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WHEE (Weight, Health, Eating and Exercise) is a community support diary for Kossacks who are currently or planning to start losing, gaining or maintaining their weight through diet and exercise or fitness. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are working on your weight or fitness, please -- join us! You can also click the WHEE tag to view all diary posts.

In last week's thrilling episode of Geek My Fitness, I chronicled the birth of my amateur research project tracking post-exercise calorie burn. As a cliff-hanger, I mentioned that I had purchased a bodybugg. Follow me after the jump for my review.

The facts:
The bodybugg is a "calorie management system," according to its maker, Apex Fitness. The heart of the "system" is a small device, about the size of a small generic MP3 player. This device is worn on the outside of the upper arm and records skin temperature, heat flux (the amount of heat the body gives off), acceleration, and galvanic skin response to the internal memory of the device. The armband is meant to be worn during all waking hours, not just during exercise. The bodybugg is not designed to be submerged, so it should not be worn during bathing/showering or swimming workouts.

The second essential part of the bodybugg system is the bodybugg website. The internal memory of the device can record a week or so of data. Periodically, the bodybugg user needs to remove the armband, pop the device proper out of the armband's holder, and connect it to a PC or Mac using what appears to be a standard USB/mini-USB cable. The user then connects to the my.apexfitness.com website using either Internet Explorer (PC) or Safari (Mac). Unfortunately, the My Apexfitness site does not support Firefox or other browsers, and Linux is not supported either. I've been able to view uploaded data using Firefox on my work PC, but I doubt it would allow me to upload new data from the device in Firefox.

New bodybuggs come with a six-month subscription to the my.apexfitness.com website. Since the device only records a few days of data, the user needs to maintain a subscription to the website to continue to use the bodybugg system. Apex Fitness will sell you a subscription to the website even if you haven't purchased a bodybugg from them -- this is a great deal for those who feel that the only problem with calorie/exercise journal sites like livestrong.com or fitday.com is that they don't cost anything. Joking aside, buying a separate subscription allows one to buy a used bodybugg on eBay or get one from a friend/family member who has reached his/her goal.

The bodybugg armband does not have a real-time display built-in. There is an optional display that is worn like a wristwatch and provides real-time access to the data stored in the device memory. The display does not download the data or clear the memory of the device, so the user still needs to connect to the my.apexfitness.com website periodically. I have not purchased the display, so I won't be able to give you my impressions of using it.

Subscriptions to the my.apexfitness.com website (including the initial six months that come with new bodybuggs) include an individual telephone coaching session with a bodybugg expert (an Apex Fitness employee, not a peer user, AFAIK). This session is meant to be scheduled after the subscriber has used the website for a couple of weeks and has some actual data to reference during the session.

The list price of the bodybugg is $249.95, or $348.95 with the digital display. However, there seem to be frequent sales. A few months ago, my local 24 Hour Fitness had the older-model bodybugg and optional display package on sale for $250 (while supplies lasted). Currently, the armband-only package is on "sale" for $199.00 at 24 Hour Fitness or the Apex Fitness web site. A separate six-month website subscription (e.g., to use if you have a used bodybugg) is $79.95.

My impressions:

The armband:
I have the newer version of the armband - if you work out at 24 Hour Fitness, you may have seen the older version on a personal trainer or another member -- it's a bit larger than the new model and comes in tasteful shades of gray. The new model is black, measures 2.2" by 2.4" by .5" thick, and weighs 1.6 ounces. It's less obtrusive on my arm than my media player was -- but then again, my media player is a Zune with internal 30GB hard drive, so it's a lot heavier than the bodybugg. More to the point, the light weight of the bodybugg means the armband doesn't have to be as tight as I thought it might be to keep it in place. It's a good bit more comfortable than the chest strap for my heart rate monitor. Alas, I've already gotten a scratch/scuff on the plastic face of the 'bugg when I caught a door with my shoulder (trying to keep it from closing while I was wheeling my bike through).

The my.apexfitness.com website:
When you sign up for the apexfitness.com website, the first step is setting up a weightloss program. The site gives you a limited choice of diets (low-fat/high-carb, moderate-fat/not-quite-so-high-carb, and two more diets with more protein), suggests a time interval and weight loss/gain target, allows you to change these targets, and then calculates a suggested daily total calorie burn and target calorie consumption that will result in a daily calorie deficit/surplus to reach your goal. The bodybugg system is based on the energy-in/energy-out philosophy -- that is, if you burn more than you consume on average, you'll lose weight.

One of the reasons I bit the bullet and bought the bodybugg was to test the idea of "metabolic advantage" in low-carb diets. According to Dr. Atkins, the body requires more energy to metabolize fat than carbohydrates, so one will lose weight eating the same number of calories on a low-carb diet. I am skeptical of this claim -- I've always thought that they weightloss success I've enjoyed on low-carb diets has been due to the fact that I'm snacking less (because there's nothing to snack on! ARRGGH!!) and eating less at mealtimes. Now, with the bodybugg measuring (what it claims is) my actual calorie burn, I may be able to get an idea if there is any meaningful "metabolic advantage" on a low-carb diet.

Here's what the my.apexfitness.com website looks like after I log in and click back to a previous day's results:

As you can see, I burned 2729 calories that day. You probably can't make out my daily target, but it's 2950 calories. Similarly, I consumed 1748 calories, and my target calorie consumption is 2050 calories. My target calorie deficit (calculated by the program when I set it up) is 900 calories, and as you can see, I had an actual calorie deficit of 981 calories.

