New Fitness Trackers: the One You Really Need

Topics: Books, Fitness Equipment, Obesity and Weight Loss, Refuel, Wellness and Health
fitness trackers

You can’t change what you can’t measure.

Lots of buzz this year about wearables at #sxsw and Albert Sun of the New York Times concluded that of the dozen tracking devices he wore (4 at a time, sometimes) over 6 months, his choice was…himself. Once he knew his body’s needs numerically, he didn’t need any of them.  And that’s a great outcome.

Some activity trackers and fitness wear are pictured above and also include misfit, fitbit, basis, nike, jawbone, withings, bodymedia. They’re all excellent. They even track steps on a cross trainer.

Of course, you don’t have to go the electronic route to track what you eat to make yourself measurably better; a simple notepad works, too. The latter was good enough for Ben Franklin, who diligently logged his adherence to thirteen virtues on a quest for moral perfection. Sure, he might have used a Nexus 5. But if you’re old school, you don’t have to. And you will still succeed.

To log your own food, for example, print my free Eating Day Book, which is my default tracking tool in my medical practice. It’s a simple single sheet of paper in landscape mode with nine columns I devised in the last millennium. It still works remarkably well.

Over the years, several of my patients have re-made this for me into an .xls spreadsheet; a Google spreadsheet; a color-coded diary; and ditched it altogether for other apps. I’m always amazed by the next iteration of these apps and devices. But most of my patients use my single sheet Eating Day Book and a pencil. Or an activity tracker in combination with the Day Book.

And there’s real value to paper and pencil, plus a little tech. Physically writing down the cheesecake and pumpkin pie, or the 3x cheeseburger and fries gives the writer a psychological nudge that checking a box or clicking a drop down list just doesn’t seem to carry. Supplemented by as much or as little feedback you want from the clip on device, it seems perfect.

I recommend tracking three things for at least the 24 days of the Refuel program:

  1. What you eat, daily.

  2. How much you’ve lost in pounds or waist circumference, daily.

  3. Duration and intensity of workouts. You can break out warm-up time or include it as part of your total workout time; the level of detail is up to you.

Tracking what you eat is, as you know, a form of self-monitoring, as it gives you a clear picture of your diet twice: (1) when you eat, and think about recording it; and (2) when you actually record it.

A study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research analyzed the tracking habits of 1,700 people, and found that those who kept a food log lost double the amount of weight compared to those who didn’t track.

My favorite tracking tool for men is a belt. Because your waist should be half your height. And a belt lets you know if your pants are actually tight, or it just feels that way. Plus, a belt doesn’t need a battery, or the cloud, or a charge. It just works.

For the tracking movement, the more effort at making these ideas easy, accessible and mainstream, the better. That could look like Dr. Eric Topol appearing on The Colbert Report> to demonstrate his iPhone EKG, or the new wearables, or a coming Apple Watch. Or it could be something else altogether.

But for most people, the simple act of measuring something–anything– and having someone who can help interpret and keep you accountable to discuss it with is enough to make themselves measurably better with what they eat. And that’s my goal for you.

Note: this blog is excerpted and updated from part two of a two part series I wrote for Withings.com: to read part 1, click here