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How I plan to lose 20 pounds, Part 1: The Social & App Strategy

Twenty pounds in five months doesn’t sound like a super-aggressive goal, but the most I’ve lost in the past is 10, after which I encountered those confounding plateau challenges everyone talks about. Somewhere at the 10-pound point, I’m going to hit a wall on the Cooking Light Food-Lover’s Social Diet—this I know.

Genetically, the odds aren’t with me, either. For one thing, every male in my immediate family is somewhat to dramatically apple-shaped, with funny torsos perched on skinny legs. For another, I eat pretty evenly—no chocolate addictions, no binges—and I exercise regularly. With one exception, there is not a lot of low-hanging fruit in my diet. (The exception is my cocktail predilection; more on that another time.) So I have to attack the problem of eating less the way we approach eating in general at the magazine: portion control, mindfulness, and even more plants and whole grains than I already eat.

The math is simple: fewer calories in. But to this simple goal I intend to bring complicated weapons, rituals, and assets: two apps, this blog, related tweeting, the Board of Advisors, and an audience of several million to keep me honest.

Yes, it’s a project. Guys, as the Board of Advisors (who are women) rolled their eyes and noted the other day, like projects. We erect complicated structures to achieve simple things. (“Wouldn’t it be easier to just join Weight Watchers?” Of course! That’s why I won’t do it; plus, I’m shy.)

This MyFitnessPal screenshot shows my weekly calories consumed.
Another MyFitnessPal screenshot displaying my daily diet diary.

I need (and most people who try to lose weight need) the feedback loop of a food diary. That comes courtesy of App #1: MyFitnessPal (a free app that I’ve experimented with before). It allows me to easily journal what I eat, with a daily goal of 1,550 calories (the app says I’ll lose a pound a week at that level, or 20 pounds in five months). That’s a low calorie count, but the app adjusts the allowance based on exercise.

How does it do that? Well, exercise is monitored by App #2, called UP. The UP app is free, but it requires a nifty $129 wristband pedometer, meaning the app actually costs $129. (Full disclosure: I bought one and liked it, and now the Jawbone company, which makes the wristband, has supplied five more to the Board of Advisors so we can group-test it.) When I take the bracelet off and plug it into my iPhone, UP talks to MyFitnessPal, and vice versa. It tells the food diary the calories I burn exercising, which then induces MyFitnessPal to increase my food allowance. Nifty, yes?

UP Sleep and Activity report

A few minutes ago, for example, I synced the UP bracelet and was “given” an extra 120 calories because I had taken a long walk in the country. You can calibrate the bracelet, but how accurate the math actually is is not really the point: The simple fact of food journaling lowers consumption (for me, anyway), and the incentive of a 10,000-step-per-day fitness goal, with its calorie bonuses, keeps me running and walking.

Is this approach silly? Is it overcomplicated? No doubt some will say yes. If the real goal is a holistic, adjusted approach to eating that can be sustained for the rest of my life without turning me into a permanent neurotic record-keeping calorie bore, should I even be using these crutches?

Well, the alternative is just too daunting. If I don’t count what I eat, I’ll lose motivation before I lose weight. I want to get my portions in check, get the weight off, and then see if I have internalized the behavior enough to shed the tech.

Would you like to join our weight loss project? Set goals, share ups and downs, and let us know what works for you.  Comment here, email @ Scott_Mowbray@timeinc.com, and tweet @ScottMowb or @Cooking_Light using #SocialDiet.