BodyMedia FIT Weight Management System
by Adam Brown, diaTribe
For many people with diabetes, weight loss is often extremely difficult, especially given that certain diabetes medications like insulin can cause weight gain. As difficult as this process is, success is based on a simple principle: calories expended must exceed calories consumed. Most approaches to weight loss focus on the intake side by employing a calorie-restricted diet. While these are often effective, they typically neglect the other half of the weight loss equation, calories expended. At diaTribe this month, we had the opportunity to test a new consumer product that tracks calories burned on a minute-to-minute basis.
The BodyMedia FIT Weight Management System is astonishingly uncomplicated. The system consists of an armband monitor, an online activity manager, and an optional watch display. The armband monitor is a small, lightweight plastic device fitted into a flexible strap. It is worn on the back of the triceps and, according to the manufacturer, tracks calories burned throughout the day with 90% accuracy. The monitor uses four sensors to determine the number of calories burned, the number of steps taken, the total time spent in physical activity, and sleep duration/efficiency. These sophisticated sensors function by monitoring skin temperature, sweat, motion, and the rate at which heat is dissipating from the user's body. In other words, the BodyMedia FIT system provides a vastly more complete picture of calorie burn, a tremendous improvement from overly simplistic pedometers and heart rate monitors or highly complicated lab calorimetry. The monitor itself simply gathers data, and it must be plugged into a PC or Mac to be recharged (a three-hour charge lasts five to seven days of steady use) and to analyze data.
The final component of the system, and our favorite, is the optional display. Although it looks like an ordinary sports watch, the BodyMedia FIT display is more like a continuous glucose monitor for exercise. The display wirelessly receives information from the armband every minute, displaying calories burned, steps taken, and time spent in activity. With the push of the "View" button," the user can choose to view today's information, yesterday's information, and target goals. The display also features a "trip-o-meter," allowing the user to measure activity (including average per-minute rate of calorie burn) from a given start point. Finally, the display will alarm the wearer when daily goals (e.g., step count, minutes of moderate and vigorous activity) have been reached. In a cool twist, the watch display can be unscrewed from the watchband and clipped to a shirt, bag, or belt loop.
Once it's out of the box, the BodyMedia FIT system is set up on BodyMedia's website, where the user enters parameters such as height, weight, bedtime, wake-up time, recent caloric intake, and weight loss goals into the online activity manager. These data are transferred to the armband monitor (via USB) before the user can wear the monitor and gather any data.
Although at first, I felt like Inspector Gadget wearing my insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor, AND the BodyMedia FIT system, I soon forgot I had the device on. During workouts, the armband was quite comfortable, stable, and unobtrusive. The armband quickly air-dried after workouts, and didn't retain any smells. Over the course of my test drive, I found it quite easy to wear the device for the maximum recommended 23 hours per day. Unfortunately, the armband is not completely waterproof and should not be immersed in water. Thus, I took it off while swimming and showering, but it was more than able to handle the 100+ degree summers of Phoenix.
I loved the ability to receive up-to-the-minute information from the BodyMedia FIT display. I proudly showed my whole family my personal record-setting day of calories burned. I also liked being able to use the trip-o-meter to track activity from a given start point, although I didn't realize the system had this capability until after a week of using the device. During weightlifting workouts where I previously had no idea how many calories I was burning, it was great to finally get a feel for the intensity of my activity.
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