This Is Halloween!

Just a short post today, celebrating the fact that I managed to lose 2.2 pounds over my vacation week!  Obviously I’d have liked to lose more (I’m impatient, after all), but I’ll take it!  If I can keep up this pace, I’ll be at 338 pounds by Christmas!

But it isn’t Christmas yet.  I’ve got to make it through two hugely calorie-laden holidays here in the states, first:  Thanksgiving, and Halloween.  And Halloween’s tonight.  Wish me luck!


Gear Review: FitBit, Part Two (the app)

Back in part one of this review, I discussed the FitBit device itself. Now, let’s look at the app. In the interests of disclosure, I’ve got the latest version (v 2.15) on my iPhone 4S.

The app is pretty user-friendly. When you first access the app you get an overview page that presents all of your stats – steps walked, distance walked, pulse rate, stairs climbed, workout duration, hours slept, amount of water drunk, calories consumed, calories burned, calories remaining, and weight. This overview can be customized, allowing you to remove metrics you aren’t interested in.  Each metric can also be tapped, allowing a deeper dive into that metric and providing historical information.

The calorie tracking feature is solid, but not as robust as MyPlate.  The database has fewer items in it, and some of the calorie information for scanned items differs from what the label indicates. The database for scanned items is also smaller, meaning I’ve had to submit more items and then manually input more information.

Like othe exercise and fitness apps, FitBit has a social component. You can add friends who also have a FitBit, see their progress, and even compete with them.  It’s a fun little motivational feature, even if one of my friends utterly schooled me (cough cough my uncle cough cough).

There are two annoying aspects to the app, though. First is that, even though you can enter historical information, it only “gives credit” for things done since you activated the FitBit. As a result, even though I’ve lost 65 pounds, the app only gives credit for a 25 pound loss.  The second is that the latest version of the app randomly makes me sign in when I open it – three times in a row, the first day after I installed the update, and 1 to 3 times a day since then. Neither is a deal-breaker, but they are irritating.

All in all, I recommend the app to anyone with a FitBit. I can’t imagine it would be a lot of use to anyone else, though.

Maybe I was a little over optimistic…

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m on vacation this week. I know that, on Friday at least, I said that I planned to hit my walking goals this week anyway. And I really believed that, when I wrote it.

You know what?  It ain’t happening.

Oh, don’t get me wrong:  I’d still like to hit that goal. I enjoy walking, particularly now that I’ve lost some weight and it feels easier. But, well… It’s not happening. And it’s not the sickness hitting my family, either. Well, not just that.  Really, I’m just off my routine. I haven’t walked much during the day, and it’s hard to take seriously a statement like “well, time to go walk 3.3 miles” at 9 at night.

The rain hasn’t helped, either. We’ve gotten buckets of it.

Still, at least I’ve been hitting my calorie goals. Hopefully that’ll count for something on Saturday.


Calories eaten:  2,435

Calories burned:  3,744

Distance walked:  2.24 miles

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

You see a lot of interesting claims, when you’re trying to lose weight.  One of them is the idea that there is a such thing as calorie neutral food or even food that requires more calories to digest than you reap from digesting it.  On the surface, this seems reasonable.  After all, it takes energy to secret acids and generate mucous and make the stomach agitate your food, so some foods should consume more energy than they produce.  Right?

Well, with nutrition as with so many other things, what sounds reasonable isn’t necessarily accurate.  Let’s start with the definition of a calorie:  the approximate amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at one atmosphere of pressure.  A dietary calorie is the “large calorie” or “kilogram calorie”, and is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius at one atmosphere of pressure.

How much energy does it take to digest something?  It turns out that there’s a thing called the thermic effect of food.  Science Learning describes it like this:

“It takes energy to metabolise foods. For example, carbohydrates and fats have a thermic effect of about 5% whereas protein is about 30%. This means that, to metabolise 100 kilojoules of carbohydrate, 5 kilojoules is needed, leaving the body with 95 kilojoules of useful energy. In comparison, to metabolise 100 kilojoules of protein, 30 kilojoules is needed, leaving the body with 70 kilojoules.”  (A joule is about 4.2 calories, if you’re wondering.)

