Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Losing Weight with FitBit

As of today, I am down 40 lbs. since May 1, 2015, the day I began seriously working on weight loss by leveraging the FitBit Flex that I received as a gift (and obvious nudge) from my wife. Turns out it has been one of the best gifts I have ever received.  I am not a natural fitness junkie, but I find that I thrive on instant gratification, feedback and encouragement, and FitBit delivers these in many, many ways.
Recently, a number of friends have asked about what I am doing exactly that is yielding the results I am getting, or for tips on how to work more steps into their day, so I have compiled the following list as a hopefully amusing way to share what has worked for me.  I am not a doctor or fitness advisor by any means, and I realize that different people will get different results even with the same approach, but I think unless you have a better plan, you might want to try this as a guideline for how to work with your FitBit, especially if your goal is to lose weight.

1. Thou shalt not take thy FitBit off. Ever.

You will miss out on credit for steps if you’re not wearing your FitBit, so there is no excuse for taking it off.  (Okay, maybe if you’re showering you should take it off, or you might need to take it off if you’re in the throes and want to avoid any hair entanglements – unless your partner is into that sort of thing.)  Think of it this way: If you're wearing underwear, you should be wearing your FitBit.  If you sleep naked, hey, good for you, but keep the FitBit on so you can track your sleep quality and duration.
2. Thou shalt not let thy FitBit go uncharged.

Nothing is more frustrating than having one of the best walks of your life and then discovering that your FitBit was just lying there dead on your wrist the whole time.  The best time to charge your FitBit is while you are forced to be sitting down -- but not when you are lying down or you will miss tracking your sleep quality.

Hint: You can plug the charger into the USB port on your phone’s car charger, and easily charge up while commuting or running out for an emergency supply of guacamole for your falafel chips.

Tip: This may go without saying, but you are going to be much more successful using your FitBit in conjunction with your iPhone or Android phone, as opposed to merely your tablet, Mac or PC.  Be sure to choose the "All-Day Sync" option in the settings, so you get constant feedback.

3. Thou shalt wear good, comfortable shoes.

Foot pain and blisters suck.  You’re going to be spending a lot of time on your feet, so make sure you have the right footwear.  If you must wear uncomfortable shoes, make sure you knock ‘em dead at whatever you're doing with the fancy footwear, and then switch back to something comfortable as soon as you can.  Walking around the house in socks or barefoot is great, too.
4. Thou shalt set challenging goals in the FitBit app.

Notice how most of your FitBit friends (You have connected with your friends on Facebook and your email contacts that are using FitBit haven't you?  If not, do that right now!) average about 8,000 to 12,000 steps per day?  That’s because the default step goal is 10,000 per day, and most people simply “anchor” to that 10,000 steps, hitting it some days and missing it on others.  If you’re consistently hitting your current step goal every day for two weeks in a row, which you should be when it is as low as 10,000 steps a day, increase your goal by another 1,000 steps.

I recommend setting a sleep goal of at least 7 hours.  And actually try to hit it.  According to my data and results, at night, it is better to go to bed rather than exercise late.  However, in the morning, it is better to get up and exercise than to get more sleep than needed to meet your daily sleep goal.

If your objective is weight loss, you want to choose a calorie deficit goal, meaning you will consume x number of calories less than the number of calories burned each day.  I personally do a 1,000 calorie deficit plan. As long as you track your calories in vs. out reasonably accurately and you come in under the target (it is hard to hit the calorie consumption target right on the nose -- green --, so coming in under -- yellow -- is the way to go), the pounds will slowly but surely melt away at a rate of about 1-2 lbs. every week.  Want to eat more?  Go for a walk, jog or run to burn more calories, which will free up more calories in your budget so you can have that snack.

Set a water consumption goal if you like, or don’t.  My data clearly reflects that drinking more or less water has little if any effect on my rate of weight loss, so I find this data interesting, but not critical.  That said, I do drink a lot more water on hot summer days or when I'm moving fast enough to break a sweat.
5.Thou shalt go for the green. Every day.