Here's a close-up of the Calories Burned graph:

The graph runs from midnight to midnight (I had to cut out a few hours to make it fit in the 500-pixel width for images on DKos). The data points are graphed at six-minute intervals. For all I know, the bodybugg device samples the data at those six-minute intervals, so it may not be possible to get a finer resolution for the website display. However, I would like to be able to zoom in on intervals, so that it's easier to see the calorie burn at each data point. You can hover your mouse over the graph and the calorie burn for each interval pops up -- as you can see, I peaked at 10.4 Cals/min during the first part of my morning commute. There is also a Time Selector that you can use to get the total calories consumed in a selected interval -- I've selected my afternoon commute (4:18 PM to 5:30 PM) to show that I burned 396 calories on my way home last Saturday.

Calorie logging:
The bodybugg armband does not magically record the things you eat and drink -- you have to do all that yourself on my.apexfitness.com. In this, it's much like a barebones version of livestrong.com or fitday.com. You enter a food name (or select from a list of foods you've eaten at the same meal on previous days), and the program pops up a list of suggestions related to the words you typed in. For example, when I type in "tomato," the suggestions include "Tomato Red," "Tomatoes Stewed," and "Spaghetti with tomato sauce meatless." If nothing fits, you can Enter Nutrition Facts to build a custom food. The nutrition database is not as complete as one might like -- I've had to build entries for Panda Express Kung Pao and Mixed Vegetables. However, Apex Fitness took the database offline early this morning for planned maintenance, including adding another 8000 food items to the database, so maybe the hot deliciousness of Kung Pao Chicken will be available without having to build a custom food in the future.

For me, a bigger problem than the size of the database is the high- and moderate-carb philosophy of the bodybugg system. I'm on a low-carb diet (until I reach my initial weightloss goal), and when I log food, I would like to be able to break out the fiber carbs from the total carb grams. The bodybugg food log reports Total Carbs only - if you want the Net Carbs, you have to log your food TWICE -- once on my.apexfitness.com, and again on something like fitday.com. I'm an experienced low-carb dieter, so I know pretty well how many tomatoes and strawberries I can eat without kicking myself out of ketosis -- but it would still be good to be able to know if I'm getting enough fiber.

Does it work?

I think it does.

I've been tracking my calorie burn using my heart rate monitor, and I've become more suspicious of the numbers as time goes on. For one thing, my RBK heart rate monitor gives the same calorie burn numbers as the cardio machines at the gym, and I don't trust those at all -- I think they're widely exaggerated. How do the bodybugg numbers compare? They're MUCH lower. For example, my HRM says I'm burning almost three calories per minute when I'm sitting at my desk - that's almost 4000 calories a day! OTOH, the bodybugg says I'm burning 1.3 or 1.4 calories per minute sitting at my desk - that works out to just over 2000 calories per day, which is just about EXACTLY the number I get for my daily expected calorie burn from the Katch-McArdle formula. The numbers I'm getting during exercise also seem more reasonable on the bodybugg than my heart rate monitor.

One benefit I'm seeing is a result of the food logging. Having to log everything I eat has cut WAY down on my "grazing." I used to grab "just a few" peanuts here and there when I was at home. For the past couple of weeks, I've thought, "Damn, if I grab those peanuts, I'll have to LOG them." Now, if I really want a snack, I measure it out (30 grams of peanuts on my digital scale, for example), eat that, and not anything else. I don't know how long it will last, but for right now, it's really keeping me honest. Of course, you don't have to buy a $200 bodybugg to get that benefit -- sites like fitday.com and livestrong.com are FREE, and have better food logging tools.

Another benefit, one unique to the bodybugg system, is getting the data I need to manage my daily food intake and exercise much more closely. After I ride home from work, I log in to the site, upload my calorie burn data from the bodybugg, and log my food for the day. Looking at that intermediate number, I can plan how many calories I can afford to eat for dinner and still maintain an appropriate calorie deficit. For example, the other day I took in leftover Kung Pao Chicken for lunch, and had a package of cashews at my afternoon break - two things I don't usually do. After I got home and saw my intermediate numbers, I knew I could afford to eat my normal dinner and still maintain my scheduled daily calorie deficit. A week or so ago, I saw that my deficit was larger than expected on a couple of days, and I began adding a couple of whey protein shakes to my daily food intake.

After I meet my initial weight loss goal, I plan to change from my current low-carb diet to a high-carb, low-fat diet (like Body For Life or something similar) and see if I can get an idea if there really is such a thing as "metabolic advantage." Stay tuned to this channel for more exciting adventures of Geek My Fitness!

Diaries:
July 29    Wed AM - Edward Spurlock
        Wed PM - sheddhead
July 30    Thu AM - mommyof3
        Thu PM - cusoon
July 31    Fri AM - gchaucer2
        Fri PM - help
Aug 1      Sat AM - sheddhead
        Sat PM - help
Aug 2      Sun AM - louisev
        Sun PM - Brimi
Aug 3      Mon AM - help
        Mon PM - help
Aug 4      Tues AM - Kascade Kat
        Tues PM - help
Aug 5      Wed AM - Edward Spurlock
        Wed PM - ???


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Originally posted to Edward Spurlock on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 07:07 AM PDT.

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