Fitbit: Using the Web to Lose Weight and Stay Fit

Many of us use the web as a tool, as a form of entertainment, as a news source. Besides being connected to the internet, those three things all share one thing in common: sitting. Much of the world has grown more and more obese with each passing year, and many are pointing –rightly– at our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Thankfully, the same system that encouraged our slothfulness is also going to be able to drive a different, better cause: our health. One of the most complete web apps I’ve found for getting in-shape is Fitbit, an established website with an excellent offering.

Will Fitbit help you lose weight? Read on to find out.

Getting Started

Setting the app up is simple enough; just an email address will get you in, as there’s no charge for the company’s standard profile. After you’re in the app will ask you for your height and weight to make sure they can get accurate calorie counts and BMI calculations.

After plugging my data into the app I checked the rest of the site out; everything is immediately clickable, as Fitbit sports a fantastic and inviting interface. The site sports just the right amount of fluff to make you interested in your stats without adding an undue amount of visual weight.

Where the app doesn’t stay lean is with features. Fitbit wants to be your personal fitness hub, and does a good job of providing the right tools for you to meet your own goals.

Dashboard

Your main point of interaction with the app is the Dashboard. Here you will find your goals and how close you are to meeting them, as defined by you at the beginning of the app.

Get used to seeing those nice, amazingly colored buttons.

Get used to seeing those nice, amazingly colored buttons.

I set myself on a ‘Medium’ intensity routine for my personal goal of losing twenty-five pounds. The app set milestones for each day, including 10,000 steps taken, a certain amount of calories eaten, and another number of calories to burn. You can also monitor your sleep habits if you would like, and keep a journal of how you felt on a certain day.

And that was all this morning!

And that was all this morning!

At the Dashboard you can view all of this and more easily and efficiently. I have no complaints about this view; it serves its purpose–being a landing page–well and functionally. The graphs are well designed, and information is presented in a manner that is decipherable by anyone.

Activity

By far the most important part of any fitness regimen is the amount of activity that you manage to squeeze into your day, around your marathon gaming sessions and compulsive RSS-feed checking.

Those are just the 'Ca' results. I'm pretty sure everything is in there.

Those are just the 'Ca' results. I'm pretty sure everything is in there.

Activity is added through its own dedicated view, and adding something is as easy as searching for it and filling in the blanks. There are many things in there that I didn’t think would be present, like writing, or distinctions made that I hadn’t thought of, like the change in calories burned working a heavy job and working a relatively light job (running a register, bartending, etc.). I can’t attest to how accurate the calculations are, but I have faith in the system and I’m sure I would have found something negative about the site in my research.

The sliding meter that monitors how much you've walked.

The sliding meter that monitors how much you've walked.

The most important activity in Fitbit’s eyes is walking. They set specific milestones for steps taken and place a specific emphasis on walking. I’m sure that this is for two reasons, one good and one self-serving. The good reason would have to be the fact that everyone (relatively; I understand that there are many people with disabilities) can walk, and by making a relatively small change–walking more–you can find yourself stepping into a more healthy, active lifestyle. The self-serving reason would probably be to sell the Fitbit Ultra, a wireless step monitor that I’ll discuss further down below.

Of course, you can’t only look at one side of the coin; if you’re going to measure the calories that you’re working off during the day, you’ll also have to measure the calories that you’re bringing in. Luckily, Fitbit offers a comprehensive method of tracking that aspect as well.

Food

Any fitness plan is going to have to address what you’re eating at some point, whether you’re speaking to a doctor or just looking for general tips (a disclaimer: consult your local physician before beginning any fitness regimen, as AppStorm and Fitbit are not experts and don’t know your particular situation. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…). Fitbit allows you to monitor what you’ve brought in, and will provide a ‘zone’ of ideal calories based on the plan you selected at the start.

I eat a lot of pizza.

I eat a lot of pizza.

Unfortunately, despite a robust offering, Fitbit falls flat at times with its food tracking. Many times searching for a food will either bring up no options or too many options, and of those many are from specific restaurants instead of general guides. This is useful if you’re eating out consistently or eating a food that only has one entry, but can be puzzling when ‘Yogurt’ returns many hits and none can agree on a serving size or calorie amount.