Wikipedia, drawing from articles published in *The Journal of Nutrition* and on PubMed, provides a bit more information:

  • Carbohydrates: 5 to 15% of the energy consumed
  • Protein: 20 to 35%
  • Fats: at most 5 to 15 %

Based on this, a negative calorie outcome seems unlikely.  To illustrate, let’s turn to the list of “zero calorie foods” that got me interested.  It consists of Apple, Apricot, Asparagus, Aubergine, Beetroot, Blackberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Butternut Squash, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chili Peppers, Cranberries, Cress, Cucumber, Endive, Garlic, Grapefruit, Green Bean, Green Tea, Honeydew Melon, Kelp, Lemon, Lettuce, Lime, Mango, Mushrooms, Onion, Papaya, Peach, Pineapple, Radish, Raspberries, Spinach, Strawberries, Tangerine, Tomato, Turnip, Watermelon, and Zucchini.  Of these, the FDA’s Nutrition Information for Raw Fruits, Vegetables, and Fish provided calorie information for the following:

  • Apple, 16.25 kcal/ounce
  • Asparagus, 6.06 kcal/ounce
  • Broccoli, 8.49 kcal/ounce
  • Cantaloupe, 10.42 kcal/ounce
  • Carrot, 10.74 kcal/ounce
  • Cauliflower, 7.14 kcal/ounce
  • Celery, 6.41 kcal/ounce
  • Cucumber, 2.86 kcal/ounce
  • Grapefruit, 10.91 kcal/ounce
  • Green Bean, 6.66 kcal/ounce
  • Honeydew Melon, 10.42 kcal/ounce
  • Lemon, 7.14 kcal/ounce
  • Lettuce, 5 kcal/ounce
  • Lime, 8.33 kcal/ounce
  • Mushrooms, 6.66 kcal/ounce
  • Onion, 15 kcal/ounce
  • Peach, 11.32 kcal/ounce
  • Pineapple, 12.5 kcal/ounce
  • Radish, 3.33 kcal/ounce
  • Strawberries, 9.43 kcal/ounce
  • Tangerine, 12.82 kcal/ounce
  • Tomato, 4.72 kcal/ounce
  • Watermelon, 8 kcal/ounce

That’s quite a range, isn’t it?  2.86 kcal/ounce at the low end and 16.25 kcal/ounce at the high end, with no real explanation given of how these foods are selected or why other foods with a calorie content of 16.25 kcal/ounce or less are excluded.  For comparison purposes, here’s some meat (according to the USDA):

  • Roasted Chicken Breast, 56.66 kcal/ounce
  • Roasted Turkey Breast, 53.33 kcal/ounce
  • Broiled Pork Loin Chop, 60 kcal/ounce
  • Roasted Round Eye Round Stake, 56.66 kcal/ounce

Obviously, plants have less concentrated calories per ounce than meat.  However, it doesn’t appear from the evidence that “zero calorie foods” are a thing, or that it’s worth the time and energy to chase them – using the worst case numbers, you’d keep about 85% of the energy in an ounce of apple (largely carbohydrates) and 70% of the energy in a steak (largely protein), or about 13.81 kcal/ounce for the apple and 39.66 kcal/ounce for the steak.  Heck, you keep 5.45 kcal/ounce of the energy from celery, and that’s the stereotypical diet food.  It makes more sense to me to pursue a balanced diet, composed more of vegetables and fruit than meat.

Ultimately, losing weight requires exercise and reasonable food choices and eating fewer calories than you burn.  Fruits and vegetables, with their lower calorie to bulk ratio, help with this – you can eat more and feel full for fewer calories.  As a bonus, they also tend to be loaded up with vitamins.  But there’s no magic pill that makes the pounds melt off, no one strange trick to shed weight.  In health and nutrition, just like in the financial world. there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Calories Burned:  3,697
Calories Consumed:  2,050
Distance Walked:  2.10 miles (missed my goal but, in fairness, I spent the day with a son with an ear infection…)

And I Did It While Slacking!

So, after Friday’s realization that I’d been a lot less successful with my goals than I thought I’d been, I hadn’t had a whole lot of hopes for my Saturday weigh-in.  After all, it wasn’t like I’d been actively engaged in behaviors that would cause me to lose weight.  I only hit my walking goal twice last week, on Wednesday and Friday, after all.  But, I guess I wasn’t giving myself credit for having hit my calorie consumption goal for the whole week.

How do I know that?

Because I lost 7.4 pounds, that’s how!

Needless to say, I’m quite pleased with my results.  Of course, this also reminds me that I need to get more serious about staying on track with my goals.  And it also means that I have to bump my workout up from 5 to 6 Lightning Fitness cards.  But, well, I can live with that.  Also?