Commit to at least trying seriously to hit your goals each day, so your steps, miles, calories burned, and active minutes are all green (and again, I aim for yellow in the Calories In vs. Out category) before your head hits the pillow at night. And again, if you get all greens for two weeks running, bump up your goals a bit.  Trust me, it feels a lot better hitting your goal if your goal is a little tough to hit.  Also note that your calories burned will get lower as you lose weight if you keep putting forth the exact same effort, so bumping up goals will keep you burning enough calories to keep enjoying the food you want.  I am partial to barbecue personally, so I need to burn enough calories if I want to enjoy it.

Hint: Do the Workweek Hustle, Weekend Warrior and other challenges to get your friends to cheer you on as you work at this.  This encourages you to hit your daily step goal.  But don’t take winning first place in the challenge too seriously. Just have fun and encourage each other.  It really does help!  (I find that trash talking is only fun in this context if it is completely silly and not overly competitive.) Bonus: You will rack up "trophies" in the FitBit app to help you keep track of your progress in the challenges.  Even more gratification for your hard work.
6. Thou shalt not sit down. 

Okay, you have to sit down from time to time, but try not to if you don’t have to.  It’s not as hard as you might think to add more stepping just by avoiding the urge to take a seat.  On a conference call?  Take it from your mobile phone and walk around throughout the call.  If you are the presenter on a web conference, you can still do this as long as you stay close to your screen.  Bingewatching your favorite TV series, or spending time watching corporate training?  Do it from the treadmill with your tablet and a Bluetooth headset.  You would be surprised how many steps you can rack up while gardening and mowing your lawn with a push mower.  Even shopping adds steps.
7. Thou shalt not park close to the entrance.

If your goal is to get more steps, why would you take the very first empty spot from the door?  Park out a fair distance (you should still feel safe walking to and from your car of course).  Bonus: Usually, no one will be parked next to you so you may avoid some of those mysterious dings on your car doors.
8. Thou shalt walk in right angles.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  So don’t go that way.  Maximize that step opportunity by taking the L-shaped way or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 

Hint: Taking the stairs at a run burns more calories, but don’t be the jerk that runs up a flight of stairs while someone else is coming down them.
9. Thou shalt start the day with a brisk morning walk.

Wake up.  Log your sleep. Weigh yourself.  Go for a good, brisk (at least) 3-6 mile walk (or jog or run if you are so inclined) before breakfast.  Weigh yourself again, before you eat anything.  Notice how the number on the scale just dropped since before you walked?  Feels good, doesn’t it?  You just started the day with instant gratification.  Log that second weight figure into the FitBit app.  Do this every day.  Close monitoring of your activity and impact on weight will help you optimize what you are doing.

Hint: A 3 mile walk will take you about an hour.  To avoid boredom or the urge to stop early, get a Bluetooth headset, and get into something that really holds your interest.  If music really does that for you, great, but I find that audiobooks and podcasts help me pass the time much better while walking.  And, bonus: I also learn something interesting while I’m at it. 

Podcast recommendations: Office Hours with Daniel Pink, Freakonomics Radio, What’s the Point?, Stuff You Should Know, Planet Money, Hidden Brain, TED Radio Hour (I may do a separate blog post on favorite podcasts, and will link to it from here if so.)

Tip: If you walk around the same lake or at the same mall every day, be sure to smile and say “Good morning” as you pass other folks for the first time each day.  Soon, people will be saying it to you first.  It really helps make it feel more comfortable and welcoming. And that is part of what will keep you coming back.
10. Thou shalt not miss a step count badge by less than 1,000 steps.

You should of course hit your step goal for the day.  Beyond that, if you are already within 1,000 steps of that next step badge (step badges are awarded every single day for every 5,000 steps you take) then don’t let the day slip away without earning that next badge.  It does not take much time to rack up 1,000 steps when you need to.

Good luck and be sure to "friend me" on the FitBit app!  Have any other tips to share?  Please add them to the comments.