Losing Weight with Apple Watch
A version of this piece originally appeared on 9to5mac.com.
On New Year's Day last year, I decided to start eating healthy, exercising daily, and filling the Activity Rings on my Apple Watch as a way to get in shape. I broke my New Year's resolution by January 4, but I started again on April 1 and ultimately lost over 50 pounds in 2016. The Apple Watch didn't lose the weight for me—it took a lot of dedication and lifestyle changes—but Apple's wearable has absolutely been an effective motivational coach that has pushed me toward my goal of being more active. Below, I'll share what I've learned along my journey.
Step 1: Exercise with Activity & Workout App
Achieving my weight loss goal didn't happen overnight. Losing the first 10 pounds was the easiest; then it got tougher, but creating a workout routine with the Apple Watch helped dramatically.
The Apple Watch shows your progress toward your daily Move, Exercise, and Stand goals in a visual display called Activity Rings. Move measures how many active calories you've burned based on heart rate and accelerometer data, Exercise reports how many minutes your heart rate has been elevated from an activity as simple as a brisk walk, and Stand tracks whether or not you've stood up and moved around for at least one minute of every hour you're awake.
Move, Exercise, and Stand are represented by three rings that close when you complete a goal. Move is a customizable goal that you can change at any time, Exercise is a fixed 30-minute goal (but you don't have to work out all at once), and Stand is also a fixed goal of 12 hours per day.
Using Activity Rings as a visual indicator of progress throughout each day has been super effective for me. I've tried other fitness trackers before, but nothing has proved as friendly and motivational as the Apple Watch. Part of what made the Apple Watch work for me was that it had appeal outside of activity tracking: it's a nice watch, it has Siri and Apple Pay, and it's closely integrated with the iPhone. I wore mine for about a year before actually taking its fitness tracking features seriously.
Step 2: Track Calories with MyFitnessPal
Reaching my weight loss goal took a combination of both diet and exercise. Food tracking with Apple's HealthKit really helped. Dieting has been much tougher than exercise for me, but I don't think I would be motivated to do one without doing the other. Because I was logging workouts with the Apple Watch and completing my Activity Rings, I felt motivated to improve my diet as well.
“Losing the first 10 pounds was the easiest; then it got tougher, but creating a workout routine with the Apple Watch helped dramatically.”
“Dieting has been much tougher than exercise for me, but I don’t think I would be motivated to do one without doing the other.”
I used MyFitnessPal to log my meals. The app helps you set a daily calorie goal and automatically subtracts calories burned from exercise using data measured by your Apple Watch. If your goal is to consume 2,000 calories per day and you eat 2,300 calories in a day and burn 350 calories from exercise, then you've still hit your goal.
Thanks to HealthKit compatibility, you can share data that you enter into MyFitnessPal with Apple's Health app, which can become a wealth of information as you collect more data.
I've been a junk food addict for 25 years (growing up on Southern cuisine hasn't helped), but in April, I gave up soda and sweet tea for water and unsweetened tea and started drinking my morning coffee black. I also traded snacking and oversized fast food meals for consistent and more considered breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
The trick to dieting for me has been to go easy on myself. I used to eat junk food all the time and occasionally have a healthy meal, but that didn't make me healthy. Now I try to eat better every day and enjoying junk food in moderation doesn't define my diet.
Meal logging sounds like a lot of work, but you probably eat the same foods routinely, which makes the process pretty simple. MyFitnessPal and similar apps also have nice databases of nutritional information for lots of foods. This has helped me be more thoughtful about my eating habits. If I couldn't put a number on my eating habits, I might severely overestimate how much I'm eating and diet all wrong. Instead, I can see when I have room for a Pokémon Go frappe without missing my goal. It's key for me to be able to gauge how much effort I should make without thinking I have to do something unsustainable to be healthier.
Step 3: Weigh In with a Smart Scale
I've also found that weighing regularly has been very motivating. While weighing weekly is usually recommended, I like stepping on a scale daily so I can view the most data and see patterns (up and down but over time way down). I wake up every morning, put on my Apple Watch, weigh in, then use that number to either feel good about my progress or push myself a little more while keeping the big-picture progress in mind. I started with a basic scale and entered data manually each day; then I upgraded a few months ago to a smart scale that adds the data automatically using HealthKit.
Step 4: Build a Streak
I honestly never thought I could lose 50 pounds when I started in April—especially by the end of the year—but using the Apple Watch to build a routine and quantify my effort helped make it possible. Starting a streak in the Activity app especially helped me keep the momentum going.
When my wife and I drove 15 hours to Washington D.C. in August, I decided ahead of time that breaking my streak for a vacation would be fine. We ended up driving overnight both ways and shared driving duties so I was able to complete my Activity Rings during the day without breaking my streak.
While I wouldn't recommend trying too hard to keep a streak going, I have to admit that the effort on those two days pushed me to keep going on days when I didn't actually have an excuse to slow down.
Step 5: Try New Workouts
Exploring new workouts and routines with the Apple Watch has also been a blast. I started out running, but I wasn't good at it and decided it wasn't for me. Apple's Workout app can track elliptical workouts, so I bought a used machine for my home office and made using it my daily exercise. I purchased a bike to add outdoor cycling to my routine just because the Apple Watch supported the workout and I wanted some variety in my routine.
I revisited running a little at a time before it became routine. I started running half a mile at a time (with a rest or two along the way), then graduated to a mile at a time before adding a 5K run every Sunday to my schedule, which is one of the highlights of my week. I tested swim tracking when the Apple Watch Series 2 first launched in September and plan to incorporate swimming into my exercise routine this summer.
Step 6: Share Your Progress
I've also found sharing the experience with others along the way to be beneficial. Apple's Activity Sharing is fun to use with friends and family who use the Apple Watch too. Talking about my goals and progress openly has helped me stay accountable.
I'm still a few pounds away from where I want to be, and I want to explore new workouts and basic muscle-building next. The Apple Watch has helped me gain confidence that I can accomplish my fitness goals in a way that I didn't think was possible before. Going from being inactive to exercising every day can be a challenging transition. After a lot of failed starts in the past, I can now say that exercising feels like an essential part of each day.
Gaming health with easy-to-capture metrics and achievable short- and long-term goals has been an effective approach for me. I would have had no idea where to start without technology as a coach. The Apple Watch has tremendously helped motivate me to change my life for the better, and I'm happier for it today. For anyone embarking on a similar journey with the Apple Watch, best of luck on your goals.
“After a lot of failed starts in the past, I can now say that exercising feels like an essential part of each day.”
Zac’s family photo in December 2014 (top) and December 2016.
Zac weighed 211 on April 1 and 157 on December 31.