Recently, a study reported in Wired Magazine found that tweeting and retweeting may help you lose weight. But, really, what they found is that the *support and accountability* provided by the social networking site made a difference in how much people lost.
Speaking from personal experience, there are a plethora (or two) of great web tools, apps, devices, gadgets, etcetera that can provide ways for you to hold yourself accountable and get support from (and give support to!) friends – or even like-minded strangers. They range from general social media posting to a whole crop of fancy schmancy tracking gadgets.
General Social Media Posting
Some people may just post on their Facebook page or their Twitter feed about their fitness progress (a great workout, a weight loss, a healthy meal), and in doing so, reinforce the behavior, and maybe even get positive feedback from their friends and followers. True, some people find this *annoying* if it’s done excessively; other find it motivational and inspiring. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to balance it out with other types of posts. Ultimately, of course, it’s your choice, and if you’re fine with the fact that some people may choose to unfriend or unfollow you, then go nuts. More often than not, people use one of the other tools discussed below, and then share that entry to their Facebook, Twitter, etcetera; these tools generally make it very easy to do so.
The “Check In”
Foursquare is a ‘geolocation’-based social loyalty platform (app, mainly) on which people check in, earn points, get special offers, and are named “Mayor” of a place if they check in more often than anyone else. I was surprised how many people I talked to about what tools they use for fitness support said that they feel Foursquare check-ins – and sometimes, mayorships – at the gym keep them on track. There’s a strong element of personal accountability and commitment with that, as well as sometimes encouragement in comments on the check ins.
Exercise Tracking Tools
There are numerous websites/apps that enable you track your exercise – what workout you did, miles run/walked/biked, how you felt, even how many doughnuts and cheeseburgers you burned off (Daily Mile)!
Many people use the Nike + app, which works with GPS to track your distance, posts easily to your Facebook or other social networks, and lets you compare your efforts to your friends.
Other sites/apps have developed strong sport-specific communities (not sport-exclusive; they cover multiple activities), such as Daily Mile, Runkeeper and Runtastic with runners and Strava with cyclists.
I absolutely LOVE Daily Mile, as a runner…there is always inspiration to be found in the amazing community there. And I adore seeing the data – it’s so satisfying and encouraging to know that I’ve run 515 miles, burned 19 pounds off (exactly how much I have actually lost) and burned 363 doughnuts. And there’s more to it than that; users give each other encouragement via comments and attached “motivations.” They see how they stack up on the leaderboard, share routes, discuss questions in forums and create specific fitness challenges.
Fitocracy (called “Fito” by its users) is another such online support community. User Maddie Grant (author of Humanize, my favorite social media book of all time) tells me that this site was conceived for “geeks who like fitness.” So it relies even more on gamification techniques like giving “props” to other users, or even using the “prop bomb” to like everything they’ve ever done. Unlike Daily Mile, here members get points for workouts and level up when they reach point milestones. There are tons of group-specific (such as swimming) challenges and quests, and the site is constantly figuring out new ways to encourage competition against yourself and others. Maddie says, “Fitocracy has connected me to so many people who don’t even know how much they encourage me, especially on those days when a workout is the last thing you want to do and at those times when the plateau hits. It’s an integral and essential part of my quest to get ripped.” :]
Another great option here is to motivate yourself by running or biking for a cause. Charity Miles lets you easily earn funds for your chosen cause; walkers and runners earn 25¢ a mile, and bikers earn 10¢ a mile, up to the initial $1,000,000 sponsorship pool.
Nutrition Tracking Tools
Since some of us, unfortunately, can’t just eat whatever we want no matter how much we exercise (*heavy sigh*), there are also great tools for tracking your diet, calorie intake and nutrition.
Some people I spoke with swear by the Weight Watchers app; I haven’t used that one in a while but found the content in the nutrition database to be lacking, meaning I often couldn’t easily find the healthy, whole foods I was looking to track.
