Diet Week 8: +1 lb. Is a Wifi Scale the Way to Go?

Week eight saw me continue my battling a very seesaw diet.  I gained a pound to 192.4 and am down 5 pounds in eight weeks.  (Six pounds in seven weeks sounded a lot better!)  The momentum I had hoped for last week didn’t materialize.

I know from my eating decisions, that, after two months, I’m not yet in the zone.  That’s disappointing.  I’m just not making the best decisions.  I went for a Caesar salad with chicken at lunch yesterday, when I could have had a much lower-calorie salad from the salad bar.  On the other hand, I continue to be happy with my exercise regimen.  I started off slowly eight weeks ago and am progressing nicely, ramping up my speed on the treadmill and completing longer runs on Sundays.

I wrote a few weeks back about Brian Stelter and his use of tweeting as part of his diet process.  Proclaiming in public that you are going to lose weight and giving people a window into that process is a very interesting motivator.  It doesn’t work for everyone, but works for Brian and, I think, works for me.  The key is to open up a two-way dialog, where one person is sharing and others are supporting.  Multi-way dialogs are even better, where multiple people are trying to lose weight and helping each other.  This is the notion behind every diet site having a community aspect and behind the old-school weekly meetings at Weight Watchers.

The Wi-Fi Connected Withings Bathroom Scale

In Sunday’s New York Times, an article discusses the benefits of the Withings bathroom scale, which is Wifi-enabled, and pushes your weight to your computer, your iPhone app and, if desired, directly to Twitter.  This scale is not new. Googling uncovers articles from as far back as August, 2009.  There are 129 reviews on Amazon for the product, 90 of which are 5-star.  The product sells there for $145 plus shipping.

I’ve got a colleague who just bought one, but I don’t know yet if he set it up. $145 for a bathroom scale is not cheap. Wifi connectivity seems par for the course in 2010.  The auto-tracking to a smart phone is also logical and will no doubt expand to other scale brands at some point.  The connectivity to Twitter, Facebook and a range of other sites is the most intriguing aspect of all.

We know that off-line social impact weight gain, as per this 2007 study.  Brian Stelter has shown that using Twitter can make a difference with weight loss.  The automation of the Withings scale is just the next step.  Brian has to think about sending the Twitter each day.  The Withings scale requires only one decision – to turn on the sharing aspect of the software.  Then, off you go.  It makes sense to me.

Week Six – 193 lbs., +1.4 this week. I Can’t Get by the Holidays.

(I’ve been traveling for a few days, and just realized this never got posted on Monday.   I forgot to his the very large “publish” button.)

When I stepped on the scale this morning and saw 193 pounds, I wasn’t surprised.  While I’m down 4.4 pounds in six weeks, I am up 1.4 pounds since last Monday.

I know why.  It’s all about holidays and family gatherings.  This past Thursday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  On Wednesday evening, we had my in-laws and some friends over for dinner.  My wife and the wife of the family we invited collaborated on a fantastic four course meal, including matzoh ball soup and a tremendous apple pie for dessert.  On Thursday mid-afternoon after services at synagogue, my mother-in-law repeated the food fest at her house.

Sweet Kugel - Simply Irresistible

For her mother’s lunch, my wife made her spectacular sweet kugel, which proved to be the focus of my meal.  If you are not familiar with sweet kugel, I’ve included a picture here.  Ingredients include eggs, cottage cheese and noodles.  A piece is easily 150-200 calories.  Put me down for about 8 over the weekend, including some pieces grabbed the next day out of the refrigerator.

The upside of this week is that my exercise build up is progressing very well.  It wasn’t too long ago, that I was regularly running for 30 minutes at 6 miles/hour (a 10 minute/mile clip).  I started slow in week one, and now, in week seven, I will run for 35 minutes at 5.5 miles/hour.  Each week after this one, I’ll add five minutes at 6.0 mph, until I get back to where I was.  I’m having no issues with the running and, in fact, ran for 45 minutes yesterday, with all but the first five minutes at 5.5 mph.

