There are two types of tech obsessed people. The first are slaves to their gadgets, checking them compulsively and letting the gadgets dictate their lives. If you’ve ever jumped at the sound of an iPhone notification or ran to your BlackBerry when the red light started blinking, you might be a slave to technology. The other type might have a technology obsession, but they use their gadgets, instead of letting their gadgets use them. It’s in this way that I was able to harness the power of my BlackBerry to push me along as I lost 40 pounds in the last year.
I’m no stranger to the gym. At age 18 I convinced my parents to buy me a gym membership, and through age 24 I made sure they did not regret their decision. At that point I started paying for my own membership, and that was motivation enough to continue. When you’re a relatively fresh college grad working with an entry-level salary and have all sorts of new bills in the mail every month, you tend to make sure you’re not wasting anything.
Unfortunately, by the time I started paying for my own membership I had ceased seeing gains. From ages 19 through 21 I saw substantial muscle gains, but after that everything leveled off. From there it was to the mens’ magazines, where I searched for the secret knowledge of washboard abs. After months and years of every conceivable type of crunch, a layer of fat still remained over my abs. The dream, it appeared, was dead.
The lack of gains definitely sapped motivation, and in the next few years I made no progress. By age 28 I had 210 pounds on my 5’10” frame. No, I wasn’t obese, as a 30.1 BMI suggests. I wouldn’t even say I was significantly overweight. But something felt wrong. And so I took a completely different route.
It’s about the diet, stupid
Meat and potatoes guys rarely succeed at weight loss. That’s not to say that they can’t look fit. Some people have naturally high metabolisms throughout life and can pack away the food without seeing much, if any, weight gain. But the great majority of the population has to work hard to keep off the pounds. As we get older that becomes more and more of an issue.
This is all common knowledge, of course. Yet few people act on it. To that point, I never had. I still indulged in cheeseburgers twice a week. Hamburger Helper was on the dinner menu frequently. Lunch? Usually a sandwich with cured meats. And breakfast frequently came in muffin form. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder I could never shed any pounds.
As we know, most diets fail. People just can’t keep up the motivation to eat healthy foods, when fatty, tasty foods are not only more pleasurable, but also more easily accessible. It takes a certain discipline to maintain healthy eating habits. This is where I started to employ technology.
Accountability and feedback loops
In this past July’s issue of Wired, Thomas Goetz wrote about the power of feedback loops. The idea is that when we receive immediate and direct feedback, we can more easily make adjustments that will improve our performances. When I read that article and looked down at my relatively flat stomach, I had a DUH moment. I had been using a feedback loop to aid in my weight loss.
The method was as easy as it gets. On my BlackBerry, which goes everywhere with me, I created a new memo. Every time I ate anything, no matter how small the portion, I wrote it on a new line in the memo. If the portion was easy to describe — a handful of nuts, for instance — I just wrote it down. If it was a large or complicated meal, I snapped a picture of it. The mere act of recording my food intake was the first part of the feedback loop. It made me actively aware of what I was eating.
The second step came just as naturally. Every time I opened the memo, I’d see what I had previously recorded. If, for instance, I was on my second cheeseburger of the week, I’d know it instantly. That would set off a little voice in my head: “You’re not going to lose weight if you keep eating cheeseburgers.” And so I’d make a conscious effort to not eat cheeseburgers. If I needed a little extra push, I could open up my BlackBerry’s camera app and look at the pictures of food. Most of them were high calorie meals. Those pictures had the same effect as the memo. It made me consciously avoid those high-calorie foods.
While recording the foods I ingested helped, it was not the only aspect of my diet I tracked. In fact, recording my food habits led to my recording of other health-related items. Those only served to help me later.
It started with my actual weight, and all it took was a simple spreadsheet. It was just two columns: date and weight. After creating the document on my computer, I saved it and sent it to my BlackBerry, where I could open and edit it by using Documents To Go (it comes for free on BlackBerry devices, but unless you pay for the premium version you can’t create new documents). Every morning after relieving myself I’d step on the scale. New date, new weight. It might seem like overkill, to weigh yourself every day, but it really helped early in the process.
On top of diet-related items, I also started recording my workouts. No longer would I struggle to remember how much weight or how many reps I performed of a certain exercise. It was all right there in front of me at the gym. Did 5 pull-ups last time out? Try for six this time. Struggled to do 20 push-ups? Break it down into three sets of 10. All that became possible, because all of that information was with me at all times, thanks to my BlackBerry.
Harnessing the power of social networks
Once I got a feel for what I was doing wrong, it was time to start adding the right foods to my diet. This required even more motivation. The color green doesn’t often appear on the plate of a meat and potatoes guy. Yet it had become exceedingly clear that the only realistic path to significant weight loss was through adding a variety of vegetables to my diet. With no knowledge of vegetables myself, I turned to others for advice. The easiest way to reach them and get the largest variety of advice: social networks.
Every week I’d compile my weight data points and create a graph. Then I’d post that graph to Facebook, even using the BlackBerry app to do so. When I posted the image I’d ask for advice.
For example: “I lost 4 pounds this week. Anyone has any advice on what to eat this week to lose another 4?” That would bring in responses from friends and family. Clearly I couldn’t use everything, but it set me up with a bevy of ideas that I could pick from. Twitter was helpful as well, as that network extends beyond my traditional friends and family.
Holding yourself accountable to yourself is one thing. After all, if your willpower breaks you can easily slip. But holding yourself accountable to others adds a new dimension. You never want to let down friends and family, so when you start sharing your desires and goals with them, you’re in essence working to make them proud. Again, the use of my BlackBerry came in handy here. The graphs were so easy to post right from the BlackBerry Facebook app. That started bringing other people into the matter, which I fully believe helped aid my success.
One year later
No, I still do not have a six-pack. But my stomach is flat, rather than a sphere. My pecs are shaped like, well, pecs, rather than sacks of dirt. My shoulders have definition. But, most importantly, I’m physically capable of doing more. The effects have even seeped into the mental. It feels as though I get more done these days — that I’m thinking more clearly.
BMI still doesn’t love me. At 5’10” and 170 pounds I’m still pretty close to the overweight threshold. Though ask anybody: it doesn’t look that way. A friend recently remarked, “It seems like you lose more weight every time I see you.” I thanked her not only for the compliment, but for her role in it. I couldn’t have done this without friends and family. And I couldn’t have done it without my BlackBerry.
Does that make me a slave to the device? I don’t think so. I could have done it with a pad and paper, if it came down to that. But all along I had this device weighing down my pocket, but I didn’t realize that I could make it work for me. And boy did it.