My favorite app/site in this category is MyFitnessPal. Though the interface is lacking visually (someone, please design a nutrition tracking app that looks fun and friendly!), the food database is extremely complete, including even the most obscure healthy foods. This tool has been absolutely integral to my weight loss progress, and I highly recommend it. I put it in the nutrition tracking category because that’s what it’s best at, though it does also allow you to enter your exercise. It then adds the calories burned in exercise to your budgeted calories for the day. The benefit of this is that it helps focus you on thinking of the food you eat relative to the exercise it will take to burn it off, or vice versa, thinking of what you can eat IF you go for that run, walk or bike ride.
Fancy Shmancy Wearable Tracking Gadgets
This is the hottest category of them all…things you wear on various body parts that track your movement, your calories burned, even your sleep patterns.
Nike kicked off the craze with its launch of FuelBand this time last year. It’s a sexy beast, indeed, using an accelerometer to measure your movement in NikeFuel, a “universal metric of activity” (copywriter speak for “we own this category.”). You wear it on your wrist and can sync it with the FuelBand app to track your progress and connect with your friends.
My friend Shelly Kramer (named one of the 200 most fearless women online, how cool is that?!) is a FuelBand devotee, and eloquently says “I use my FuelBand and work hard to reach my Fuel goal daily; I am often doing jumping jacks at 11pm so I can get to that goal because I’m so competitive (even against myself) that I can’t stand it when I don’t. I also like that Facebook lets you “compete” against other friends you’re connected to. I love seeing my friends who use the running app and it shows me that they just did a 7.1 mile run or something like that, because then if I had slacking in mind I’ll feel like a loser and get off my butt and go for a walk.”
An alternative that’s getting some traction of late is Jawbone’s UP wristband, pulled from shelves in late 2011 due to functionality issues (as in, it didn’t work) and relaunched in 2012. An Engadget review describes it as “downright subtle, compared to the LED-riddled and overpriced Nike + FuelBand” and details issues with the lack of wireless syncing.
FitBit, on the other hand (pun intended) can go on your pants, in your pocket, on your bra, wherever, if you’re not into wearing a band on your wrist, and syncs wirelessly and easily. It even has a WiFi smart scale that syncs with your online profile and wireless gadget to keep you honest. The scale is quite cool and tempting (though not wholly necessary I must admit…it’s not really *that* much work to just enter your weight).
Linda Neff (another fearless friend, and a chapter author of the Women on Fire Book 2 being published this fall) is in love with her new FitBit, and says “It’s like a pedometer, only better…a quirky little friend who cheers on your healthy lifestyle with badges and messages reminiscent of your favorite grade school teacher.”
Biggest Loser NBC (with which I am obsessed, as is my 7 year old) has been using Body Media tracking armbands for years now. The difference here is BodyMedia uses multiple sensors – an accelerometer plus skin temperature, heat flux and galvanic skin response - which is supposed to make it the most accurate. As tempting as the increased accuracy is, I just can’t quite bring myself to wear an armband on my bicep all day.
I’ve been considering buying one of these gadgets for the past year, and it’s a tough decision as there are elements I like of each. I have a “thing” for Nike, so the FuelBand appeals from a brand standpoint. I want accuracy, so BodyMedia appeals from a geeking-out-on-data standpoint. After doing more research for this story, I think FitBit is a good combination of form and function; it also integrates with MyFitnessPal so I can still track my nutrition in MyFitnessPal and FitBit will use that data…huge bonus. Maybe the best solution is to get one of each. ;]
Some folks use these tools just for personal tracking and some use them for a little friendly competition. Now there’s a popular site called DietBet where you can set up that friendly wager. DietBet is a four-week social dieting game, in which you create your game or join one and watch the pot grow as new players join. At the end of the game, everyone who loses 4% of their body weight splits the pot. If you’re the kind of person that needs a lot of external motivation, this might be a good solution for you in the short term…then use some of the other tools to maintain your loss.
Social Music Sharing
Just for fun, you might want to check out a social music sharing app/site like Spotify. This is a great way to keep your workout playlists fresh and motivating. People build and share their playlists for others to check out and use. Here is my current one-hour run playlist.
So, whether you are self-motivated and need something to help you hold yourself accountable or externally motivated and want to share encouragement with your communities and maybe even set up a little healthy competition…there’s a tool or three out there for you.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments on what tools you’ve tried, and how they have (or haven’t) helped you meet your goals!