Trying to lose 30lbs with diet, exercise and an iPhone

By the beginning of 2009 I realized that something needed to be done. We had just returned from a fantastic trip to Jamaica with the entire family, staying at an all-inclusive resort. All-inclusive is code for “eat and drink everything in sight”, and I heartily did just that.

As I reviewed the pictures taken during the trip I was shocked to see how much weight I’d put on over the years. At 45 years old my steady diet of junk food and extremely half-hearted attempts at exercise had converted my body into an awkward pear shape. A professional career of driving a computer everyday meant ready access to snacks and little natural exercise other than pounding away on a keyboard. My fingers were as lean and nimble as ever but that’s where the good news ended.

The stats weren’t pretty: at 5’11” I weighed in at 206lbs, solidly into the overweight category. I wasn’t sleeping well because I snored loudly and suffered from mild nighttime apnea; after lunch I nearly always needed (though didn’t get) a nice long nap. Instead I pumped my body full of coffee and soda to get through it. I was up to size 38 pants and XL shirts, and worst of all my blood pressure was running as high as 153/80. My doctor told me that I would need to get on blood pressure medication soon.

To add insult to injury my wife got us a Wii Fit. After stepping on the evil little device it decided my Wii character needed to look like a friggin beach ball, whereas everyone else in my family had normal Wii characters. On top of that the stupid Wii Fit made a noise that sounded a lot like "Oh My!" when I put my weight on it. I get it, thanks.

It was a new year so I set a very specific goal for myself: I would get down to 175lbs by my 46th birthday in June. That 31lb drop would put me at the weight I was when I met my lovely wife back in 1985, a weight I hadn’t seen on my scale in 23 years. My good friend Jeff had dropped nearly 50lbs in a little over a year so I knew it could be done.

I had the motivation, all I needed were the tools to make it happen.

Diet & exercise are the key to losing weight. Who knew?
Though I’m happy to share the foods I started eating and the exercising I did I won’t go into too much detail right now. Suffice it to say by counting calories, eating quality foods and putting in vigorous exercise I quickly started dropping weight. Initially it came off very fast, then I would hit walls that would take longer to see results.

What I found out about myself was that I was highly motivated by seeing my goal weight and every few days checking on my current weight to see how I was progressing against that goal. I had read some good reviews of Weightbot and figured that since I had my iPhone with me all the time it would be a good tool for helping me track my progress.

The thing I love about Weightbot is that it doesn’t try to be too many things. You enter your height, pop in a goal weight and from then on all you need to do is plug in your weight using a simple dial control. It’s got some great sound and visual effects so it makes it fun to use and even supports a WiFi based Withings Scale for data entry.

Where it comes in handy is when you rotate your iPhone on it’s side and the goal chart appears. Not only does it present you with a chart of your actual progress with your goal displayed, it also gives you a projection of when you will reach your goal weight based on your current weight gain/loss patterns.

I found this view to be a huge motivational tool. I really wanted to make it to my goal weight before my 46th birthday and I could tell early on how I was doing. At $1.99 Weightbot is a great buy and for me was well worth the money.

How I did
Unfortunately I missed my goal weight of 175lbs by my birthday - I hit it four days later. The results of losing that weight and learning to enjoy exercising had a profound impact on me. I went from a size 38 waist to a size 32 and from XL shirts to mediums. My blood pressure dropped dramatically and just a few days ago was measured at 112/71. I continued to drop weight, leveling out at about 170lbs with a measured body fat percentage of 9.9%.

To my surprise (and my wife’s enormous relief) I stopped snoring after dropping the weight. Apparently I carried half that weight in my face and once it was gone my air passages were much clearer and I could sleep silently.

This wasn’t of course because I spent $1.99 on Weightbot; that was just one tool to help me achieve my goal. If you are interested in losing weight and find that you are goal oriented, consider adding Weightbot to your toolbox.

Speaking of goals - I could use your help
A huge part of my exercise regimen has been my newfound love of cycling. Recently I learned about the Tour de Cure, a bike ride to raise money to find a cure for diabetes. My father is a Type I diabetic and since the ride falls on Father’s Day this year I decided I’d jump in and see if I could help them raise some money. I signed up to do the 100 mile “century” ride, my first attempt at that distance.

I’ve been training like a madman lately and am shooting not only to complete it but to do so in less that 6 hours. Would you consider making a donation to the Tour de Cure and sponsoring me on the ride? If so, please click here. All the money goes to the American Diabetes Association and is tax deductible.

Got an iPhone app that is great for helping people keep track of weight loss or exercise performance? Please drop a note in the comments!

Safari 5 Reader - a feature with a direct impact

On a day where the news from Apple focused on the iPhone 4 and new iOS features, the update to Safari 5 was almost an afterthought, so much so that the press release went out a couple of hours before the product itself was even available. Even the first iteration of the Safari page was improperly formatted.

There are a number of updates that went in to Safari 5, not the least of which is improved HTML 5 support. Though performance is reportedly better I have been unable to detect any improvement; benchmarking would be required to see it. The big user oriented feature that's been added is Reader, a view of certain web pages that eliminates all distractions (ads and visual distractions) that draw away from the material you want to read.

When viewing a web page that Safari determines contains an article, a Reader "button" appears in Safari's address bar:

Clicking that will present the web page in a simple, large scale Times font. Images embedded in the article are often included and if the article has a multi-page footer for navigating Reader will suck in all the pages, presenting you with a single, simply formatted view.

I tried this out on a number of different blogs and news sites and the results were great. Not only was it easier to focus on the content of the article it also allows me to print or e-mail the content to someone using that view.

I for one can't stand those animated ads with people dancing around or the bouncing balls trying to get me to see how low a bank's interest rate is. It's great to have a nicely done feature that allows me to pull out the meat of the content and I anticipate Reader will get a lot of use.

Can Reader change how sites are presented?
While add-ons like AdBlock for Firefox have supported this basic capability for many years, this is the first time a major web browser has presented this as a front and center feature. It will move the blocking of ads from a niche area leveraged by the technical minority to one used by a much larger percentage, especially if Internet Explorer and Firefox follow up with a similar feature.

The interesting part about all of this is how it will impact the economics of the web. Many of the more popular web sites support their content through ad revenues, many on an impression model. When a person visits a site the web server will still count the ad as an impression. Initially this means that web sites that depend on ad revenue will not see a decrease in impressions so they'll be safe. Just not for long.

Over time advertisers will see disturbing trends: while they are getting the same number of impressions as before, the conversion rates will begin to decline. Business models that count on revenues from ads with distracting content will struggle to survive.

In many ways this is no different than the popup wars of the last 10+ years. You may remember when not too long ago a visit to some web sites meant 2-3 popup browser windows appearing. Web browsers have all gotten significantly better at blocking popups and as a result most reputable web sites don't even bother trying to put them up.

If Reader becomes a big hit—which I believe it will—it may actually drive the design of many web sites. If a web site wants to maintain an advertising model they will need to present their content in such a way that a user doesn't quickly reach for the Reader button.

This of course won't happen overnight; it will take years before these changes to behavior have a direct impact. Smart folks have a tendency to see where things are headed and plan accordingly. Just a little FYI for those of you that have web sites that depend on ad revenue; those few high-dollar distracting ads you allow may be killing off your web site.

Isn't it ironic?
One of Apple's big pushes on the iPhone / iPad front is to create a highly useable ad supported model for "free" applications called iAd. So basically Apple has said "We think your web sites have a horrible ad model and presentation. We're giving people a way to avoid it". At the same time they are saying "We really know how to advertise. Here's a new way to do it."

At least they are consistent.