sedentary nature a few times before. Two years ago I took up running, not just running, but barefoot running. I, surprisingly, enjoyed it despite hating anything involving running back in school. Unfortunately, the results weren’t all that promising. After eight months, I lost about 10 pounds and only had enough stamina to make a lap around the block running at a comfortable pace. I never really picked it up again after that winter.

The following year I picked up cycling and I discovered something I deeply enjoy and genuinely makes me feel good. I still ride to this day, though not as much as I would like. I’m up to about 35 miles over 3 hours or so. Not amazing, but respectable. Cycling isn’t great for weight loss, but it has done wonders for my physical fitness level. I find myself winded less and less; my arm, leg and core muscles are toning; and my blood pressure is back to healthy levels.

Bike selfie while stopping for a quick rest during a bike ride.

Ending the year at an all time high

Last November I found out that my wife was pregnant and that I was going to be a father in a few short months. I knew I wanted to be healthier for the baby so that I could always be around for her, but I didn’t really do anything about it. In, what I now see as a moment of serendipity, I got very sick from some bad food on the day of New Year’s Eve. At that point I weighed 283 pounds, which is right around the most I’ve ever weighed. That is until that sickness kept me from eating at all for a week, and very little during the following week. This alone forced me to lose five or so pounds. I realized I could actually lose weight with just a bit of will power. Ultimately, I wanted to be down to 200 pounds by the time my daughter was born. I stopped buying snacks, since I know I can’t not eat them if we have them around and I tried to only eat if I were sure it was because I was hungry (I still cheated a lot). I managed to lose 10 – 15 pounds this way in few months. Then I plateaued.

Getting fit with FitBit

I’m a gadget whore and had been toying with the idea of getting an activity tracker for a long time; mostly to track and correct the piss poor sleep I get. A few months ago I broke down and finally got one, deciding on a FitBit Flex.

I set up a food plan within the FitBit app (no tracker required if you’re interested). Based on how much I wanted to lose and by when, I opted for the hardest option—a 1000 calorie deficit. I was still not eating out of boredom, and now I was counting calories. The app makes it super simple, since just about anything you can think of is already in its food list. This is where most of my weight loss success has come from.

The tracker, obviously, tracks my activity level, or lack there-of. But my level of activity has a direct impact on my food plan. Since it’s based on a deficit rather than a limit, the more calories I burn in a day, the more I can eat and still be dieting. For example, if I burn 2000 calories, I can eat 1000 and if I burn 3200 calories I can eat 2200 calories; both ways I’m still taking in 1000 calories less than I’m expending. This lets me actively think about what I’m eating and how it relates to what I’m doing, or vice-versa. What’s also, quite nice, is that the app integrates with Endomondo, a sports tracker I use for my bike rides. The FitBit app automatically pulls an exercises I log in Endomondo, and maps the workout data to my FitBit stats. Even better, is that it’s a two way street; my daily walking gets pushed back to Endomondo too. Both services are really for different things, but use the same data; now they both get to see the full picture.

Logging food intake has an added side effect. Guilt. By having to admit to all the food I eat, document it and see a list of everything; I’m guilted into not eating. I don’t want four servings of cookies occupying 50% of my food list. Even wearing the band is a constant reminder to be healthy. I see the band and am reminded of my goals. It’s like the health equivalent of tying string on your finger.

Other bits worth mentioning

My FitBit also helps me keep my hydration up. This isn’t a huge issue for me in the first place as I always drank a lot of water, but the reminder is nice and gets me to drink more than I would normally. Tracking my sleep is nice too, but the data isn’t very actionable, unfortunately. Getting a good night’s sleep is still a crapshoot on its own, plus having to get up to feed a hungry infant.

The history aspect of tracking and being able to see that data plotted out helps a lot. I can see trends in my weight, so I know its usually highest towards the end of week and the lowest in the middle. What makes this information great is that when my weight happens to go up between days I can look back and how that compares to other weeks. For example, I gained 1.2 pounds from the previous day, but looking back at the previous week I was 2.6 pounds heavier, so I know that I am actually still on track; this helps quell demotivation.

My FitBit dashboard

I’m a sucker for gamification. I also like the idea of the quantized-self. The FitBit app and service seem tailor made for stat nerds like me. You’re scored on everything, you can compete with friends and all kinds of data is available for your analyzing pleasure. Things like this keep me encouraged which is the name of the game.

Final thoughts

I started the year at a little over 280 pounds. I’m now down to the high 240’s and my daughter was born five weeks ago. You’ll note that that’s still 40 pounds off from my goal. I had a few setbacks, where I ate whatever due to connivence. Despite not meeting my goals, I still managed to lose 40 pounds and went from size 44 pants to between size 40 and 38 (40 is too loose and 38 too tight); and, most importantly, am still losing weight. I’m off my blood pressure medicine. My resting pulse is less than 75. Importantly, I feel much better.

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