Gadgets that track your physical activity get to only half the equation, as Marty Dopps pointed out after reading this week’s column. Dopps has lost 25 pounds (so far) since August using a combo tracking and data entry system called BodyBugg. (Bold is mine):
I read about all the way cool tech gadgets out there but the reality is weight gain or loss boils down to one simple equation: calories in versus calories out. If you consume more than you burn, you’re going to gain weight, and if you burn more than you consume, you’re going to lose weight. …
I’ll bet there are any number of gadgets out there that are happy to tell you what you’re burning, but if you don’t know (realistically) what you’re consuming it’s all for naught. The bodybugg helps by incorporating an online food diary that you have to utilize if you want the real data. You enter every single thing you eat or drink that involves calories, and that means everything. I was reading packaging labels and measuring my food with cups and a kitchen scale. Yes, it takes commitment and effort, but I felt that weight loss was worth it.
The beauty of tech is when it takes away work. Physical activity can be easily measured with wearable gadgets, heart rate monitors, etc. Those are the calories you burn. As for the calories you eat — that’s tricky. Food diary apps like MyFitnessPal and WeightWatchers Mobile motivate you to keep track, but it takes a lot of work. Especially if you’re eating like a normal person — a mix of at home, going out. You have to find out the calories of all the ingredients put together, and figure out precisely how much you had, to do the math right.
I was OK with a certain level of guesswork when I counted calories on MyFitnessPal before my wedding in 2010, but it bugged me that the only way to be precise was to eat only meals I knew the ingredients for.
It would be nice if devices could measure calorie intake all on their own, but don’t hold your breath. No one’s figured it out yet. Besides, as personal analytics entrepreneur Buster Benson mentioned to me on Twitter, calories may not be the right metric. Just the easiest.
Update: Sally James (@jamesian) pinged me on an app in development by UW professor Alexander Mamishev that’s trying to get a closer to this problem. With a snap-on laser, he’s hoping to make it easier to count calories accurately by measuring the precise dimensions of what you eat. Here’s a story from KING. I’ve got a note out to Mamishev to see how it’s going. (Thanks, Sally!)