Losing Weight with Fitbit & HealthVault

In early March, I visited the doctor after days of headaches. While nothing was found, he was unhappy with my blood pressure and weight. Should nothing change soon, blood pressure medication would be in my future.

This is how I discovered that my weighing scale was broken and I was 13kg heavier than I had previously believed. It was time to purchase a replacement scale and some kind of exercise tracking device.

So after several days of comparing fitness monitoring products from companies like Garmin, Jawbone, & Withings, I settled on a Fitbit Flex wristband & Fitbit Aria wifi-aware weighing scales which were both compatible with my Microsoft ecosystem (Lumia phone & Surface) and my wife’s iOS equivalents. If one has a modern smartphone with MobileTrack compatibility (such as the Lumia 640 or iPhone 5S) then the Fitbit software does not require a Fitbit device. However, the metrics are better when combined with one.

Losing weight is simple logic – eat less & exercise more. The Fitbit Flex automatically tracks my walking, hiking, or running exercise (& climbing in other models if, unlike me, you live or work in multi-storey buildings or in the mountains). On the other side of the equation, it also provides the facility to log your food intake. Finally, the Aria automatically updates my weight & body fat each time I step on it (and it does recognise different family members).

The Fitbit app allows you to set a goal & select how aggressively you wish to pursue it,  providing four plans  with their daily calorie impact – Easy – 250 , Medium – 500 , Hard – 750 , or Harder – 1,000. You can also create a custom setting. In my case, my doctor’s goal was to lose 18kg in just under 3 months & I needed to pursue the Hardest plan to meet this.

Over the last couple of months, my regime has settled toward eating 2,000 calories and burning 3,500 each day. The burn is achieved by walking more than 11km daily through a combination of 3km walks and Fitbit recommended hourly “250 step” breaks from desk-work. This gave me a 1,500 calorie deficit and an average 0.2kg daily weight loss. And it still allowed me to sneak some chocolate into the program. I learned that doing nothing, I consumed 1.5 calories per minute but walking increased this to 10 calories or more per minute.

So how did it work out over the last 4 months? I have dropped 22.4kg (49 lbs or 3.5 stone) so far. Blood pressure is down from 140/100 to a more reasonable 119/85 yesterday — dropping from regular Stage 1 Hypertension to alternating Normal & High-Normal.

As one gets lighter, it does get harder; all the quick wins come early. I lost 4kg (9lbs) in the first week alone but I was unable to lose 4kg in the 4th month. As one loses weight, one burns less calories just being alive.  In the beginning, I would walk around 8km (5 miles) per day but now I need to walk at least 11km to achieve the same burn rate. This takes 2 hours per day so I may have to switch to more intense activities such as running, cycling, or a return to Aikido to burn more calories in less time. Alternatively, I can simply choose to eat less.

I do feel fitter and my pace is much faster; before, my wife had to slow down on hill climbs to let me catch up whereas now she has to concentrate on keeping up. Father’s day was spent replacing 42″ (107cm) jeans with 38″ (96.5cm) and many belts have been retired. The headaches are gone.

My dog needed and benefited from this regime too; she lost 2kg in the same period despite having the appetite of a small horse. Be warned, the dog slows you down. We learned to retrace a route as she was less distracted on the second lap.

Fitbit does not track Blood Pressure but the Fitbit app does interact with many third party products. I used Microsoft HealthVault for tracking medication and other measurements such as Blood Pressure. Fitbit can be configured to push activity, diet, and weight measurements across to HealthVault.

Finally, I am no cook and diet does play an important role and I definitely benefited from marriage to an expert diet chef who found subtle ways of replacing many foods with more healthy equivalents. Some important changes for me were no added sugar or salt, more fruit, & much more fibre. But, sometimes, the most important decision of the day was choosing to spend the last 70 calories on a Whiskey shot or a digestive biscuit!

So this next section is the view from the the perspective of Alison, my personal Diet Chef ….

So Niall loves food period. He is a wonderful husband for a chef to have. He doesn’t mind if he gets beans on toast or I’m trying out some weird recipes with loads of herbs and spices and he never complains that I don’t like peppers and things he loves.

Niall had a mission. I don’t believe in ‘low fat’ this and am really anti sugar free artificial sweeteners. I believe in real food. The kind that grows and isn’t artificially created. It does not have to be organic it’s great but not necessary, and it can be frozen and it can be fast. Life is fast paced and usually food has to be too. In short what I did was use lean meats, lots of veg in the forms of veg with dinner and soups and in salads. White bread was not totally excluded but more often replaced with whole meal Irish soda bread. Breakfast was muesli or other wholegrain cereal and Niall ate a lot of fruits. Orange juice was often squeezed fresh at home.

