May 19 AT 2:27 PM Clark Wimberly 72 Comments

How I lost 100 lbs with Android

If you weren’t aware, Angie and I got married a couple of weeks ago[1]. We had a long engagement (two years), which afforded me plenty of time to work on my pre-wedding goal: weight loss. And it was a tall order- I wanted to hit 200 lbs for the big day, a weight I hadn’t seen the underside of since middle school.

A couple of years ago, at my heaviest, I weighed 305 lbs (if I’m being honest, it could have gone higher- that was just when I quit weighing myself). I was living with my brother, Taylor, and a friend from school and we didn’t have the best eating habits (to say the least). We ate out a lot and when we cooked for ourselves the menu consisted mostly of meat. I’d battled weight since childhood, but living wild with a couple of dudes pushed me over the edge.

In 2008 I moved to Austin to be with Angie and to take a job on the NCsoft web team. Before the year was out, Taylor and I were hatching plans to go full-time on this crazy Android project and he was demanding I order a G1. The rest, they say, is history.

Luckily, with an Android phone, history easily repeats itself. While I can’t exactly write a detailed guide for fool-proof weight loss, I wanted to use this post as an opportunity to thank the developers that created the handful of tools I used to whip myself into wedding shape. On top of plenty of exercise and better health habits from my ever-fit Angie, the following apps played a huge role in my getting more active over the past few years:

CardioTrainer

CardioTrainer was the main GPS-tracking app I used when I bought my bike. For months I used the free version to track my rides, which started embarassingly short. Sometimes I’d barely crack a mile. I’d ride around the neighborhood in circles then run back to my computer to nerdily gaze at the GPS track I’d just generated.

For a few weeks I literally thought there might be something wrong with my bike (brakes rubbing, an untrue tire) based on how quickly my legs were gassing. I had built the bike myself[2], of course, it was a total possibilty I’d mucked that up.

Eventually though, I was packing on 4, 8, even 10 miles during a session and CardioTrainer plotted all of it on a nice map with a sea of interesting data (total distance, top speed, pace, calories burned, etc).

Once I had the hang of things, I upgraded to CardioTrainer Pro, one of the few apps to this day I’ve ever paid ten bucks for. The feature I was really after was the interval training, a function that verbally instructs you to speed up and slow down over a pre-set amount of time. I’d ride over to the school at night and circle the track, alternating between full-blast pedaling and a cool-down pace.

That’s when I realized that those sneaky bastards at WorkSmart Labs had finally tricked me into straight exercise. I wasn’t even analyzing the tracks when I got home- I was doing it simply because I wanted to, because the app had made it enjoyable.

Up that enjoyable vein, WorkSmart Labs has released a plethora of solid fitness-based apps. For a while I was using one of their diet-tracking apps. Recently they’ve announced a weight-loss app. Around the holidays they had Burn the Turkey. This is a team that cares about making health and fitness enjoyable. Their passion shows in the apps they build and the improvements they’ve pushed in the past year or so have been astounding.

 

Endomondo

Shhhh! Don’t tell CardioTrainer- but sometimes I use Endomondo to track my rides, too. I especially like the design and community features of the Endomondo website, where you can add friends and sign up to participate in group challenges. Using the friend system, you can challenge your contacts from Twitter, Google, Facebook, and more. Maybe sometime soon we’ll start an Android and Me mile challenge for some fitness-related prizes.

Initially though, the thing that Endomondo did that caught my eye was integrate with a bluetooth heartrate monitor [3]. I’ve got a friend that is a certified personal trainer and he keeps telling me that along with my cardio, I really need to target specific heart rates. While doing some research one day I stumbled upon Endomondo, which not only offered hardware heart rate monitoring but featured a stark, boxy aesthetic that I sort of dug. I was hooked.

Endomondo has a pro version available, but I haven’t tried it. I don’t feel I’ve even fully explored the features of the free version. Actually, to this day I still have not participated in a group challenge, nor have I taken the plunge and purchased my bluetooth heart rate monitor, so for now we’ll call Endomondo my potential tracker of choice.

 

My Tracks

By this point, you’re probably noticing a pattern. You’re saying, What is this? A list of GPS apps? While it might appear to be headed that way, I find that I use My Tracks for something completely different: wayfaring.

If you’re weren’t already aware, we live in Austin. Which means we’re surround by dozens of amazing parks absolutely ripe for exploring. Using Google My Tracks I can trot out into the middle of unfamiliar territory, roam around like an animal, and when it’s time to leave? My Tracks shows me the way out.

And as if reversing my recorded track to retrace my steps out of the park wasn’t enough nerd-wannabe-explorer fun, My Tracks offers full My Maps integration for saving points and leaving notes directly onto maps for later use. Stumble upon that hidden creek you always have trouble finding? Mark it with a pin.

As far as I know, My Tracks is run by volunteers and Googlers in their 20% time, which means you’ve got a team of folks really dedicated to providing a solid service even if it isn’t their main bag. As a side note, if you’re going to use My Tracks as your primary location device, make sure you’ve got a full battery (seriously, those few moments I spent trying to get out of a park before dark with a dying device almost made me rethink this whole fitness thing).

 

Lose It or Lose it

My list is starting to get a bit wild now, as Lose It or Lose It isn’t technically an app- it’s a web service. But being the super-nerd I am, I went ahead and built my own Android-ready implementation (more on that in a bit).

