HOW TO KEEP YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS TO LOSE WEIGHT
This is a guest post by Adam C. Powell, Ph.D., a healthcare technologist and president of the health services consulting firm Payer+Provider Syndicate.
A variety of high-tech tools can help you reduce the number of calories going in and raise the number that go out.
If you hope to lose weight in 2013, you are not alone. Polls have shown that weight loss is the most common New Year’s resolution. Yet few people actually succeed in meeting their weight loss goals. Our collective failure to do that has made America the world’s fattest nation, and has added needlessly to our healthcare expenditures.
In theory, losing weight isn’t hard. You simply eat less and exercise more. However, cultural, environmental, and social barriers lead people to make poor choices. Plus, many folks tend to underestimate the calories in their food and overestimate the benefit of exercise. While weight loss companies have existed for decades, the growing popularity of smartphones gives us innovative approaches that were not feasible during the era of boxed meals and public weigh-ins. Here’s how high-tech tools can hep you succeed with this year’s resolution.
1. Know how many calories you are really eating. A Starbucks coffee can range from being a healthful beverage containing only 5 calories to a dietary monstrosity of 700 calories. (Venti Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream, anyone?) Likewise, while Subway sandwiches were the key salvation for company spokesman Jared Fogle, had he made the poor decision to regularly pick the Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt, he might have ended up even fatter.
Now you can use apps to avoid such errors. Restaurant Nutrition provides nutritional information for meals at most chain restaurants. If you prefer to cook at home, MyFood offers nutritional insights about your groceries.
2. Don’t fool yourself into thinking ketchup is a vegetable. It’s a lot easier to reduce the number of calories going in than it is to increase the number going out. For example, you can slurp down a mocha in minutes, but would have to walk for over three hours to burn off the calories you just injested. To make matters worse, people systematically underestimate the calories they are consuming, particularly in the case of meals combining healthy and unhealthy items.
While precise measurement is admittedly not for everyone, sharing photos of meals with friends can provide a reality check. An app called The Eatery lets you photograph meals and have friends rate them as either “fit” or “fat.”
3. Measure the impact of your exercise. Most people overestimate this. And overcompensating for the calories burned during exercise by eating more is a common way in which people sabotage their diets. To face the facts, use one of the many tools available to measure your level of physical activity. Fitbit, Lark, and Nike all sell pedometers that synchronize with iPhones in order to enable people to determine how much they walk each day and the number of calories burned in the process. When simply counting steps isn’t enough, apps from Nike and RunKeeper use GPS to track the location and intensity of a workout each time you jog.
4. Give yourself short-term financial incentives. Traditionally, losing weight has required short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits. While a healthier lifestyle reduces the likelihood of disease, it fails to provide instant benefits. To make matters worse, people have the tendency to discount things that happen far in the future (“for all you know, I could have been hit by a bus by then”), making the prospect of long-term change even less compelling.
One way to overcome the myopia is to use artificial incentives and punishments to move the impact of health-related activities from the long-term to the short-term. GymPact pays people 70 cents each time they meet their promise to go to the gym, and fines them $10 each time that they fail to do so.
People who don’t want to put their own money on the line can still receive bonuses for exercising through employer and insurer sponsored programs, such as ChipRewards, IncentOne, and Virgin HealthMiles. Some health insurance plans will reimburse you a preset sum towards your gym membership fee if you log a certain number of visits in a six-month period. All of these programs help you stay on track by providing clear records of progress and linking healthful activities to short-term outcomes.
Finally, do not let the fact that many have tried and failed in years past deter you. While weight loss is always difficult, smartphone-enabled tools can help you surmount traditional barriers. For those who dare to diet, 2013 promises to be a year with better rates of success.
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