Twitter trash talk shaves off pounds

Back when I lived in Saskatoon a bunch of us went running each day at noon. I know, those of you who know me today would find that very hard to believe, but I swear it’s true.

Whenever it was too cold or we wanted to do a certain type of training we’d all congregate at the Fieldhouse, Saskatoon’s indoor track and field facility.

Each year in January our Fieldhouse gang would put on a weight loss competition. We’d organize ourselves into two teams; privately giving our starting weight to the coordinator who would tabulate the total weight for each team. No individual’s weight was revealed except to the coordinator, so it was the team weight that mattered.

A few months later (end of March I think) we’d compare the start and finish weight of the two teams, and the team with the greatest weight loss won.

Ironically the losing team had to take the winning team out to lunch, a raucous noisy affair with about 50 people or more depending on the year.

It was all great fun with lots of peer pressure and trash talk, all of which was very motivating. Teammates would ask if you really needed that doughnut, opponents would tempt you with pizza. Much hilarity ensued.

I got to thinking about the old Fieldhouse gang and our competitions as I was making New Year’s resolutions to break this January. Being a digital weenie, I figured there must be software to replace the clipboard, protect participants’ privacy and facilitate the trash talk and peer pressure. A social weight loss network as it were.

A little Googling and sure enough, I found WeightLossWars.com.

From their web site, WeightLossWars.com is “A fun weight loss motivation web site where weight loss success stories are made.”

What’s really interesting about this site is the social digital component. In their words “What other online weight loss programs give you the opportunity to choose whether to focus on support or to choose full-out competition and mess with your friends, family or co-workers?”

I’m all for support, but some good old-fashioned messing is also a key ingredient to my success.

I resolved to start a competition in the first half of 2012, but first I wanted to establish a baseline for myself and see a dietician.

Canadian health care being what it is (overcrowded, slow and inefficient), my doctor informed me an appointment with a dietician will be a three month wait. Excellent.

I wanted to start right away, so naturally I turned to my iPhone. After all, I just want dietary info and I don’t really care if that comes to me via a person or a gadget. A quick search in the app store for the words calorie and dietician brought up the app MyFitnessPal.

You can track everything you eat in a digital food diary, it has a giant database of foods plus you can enter your own, and it scans grocery item bar codes to give you precise nutritional information on most packaged goods. It even tracks exercise and ‘gives you back’ calories as reward for burning off a few! Walk the dog for 20 minutes, take the calorie loss or earn yourself a fibre bar – your choice!

Like WeightLossWars.com it too has a social component. Refer your friends to the app and let the support and trash talk begin!

Armed with a calorie counter, exercise tracker and a web site for a future weight loss war I was almost ready to enter 2012. There was just one more thing – an app to measure my running. I found the ideal solution in iMapMyRun, which uses GPS to tell me how far and fast I have gone, which I can then record in MyFitnessPal. If I’m feeling particularly proud or needing validation, I can have iMapMyRun post my results to social networks.

Sample tweet: “Doug just ran five kilometres in 40 minutes, barely outpacing a tortoise. His pants are likely to remain snug given his caloric intake. Intervention required.”

Now that’s motivating!

My theory on weight loss is this, I really only need a few things: Information to make better choices, tracking to see how I’m doing, someone to offer me carrot sticks, someone else to give me the gears, a team to not let down, and an opposing team to compete with. These are all just tricks to establish new habits anyway, so it may as well be ‘gadgety’ and fun.

Let the social weight loss begin.

Doug Lacombe is president of Calgary social media agency communicatto. Find him on Twitter at @dblacombe. His column is distributed through Troy Media – www.troymedia.com.

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