I am "Good Morning America's" technology contributor but also a lifelong athlete. I played varsity sports all through high school and college. I played rugby for 15 years, including a brief stint on the U.S. national team. I ski, mountain bike, surf and run. And I am probably just like you: I hate it when my jeans get too tight.
So combining my love of gadgetry and my quest for fitness, I should be able to point you to any number of devices that will help you lose weight: body-fat analyzing scales, treadmills, hand-held diet trackers, the latest diet powders and pills … The list of products marketed to dieters is seemingly endless.
The truth is, weight loss is very simple. You don't need to spend a lot of money, buy a bunch of gadgets or collect a gym's worth of exercise equipment. To help you lose weight, I am recommending only three tech products, which cost less than $100 (I'm assuming you already have two of them).
If your caloric output is 3,500 calories more than your caloric input, you will lose a pound. Simply put, it takes 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you must reduce food intake and increase exercise output in the amount of roughly 35,000 calories.
Step one: Know your daily dietary intake
If you know nothing about food, you probably eat indiscriminately and have no idea what's fattening and what's healthy. If you know nothing about food, you need to go to a dietitian. These are basically food and diet consultants who will give you tools to understand the food you eat, what types of food you need and how much you should be eating each day.
Most of us, though, have grown up food-conscious. According to one national study, 80 percent of women have dieted by the time they are 18. Food labels on packaging also give us a pretty good idea about calories, but many of us eat much bigger portions than the serving sizes allot. You may need to check your portions with a scale, but using a Web site like nutritiondata.com -- http://www.nutritiondata.com/nutrient-search.html -- you can get a good idea of how many calories you consume each day.
Step Two: Record your daily intake
It is a royal pain to count calories, but to get a handle on out-of-control eating, commit to counting your calories for at least two weeks. The cheapest way to record your intake is to make an Excel spreadsheet listing everything you eat and its caloric value. Excel is basically your computer's version of a lined notebook with a calculator built in to it. Many Windows computers have Excel already installed. If not, there are free downloadable calorie tracking programs, like this one: http://www.download.com/CalTrack-Pocket-PC-Calorie-Tracker/3000-2161_4-10207747.html?tag=lst-0-1.
Use the spreadsheet to record and total the calories you consume every day, and you will have your caloric input.
Step Three: Use a heart rate monitor to count the calories you burn.
A heart rate monitor consists of an elastic strap that goes around your chest and a wristwatch. The chest strap counts your heart beats and sends your pulse in beats per minute to the watch. You can use your pulse rate as a way to monitor exertion -- and the harder you exercise, the more calories you burn.
Many of the newer heart rate monitors will calculate the number of calories you have burned in a given workout. When you begin your run or workout in the gym, you start the chrono function on the watch to keep track of how long you exercise. A simple algorithm runs in the background using your weight, the length of your workout, and your average heart rate over the duration of the exercise. For me, a 30-minute run burns about 350 calories. If you are lighter than my 145 pounds, you will burn fewer calories. If you are heavier, you'll burn more.
I have tried many heart rate monitors: Oregon Scientific, Polar, Freestyle. The best, in my opinion, is the Timex Ironman Triathlon Digital Heart Rate Monitor. It retails for about $90 (I got mine online at www.titleninesports.com). It has very clear instructions and an easy-to-use interface. There are men's and women's versions: I would stand by any of the Timex heart rate monitors so long as they are the models that also count calories.
Step Four: Record the number of calories burned
Whether you are exercising at the gym, running on the trails or working hard in your yard, count the calories burned from your efforts and record that number in your Excel spreadsheet. But there's a catch, you first have to figure out your Basic Metabolic Rate calories.
What are Basic Metabolic Rate calories?
Each day we burn about 60 percent of our energy just living: breathing, sleeping, growing new hair, blinking our eyes. The rate at which your body burns calories "just living" is called your basic metabolic rate, or BRM. One method of figuring out your BRM is the the Harris-Benedict formula:
Adult male: 66 + (6.3 x body weight in pounds.) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years) Adult female: 655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
You also burn calories when you eat; if you eat 2,000 calories, it takes about 200 calories to process all that food, roughly 10 percent of your caloric intake.
So my BRM is (655) + (4.3 X 145lbs) + (4.7 X 67 inches) ? (4.7X 35) = 1429). 1429 + 200 (calories burned while eating) = 1629.
I need 1,629 calories to live. If I consume 1,629 calories in a day and go for a 30-minute run burning 350 calories, I have a differential of -350 calories. If I can maintain that balance for 10 days, I should burn 3,500 calories and lose a pound. Track your exercise, food intake and weight loss (I hope) in your spreadsheet to see if the math holds true for you.
One thing I like about this quantitative approach to weight loss is that you see why you are or are not dropping pounds. If you can't burn more than you consume, there's no mystery. You are in control!
Step 5: Assimilate the habits and then stop recording everything
It is incredibly tedious to record all the food you eat and all the calories you burn. The point is not to record this information forever, but to see where your current habits are failing you. Are you eating too much? Exercising too little? Or both?
Commit to recording for two weeks. You may find that it brings you great satisfaction. You can quantify what you accomplished each day. For me, writing down what I eat also forces me to be conscious. I can't just run to the cabinet and shove a handful of potato chips in my mouth. I have to think about how many calories my random snacking will cost.
I wish you the best of luck. Staying fit and within a healthy weight range is a lifelong battle. If a little tech can help along the way, I say use every tool you can find in the war on tight jeans.