Put down that cookie; apps to slim down

The new year is here and if you are one of those who have made a resolution to lose weight and/or get back into shape, the cakes, cookies and candies are gone and the sweatpants are on the bureau.

Last month we talked about a handful of devices that you can use to help you measure different aspects of your health and fitness activities. This month I want to continue the discussion and talk about some apps that can use the data collected from those devices to help you achieve your goals.

Just a quick recap of the devices we discussed: We looked at two bathroom scales, the FitBit Aria and the Withings WiFi, both of which connect via Wi-Fi to your home network to record and store body weight and body composition.

We also looked at four activity trackers: the FitBit Zip, the FitBit One, the Jawbone UP and the Nike FuelBand. These trackers are really nothing more than super-fancy pedometers that are able to track not only your workout activity, but your daily activity as well, such as how much you actually walk around the office or your home.

All these devices have companion apps and desktop/web interfaces which take the data collected and present it in a more human-readable form – think charts, graphs and tables. While these proprietary apps and interfaces are fairly robust, they really only tell you their side of the story.

If you are serious about losing weight and/or getting into shape, you know that exercise is only part of the equation; nutrition plays an important role as well. Study after study has shown that people who keep a diary of the foods they eat have a higher rate of success with respect to health, fitness and weight loss goals than those who don’t track their diets.

The trouble with tracking food – OK, let’s call it what it is, counting calories – is that at the end of the day, you need to calculate whether you burned more calories than you took in. I can tell you from personal experience, the average person will do this approximately one time. It’s something about doing math at the end of the day. I’d rather do 12 more jumping jacks. It’s not that it is hard. Well, yeah, it is because it is hard. But it is also mind numbing, and at the end of the day when you are exhausted and ready for bed and your wife has “The Bachelor” on (also mind numbing) and the kids have called for that third glass of water, and the sink is full of dirty dishes, and the cat is clawing your leg because he hasn’t been fed, you could give a flying cherry flambe if you are over or under on your calories and you just won’t do it.

And likewise, doing caloric math at the restaurant in the middle of a business luncheon is basically like looking at your customer with crossed-eyes and drool running down your chin as you stammer,  “I have issues with self-control. Would you like to do business with me?”

Thankfully there are a number of apps in the marketplace that can help you quickly calculate your caloric needs, both intake and expenditure, but I want to focus on two in particular, especially if you are using any of the devices we’ve previously discussed: LoseIt and My Fitness Pal.

Both of these apps are available on both Android and iOS devices and have extended functionality through web-based interfaces. At the core of each is a food tracking system that leverages the power of the crowd to create an exhaustive database of food. In simpler terms, users add nutritional information to the system so it is always updated with new foods, including name brands and restaurant items.

In addition to supplying calorie information, both apps also provide caloric quality data as well – percentage of fats, carbohydrates and protein. LoseIt goes a bit deeper and provides the breakdown of types of fat and carbs, and includes sodium and cholesterol data as well.

Entering your meals is a cinch. Both apps feature a bar-code scanner, quick search and a previous meal selector. This feature is great if you tend to eat the same things on a regular basis, e.g., poached egg and toast for breakfast, turkey sandwich for lunch. They both also have a recipe feature that allows you to build complex meals by entering in the component parts. Then in the future, you just select the recipe as a custom food and all the nutritional info is automatically added to your log. I use this feature to enter in my smoothie recipes which can contain up to eight ingredients.

Both apps also allow you to enter exercise data (measured in calories burned), which is then subtracted from your intake, leaving you with a net calorie count for the day.

If losing weight is your game, both LoseIt and My Fitness Pal are great tools to use because in addition to tracking calories in and calories out, they give you some nice tools to set your weight loss goals and track them. Both offer a number of nutritional reports that can be downloaded. LoseIt also offers blood pressure tracking – and as someone with a heart condition, I like the ability to log and track my blood pressure over time and see the effect diet, exercise and body weight have on it.

Both LoseIt and My Fitness Pal can pull data from the FitBit activity trackers and the FitBit Aria scale, as well as the Withings WiFi scale to give you a more complete picture of your activity. LoseIt is also able to pull in data from Nike+ and apply it as well. Both apps also connect with a host of exercise-based third-party apps to pull in even more data.

This functionality saves you the extra step of having to manually enter your body weight, composition and exercise data. And this is really what you are looking for: automation. It is hard enough doing the physical work of actually working out without the added burden of having to collect all the data and analyzing it to see if you are hitting your goals.

Now that you have the hard part all figured out, it’s time to grab those sweats and head out to the gym.

Wailes is an interactive developer at Burns Marketing Communications in Johnstown. If you have questions or would like to suggest a topic for a future Geek Chic column, email him at news@ncbr.com.

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