In 11 months, I’ve lost 15 pounds.
In three months, Steve Brown lost 20 pounds.
I am trying very hard not to hate him.
It helps that we’re colleagues; he’s a longtime anchor and reporter at WBUR. And it helps even more that he has been telling me for months that I’m his “inspiration” for this success. Flattery will indeed get you everywhere.
So I had to ask him: How’d you do it?
And it turns out that the answer is, well, just a little bit despicable too. He used an app. That’s it. He used an app, and he lost 20 pounds.
Actually, Steve tells me, once he reached his goal of losing 20 pounds, he decided to keep going and lost another 10. And, he says, “it was kind of fun.” He lost 30 pounds! And it was fun!
What have I been doing wrong? Or, more constructively, what has he been doing right?
The joy of the Hershey’s kisses was extended.Steve Brown
Coincidentally, a recent study found that just knowing about a weight-loss app won't necessarily help you lose weight. But Steve insists that downloading — and using! — this app was really the only thing he did. The app he used is called Lose It!, and it's developed by a company right here in Boston. It’s free, although you can also get a premium version with more features.
The free version, Steve explains, is basically a calorie tracker. You tell it how much you weigh now and how much you’d like to weigh; it then tells you how long it will take to get there based on how quickly you want to lose – a pound a week? Two?
And then you start telling it everything you eat, and it keeps track of how many calories you have left to “spend” each day. It can also factor in any exercise you do – and it will even give you credit for whatever steps your phone tells it you’ve taken that day.
It seems so … simple. Can it really make you lose weight? Surely there’s more to it than that. So what exactly did this app make Steve do?
“I just started thinking more,” he says. “I started reading more of those labels I had never read before. And I started understanding what a serving size is.”
This makes sense, actually. Many studies (including this recent one and this widely cited one from 2008) have shown that just the act of keeping a food journal – which is essentially what "Lose It!" makes you do – helps people lose weight by making them more aware of what, and how much, they’re really eating. I discovered this for myself when I did Weight Watchers a few years ago; the problem, for me anyway, is that I just get too bored with writing everything down.
So, I figured, why not try Steve’s way? I downloaded the app and have been playing with it a bit. It’s pretty handy, and it’s certainly easy to use. I’m also finding that it does make me pause before reaching for a snack – do I really want that handful of nuts, or would I be happier to see a calorie deficit at the end of the day?
Steve says it got him to make small changes like that, too. “I used to drink coffee with a lot of sugar in it,” he says – and by “a lot,” he means six packs of sugar. But he didn’t want to count all that sugar, “so once I started doing this, I said, ‘I’m not going to put the sugar in – let’s see how it is black.’”
And the result? “It’s OK. I can handle it. I haven’t had a scoop of sugar in my coffee since probably March.”
I did a little quick math: 6 teaspoons of sugar = 96 calories a day (assuming he had only one big coffee daily). Subtract that over the 263 days between March 1 and today, and that’s 25,248 calories. Which means just cutting out the sugar would be worth … hmm … 7.2 pounds. Not bad.
Unfortunately for me, I already don’t put sugar in my tea. But those 10 almonds I just didn’t eat? That’s 69 calories right there.
The other factor here, which is something I never said about Weight Watchers, is that Steve is right: The app does make it kind of fun. It almost feels like playing a game, and that makes me want to keep doing it. He notes that he even broke a long-standing habit of eating a whole bag of Hershey Kisses every Easter – he still ate them, but it was spread out over a few weeks because he didn’t want to log all those calories at once, so he just ate a few every day.
And the great surprise about that, Steve says, is that it gave him more pleasure than the old way. Instead of gorging himself and then feeling ill, he had a little treat every day.
“The joy of the Hershey’s kisses was extended,” he says.
“So you’re telling me that it was actually more fun than before you were dieting?” I ask.
“Which is interesting,” I say, “because you think a diet is deprivation, but it actually gave you pleasure instead of taking it away.”
Huh. Maybe Steve is on to something after all.
I’ll let you know in a few weeks.