Calories Burned:  4,733
Calories Consumed:  2,404
Distance Walked:  5.41 miles

Calories Burned:  3,553
Calories Consumed:  2,684
Distance Walked:  2.12 miles

Calories Burned:  4,095
Calories Consumed:  2,402
Distance Walked:  2.99 miles

Apparently, I’m Slacking Hard

The best reason to have something that tracks your exercise goals is also the worst thing about having something that tracks your exercise goals: it tracks your exercise goals.

I was feeling a little down this morning, because I didn’t hit my walking goal yesterday. But, I said to myself, I’ve been doing really well. No need to be too down on myself, right? Then, having said that to myself, I turned to my FitBit for affirmation. And that’s when I discovered that I’ve only hit my walking goal five times in October. That’s out of the sixteen weekdays when I should have hit goal. So, yeah. Not feeling too good about “doing really well” right now.

My calorie budget has done a little better. I’ve hit goal fourteen days out of twenty-two. But, you know what? It’s no wonder I haven’t been losing weight particularly effectively the past few weeks – I had no weight loss two weeks running, and a one pound weight gain after that. All because I’m slacking off. Clearly, I need to get back up on my goals.

Which, of course, will be tricky. See, I’m on vacation all of next week. And the vast majority of my vacation interests involve sitting and reading, or sitting and playing on a computer, or sitting and playing video games. I’d even thought about giving myself a pass on my walking goals next week, because of being on vacation. But clearly, if I want to start making progress again, I can’t do that.

Ah, well. Time to stop making excuses and start working again. I do have a goal, after all, and now all of you are going to be my accountability partners. At the end of each blog post, I’m going to post how many calories I consumed and burned and how much distance I walked on the previous day. I’ll be counting on you all to help keep me honest.

Wish me luck!

Calories Consumed, 10/22/15: 2410
Calories Burned, 10/22/15: 4079
Distance Walked, 10/22/15: 3.46 miles

Gear Review: FitBit Part One (the device)

So, yeah. If you’ve missed all of my earlier references to it, I’ve got a FitBit. I acquired it through a work program, so I didn’t actually spend any money on the purchase. Specifically, I’ve got a Fitbit ChargeHR, as well as the FitBit app on my phone. And, overall, it’s been a really handy thing. It does a whole lot, as well, so I’m going to make this a two-part review. This week I’ll focus on the device, and next week I’ll focus on the app.

The FitBit is surprisingly comfortable. I’d been worried about this, because I haven’t worn a watch in a decade, and I wasn’t really excited about getting back into the habit. But it’s light, and the band is smooth, and I’ve largely stopped noticing it unless I don’t have it on (at which point, my wrist feels naked). It tracks number of steps, pulse rate, distance walked (default is miles), calories burned, and stairs climbed. It also functions as a watch, and will time workouts.

The “stairs climbed” feature is a little buggy. It uses an altimeter to tell if you’re going up (so it won’t count anything if you’re using a stairclimbing machine), and counts every 10 feet of altitude change as a flight of stairs. Moderate wind will also trigger the altimeter, though, which can vastly skew your results. Just last week, my FitBit congratulated me for earning my “Ferris Wheel” badge by climbing 75 flights of stairs in a single day. And since 20 flights is still an achievement, and since I haven’t had a heart attack and died from the strain of the attempt, I know that’s wrong.

The calories burned feature is based on two things: your basal metabolic rate (BMR), and your activity. BMR, if you’re not familiar with it, is the amount of energy you burn just by living. It doesn’t count in any sort of movement other than autonomic activity (such as breathing and heartbeat), and is a function of your gender, your height, and your weight. Wikipedia has several different equations, if you really want to look at them. FitBit doesn’t disclose how the device calculates the calories burned from activity, but it is presumably based on the number of steps taken and your heart rate (using a formula similar to the ones found here). Naturally, the calories burned is an estimate – particularly since, for optimal calculations, the device has to remain in contact with your skin at all times. But the estimate is probably slightly on the low end, so that’s not a big deal.

Oh, one other thing the device does is vibrate. This kicks in when you start or stop tracking a workout, when you reach your primary goal for the day, if you have an alarm set, and if you’re using the Caller ID feature. Yes, it can be an alarm clock. And yes, it will tell you who’s calling if you’ve synced it with your phone.

Battery life is decent, but nowhere near the “up to five days” claimed by the package and the web site. That’s because the “five days” estimate is based on not tracking exercise, not using the alarm feature, not using Caller ID, and not automatically syncing it with the app. Since I do all of those things, the battery life is more like two days. Maybe three. I’m not sure because it’s not waterproof (although it is water resistant), so I plug it in before I get in the shower.

Next time: I’ll review the app, and then talk about whether or not I’d be willing to spend actual money to get one of these things.