I don’t have a break in challenges for week seven.  First, I’m heading to Orlando tonight for a three-day conference.  That means buffet meals and brownie snacks.  Then, Friday brings Yom Kippur.  Not only does that limit exercise, but the “break fast” that ends the holiday is traditionally a stuff-your-face event.  Ugh.

This is where I remember it’s all about the long term and not about the short term.

Week 3 – 194.6 Pounds. Just Off the Pace, But No Worries

I weighed in this morning at 194.6, which is 0.2 pounds more than last week and only 2.8 pounds less than my starting point of 197.4.  I want to lose one pound per week for 20 weeks, but have now lost only 2.8 pounds in 3 weeks.

Oh well.

I don’t mean to dismiss this as something really awesome, but I’m getting to a good spot after three weeks.  I ran six times last week.  I splurged on a Nike+ sensor for my shoe, and I can now see my workouts online.  I would have easily stayed on pace this week, but I slipped a bit with an in-office potluck lunch on Thursday and dinner out on Saturday night.  I have to be more focused on those times not to slip as badly.

I know I could be on pace, because, as I type this after dinner on Monday evening, I’m a pound lighter than I was this morning.  All you dieters know that we are always lighter in the morning than in the evening, so I’m in good shape for tomorrow morning.

Stelter's Tweet from May 3 Recalibrating His Weight Loss Goal

For those of you who have tweeted me back or written me separately, I appreciate your support.  You may have noticed that this week, I put my weight in the title and, thus, on Twitter and Facebook.

I did this after reading an article by Brian Stelter over the weekend in the New York Times.  The article, “Tall Tales, Truth, and My Twitter Diet,” explains how Stelter used the support of over 600 followers on Twitter to lose 75 pounds in 25 weeks, surpassing an initial target of 25 pounds in 25 weeks.  While his pace of three pounds a week is a bit fast for my taste, I admire what he did.  I also admire his honesty for posting his weight on a daily basis.

As Stelter mentions in his article, Drew Magary did something similar on Deadspin. Point #3 of Magary’s Public Humiliation Diet is posting his weight on Twitter daily.

In the past, I have lost 20 pounds by using loss aversion on Stickk.com, where I had to give to charity each time I fell off my weight loss pace.  That was definitely motivation.  However, it seems to me that telling the world your weight goal and goal date, and then posting your current weight on a daily basis is even more motivating.

You can follow Brian on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brianstelter25.  Join me.  I just followed him, and I’m number 1,295 – which shows what a New York Times article can do for you!

Brian and Drew have definitely given us something to think about.

Down 3 Pounds After 2 Weeks: Ahead of Pace, But Disappointing Nonetheless

The scale this morning read 194.4, which is three pounds less than I weighed two weeks ago.  Given my target pace of 1 pound per week, I’m actually ahead.  However, I’m not satisfied with my performance and need to do better.

I Should Have Eaten This - the KFC Grilled Chicken

I’ll chalk up last week as another ramp-up week.  I think I’ve got the exercise where it should be.  I exercised six out of seven days, including an extra long run yesterday afternoon.  Traditionally, when training for a marathon, you have one “long run” a week.  I want to try to keep this up for Sundays going forward.  With my weigh-in on Monday mornings, it will make a big difference.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have made my weigh-in on Monday mornings.  It’s tough to be good over the weekend.  When I lost 20 pounds at the beginning of 2009, my weigh-in day was Thursdays.  Since it’s easier to diet at work, Thursday weigh-ins were an advantage.  However, I’m not going to switch. I’ll take on the challenge.