On the bright side, it is possible to add your own foods. While I doubt that many of you would go to scientific lengths to find the exact calorie count for what you’ve eaten, many foods will have to include dietary information on them. This makes it easier to add up your ingredients and make an educated guess as to the number of calories inside, instead of choosing an arbritrary number. At least a few times I’ve pretended that I ate out somewhere that I didn’t, giving me less-than-desirable accuracy where before I had no clue what I had eaten.

Despite its limitations so far as calorie count is concerned, Fitbit will give you an overall idea of how you’re eating. It’s been my experience that I secretly knew whether or not certain foods were to be considered ‘healthy’, and by plugging it into the service I was able to have the psychological advantage of seeing it right in front of me.

The Fitbit Ultra and Tracking Sleep

And yes, it does come in blue, for those of you that were worried.

And yes, it does come in blue, for those of you that were worried.

One of the main products that Fitbit is selling is its Fitbit Ultra, a fitness device (really, essentially a pedometer) that will upload your steps taken when you’re relatively still ten to fifteen feet away from the base station. I’ve been using one for the past few days and I believe that the step count is mostly accurate, but whether it’s worth that $100 price will be up to you.

I'm, uh...I'm not proud of that.

I'm, uh...I'm not proud of that.

Where the service gets interesting is tracking your sleep. The only really useful way to do this is with the Fitbit Ultra (clipped to a provided bracelet) as otherwise you’re simply guessing at the amount of sleep that you got. These statistics are interesting and may help you change your habits, but they aren’t an essential part of the service.

Fitbit Premium

Of course, there’s also a premium version of the web app. Fitbit Premium has a virtual ‘personal trainer’ and gives you a more detailed view of your activity for $50/year. All of the features can be demoed before you make the purchase, and I would think heavily before investing.

It could be worth it, if you really want that extra data.

It could be worth it, if you really want that extra data.

If anything the Fitbit Ultra and Premium Membership may be worth purchasing just to support the company. Their free service is really thorough and useful, offering some excellent functionality free of charge.

Conclusion

If you’ve been wanting to lose weight, or just to get an overall view of your health from a strict, by-the-numbers graph or you’ve wanted to use a gorgeous web app (and iPhone app) to meet weight goals, Fitbit is the service that I would use.

I’d love to see some improvements, but since starting with the service I’ve lost enough weight in such a short amount of time that the benefits to creating a (free) account are clear.


Summary

Fitbit's website is designed to help you track your activity, food intake, and sleep so you can make decisions about living a healthier lifestyle.

  • Fitbit  | 
  • Free (with a $49.99/year Premium option)  | 
  • Fitbit
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  • Sebastiaan

    I was reading this article and it occurred to me that somehow they were pushing walking and steps in particular VERY hard. I was just waiting for some sort of push for a stepcounter. And then there it was, in the form of a 100 Dollar stepcounter.

    If you really want to lose weight, do some research on what you eat (and why !) and get yourself on a healthy diet. Walking is NOT going to make you lean and cut if you stuff your face all day long. Neither will climbing 2 stairs a day or tracking your sleep.

    I know i’m probably coming off a little harsh but hopefully it’ll wake someone up.

    • Nathaniel Mott

      I mentioned this in the review. I don’t think that it’s necessarily ONLY about selling their wireless tracker, but I’m sure that that’s part of it. The service does allow you to monitor what you eat and will open many people’s eyes to how many calories they’re actually consuming in a day.

      I agree with your points, I just think that there’s two sides to this. Used properly, this app can lead to significant changes (as it has with me) and help you get fit. If they want to promote their product in their otherwise free app, I say that that’s a small price to pay for everything that they’re offering.

  • Stephen Bement

    I have a question, and I have looked everywhere for the answer before bothering you. I am currently trying despertly to loose 80 lbs before my daughters wedding (I am conducting the ceremony) and this is one of my gifts to her and your program has become very helpful to me. My question is this. As my weight goes down, do I change my profile weight (weekly) so my required or needed calories change as well or do I leave everything as it was when I initally logged onto the program? Seems to me if I weigh less then I should be given less calories a day as well. I don’t know you guys are the pro’s.

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