Lose It or Lose It is a service that lets you bet money against your weight loss plan. For instance, I wagered $100 that I could lose 20 lbs in 10 weeks- a modest bet. To keep you honest, each week you’ve got to weigh in, including a picture of your feet on the scale. Your weigh-ins are immediately emailed to your pre-selected friends for screening and support. If you hit all your weigh-ins and complete your weight loss goals, you get 100% of your wager back. Each week you fall through, you’re assessed a small monetary penalty [4].

To make things even more interesting, the independent developers running the site are active too, sometimes losing their own money back to the community. They even run a blog filled with posts and silly videos about the active members and have been known to randomly send out free stickers and tees. After my flawless victory, they even sent me a free Nerd Merit Badge. I liked the vibe of Lose It or Lose It so much I even wagered on a second stint.

Oh, and the Android implementation? I am such a nerd that I went ahead and built my own mobile interface in absence of an official one from Lose It or Lose It. I used Yahoo Pipes to scrape the desktop page and create my own custom mobile webapp. For fun I had the titles swap out on each load (notable entries include Ladies Love It, Lookin Chubby, and Eat Less Sugar) and set the homescreen icon to be a bag of fat.

Through my twenty weeks with Lose It or Lose It, I was only penalized a total of three times (one of which was during CES in Vegas- that was out of my control!). And what happened to my money? It went right in the pockets of Randy and John, the guys that built the service. A few friends have asked What, they don’t give the money to charity? While that’s a noble thought, I’ve really got no problems supporting clever developers that devised a plan to get me losing weight.

Gowalla

Sigh, another location app? you ask? Not so fast! Gowalla is the only location app on my list that is fully about the destination. Gowalla encourages me to go places that I wouldn’t otherwise go. Sure, sometimes we drive “there” and eat. But just as frequently we drive “there” and walk around for a respectable amount of time. Or go hiking. Or ride bikes.

Even recently the founder proclaimed that they have been looking past the check-in to discover the stories in location, which sounds great to me. I’m not a bar-hopper, I’m after meaningful engagement with new places and people.

For a lot of users there’s long since been an argument over Gowalla or Foursquare- Foursquare or Gowalla? It was an easy choice for me for two reasons. I live in Austin and I appreciate quality.

The team that makes Gowalla is here in Austin and I’ve met a number of them many times. They are good peoples. And the product? Forget about it! Over the past year they’ve consistently pushed updates and tweaked features that make both the designer and UI/UX nerd inside of me squeal with delight.

I’ve been using Gowalla back since they only had a web client. Since the release of the native client, I’ve been treated to the release of Trips (like this one I made at McKinney Falls State Park), user photos streams (for capturing gold like this), and even actual prizes for check-ins. Seriously, I’ve won multiple real-world prizes from using Gowalla [5].

I used to tell people I used Gowalla to help locate other friends that potentially might be in or around the same areas. That’s totally still true, but I’ve also come to realize that lots of times I find myself pulling out my phone specifically to grab the shiny icon or pin available only through checking in. Or riding my bike to an extra stop in hopes of finding an extra item. And when I’m done, my entire history is stored in an awesome passport online for easy viewing and reminiscing.

 

Yes, those are my feet, or: Success!

With just a few days to spare before the wedding, I was finally able to dip under 200 lbs! Along with the weight, over the months I’ve also dropped enough sizes to warrant virtually an entire new wardrobe. None of my clothes really fit anymore. But this time it was a good thing! At my wedding I even wore pants with a cut defined as slim fit, a far cry from anything I ever would’ve tried on back in my husky days.

So what’s next? My eventual permanent goal weight is 180 lbs, so I’ve still got a fair bit of work to do. I think the next thing I’ll be trying is moving beyond fitness apps into fitness-specific hardware.

Earlier I mentioned a bluetooth heart rate monitor, but over the past few weeks I’ve really had my eye on a BodyMedia armband or the FitBit. These tools provide a hardware and software solution for tracking all sorts of things from steps taken to calories burned to sleep quality. I’ve also taken a look at grabbing a smart scale from Withings, which can automatically track my weight over time just by stepping on the scale. Anything that removes a step of logging sounds like a total win to me!

On top of even further enhanced tracking, I’m in the early stages of shopping for a new bike, something I’m totally stoked on. When I bought my current bike, I went for a budget model (for me, at least), promising myself that if I was actually able to wear it out that I’d treat myself to something a bit more kickass. Well, hundreds of miles and a rickety budget bike later, I’m finally taking the plunge and ordering myself something that can really go.

So what’s your plan?

Another one of the huge wins of weight loss in the digital age is being able to find support and instruction online. I’m writing this article hopefully to encourage people to get active, but also in attempts at gathering some new tips. What have you guys been doing with Android to stay active? Are there some crazy fun apps I don’t know about yet? A certain exercise that blends perfectly with technology? I want to hear about it!

For years I had told myself that eventually I’d get in shape. And for years, that’s all I did: told myself. I’ve finally had my breakthrough and I just wanted to share. With help from the right people, hard work, and a pocket full of apps you can do pretty much anything.

References

  1. For the record, I totally got the best of that deal.
  2. Purchased from Amazon, delivered overnight for $3.99 with Prime – Victory Touring Cruiser
  3. Specifically, the POLAR WearLink + Bluetooth Transmitter Available on Amazon
  4. My wager was $10/week- $5 for hitting weight and $5 for weighing in at all
  5. Most notably, an Eye-Fi card – http://eye.fi
Clark is a developer living in Austin, Texas. He runs ClarkLab, a small web firm with his wife, Angie. He's a big fan of usability, standards, and clean design.

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