The week was disappointing, because I made a few poor choices that could have pushed the weight loss lower:

  • I had a taco salad for lunch on Friday, because the salad bar at our company’s cafeteria didn’t look good.  Instead of the taco salad, I could have gotten a chicken breast from the grill or a turkey sandwich without cheese.  I also might have jumped in the car and drove 1 mile to the McDonald’s to get a salad.
  • I had a cheeseburger and nacho cheese Doritos for lunch at home Saturday afternoon.  Obviously, I might have avoided the cheese and the Doritos entirely.  However, up to that point in the day, I had eaten only a bowl of cereal.  I could afford the calories.  In retrospect, I should have poured some Doritos into a bowl and limited myself to that.  Instead, I ate right out of the bag.

    and Not This - KFC Original Recipe Chicken

  • Out for dinner on Saturday night with Mrs. Spidey, I ordered poorly.  I ordered a salad with a lot of cheese and some cheese tortellini.  I certainly could have ordered a salad with no cheese and dressing on the side and a healthier dish such as salmon.
  • At my in-laws Sunday afternoon to celebrate my father-in-laws birthday, I could have eaten grilled chicken instead of fried and should have begged off the cake.

The chicken decision on Sunday was particularly poor.  According to KFC’s own  nutritional information, A KFC original recipe chicken breast has 320 calories and 15 grams of fat.  A KFC grilled chicken breast has 210 calories and 8 grams of fat.  I am much happier eating fried chicken, but I could have made it through grilled chicken and filled up.  That’s just a no-brainer. I knew it, and I still made the wrong decision.

This week is a great example of how individual decisions can go a long way towards diet success.  I wrote about this earlier.

Onward and upward to week three.  Fingers crossed for good decisions.

Overcoming Your Brain’s Barrier to Dieting

There is a concept in pop psychology called hyperbolic discounting.  Hyperbolic discounting is the notion that we value things today about twice as much as we value things at any point in the future, from tomorrow to ten years from now.  Hyperbolic discounting is also the scientific reason why we are always going to start dieting and exercising tomorrow.

When we start to consider dieting, we always pick a point in the future to begin.  It might be the day after a vacation or New Year’s Day or the day you will get your first NutriSystem or Jenny Craig food in the mail.  More simply, you might decide at lunch that as of dinner (four to six hours away), the diet begins.  You may even have a last meal in anticipation of the diet.  However, we never decide to go on a diet just as the waitress brings the bacon cheeseburger or right after we order Domino’s or just as the Baskin Robbins scooper hands us our double cone.  It is always as a point in the future.

Hyperbolic discounting explains why.  We value the effort required to diet in the future at about half the effort required in the present.  Somehow, we have to have the slice of cheesecake now, but we can easily avoid it next week.  It’s a brilliant concept really. And it makes sense.  More people decide to diet on Sunday night, only to blow it at breakfast on Monday morning when they have to put in double the effort to eat Puffed Wheat and not Captain Crunch.

The same notion can be used to explain why we decide at night to exercise in the morning, but then in the morning decide not to get out of bed.  Somehow it’s a lot harder to get out of bed at 5am than we thought it would be when we set our alarm.

Our brains know how to diet, and our brains know how to exercise.  I don’t think we need books to tell us what to eat or how to exercise.  We use books and web sites to give us easy to understand plans and schedules so that the effort required to diet and exercise is reduced.  Then we can overcome the hyperbolic discounting that we have already done.  If we have the plans and menus in place today, it won’t be any easier in the future than it is today, and we will start now.

One Way to Overcome Hyperbolic Discounting

This morning, I overcame hyperbolic discounting.  First, I made sure that there was no extra effort required to start a diet and exercise regimen anew.  The treadmill repairman had fixed our Nordic Track in the basement.  We had plenty of Honey Nut Cheerios, fat-free milk, apples and Zone bars on hand in the house.  I have no client dinners or social events planned the whole week.  Even better, Mrs. Spidey had a book club meeting tonight, so I could plan my dinner.  All was perfect.

