October 24, 2012

Built Like a Blogger? Lose Weight on the Fitbit Diet.

My dresser drawers are overflowing with extra large shirts with logos from tech companies - most of them Google at this point, after more than a year at Mountain View headquarters.

That someone with my otherwise slight frame would require extra large shirts on a regular basis was the unsurprising result of the activity usually surrounding a desk jockey - typing, interrupted by occasional bouts of eating, and a combination of the two for true dexterity. I called the condition being "Built Like a Blogger", accurately captured by Claire Chang at SXSW in 2011 and immortalized on Twitter.

Now it's possible I need to discard a ton of these shirts, not because I need dresser real estate back, although I do, or because some of the logos are for companies that no longer exist, although that's true too, but because, largely in part to my adapting of the Fitbit fitness tracker this last Spring, I've managed to increase how much I walk each day by as much as 75%, and I've dropped twenty pounds. I know few people find that intriguing on a tech blog, but as I had mentioned in my first post on Fitbit way back at the end of March, "Virtual badges influence real world behavior", and that change in real world behavior has hit me with real results.

What's a bit off in that initial post from March was my promising I had no real interest in changing my behavior -- I just liked the stats. That may have been true, but I let my competitive nature overrule me.

Each month, my average steps per day increased.

When I first was measuring my steps per day on Fitbit, without any changes, I was well under 10,000 steps in a usual 24 hour period. I considered 8,000 good, 10,000 a stretch, and 15,000 ridiculous. For the normal human who thinks in distance, 2,000 steps is about a mile's walk, or 3,000 steps can be about 2 kilometers. But after friending more active colleagues at Google, such as Matt Cutts, Travis Wise and Adam Lasnik, I found my own step counts to be slovenly, as they, and others, routinely averaged well above 10,000, hitting 12,000, 15,000 or even higher with ease. So I got competitive.

Beyond taking the stairs instead of elevators, and walking further away for lunch, or pacing in my office at night, I picked up the Fitbit Aria scale when it was announced, which let me watch my weight online, starting in May.

Fitbit has tracked my decreasing weight daily since May.

Again, this started out as a curiosity, but it's well known that if you watch your behavior, you're more likely to behave with better patterns. I found I could very easily track my calories burned on the Fitbit, guess on the amount of calories coming in, and see the results the next morning. Soon, with heightened awareness of the combination of walking more and taking less in, I burned through 5 and 10 pounds, and crested through 15.

At that point, my jeans barely fit, and I was on the last hole on my belt. I even had to go to Target to get new jeans, dropping a full 5 inches on my waist. This was certainly unexpected when I first got the Tracker and scale. And this morning, for the first time, Fitbit reported I lost a full 20 pounds, and I'm easily less than the lies my driver's license had been telling the state for the last five years plus.

Achievement Unlocked: From my email this morning

The competitive nature I originally had, battling colleagues and friends for steps and badges, had evolved into a battle against myself. One major reason I haven't been posting as regularly, aside from interruptions by work or the usual family needs, has been because I've been walking a lot late at night, when I used to crank out posts like these. I now know practically all the routes in my neighborhood by heart, and know the best ways to crank out 3,000, 5,000, or 7,000 steps, if necessary. I find excuses to take my own kids out for walks, or I'll call up a friend and talk on the phone as I navigate the dark corners of the suburban Peninsula until I bore them to death or hit my steps goal - whichever comes first.

October 6's 38,000+ step day, with many spikes

On the consumption side, I haven't really done much dramatic. Being more aware of day to day weight makes some fast food less appealing, and having healthy snacks at work so readily available makes choosing correctly easy. I see it as the reverse of the famed Slim Fast diet (a shake for breakfast and lunch, with a healthy dinner), instead having a lighter breakfast and dinner, and scoring a high quality and full lunch on campus. It's also good on my pocketbook, by the way, of course.

Now I've somehow picked up this reputation for wanting to walk everywhere, simply for Fitbit steps. A  one mile building to building trek that you could bike only provides 300 steps, while going on foot gives about 2,000, so you know my choice. I now park furthest away from my destination, instead of as close as possible. I convince friends who want lunch to go the extra blocks to get something specific, and can get home above 10,000 steps before even tackling my evening efforts. It's been a fun challenge.

Now that I've lost 20 pounds, I have to consider if the new weight is a low point, which will see me rebound to a higher mark, if it's a stepping stone to an even lower number, or the new mark I should get used to. Truth is, what this experience displays to me is that I am in control, and if I can watch the numbers, I can honestly choose what I want to be. It's part of the quantified self that Mark Krynsky, Larry Smarr and many others are pushing for. All Fitbit did was sell me some gear to count it and compare, but the rest I did on my own. As for tonight, it's almost 10, so I'll share this with you and then go on another walk. I've got a few thousand more steps to do.

Find me on Fitbit here: http://www.fitbit.com/user/22HTMK. All the graphs are real. And don't miss my follow-on post: "Fifteen Signs You're a Fitbit Fanatic".