Tech That Helps Me With Healthy Living
Living a healthy and active life takes a lot of extra work as a parent. But with the help of an arsenal of gadgets and apps I’ve found it’s possible to gain an advantage in this daily battle. I am a parent of three girls all under the age of six which means my attention is split between a barrage of demands. It’s hard to be a good parent, involved father, and physical fitness book-keeper at the same time. These specific tasks are not mutually exclusive but I figured that there were tools to make the overall process more efficient.
My goal was to find a way to track what went into my body and track the calories I was able to burn off throughout the day. The experiment that I was going to run was to test the popular hypothesis that the best way to influence dietary change is to be aware of what you’re eating and in what quantities. So I needed to find a way to easily track my intake and the second half of the plan was to monitor my activity. So I did what any other person would do in my situation. I took the advice of fitness celebrities and random people on the internet.
I use an iPhone 4s for my day to day carry and chose the calorie-tracking application called MyFitnessPal based on it’s reviews, price (free), and the feedback that I solicited from my social networks. For my activity on-body monitoring device I decided to use the popular BodyMedia LINK armband as seen on The Biggest Loser.
I opted to use the 3rd party MyFitnessPal application because it gave me the insanely helpful barcode scanning feature that uses my smartphone camera. The second reason why I used MyFitnessPal was because it has an integration with the BodyMedia App (how convenient!).
MyFitnessPal: The MyFitnessPal application is free and easy to use. It allows me to take a daily inventory of the food I intake and it automagically gives me a full report of my caloric intake. It allows me to scan barcodes of store bought food or search for published menu items from restaurant chains. In addition to the impressive database of food in the system there was a very comprehensive custom meal building tool. So my customary veggie and ham omelet, homemade vegetable beef soup, and my signature comfort food (Ryan’s Ultimate Grilled Cheese) could be added into the app and saved for recording future meals. The incredibly slick part of the whole workflow was how the MyFitnessPal App sends it’s activity over to the BodyMedia App.
I have nothing but praise for the simplicity and flexibility of the MyFitnessPal app that is available in the iOS App Store for iPhones and iPads, Google Play store for Android devices, Blackberry devices, and Windows 8 devices.
BodyMedia LINK: I’ve had a lot of experience using pedometers, guesstimating my exercise routines in a journal, and I’m fairly certain I inadvertently fudge a lot of those numbers subconsciously or by operator-error. I tell my wife on a regular basis that I’m a bad computer. I don’t handle a lot of stacked commands very effectively. I have limited multitasking functionality and prone to memory leaks. So relying on myself to record time and be accurate in it’s tracking is not very reliable. Remembering how many eggs I had, glasses of juice, or slices of cake is easy to remember and add into an App as simple as MyFitnessPal. What I needed was a tool to help me be more accurate and consistent with my activity tracking. The on-body monitoring device comes in two flavors. The first is the BodyMedia CORE device which is the baseline unit with a smaller piece of hardware. To pull data from the device one must hook it up to their computer via USB and the data is uploaded to the web. The BodyMedia LINK device is enabled with Bluetooth and will communicate directly with the BodyMedia FIT App to provide real time data. For the purposes of my on-body monitoring experiment I decided to leverage the Bluetooth enabled smartphone that I carried with me everywhere.
Clearly there are millions of healthy parents that are able to find a balance in their life without the help of technology. I am willing to admit where my shortcomings are and will happily accept a technological crutch (or a silicon olive branch). As my children grow up they are becoming more self sufficient and I’m finding that I have pockets of time that could be devoted to things like regular workout routines outside of yard work, snow removal, dog walks, and kid wrangling.
I’m convinced that there is no silver bullet for keeping healthy because no matter how many gadgets and Apps I have it’s still going to take hard work for any amount of lasting change. Between my on-body monitoring device and calorie counting App I’ve been able to be more aware of my intake and activity (an inactivity). This awareness has led to changes in my habits because of these gadgets. As a result of the experiment I’ve kept myself out the kitchen to graze between meals more often, had smaller helpings of dessert, and kept my caloric intake in check within daily recommended allowances. My next experiment will be focused on goal-setting and making commitments to increasing my activity, not just curbing bad habits. Taking care of myself now means my kids will have a healthy dad around for a long time to come and this is what helps motivate me to continually improve.
This article was originally written by Ryan Carlson and posted on wired.com 2013.