Tracking Apps and Weight Loss: A Few Tips
In the age of mobile technology, smartphones, GPS, and social media, various formats for tracking behavior and health have arisen that promise extraordinary insights. Thanks to smart watches, phones, and wearables, various health metrics can be measured seamlessly and easily, like daily caloric expenditure, weight loss, body mass index, changes in resting heart rate, time spent in REM sleep, and so forth.
My experience is that monitoring a few metrics via apps and tracking software can be very helpful in meeting my goals of weight loss, or maintaining a healthy weight once it is achieved. At the same time, I find that too much data monitoring is intrusive, time-consuming, and provides limited returns. If weight loss or weight maintenance is your goal, I have found the following apps and devices to be helpful in providing motivation and valuable insights.
Myfitnesspal is an app and website that provides a free calorie counter and exercise tracker. Gone are the days of laboriously entering every bit of food you eat, spending more time tracking calories than the meal takes to finish. This app, available on Android or iPhone, comes with a tremendous library of foods, including meals in various restaurants. You can save your commonly eaten foods to a quick access list and check them off in a snap. You can also scan packaging labels on products using the camera of your device, an amazing feature for quick entry. Once you set your weight loss goal, the app updates you throughout the day on how many calories are left before you exceed your daily limit. Additionally, you can sync wearable devices and other fitness accounts to auto update your caloric expenditure for the day, which is then calculated into your allowable calories to meet your goals. It also provides a breakdown of macro and micronutrients and any areas you have deficits or excess. If you spend time in the gym, you can track the amount of weight lifted and repetitions, and chart gains over time as well. The app is simply packed with helpful data and convenience.
Though Myfitnesspal is the most seamless and easy to use calorie counter I have found, my enthusiasm for tracking wears off after a few weeks. I find that is okay. Rather than commit to a lifetime sentence of tracking every morsel that enters my mouth, using tracking in spurts helps me get the feel for how much I can eat in a day to meet my goals. When I find I am off, or my energy needs have changed, I resume tracking for a few weeks and then go back to being mindful but not overly specific.
Alongside a calorie tracker is the necessity of a bathroom scale. Something that is easy to forget is that muscle weighs more than fat. If you begin exercising and don't lose weight though you are working hard, that does not mean you are failing to meet your goals. Using body fat measurement is often more informative than weight alone to track your progress. Yet, tracking weight change is still part of the long-term goal, and I have found that a very simple scale, WeightGurus, with accompanying phone app, is most helpful for meeting my goals (you can also enter your weight into Myfitnesspal, or use a Bluetooth scale that will auto sync to your account). I prefer to weigh in only a few days a week. Weight naturally fluctuates, so the daily obsession with a pound gained or lost can be counterproductive. The long-term trend is what is most important.
The most basic WeightGurus scale was cheap (there are more expensive options with bells and whistles) and requires only that you scan the displayed reading with your smartphone after weighing in to use the tracking software. Other scales can auto sync via Bluetooth if you go that route. My favorite part about this scale and app combo is the ability to make the display read, "Weight loss only." When I climb on, I see only a reading of -1, or -2, which references where I am compared to my last weigh in. This I find more psychologically motivating. The app will also tell you how many days at your current rate of weight loss until you meet your stated goal. It is very handy and very easy to use.
Tracking aspects of health data with the most current technology is a breeze and provides tremendous value if you have targeted weight loss goals in mind. Rather than approach caloric tracking as a lifetime commitment, something that is daunting, you can use apps to help establish a healthy lifestyle and eating habits, then take breaks from it. Simply become more or less specific as you go. Most important to remember about weight loss is to monitor trends over time, and not obsess over daily fluctuations. A healthy and maintainable rate of weight loss according to best evidence and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is 1-2 pounds per week.1 Tracking and using graphs makes such a long-term focus easier, and more maintainable.
Consideration of how changes to diet and exercise will impact rheumatoid arthritis or other health issues is of the utmost importance. Talk to your doctor before making any major changes to ensure you are doing what is best for your individual needs and tolerance.
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