As a geek fan of technology, I found this impression to be mildly annoying as even though I could bore you to death about technology, if you're not interested, I'll usually notice and come up with something else to talk about instead. I also manage to have several hobbies and interests that don't involve a screen (although I will confess to looking at my mobile far too much), but as of the end of 2011, I did ‘tick’ the overweight section of the stereotype and I really wasn't happy about it.
2012 for me was all about shaking off the pounds. I was at a peak weight of 15 stone (about 95 Kg) in the new year and I decided I would set a target of 12 stone and give myself 12 months to achieve it. Now I know there are a lot of diets that will get you there quicker than that, but I also know that the faster diets tend to see the dieters put it all back on again at the end. Why else would the diet industry be worth so much money if it were that easy? No, I would take my time because that's the healthiest way and also it would become a habit, meaning I would hopefully keep the weight off after with little conscious effort.
Of course, being the geek I am, I turned to technology for assistance and you can read my review of the MyFitnessPal service here. MyFitnessPal did a great job of helping me set and measure my progress towards my goal, counting the calories in and out (it really is that simple after all, well, apart from the doing it bit) and I achieved my target weight of 12 stone in late November 2012.
2013 then has been about the apparently bigger challenge of keeping the weight off. Shockingly some studies say that two thirds of dieters will put on more than their initial peak weight within five years! This suggested to me, the good habit bit was essential. A new relationship with food.
So how have I done? Well, after 6 months, I still weigh bang on 12 stone, but this isn’t the end and my geeky interests have since provided me with some useful tech to help me keep an eye on myself and stop any weight creep.
I did try continuing with MyFitnessPal for a while, but to be honest I was getting a little bored of recording all my eating and a year of doing so meant that I already had a very good awareness of the calorie content of most food that I ate and my sense of portion control is much more accurate. What I needed to both improve and measure was my activity levels and for that I turned to my FitBit pedometer, which I reviewed after my first few weeks here.
The FitBit service has had a revamp since the review and the website is fresh, modern and interesting with all the details about my activities set out in excellent graphs over days, weeks or months. My goal of 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles) hasn't always been achieved, but having a goal and measuring it has helped me stay motivated. The fact that the FitBit service is also a social network, so I can see how I'm doing alongside my FitBit owning friends has also been a real motivator, even though I haven't a hope of beating one or two of them. Playing for respect points is motivation enough for me!
Talking of the social side, I did say I'm a sociable geek and I also signed up for the 'Global Corporate Challenge' through work, which sees teams from around the world get provided with a pedometer and set a challenge to compete against ourselves and others with the app and website cleverly tracking everybody's step count to show us travelling across the world! It's been quite inspiring and has taken my FitBit daily average from around 9,500 steps up to nearly 13,000! Not bad for a guy who was lucky to average 3,000 not so long ago.
Even though it's left me looking even more geeky wandering around the office wearing not one, but two pedometers, I definitely think these online communities are motivating in a way that I never found when I attempted going to the gym (I never enjoyed that, getting out and walking in all weathers has actually been fun and saved a fortune!).
The final tool in my geekbox of keeping the weight off is a free smartphone app (premium version available) called MapMyWalk. This app uses your phone's location awareness features to plot your walk on a digital map whilst giving you all sorts of live information about your distance covered, pace, calorie burn and so on.
Whilst the FitBit did a great job giving me stats for the whole day, being able to single out a dedicated walk for information (for example St Michael's Mount in Marazion to Penzance was 3.6 miles and took 1hr 20mins to walk (hey it was rocks and sand!), burning 360 calories) was really interesting and again can be shared with 'Friends' on the system or to social networks like FaceBook and Twitter. Although I haven't yet used it, MapMyWalk's social network also includes the ability to share routes, so that others can experience your walk with good information about how far it is and how long it will take. Like MyFitnessPal, you can also go the whole hog and log your water intake and calories consumed, but after a year of doing so, I didn't get into this.
Whilst gadgets like a FitBit cost upwards of £50, MapMyWalk is free (and gets extra value out of your smartphone spending), I'd strongly urge you to start with this as a way of motivating exercise. My only criticism is that the FitBit quietly monitors your whole day with no effort on your part. With MapMyWalk, I kept forgetting to start it until I was well into a walk. I still do this sometimes. Equally I found the auto-pause to be unreliable (this may be my Nexus 4's fault as presumably it is using the accelerometer to detect motion) but would then forget to pause it myself, should I stop in a shop for example. But overall, if your memory is better than mine, I'd say give this a go. My pace on the evening walk has improved a lot since I started with it.
So for me, a bit of geekiness actually helped me to increase my activity and my enjoyment of activity. 6 months in, I've kept the weight off and feel better all round than I can remember in the last 10 years. I’ll update you again in another 6, which will also keep me motivated.
If you're not too worried about wearing pedometers and boring friends with your walking stats, give these gadgets a try, you'll feel better and it needn’t cost a fortune.