Applying Gamification to Weight Loss

A couple weeks ago I posted about the End of a Decade of Decadence. In that post, I was 6 weeks into my lifestyle improvement, and with 16 lbs less of unnecessary — and dangerous — baggage. Today marks the 8 week mark, and I weighed-in a total of 19 lbs less.

In that earlier post I posed the question “how is this time different”? One of the key ways is to add “gamification” — the addition of game play mechanics to non-game applications — to my lifestyle improvement. The end result is that I’m making boring chores as fun as a game.

You may have seen a lot of this in social games on Facebook as they often include techniques like:

    Weight Loss Games

  • achievement “badges”
  • achievement levels
  • “leader boards”
  • a progress bar or other visual meter
  • awarding, redeeming, gifting, and otherwise exchanging points
  • challenges between users
  • embedding small casual games

Applying Gamification to Weight Loss

Track Everything

progressFirst, I track everything — every calorie I consume, every calorie I burn, my weight, my body fat, and my body measurements. It’s basic math — if I want to lose 2 lbs/week, I have to consume/burn 1,000 calories less every day. 500 is coming from eating less; the other 500 is coming from being more active. On days I *eat* more, I have to workout more; on days I *workout* more, I can eat more.

While very time-consuming, this has been critical to me understanding how actions relate to each other. For example, I now know that a 4 mile run in the Georgia summer will have me losing nearly 42 ounces (3 lbs) of water, which I need to replenish post run.

Tracking everything also promotes specific, positive behavior.

  • I record food before I eat it, so I know the impact, and often reduce the portions.
  • I avoid complex meals, which would require me to enter in 4 or more ingredients. This keeps my meals quicker to make and track.
  • I learn about portions. I now know what a cup of most anything looks like, or what a 350 calorie meal is (hint: it’s much smaller than you think, but also more satisfying than you’d imagine if you wait a bit after).
  • I learn about caloric density. I select foods that will keep me full with the least amount of calories. A piece of bread, with its 100 – 140 feather-light calories, is never going to satisfy me like an voluminous apple, or two peaches, or 3-4 plums. The choice becomes that much easier.
  • I plan my meals ahead. When it comes to fighting hunger, the best offense is a strong defense. I know I will be eating every 3 or so hours, and always thinking about my next meal can get tiring, albeit distracting. Therefore, I cook large meals in advance and divide them up into smaller portions. Also, I rarely walk out the door of the house or office without some fruit or nuts for later.

Visualize the Burn for Feedback

I then visualize my progress with the online weight-loss tool Livestrong (yes, they have an app for that, too). Looking at a number isn’t helpful; seeing that number visually in a given context is. This type of real-time feedback loop encourages and inspires me in a couple ways.

  1. At a macro level, I can quickly see my progress across time with graphs like the daily weigh-in graph.
  2. At a micro daily level, I receive the real-time feedback I need to stay on track and remain inspired to make healthier decisions.

For example, at my current weight, age, and height, and my target pace of weight loss, I am allotted about 1,600 calories/day for my sedentary lifestyle. If I want that 6 oz filet mignon (350 calories), I better plan on 3 miles of running first. Or, I can opt for that 6 oz of grilled chicken (180 calories) and keep my daily exercise shorter.

Weight Loss Rewards

One of my favorite elements of the gamification of weight loss is my reward system. Every level (6 lbs, or 3-5 weeks) I unlock access to a basic reward. And every milestone (18 lbs, or 2-4 months) I unlock a mega-reward. Originally, my rewards were time-consuming and calorie-increasing things like video games or special dinners. I found out, however, that I preferred rewards that kept me motivated to progress to the next level rather than delay it.

6 lbs: Withings WiFi Scale

Stand on the scale and it will recognize who you are, tell you your metrics, and then automatically upload your metrics to a web server. I can then pull up these measurements on my web browser, iPhone, or iPad — no more manual recording and entry.

12 lbs: Withings Blood Pressure Monitor

My family has a history of high blood pressure. I originally started Operation Bootcamp back in 2008 after learning about some high blood pressure measurements while donating blood. Also, I was getting married soon. I lost 12 lbs across 3 monthly sessions, but more importantly I got my blood pressure back under control and at or below 120/80. I can not recommend daily cardio enough to lower your blood pressure. Fact: my average resting heart-rate is now in the low 50s.

This monitor is great because I simply plug it into my iPhone or iPad, press start, and it automatically uploads the results onto the same web server that houses my weight metrics.

18 lbs: Maine Golden Coast Cycling Tour.

My first mega-reward! For it, my wife and I will be cycling 150 miles across 5 days around Acadia National Park near Portland, Maine. There’s even a day of sea kayaking so we can rest our legs. I snagged a deal online, and was able to use an expiring SkyMiles companion certificate to cut the plane tickets in half.

On this, our most popular trip, you will see Maine as it really is and discover the flavors and colors that make it unique. Our guides will lead you from the top of Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain, through lush forests, and along charming farms surrounding Rockport. You will cycle through fishing villages, famous towns, and breathtaking coastal scenery. When you aren’t on the bike, there will be plenty of time to taste, touch, see, and do. You’ll dine on lobster and seafood fresh from the sea, sample artisan cheeses, and catch the sunset from the deck of a restored schooner.

My mouth is already watering, and it’s not from the cycling.

What weight loss tips were successful for you?


3 thoughts on “Applying Gamification to Weight Loss

  1. Fantastic post David! I’m really intrigued by the WiFi Scale. I would love to know how the fat/muscle measurements compare to that of a bodpod test. Regardless, I’m certain that measurements with a visual graph would benefit and motivate me, and the ease of tracking is the win for me.

    It’s only been a month, but eliminating sugar seems to have helped me lean out a bit – but alas, I am not weighing and measuring (though my pants are looser), so I’m not sure of the impact on my body composition. What I can say is that I feel like food tastes a whole lot better now that I’m not getting the insane doses of sweet taste that I had been eating multiple times a day.

  2. Heidi: I’m not impressed with the fat/muscle test at all. I’m looking forward to the next bodpod test. The weight, however, is great because it makes it easy to see progress. I just stand on the scale, wait a bit, and then I’m done. It’s so easy I can do this daily. Sometimes I don’t even look down because I don’t want to know; I just want to get the data into the system.

    The pants test is probably the best one! I’m glad to hear it is working out for you. Because I’m limited in my caloric intake, I don’t have much room for sugar. Desserts have rarely happened. As I said in my post — I much rather have 2 peaches than one piece of dry, overly sweet bread.

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