Sunday, April 3, 2011

I love my BodyMedia FIT

Okay, here it is, the long awaited BodyMedia FIT review!

I have been wanting this device for a while, but I just couldn't justify it. My weight was under control and I was using an online food and exercise tracking site just fine. But I didn't feel like I truly knew how much I was burning. I felt like I was guessing all the time. So I decided to use some of my Christmas money to buy this device. That's my idea of the perfect present anyway -- something you want but can't quite justify spending your own money on it.

What is it?

The FIT consists of a plastic (and metal?) device that fits onto your tricep and is held in place by a band. To confuse you, BodyMedia calls the sensor unit the "armband" and the armband the "armband strap." But that's dumb so I'm going to call the sensor, a sensor and the armband, an armband.

As I was saying, the sensor fits over your tricep and it measures "stuff". There's an accelerometer in there, which is what is inside a pedometer. This keeps track of how fast you are going and in what direction. There are also sensors to track your skin temperature, how much heat you are given off, and how much you are sweating. This helps it to calculate your calories burned with "90% accuracy" (according to the website). Note: it doesn't have a heart rate monitor, which is generally accepted as the most accurate way to calculate calories burn.

In addition to the device, there is also a website. You upload your data to the website and add in your calories consumed and it does the rest. It shows you how well you are sleeping, how many calories burned at different times of day, what your calorie surplus or deficit is, how much vigorous and moderate activity you've done. The idea is that you will be much more in control of your weight if you aren't guessing at the calories burned.

Accuracy of Calories Burned

I was skeptical of how accurate the FIT's calorie count could be because it doesn't have a heart rate monitor. But the other sensors seemed to me would at least give it a chance of being accurate compared to a regular pedometer. So I took a chance and ordered it.

When it came I wore it for a few days and the calorie calculations seemed reasonable. I did find that I was burning more calories than my online journal was suggesting. I had already noticed this in that I would consume 100-200 more than I was "supposed to" and wouldn't gain weight. The numbers I was seeing confirmed my own experiences.

Then I wore the thing biking. And it said I burned 400 calories over 3 hours. I was livid! I went to their FaceBook page (since they have no Forums) and complained and got a lot of suggestions for how to make it more accurate. The one that works the best is to put it on my leg with the sensor facing out. I don't feel like it gives me 100% credit that way but it does a much better job than my pedometer does. When I wore my Garmin Heart Rate Monitor and wore the BodyMedia FIT on my leg, the FIT still ripped me off but not by as many calories -- more like 50-100 an hour rather than 400-600 an hour when I wore it on my arm.

You also can't wear the FIT when you swim as it's not waterproof. That's annoying. But not as serious as it does let you tell it what you've done when you aren't wearing it. I put in my 60 minutes of swimming and it gives me a reasonable amount of calories for it.

Finally, if you wear it when you sleep, it will tell you how much of your sleep time was actually spent sleeping vs. just "lying down." I'm not sure how accurate this part is as sometimes it says I'm sleeping when I'm watching tv. I guess I have the ability to sit really still when I do that. But it does keep me honest on how well I'm doing with my bedtime. (Not very since the time change. Stupid time change.)

Ease of Use

The actual device is pretty easy to use. You strap it on your arm with the sensor under your tricep and that's about it. It beeps when it's detected that it's in place. I did have some issues with it hurting the first couple of days, but I figured out I was putting it on too tightly and, once I loosened up the strap, the pain went away.

Hooking it up to the computer is another issue. I have a Mac and I've heard that the FIT doesn't work well with a Mac. It only works with the Safari and Chrome browsers, both of which I had abandoned long ago. But, since I want to be able to log my food anywhere, I ended up having to go back to using Safari on all my computers. (Chrome makes my computer hang too much.)

The "Activity Manager" which you use to look at the data and log your food is pretty well designed. There are a few of the sort of glitches you often get with Flex apps but my biggest complaint is that syncing to the desktop is not reliable at all. It often takes as many as 10 tries to get it to sync and there have been a few times there where I had to try for several days before I could successfully sync. I did discover that it just won't sync at all if my iPhone is plugged in and sometimes I have to unplug every USB device I can. Unfortunately, my mouse is using a USB port and I can't unplug that.

One silver lining of the poor syncing is that it's a lot harder for me to eat to my numbers. I could have gotten a newer unit that connected to the computer with Bluetooth. I'm not sure if that would have been more reliable (my computer is old enough that I don't have Bluetooth built in and my mouse doesn't always play well with the adapter so maybe the FIT wouldn't either). But, if it worked, it would upload data every time the device gets near the computer so I could check my calorie burn constantly. Some people like that.

Some people like being able to see their burn so much they purchase the "display" device, which is a watch that talks to the sensor and displays the information right there. I didn't get that either.

For me, not being so connected works better. I can collect accurate data and analyze it when I need to, but I have to eat to my hunger and learn my body signals most of the time.

Food Diary

In order to track calories consumed, you need to enter something into the "Nutrition" screen. There are many ways to do this.

One is to tell it everything you ate. It works like most of the online food trackers do and has a pretty decent user interface. I particularly like that, as you type in words in the search box, the list of possible foods updates immediately. That allows you to hone in on an elusive food that just isn't spelled the way you think it is. You can also pick to eat "the same as X day". If you eat the same thing for breakfast five days out of seven, as I do, this can be handy.

However, I found that I wasn't logging my food as often or as accurately with it as I'd like. It is harder to use than my favorite food logging site, My Fitness Pal and the food database is nowhere near as extensive. When you add foods, you can't input everything on the label either.

But there are other ways to get your calories in. You can track somewhere else and just put in the number for the day. You can also pick three days of eating and tell the program "just assume I always eat like that." Personally, I think that's a bad idea, but it's there if you don't want to really track calories in.

Battery Life

Reportedly, the sensor will go five days without needing to be charged. The most I've gone is 2.5 days. So far, I've never even come close to draining the battery and all I do is synch once or twice a day and occasionally I let it charge while I'm in the shower. I have no complaints here.


There are lots of cool reports available. They are way more useful than the reports on My Fitness Pal. Unfortunately, the coolest of them will not export. In fact, getting data out is so hard that I've given up. I can't get out the data I need without having to manually enter too many numbers. This, combined with the difficulties I've had logging my food, have caused me to go back to My Fitness Pal and log there. I then type in the number of calories burned into the BodyMedia web site and leave it at that. It makes me sad because I love the graph of how what percentage of my calories came from what sources, but I need to be able get my data into Excel for further analyze more.


One last complaint. There are no forums! There is a Facebook page but it's not the same. I want forums so I can compare notes with people and get to know them!

On the other hand, every time I have a problem, I go to the FaceBook page and get an instant answer either from other owners or from the customer service people. The customer service has been excellent, in fact.

So, bottom line, I'm happy with the product. It's not perfect, but it works well and, most importantly, it's helping me get to the next step in my journey -- to be able to live with numbers instead of by the numbers.
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