fat loss

Study: Activity trackers not effective tools for weight loss

Technology is amazing. I use it every day to find the latest health and fitness news. I use it to coach my clients, interacting with them via Precision Nutrition's ProCoach platform and viewing their customized workout programs on FunctionalMovement.com.

Some of my favorite stories I've reported during the past decade as an NBA journalist involved teams' growing reliance on technology to improve player performance and prevent injury -- such as this piece on the Golden State Warriors' use of wearable technology and this one on the importance of sleep.

Wearable technology is omnipresent in the fitness industry. From Garmins to Fitbits to Apple watches and Jawbones, it's become a cool trend for everyone to know exactly how many calories they're burning each day.

The only problem is, activity trackers may not help with weight loss. In fact, according to a new study at the University of Pittsburgh, people wearing activity trackers lost about half as much weight in a 24-month randomized trial than those who weren't wearing them.

How could this be?

First, let's take a look at the study led by John Jakicic, chairman of Pitt's Department of Health and Physical Activity and published last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The study followed 470 people ages 18-35 with a body-mass index between 25 and 39. All participants were placed on low-calorie diets and were prescribed increases in physical activity as well as group-counseling sessions on health and nutrition. 

After the first six months, participants were divided into two groups. One continued receiving monthly health counseling, while the other received a wearable device to monitor diet and physical activity.

The results? Those who utilized wearable activity trackers lost 7.7 pounds on average, compared to 13 pounds for those who only participated in behavior-based health counseling.

"While usage of wearable devices is currently a popular method to track physical activity -- steps taken per day or calories burned during a workout -- our findings show that adding them to behavioral counseling for weight loss that includes physical activity and reduced calorie intake does not improve weight loss or physical activity engagement," Jakicic said. 

Having coached nutrition clients who like to rely on wearable devices, I have a couple of theories for why this happened. First, whether you're counting calories in or calories out, calculating energy balance is a risky, error-prone undertaking. Specifically, as illustrated in this infographic from Precision Nutrition, consumer fitness trackers are off by as much as 30 percent when it comes to measuring calorie expenditure. Due to other factors, such as genetics, sleep, hormones and the macronutrient breakdown of your food intake (protein requires more energy to digest than carbs and fats), you could be looking at as much as a 25 percent error in measuring your energy balance.

I have encountered clients who use activity trackers and sync them with My Fitness Pal, thinking the more closely they monitor their energy balance, the more successful they will be at losing weight. In addition to how imprecise and error-prone calorie counting is, there's another problem: When people see the massive amount of calories they supposedly just burned in a given workout, they often view it as a license to pig out with a huge meal. In fact, you can set apps like My Fitness Pal to tell you how many extra calories you've supposedly earned that day.

If you're trying to lose weight and/or fat, not a good idea.

As the study shows, the most effective path to consistent and sustainable weight loss is a behavior-driven approach that includes learning how to make better food choices without apps, spreadsheets, scales and error-prone calorie counting. 

"While usage of wearable devices is currently a popular method to track physical activity ... these devices should not be relied upon as tools for weight management in place of effective behavioral counseling for physical activity and diet," Jakicic said.

Would you like to learn more about how we coach our clients to sustainable weight loss using a proven curriculum that focus on behavior and lifestyle change instead of gimmicks, extreme diets and fads? Let us know how we can help.



For real change, skills instead of extremes

When a basketball player wants to become a better perimeter shooter, he or she gets in the gym and practices shooting technique. 

When a baseball player wants to improve his batting average, he goes to the batting cage and practices hitting.

So when people want to improve their body composition -- add lean mass, lose fat, feel and look better -- why do they try to do a whole bunch of things that have nothing to do with achieving those goals?

Whether it's loading up on supplements, following an extreme exercise program or restricting food intake to the point of dizziness and deprivation, these strategies may work for a while. But once the unsustainable practices run their course, it's right back to the old way of doing things.

The way that wasn't working.

And guess what? The weight comes right back and the lean mass disappears ... often, with interest.

There's a different way. That's why at Max Velocity Fitness + Performance, we follow the Precision Nutrition approach to weight loss, muscle gain and performance enhancement. Just like improving in a sport, we focus on habits, practices and skills that lay the foundation for healthy living. 

Think about it: Could you become a better drummer by taking guitar lessons? Of course not. So why would anyone think they could become more consistent with healthy eating habits without learning the most fundamental skills involved in it -- such as appetite and hunger awareness?

As you can see in this infographic from PN, breaking down your goals into a series of simple, sequential and strategic skills is much more effective than going "all-in" with a series of unsustainable diets, fads and extreme exercise regimens. If you want to get better at something, you have to practice the skills that will make you better at it.

It sounds obvious. Sadly, it isn't. If you feel that you've wasted too much time on flawed strategies for weight loss -- strategies that involve extremes and fads instead of the cumulative acquisition of skills that bring you closer to your goals -- you're not alone.

And it doesn't have to be that way.

Would you like to learn more about how we incorporate Precision Nutrition's proven system into our training programs -- and how we use a proven strategy and curriculum to coach real people to real results with nutrition?

Click below to get started.