Seventeenth Century French playwright and comedian Moliere must have known something about exercise and diet when he wrote, “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”

Runner in the park using smart watchRegistered, Licensed Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Erin Spenner gets it. As the diabetes program coordinator at Memorial’s Weight Loss and Wellness Center, she sees people struggle with the issue of accountability. Did they walk 10,000 steps or did it just feel like they walked 10,000 steps? Did they eat a one-cup bowl of cereal or a soup bowl filled to the brim with cereal? Often we can’t accurately answer those questions without taking the time to count and measure.

Erin says, “The facts are that only 5 percent of all people can be accountable on their own and reach fitness goals. On the other hand, 25 to 40 percent will be successful with help.” She adds that smart phone apps and other devices can be this “help.”

Choose Device to Fit Your Goals

Erin told a group of INB employees recently that the device you choose depends on your goals and preferences. In many cases, your smartphone is sufficient. Yet others need more sophisticated tools available with wearable devices. While accountability is one reason to buy a wearable device, some people want use them to get information on their habits. Others like to challenge themselves or friends, and the devices provide the measurement mechanisms.

Wrist devices are very popular, and Erin has tested a number of them. She notes, “Cost varies as widely as function, and none are exactly perfect.” She finds GPS enabled devices have less variance than others. She recommends checking out the New York Time’s “Monitored Man” for educated opinions.

Once you get a tracker or add a tracking app to your phone, how much should you track? “Only track when you’re looking to change a habit,” advises Erin. “Don’t wear a device to make the device happy. Wear it to help you gather data about your habits. Once you have that information, you can probably put the device or app aside.”

“Remember, the point of being fit is to enjoy life and age gracefully. It should make you feel better, not worse.” If you’re fretting because you’re device seems “unhappy,” that’s not a good sign.

Smartphone Nutrition Trackers Very Valuable

Erin does find a lot of value in nutrition trackers. If you don’t know about the food you’re putting in your mouth, she recommends MyFitnessPal or Sparkpeople. Sparkpeople is ideal for someone looking for an active online community of people . . . and, like MyFitnessPal, it’s free!

Before using any nutrition tracker, Erin advises checking the settings. Most default to 50 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat. This works for most people, but carbs could be anywhere from 35 to 65 percent. If you’re a big swimmer, you may want to amp up on the carbs.”

Erin warns to be cautious when choosing your activity level in a food tracker. “Don’t indicate you get a high-level of activity if you work out twice a week for 60 minutes. You need to work out 60 minutes a day to make that indication! Zero to 29 minutes a day is sedentary; 30 to 60 minutes is moderate, and 60 plus is high. In other words, be sure you look at your AVERAGE “

Internet Still Great Fitness Space

You don’t need to use a special device . . . or even a smartphone . . . to take part in fitness activities. You can go online and take advantage of:

  • Nerd Fitness – Gamifies fitness with quests and point systems; free to join, but some content is for paying members only.
  • Fitocracy – Fosters competition for workout activity. Also has a free app. Good for beginners.
  • Bodyspace – Focuses on strength training and body building. Includes videos and articles as well as a free app.

Editor’s note: Erin Spenner is a scientist by nature and is an educator at heart. She enjoys taking the science of nutrition and breaking it down into practical, everyday strategies for busy non-scientists who just need to get a healthy meal on the table. Her favorite vegetables are Brussel sprouts.