But then, at 5:45am this morning, hyperbolic discounting hit me square in the face. I had planned to exercise at 5:00, but I slept through my alarm.  My mind immediately said, “Tomorrow, it will be a lot easier when you get up at 5:00.  5:45 is too late.”   Somehow, however, I pushed through.  I told myself that I had to get going, that I could work late or work in the evening to make up the time.  Once I got my workout clothes on and made it to the basement, I was fine.  I applied the effort today, despite my brain telling me it would be easier tomorrow.

Long story short, it was time for another diet, and it’s underway.  I reprogrammed Lose It on my iPhone.  I commit to tracking it here every Monday, come good or come bad.  I weighed in this morning at 197.4.  Ouch.  By Christmas, I’d like to be close to 180.

Scientifically, I know my brain is telling me that it will be easier than it will actually be.  Perhaps knowing how my brain works will make it a bit easier?  Stay tuned.

Using Committment Bonds to Lose Weight

(Last week, I wrote about “Lose It,” an iPhone app I recommend.  This week, I want to introduce you to a second weight loss tool.)

At the end of 2008, I decided that I needed to lose weight.  It was time.  Clothes were too tight and, as someone who had turned 42 just a few months earlier, I was starting to think about being around for my kids and grandkids, etc.

I had inner motivation to succeed, but I didn’t have any real “kicks in the butt,” such as an upcoming event or, thankfully, drastic health problems.  Through work, I was introduced to a web site called “Stickk.com” and became convinced that this site could offer the motivation that I needed.  In the end, it did.

Stickk.com provides a mechanism through which people like you and me can make commitment bonds.  In a commitment bond, we agree to do something on a regular basis.  It might be exercising, walking the dog, reading to your kids or studying for the bar.  If we don’t live up to our commitment, then we agree to pay a certain amount of money.  Stickk.com allows you to select your goals, the time frame, and your amount donated, and offers options for payment, be it to a charity or to another person against whom you are competing.

In my case, I agreed to a commitment bond (Stickk.com calls them “contracts”) to lose one pound a week for 20 weeks.  If I didn’t stay on pace towards my goal, I would contribute $75 for each week I was behind.  When I weighed myself each Thursday, I updated my weight at the site, and my wife (the “referee”) validated the entry.

The notion of a commitment bond is based on a scientific concept called “loss aversion.”  Loss aversion is the fact that we feel the pain of loss more than we do the joy of a gain.  In terms of weight loss, loss aversion suggests that paying me $75 to lose a pound a week is a great incentive, but it isn’t as much of an incentive as taking away $75 if I don’t stay on pace.

Not convinced?  Think about it this way:

  • I start both diets even, no money gained, no money lost.
  • If I sign up for a reward program and decide to stray off plan, I’m really no worse off.  I never had the money in the first place.
  • If I sign up for a commitment bond and decide to stray off plan, I am worse off.  I’m out money.  I have greater motivation and incentive.

Stickk.com has three other features that are intriguing.

  1. It offers basic community functionality.  This was important to me, because I told friends and relatives about my goals and encouraged them to sign up as a Stickk.com supporter.  Once they registered, they received emails telling them about my success or failure.  Who wants to fail in the eyes of friends and relatives?
  2. It allows donations to charities, but also to “anti-charities.”  If it’s more motivation, you can agree to donate, for example, to the Clinton Presidential Library or the Bush Presidential Library, one of which is likely an anti-charity for you.
  3. When you sign up for a commitment bond, you give your credit card number, so the money is automatically deducted when you fail to miss a goal.

There is no doubt that some payment programs work for people to lose weight.  And certainly commitment bonds at Stickk.com are based on honesty in reporting.  Cheating can, and does occur. But, if you take the commitment bond seriously, invite friends as online “supporters,” and sign up for a meaningful amount ($75 per week would hurt me), I think this is great motivation.

How did it work for me?  I lost 20 pound in 20 weeks with a total payout of $75.  Some days, I exercised morning and evening, just so I didn’t have to payout that money.