Herbs are the most underrated things to liven up boring foods- fresh herbs that is. Processed foods went out the window. There simply were no pizza nights. We discovered the if we broke out and went for a mixed grill of sausages and rashers, we paid for it – we had to walk off calories for days, they just seem to stick around unwanted. Fish is fantastic – it is really low in calories but expensive to buy. Eating out usually had consequences because you can’t control what goes into your food quite as well as making it yourself.

No one ever went hungry. No one felt they were denied anything, but by knowing how many calories you had eaten and how many you had burned during the day you could decide what and how much extra you could have and knowing the data helped control if you would have a glass of wine or some ice cream or both.

Note 1kg = 2.2 lbs , 1st = 14 lbs , 10km = 6.25 miles
1 lb = 3500 calories , 1 kg = 7716 calories
Phones with MobileTrack compatibility – https://www.fitbit.com/eu/devices

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Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a Samsung Omnia 7 connected to Three

I have been trying out the new Mango update on my Samsung Omnia 7 smartphone and wanted to highlight some of my favourite features that come with Windows Phone 7.5. Be aware that this represents a small fraction of the new features.

  • Internet Sharing

This is not always available “out of the box” but needs to be enabled by the operator. A support call to Three.ie (Hutchinson Ireland) did not bode well as I tried to explain this new Mango feature with limited success but a week later I found that the feature was available on my Samsung Omnia 7.

Once enabled, it is beautifully easy to use; just enable the feature, configure the phone as an access point by providing a name (which can be discoverable or not) and a WPA password, and then up to five wifi devices can be connected.

Be aware that some Mango supported phones do not have the Broadcom WiFi chip to support this particular feature.

  • Voice Texting

Mango allows one to listen to text messages and respond to them using your voice. You can configure the circumstances (when using Bluetooth, headphones, or always) that this feature kicks in. When enabled, the phone tells you of an incoming text and asks whether you would like the text read to you or ignore it. After reading the message, the phone asks whether you wish to dictate a response.

While I have not responded using the voice feature, when listening to music or a podcast, I appreciate the way the music/podcast quietens & you are informed that a text message has arrived and given the choice to listen to or ignore the message. On completion, the previous audio session resumes seamlessly. And all this is achieved without pressing a button.

  • Zune Integration

Not a hugely important feature but a favourite of mine; regardless of whether you synchronise your Phone with Zune on the PC while connected directly via USB or remotely via WiFi. If you are listening to audio on the phone, this is no longer interrupted when synchronising.

The bigger feature is that one can subscribe to podcasts directly on the phone without needing a PC. This is probably very important in countries where smartphone user does not have access to PCs  but it was far less useful to me. I did try it out but found that it tried to download previous podcasts providing me with little control over which ones were a priority.

For more on the new features included in Mango, visit the Microsoft web link on what’s new in Windows Phone 7.5

WP7 Mango arrives for Samsung Omnia 7 on Three network

I spent the last couple of days trying to figure out how to get the Windows Phone 7 Mango update for my Samsung Omnia 7 on the Three (Hutchinson Ireland) network without much success.

However, the effort was irrelevant when my Zune PC software announced the arrival of this latest update a few minutes ago after syncing the phone.

This update was without that drama of an earlier 7392 patch last May that caused many an Omnia 7 to reboot endlessly. There were a number of reboots & updates throughout the process (step 7 took the longest). Allow about an hour for the whole process.

If you have not yet received this latest update, details of the US and International rollout schedules are posted on Microsoft Windows Phone website. Furthermore, you can get a summary of just some of the 500+ new features added to WP7 by visit this Windows Phone website – with tethering, improved calendar & multitaksing being of most interest to me.

One wonders whether the rollout was more aggressive than normal with the imminent arrival of the iPhone 5 in the next few days.

Samsung Omnia 7 hangs on reboot while getting the 7.0.7392.0 patch for Windows Phone 7

The latest update for the Windows Phone 7 appeared yesterday (May 17th, 2011) when I docked my Samsung Omnia 7 to my Samsung Netbook NC10 to get the latest podcasts via Zune. This update was predominantly a security update to protect against some third party web vulnerabilities. An article on the update can be found at http://www.redmondpie.com/windows-phone-7-7392-firmware-update-being-rolled-out/

However, the process appeared to hang on reboot. The phone would not get passed the “Samsung Omnia 7” start up screen no matter how long I left it. If I took out the battery and replaced it, my phone would start as normal but every attempt at the update failed. I eventually gave up and got on with my working day.

However, a quick internet search this evening came up with a Microsoft Knowledge Base article published yesterday at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2547687.

I followed the procedure described and was able to complete the patch update without further issues.

This is the first time that I have had a problem with a Windows Phone 7 update but all is well in the world again!

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