4 min read

Weight Loss Machines

Useful Tool or Gimmick?

There is a stifling number of new fitness and health technology products (backed by big investment bucks), coming to market in the very near future. Most of them are based around accelerometer technology, but a few have some other more interesting innovations.

That’s right, the same technology found in your iPhone, iPad or touchscreen device, may also help you lose weight. Or will it?

These products include but are not limited to:

  1. Nike Plus
  2. Jawbone’s Up 
  3. FitBit
  4. Philips DirectLife
  5. WakeMate
  6. Wii Fit
  7. Microsoft Kinect (And Fitness Games to go with it)
  8. Good Old Heart Rate Monitors

While it’s cool to observe a new trend, and see all these great gadgets or gizmos come to market. They are becoming more and more capable of recording more accurate data, the jawbone Up even claims to be able to account for the energy expenditure of minor movements, not just walking or running.

Overall, I feel they can and will serve a purpose, but only if there are coaches educated enough to deduce the data these devices are recording and then give appropriate advice to clients based on that data. Some of them are, though I do not know the quality of these coaches.

The reality of these devices is that data is effectively useless without context and understanding. Most software of today is incapable of providing effective troubleshooting modalities beyond anything pre-loaded into some kind of algorithm. Sure it might be able to spit back a few solutions, but what if the solution makes little or no logical sense to a computer?

It could for instance tell you roughly what your caloric expenditure and intake could be based on a formula, but what happens if the formula doesn’t work?

For example, let’s say the software tells you that you should be eating 2200 calories per day, based on your height and weight. So in order to lose weight in the traditional sense — 500 calories deficit each day is 3500 calories a week, which is roughly assumed to be 1 lbs of fat lost per week, though it never happens like that — it recommends increasing your daily calories expenditure to 250 calories (measured through the accelerometer) and decreasing your caloric intake by 250 calories a day.

This is a pretty standard recommendation with a simplistic view point — and in my experience never really works the way ‘in theory’ it should.

Over the course of the next 4 weeks, you do exactly what it asks, often exceeding your caloric cut-off by consuming only 1600-1800 calories per day on average and burning as much as 500-600 calories a day during exercise days. You walk on your days off, burning an estimated average over the weeks of 300 calories per day, not 250.

Yet, you didn’t lose weight or maybe it was only 1/2 a pound, or 1-2 pounds total over 4 weeks, hardly promising results.

What the heck does the computer software tell you now? Exactly!

Difficult situation for the machine but a coach, the human being built with empathy, emotion, intuition, and creative thinking skills can identify the bigger issues holding you back:

  1. Lack of Skill
  2. Bad Habits
  3. Poor Behaviors

Alas this is qualifiable data that a machine, with it’s mathematical interpretations, to my knowledge in 2011, cannot really identify.

I have no problem with technology in fitness or any other realm of life. In fact, I use technology all the time, I’m even building a big piece of technology as we speak. However, I do have a problem with over-reliance on technology to solve the multi-centric problem that is obesity. We’re a long ways away from a computer system that can effectively solve the problems that people who are overweight are attempting to solve.

Based on that, I hope you recognize that technology should be used in spurts. Are you really going to wear an accelerometer and count calories every day for the rest of your life to closely monitor your expenditure and intake?


And you shouldn’t have to. We track stuff to assess where people are, then we course correct. Fix one problem, rest a little, then potentially start again. The tools however, may need to change, so just because you are using Nike Plus now, or FitBit now, doesn’t mean you should continue to use that tool past the usefulness it provides.

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from endurance athletes in the last 5 years over the anxiety of competing in races with real-time data, provided by high-powered heart rate monitors. Most people panic when they are off their race pace, or when their heart rate seems high relative to their point in the race. Unfortunately for the heart rate monitor, the data it provides, cannot account for your nerves, feelings/emotions, state of mind or other non-physically prevalent feedback as it pertains to biofeedback.

My advice is, and probably will be for a very long time, is to use technology sure, but in moderation. If you can afford to do so, hire a good coach to help you through the process instead. If the option is between a piece of technology and affording coaching or mentorship, go with the coaching and mentorship first, worry about technology later.

Technology will never be able to substitute for good coaching.