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Losing Weight: There's an App for That, or How I Lost 30 Pounds Via Technology

Probably the best diet tracker on the planet.
Probably the best diet tracker on the planet.

As far back as I could remember, my dad was heavy, and while I never quite reached the same heft that my father did, I have been overweight for nearly 15 years, something uncomfortable for me to admit because I spent the bulk of my first 30 years on the planet as someone probably too skinny for his own good. It made the challenge of losing weight all the more daunting because it felt like I hadn't just let myself go, I'd also let myself down.

Earlier this year, I made the decision that it was time to really do something about it, but I wasn't sure what. I consulted with some friends who had gone to weight loss places with success, but I just didn't feel comfortable in that environment. I also disliked the idea of diets. I've always believed that changing your behavior, unless you are willing to change them for good, was pointless. Then someone mentioned MyFitnessPal.

For someone like me who spends way too much time nerding out to apps and technology, I was a little surprised I'd never heard of such a widely used app, but then again I never thought about using an app to lose weight.

What struck me was how much information was available through the app. Thousands and thousands of people used it and, as a result, virtually anything you could imagine eating had been documented with calories and nutritional information. In my case, I knew that decreasing calorie intake and increasing the number of calories I burned was the simple model for success.

It should be mentioned that I've known this for a long time. I just didn't heed my own knowledge. All the diets, pills, fad workout routines and infomercials are no substitute for simple math: If you take in more calories than you expend, you gain weight. Go the opposite direction and you'll lose. It's not easy, but it is no more complicated than that for most people.

Here's where things got weird because once I started looking at what I ate, I was shocked at the amount of calories I was shoving in my pie hole. I'm not some guy who routinely crams sweets in there either. This was the stuff I ate nearly every day: sandwiches, snack foods and, God help me, Tex Mex. The thought of abandoning margaritas and tortilla chips was almost enough to keep me from even going on.

MyFitnessPal, at its most simplistic, is a calorie counting machine and daily food tracker. It does many other things, but having that daily tracking of what I do on my phone with me wherever I go is a remarkable tool. Not only does it keep me honest, but it provides a support system of hundreds and thousands of users working at it like me.

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One of the best ways to track fitness.
One of the best ways to track fitness.

Still, I wasn't convinced that MFP was the best option for tracking work outs. It isn't bad and has some basic tools for it, but if I were going to keep track of how much I ran, walked, swam, biked or did strength training, I would need something more equipped for the task.

I'm weirdly competitive with myself. If I'm walking, for example, and I'm going more slowly than I did the day before, I'll speed up like crazy just to match it. With food, it suddenly became the same thing. I could not stand to see my calories go above the threshold MFP suggested for me. I still can't. Even if I manage to burn 500 calories that day, I'm not going to add 500 calories to my diet. Perhaps it's a beneficial obsessive compulsion. I needed something that would do the same for exercise what MFP did for food.

Enter MapMyRun, another recommendation from a friend and one of a suite of apps designed to track all kinds of fitness routines. Not only does it help to gauge calories, distance, time and all the things everyone needs to track when working out, but it syncs with MyFitnessPal and will even pull exercise info from that app for items not available to MMR -- swimming for example.

It has armed me with the information I needed to really see what I was doing every day when it came to working out. Much like MFP, MMR helps me track my progress and see what is really working for me. And, there is that same community of users working toward similar goals to help keep me going.

Combining both apps, I began to see the weight come off and I clearly was getting thinner. Clothes I hadn't been able to wear in years but had stubbornly held onto fit again. My watch band and belt were rapidly suffering from a shrinking loop count and I even lost my wedding band in the Gulf of Mexico because my finger had gotten too small for it.

What these apps did was shift my entire perspective on eating and exercising. Gone were the days of thinking that huge meals and tons of carbs were appropriate daily eating. The worry of how I would maintain an hours-per-day workout schedule quickly faded as I found that slow, steady weight loss was more about consistency and regular effort than boot camp-style exertion. I'm a gadget and technology geek, but this goes beyond that. MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun are part of a new generation of technologies built to are their users with the tools to improve their lives, technology that didn't exist 10 years ago.

And truthfully, that is just the tip of the iceberg. With more apps, heart monitors, scales, step trackers and a host of other items that were once only found in doctor's offices available to anyone with a smartphone that can sync with them, there is no good excuse not to get in better shape. Don't think I haven't considered adding a few of those items to my arsenal as well.

Since I started just over three months ago, I'm down 29 pounds, with another 35-plus to go. At this point, I really have no doubt I'll get there. It's a matter of when, not if. The best part is I already know the how.


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