Datagasm: My Experience With the BodyMedia Armband

Bodymedia Fit

This photo gives you an idea of how the device is worn. (Please disregard my flabby butt-shaped elbow.)

The Device

I am a numbers-driven person. I was one of those kids who preferred to play the math-based computer game than any Nintendo or Sega Genesis game (yes, I know I’m dating myself). So when it comes to weight loss, any gadget that promises to help me understand the numbers behind my progress is a huge plus.

Enter the BodyMedia Fit Advantage. This model is a bit old (they now offer the Link and the Core, both a generation newer than the one I have). However, it serves the same purpose as their newer models.

This complete body monitoring device measures how many calories you are expending on a daily basis during all activity – everything from sleeping to sprinting. While heart rate monitors are extremely accurate for measuring calories burned during workouts, they are not at all accurate for regular, daily activity. The BodyMedia armbands use an accelerometer, galvanic skin response and sweat sensors to get an accurate (within 10%) estimation of the number of calories YOU personally burn each day. It’s worn on the left arm, several inches above the elbow (pictured).

Wallet Damage

Bodymedia Fit App

Here’s a screenshot of the smartphone app I downloaded to my iPhone. Although my model doesn’t sync via bluetooth (it requires a wired USB connection), newer models do.

Newer models retail for about $100 – $150, plus a $7 monthly subscription fee to access their online Activity Manager, and get any useful data out of the armband. All models come with a strap, but I had to order an extra (read: larger) one online to make it work for me.

I ordered this through Groupon deal last spring for $100, and used it for about a day. I really wasn’t ready to commit to tracking my calories in, so the calories out part of the equation didn’t matter too much.

Goals

Once I did commit to living healthier, I committed to wearing the band. Setting up my account, I was guided through a process to set goals related to activity, intake and sleep.

I put in my weight loss goals (at a reasonable rate, not more than 2 lbs per week), my activity level and my recent weight gain, and BodyMedia generated a program for me, estimating current and ideal calorie intake, and activity goals.

So far, the goals seem reasonable. It’s nice to know that on my activity level and at my weight, I SHOULDN’T be eating in the 12-1400 calorie range supplied by many online diet plans! It was a little counterintuitive at first to see I need to eat more. But, the proof is in the pudding, and it’s working.

The Good:

  1. Motivation: I’ve been wearing it consistently for about two weeks. It’s been incredibly motivating to see the progress to my goals! I love the ability to pull reports and see the progress of my data over time.
  2. Moderation: When I lose weight, I tend to obsess – cutting calories more and more until I reach an unsustainable level and ultimately return to eating too much. However, this tool helps me moderate, and take irregularities in stride. If I do have a bad day and go 500 or so calories over my intake goals, it really helps me to see that I’m still under my weekly goal, and that I haven’t undone ALL of my hard work. It also helps to remind me that I do need to eat to lose weight.
  3. Compatibility: You can sync the Activity Manager to your SparkPeople or MyFitnessPal accounts and merge data back and forth. I LOVE SparkPeople’s nutrition tracker and support (more on this later), so this is the perfect compliment to the BodyMedia device. I even have mine set up to autosync with my Walgreens Balance Rewards account, which gives me coupons based on activity and goals I set.
  4. Accuracy: So far, I believe it to be accurate. Since I’ve lost slightly more weight than the band has predicted, I’m very pleased with the boost it’s provided!

The Bad: 

  1. Muffin-top arm: Placement is awkward at best, especially if you (like me) have a larger arm. There’s no way to tighten the strap so it doesn’t fall off without getting a muffin top arm.
  2. Fugliness: It screams “home confinement monitoring device” or “I need medical attention.” I’ve been asked if it’s for my diabetes. No, I don’t have diabetes, thankyouverymuch.
  3. Water resistance: It’s not waterproof, so you can’t wear it swimming or even in the shower. I haven’t been caught in a downpour yet, so we shall see about that scenario….
  4. Inaccurate sleep tracking: It frequently thinks I’m asleep if I have my arm up on a high armrest, pushing the device horizontal.
  5. Infrequent updates: They keep pushing back the launch date for their newest model, the BodyMedia Core 2 (announced at CES in January as launching in August – now, their Facebook Page support just keeps responding “fall” to questions about launch).
BodyMedia Core 2

The new BodyMedia Core 2, with jewelry-like bands, promises to be a significant aesthetic improvement over current models.

I will definitely purchase the new Core 2 when it comes out later this fall, as the smaller size and bluetooth syncing really appeal to me.

Maybe by that time, I’ll be able to stick with the standard armband :).

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Questions? Considering one of these devices – or waiting until the new Core 2 comes out? Leave a comment, and I’d b happy to share more about my experience!

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