Blog Post

How I plan to use Apple’s HealthKit and other fitness-tracking apps to help save my life

I am morbidly obese.

It’s an odd way of phrasing it. Medically, not only am I fat, but, I’m fat enough it could kill me. I’ve written in the past about how Apple products improve my quality of life. This time I’m writing about how I hope Apple products will help save mine.

My battle with weight

I wasn’t always fat. I had a decent metabolism when I was young and I grew up in an age where the only way a kid got around was either on your bike or walking. In college, I went to school in downtown Boston and would usually forgo taking the MBTA and walk the 1.5 miles each way from school to the Back Bay commuter train station.

Once I left school, I started going through life as a sedentary human began. With a combination of no willpower and easy access to unhealthy food, I began ballooning. It didn’t help that in high school I lived in the weight room and was burning a ton of calories every day. I never needed to track what I ate, and never adjusted my dietary intake once I stopped working out.

About 10 years ago, I undertook a serious effort to lose weight. I made complete dietary changes, started exercising on a regular basis, and lost about 90 pounds. I hit my goal weight on Weight Watchers.

Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi speaks during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi speaks during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference at the Moscone West center on June 2, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I then gained it all back. Plus a little more.

My weight is something I need to deal with, soon. I’m not getting younger, and statistics for overweight men in their 50s (I’m close to 50) are grim. If I don’t lose the weight, it will likely kill me.

You would think the increased risks of heart attack or diabetes would inspire me to get my act in gear but you would be wrong. I am addicted to food. Good food, crappy food, any types of food. I eat when I am happy. I eat when I am sad. I eat when I am bored.

The tools to succeed

Having lost almost a hundred pounds a decade ago, I know the methods for successful weight loss: track every morsel you put in your mouth, and track every minute of exercise accurately.

The Weight Watchers point system was very effective, but I can’t afford Weight Watchers this time around. The good news? I don’t have to.

Calorie and exercise tracking apps are all over the App Store. They are a lot easier than tracking how many points something is in a system. I can just scan in the barcode or look through a database and the information will be populated. Phones have GPS and step counters to track how much exercise I get and the Apple Watch can help with overall fitness goals.

The eating apps:
There are two apps I am using to track my eating: My Fitness Pal and Lifesum. Note: due the HealthKit bug, these apps may not be available on the app store right now.

Right now, I prefer Lifesum for the simple reason that the graphics are better. It shows a circular chart that fills up as I eat food during the day, and breaks down quickly the percentage of my diet that is carbs, protein, and fat. It goes into red if I’ve eaten too much.

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The exercise tracking apps
There are two main sources of exercise data: Runkeeper, and the mobility chip in my forthcoming iPhone 6 Plus. My iPhone is just an iPhone 5 so it doesn’t have the M7 motion co-processor.

That Apple Watch thing
I still stand by my pre-event thoughts on the Apple Watch: at $349, it doesn’t solve any problems I have right now and I will likely pass on the first version.

The only thing that may change that is the health tracking stuff. Some of the exercises I want to do aren’t necessarily going to be measured by the M8 chip. With an accelerometer that tracks total body movement, I’m hoping sit ups other calisthenics will now be easily trackable.

Healthkit to tie it all together

When HealthKit was announced at WWDC 2014 I became intrigued. My day job is a clinical systems analyst; I spend a lot of my day analyzing data of some sort. If there’s anything that will get me motivated, it’s statistics about how many steps I took, how many flights of stairs I climbed, how far the walk out to my car is and the like.

While HealthKit is delayed, I did get lucky and get a few apps upgraded before they got pulled. It’s clearly buggy. Some of my calories are showing up at intermittent periods. I wasn’t able to get Runkeeper updated (assuming it ever went live) so none of my workouts show up.

What will be great is when all of this data shows up in one Health.app dashboard. One of the challenges I have now is disparate data stored in different apps and no easy way to track some of the data. I also look forward to the M8 chip tracking a lot of data I won’t have to worry about taking a long walk and forgetting to launch Runkeeper.

Final Thoughts

While I hope these tools will aid me in my weight loss, they aren’t a substitute for hard work, eating right, and getting off my lazy butt and exercising.

However, these tools will remove the temptation to put in my tracker I ate less than I really did, or say I took a longer walk than I did because my tools are tracking a lot of that data accurately. For someone that is as data-driven as I am, I am optimistic I will be successful again.

I don’t want to die.

13 Responses to “How I plan to use Apple’s HealthKit and other fitness-tracking apps to help save my life”

  1. While you are expanding your library, consider “Health At Every Size” by Dr Linda Bacon. I agree with newgirl2033 that different options work for different people — Health At Every Size (HAES) presents a paradigm shift that offers a different, evidence-based approach to finding health and wellness. Good luck!

  2. I love how people who aren’t doctors make proclamations about food science, while every Joe Shmoe thinks they know what works and what doesn’t for a health regimen, despite not having a PhD in psychology.

    If it works for you, keep it up. If it doesn’t, try something else. Calorie counting DOES work if done accurately. I’m inclined to think fad diets work by incidentally restricting calories, but what do I know? All I know is, as an athlete, tracking not only calories but hydration and nutrients is key. And, again speaking for myself, HealthKit/Health App and possibly the Apple Watch will make that easier.

    Good luck, have fun… and don’t die.

  3. If you are looking towards technology you will likely fail.

    Discipline, exercise and eat well is all about you, not fancy gadgets and software.

    The time will come when temptation rares its ugly head, you need strength to say no to a bad meal, yes to going to exercise.

    You may need to change the company you keep if they are no help you meet your goals.

  4. Alex Villa

    I absolutely agree, Gary Taubes book “Why We Get Fat” changed my life. I’d been trying to loose weight for twenty-five years and could never stick to a diet. But after switching to eating healthy fats and low carb, I’ve lost 45lbs and been able to keep it off for two years. My blood pressure is lower then it’s ever been, and I haven’t felt this well since my twenties.

  5. John Burridge

    I echo the Taubes recommendation! If you don’t want to read his book just yet, maybe check out his New York Times article called “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?”. Maybe then check out Taubes on Youtube if you don’t have time to read it. Low-fat/Excercise paradigm is broken. I’ve had success and then failure on Weight Watchers, success and failure on low-carb, but getting back into low-carb because the science is just so damn good.

  6. nutritionmuscle

    Can’t afford weight watchers so user the new iPhone plus and watch? Think that shows level of commitment. Been where you are and have kept off the extra 200 lbs. Take effort and self control. Not an iPhone. Get apples not Apple.

  7. cumiastowski

    Mark – we don’t want you to die either! Science proves that counting calories is not the best approach. The one that works for people in your situation is to dramatically cut down on grains and sugar. Add back healthy fats. This is the single most important change you can make. Track it if you wish, but all you need to do is this, plus eat only when actually hungry. Suggested reading is “why we get fat ” by Gary Taubes.

    • This is actually not true — it’s faddish to think as much, but in fact, the metabolically controlled studies (ie inputs and outputs fully tracked vs self-reported) establish energy balance as the key.

      I recommend skipping Taubes, and reading Anthony Colpo’s “Fat Loss Bible” for tons of references on these studies. Also, Tom Venuto’s “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle” is a great hands-on guide to making lasting health and physique changes.