A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Are Your Bits Fit?

I have officially become one of those people who wears a health monitor all the time. And it is addictive.

A few years ago a friend of mine recommended that I start using a metabolic tracker called the Body Bug to ensure that I’m burning more calories every day than I eat. She even offered to loan me hers, so that all I’d have to do is set up an account for myself without paying for the device. Since at the time the company was charging a monthly fee to use their services, I opted not to use it. It wasn’t a high fee, I’m just cheap.

The technology has evolved pretty rapidly since then, as have the costs. The device I purchased (technically Ted purchased for me as a Christmas present) is called a Fitbit Charge HR. It normally retails for around $150.00 and the associated phone APP and web monitoring services for it are included in that one time cost. Ted got mine for a steal because it’s a rebuilt unit. It arrived in as-new condition and works fine, so I have no complaints about it being rebuilt. True it didn’t come with an instruction manual, but its user friendly and I figured things out pretty fast on my own. You can also obtain a copy of the manual somewhere online if you really want one (I wound up not bothering).

Its about the size of a watch.

It has APP software that syncs the device to your smartphone, and also desktop software to sync it to your PC. Everything interacts with everything else, so you can log what you ate for lunch on your smartphone and log dinner on your PC (this is a HUGE improvement over the Daily Plate I’ve been using, whose mobile device software does not communicate with its web version for the PC), and you can check all your stats on either device at any time.

Setting up my account was super easy. It wants all the expected metrics: age, height, weight, gender, fitness goals, etc. You can be “friends” with other users in a very Facebook-like way, but I haven’t bothered with any of that so far.

When the Fitbit is fully charged and you unplug it from the computer, it flashes a message that says “HUG ME” on its little screen, encouraging you to put it on. It does, in fact, make me feel like I want to put it on. Manipulative software!
Note: the USB connector that plugs the Fitbit into a PC to charge is a proprietary shape, so if you lose it you are rather hosed.

The device uses something called a three-dimensional accelerometer to track the movements of the user wearing it. This device can detect when you’re walking, sitting, running, lying down, and climbing flights of stairs. It’s the size of a microchip and situated in a device that looks like a skinny wristwatch. We really do live in a remarkable technological age. It also tracks what your heart rate is doing and beams all this information every few minutes back to home base.

The inside of the unit showing the heart rate monitoring diodes.

The unit has a single button on the side and a very small screen. Tapping the button causes it to scroll through the time, how many steps you’ve taken today, how many miles you’ve traversed, how many calories you’ve burned, how fast your heart is currently beating, and how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed. Holding the button in signals the unit that you’re beginning a deliberate workout period and holding it in again tells that timer to stop.

Meal and water tracking is very easy. The database of foods is huge, it has a bar code scanner that works via your smartphone’s camera, and if you still can’t find the food you’re looking for you can input it manually. You can also set up favorite foods that you eat frequently and meals you eat frequently for quicker tracking. It reminds me a lot of my beloved Daily Plate – just now I can use my smartphone or a PC to track instead of having to sit down at a PC.

I think the most fascinating feature is the sleep tracker. If I wear it while sleeping I can glance at the APP on my smart phone in the morning and get a report on how many hours I slept, how often I woke, and how frequently I was restless. I sometimes call my Fitbit “Santa” because it sees me when I’m sleeping, it knows when I’m awake…

Overall I really love this thing. I thought the band would annoy me while typing but since you wear it situated a bit higher on the wrist (above the wrist bone so that the monitor is flat against your skin) I don’t notice it much. My sole complaint so far is that during my Zumba workout it claimed that I burned around 800 calories (combining the metrics it knows about me, what the accelerometer was reporting back, and what my heart rate was). I find that claim very, very difficult to believe. Usually at my highest impact workout I assume I’ve burned somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 – 500 calories per hour.

However I admit I haven’t yet been hanging out with my Fitbit for a full week yet so I’m willing to give it a chance and see if I’ve been selling myself short for caloric burn. I just don’t want to be tempted to eat more calories because of wild claims of calories used. The scale will tell.


  1. I have one too - most of the reviews I've read say that it tends to skew people's heart rates too low so the calorie burns are not high enough actually. Mine has been pretty dead on but my husband's has been way off but in the high range (meaning it says his HR is like 160 when he knows by counting and timing it to a clock its like 175/180) so his records a lower calorie burn than is actually happening. The point is - in my fitness groups there are many people with your same profile who routinely (as in over a full year of tracking) burn in the 600-700 range for an hour long workout. I myself burn 180-250 calories doing a super crazy intense workout for 25 min - so if you double that it's 360-500 and just based on body types I should burn less calories than you by an order of probably 25% - so all this is to say, I think you are burning that many calories in Zumba or nearly that many. I also love the sleep part - finally I can prove to the world that I am actually AS BAD a sleeper as I always thought I was :) Great job and over more time you'll see it gets more consistent in tracking!