Anyone who has ever struggled to get off the couch and hit the gym knows it’s much harder to pull a no-show when someone—a friend, a trainer—is waiting to meet you there. It’s called accountability and for some people who are looking to shed excess pounds or shape up, it can give them the edge they need to reach their goal.
Studies show that using tools to hold yourself accountable, such as keeping a food journal or working out with a buddy, help people successfully stick to a weight loss plan or exercise routine. And the Internet has only made it easier to stay on track. A 2010 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research looked at a web-based weight maintenance intervention program and found that the more frequently people logged onto weight loss sites, the more pounds they shed. In the study, users who went online and recorded their weight at least once a month for 24 months maintained the highest amount of weight loss—an average of nine pounds—compared to those who went online at least once a month for 14 months and kept off five pounds on average. Those who logged on less often maintained an average weight loss of a mere three pounds.
But not all experts agree that accountability is the best way to meet a weight-loss goal. “The problem with accountability is that in order to turn your goal into something that you can hold yourself accountable for, you almost always have to focus on an outcome rather than a process,” notes Art Markman, Ph.D., YouBeauty Psychology Advisor “Successful weight loss means both losing weight and also maintaining that weight. In order to do that successfully, you have to make significant and sustainable changes to your lifestyle. You have to eat differently in a way that you can continue even after you reach your target weight. And you have to add regular exercise into the routine.”
Adds Markman, “you're better off focusing on creating healthy habits that are sustainable. The focus should always be on process rather than outcome.”
Although Edward Abramson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of "It's Not Just Baby Fat: 10 Steps to Help Your Child" to a Healthy Weight, agrees that accountability isn’t a foolproof weight loss tool, he says it can help you stay motivated by providing social support to get you through the rough patches, such as when that pint of ice cream is calling your name. “Motivation is really the key, given that weight loss is effortful and that you don’t always see immediate benefits,” says Dr. Abramson. “Often social support is a great motivator—someone who will be supportive and encouraging—and can be very useful in maintaining healthy eating habits and exercise.”
If you’re looking to lose five pounds or run for longer than five minutes without getting winded, check out these high tech ways to help you reach your weight-loss and fitness goals:
* The Eatery. This new app (available on iTunes) lets you take a photo of your food, rate it and share the information with other people also using the app or your friends on Facebook to get their feedback (they can rate your meals from “fit” to “fat”). The point? Sharing what you’re eating may make you more likely to think twice before diving into that mac ‘n’ cheese over a healthy salad. What’s more, you’ll be able to track your food trends, such as you’re more likely to reach for a donut at 3p.m. every day (try taking a walk instead), and become more aware of what you are eating so that you can change your behavior and choose healthier foods.
* The Withings Wifi Body Scale. The scale measures your weight, BMI, lean and fat mass and transfers the information to your smartphone or computer so you can keep track of your progress (or if you’re falling into old, bad habits). To raise the accountability stakes, the scale even lets you Tweet your weight so you can share it with anyone following you on Twitter, if you feel so bold. Talk about accountability!
* The BodyMedia Fit system. The BodyMedia Fit system includes an armband that’s worn day and night, which automatically clocks the calories you burn during daily activities—from running on the treadmill to running errands—and monitors your quality of sleep, which is another key factor in successful weight loss. Although wearing an armband 24 hours a day may not be the most convenient thing, this may make it all worth it: The BodyMedia Fit system boasts that users can lose up to three times the amount of weight compared to people trying to shed excess pounds on their own.
* Lose It! The free app (available on iTunes and the Lose It! website) is your virtual food and exercise journal, helping you monitor what you eat and how often you break a sweat. Based on your personal information, Lose It! calculates how many calories you should be eating daily. As you log in your food intake, it deducts calories from your total daily “budget.” The app lets you share how many pounds you’ve lost as well as your weight loss and fitness goals with friends to help you stay motivated. It will even remind you when you forget to log your meals. The result? The average Lose It! user drops more than 12 pounds.
* iMapMyFitness+. Whether you’re into biking or running, you can easily set goals and measure your progress with this fitness tracking app. Thanks to its GPS technology, iMapMyFitness+ easily tracks your time, distance, speed and pace on an interactive map when running or cycling. You can also email or Tweet your workout data to fitness buddies, friends and family.
* SocialGym. This straight-forward app helps you track your cardio and strength training workouts (from walking on the treadmill to biceps curls), chart your progress and share your workouts with your friends on Facebook to garner positive feedback to keep you going.
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