Let’s start with a disclaimer:
Beeminding weight is hard, because losing weight is hard.
Beeminding makes you more likely to succeed, but it doesn’t make it easier. You still have to make consistent changes to your habits for the long term, and possibly even harder: it’s likely you’ll have to change how you think and feel about things in your life, like food, exercise, your body, or whatever. Beeminder is especially good for helping you with the consistency part of that equation, but they’re still uncomfortable things to do.
So here I’m going to lay out a three-pronged plan for beeminding weight loss. I’m calling it:
Changing what and how much you eat is typically the hardest and perhaps most overwhelming part of weight loss. Nutrition! How do you even? But I’m just going to give you a dirt simple starter: eating your vegetables. If you prioritize getting vegetables in first, before other categories of calories, you’ll be more sated, and eat less of the other stuff. You’ll be eating more whole – aka less processed – foods. And it’s a simple and small habit that you can start out with, be successful at, and build on over time.
1. Go to beeminder.com/new
Eat your vegetables, and tell Beeminder about it.
Alys’s post is a classic, and has lots of good tips on how to actually accomplish that. One of my favorite tips from her is to keep veggies on the counter instead of tucked away in a crisper drawer (or to the extent that it is practical, put out the ones you intend to eat each morning). Just having them in sight dramatically increases the likelihood you consume them.
Another tip that I find helpful (though not from Alys) is to keep a few bags of frozen veggies in the freezer, as an easy backup. So even if you haven’t been to the store in a while, you’ve got a reasonably appetizing vegetable option.
Dial it up
After you feel like you’ve gotten a handle on your one serving of veggies and it’s coming naturally, dial the line up to two servings. Rinse and repeat.
Maybe you have lots of experience with fitness, or sports, or dance, or something. If so, that’s great. You already know what you like and you can just use Beeminder to help you do it more consistently than you are currently.
But if you don’t already know what you like, don’t worry. Start a steps goal. “Exercise” doesn’t have to be an aerobics class, or dodgeball, or running in gym class, or whatever your personal nightmare is. The main point is to get moving, and walking is great exercise. You could burn the same number of calories in less time by running, but walking you can do all day long. Probably literally if it comes to it. You can start with a small increase in your activity level and ramp it up steadily over time as you get more fit.
Step 0 is figuring out how you’re going to count your steps. You might actually not need any extra equipment for this that you don’t already have. Both Android and iOS phones have a built-in step counter that you can use – Google Fit, and Apple Health respectively. You just keep your phone on your body to capture an accurate step count. You can also of course use any other kind of pedometer from a $5 one from your local drugstore, to an $1800 apple Hermes watch, if that’s what you’re into.
If you have a Fitbit or a Garmin, you can get set up by looking for their logo on the “How will you track your progress” screen of goal setup. Otherwise, we’re going to set up a manual goal, where you will visit your Beeminder goal at least once per day and manually enter your step count for that day. This part should be familiar.
Go to beeminder.com/new
Click “+ Manual” at the top of the screen
Select “do more”
Fill in your goal units with “steps”, and set a target daily step count
Select “start with extra safety buffer” and give yourself 7 days of buffer
Name your goal & continue
Pick your starting stakes ($0 or $5) and continue
Check out that preview & continue
Wait for the buzzing infinibee
Go to goal
How many steps per day?
That’s what the extra safety buffer in step 5 is for. Beeminder is flexible, and you can change your commitment later. But if you’re starting something totally new, and you have no idea what’s a reasonable expectation, start small and give yourself some extra buffer! After a week you can change your daily commitment number, and even ratchet away extra safety buffer if you want.
In my example above I selected 3000 steps per day. I find that for me, a computer progammer who works from home, that even on a day when I pretty much get up, walk the 10 steps to my desk, sit on my butt until 5pm, wander around the kitchen making dinner for an hour, and then sit on the sofa reading or knitting afterwards, I typically get at least 3000 steps.
So if you want to be maximally conservative, start there. But again, you’ve got that initial week of safety buffer so if you do accidentally aim a bit high, you’ll see yourself on a collision course with the bright red line and can adjust.
(Check out our visual tutorial if you’re raising your eyebrows at phrases like “collision course with the bright red line”. Or check out the screenshots below!)
Keep monitoring the commitment
Go about your life. At the end of the day, load your Beeminder goal, and enter your step count for the day.
If you are falling behind the target you set, you will lose safety buffer, and eventually you will wind up in the red. In that case, Beeminder will send you a lot of alerts begging you to get your steps in.
Here is what a steps goal in the red might look like:
If you look at the header above the graph, you can see that Alice needs a bare minimum of 2500 steps today to get her goal “out of the red” as we like to say.
And if you have the opposite scenario, where you are gaining buffer on your target, you’ll see your data climbing at a faster rate than the red line, like this:
And then you can visit your Beeminder goal and either ratchet away some of your extra safety buffer – that’s a one time solution that will bring the red line closer to you today, without changing the ongoing daily commitment.
Alternately (or additionally) you can change the daily commitment using the “Commitment Dial”. When you change the commitment, the change in the red line doesn’t start until one week from now.
If you find yourself frequently in the red, on the one hand maybe that’s good. That’s Beeminder pushing you to get more steps than you were getting when left to your own devices. Great! There is the change that’s going to help contribute to the overall goal of weight loss.
But if it gets too stressful, or you’re severely struggling to keep up, you can also change your commitment to require fewer steps per day, also using the commitment dial, and also starting a week from now.
Finally, weight. Yes, I’ve been avoiding it up to now. You have probably heard lots of advice about being less fixated on the “number on the scale”, and suggesting things like only weighing in once a week so that you don’t get caught up in the random day-to-day fluctuations.
While it is true that getting caught up in the day-to-day fluctuations can be counterproductive, and while it is true that the “number on the scale” has a lot of randomness, our philosophy is that more data is the key to taming that randomness. We have a whole other blog post about this.
So here’s my strategy for worrying less about your actual weight, while still probably losing some: Set up a weight goal, and a secondary automatic meta goal that tracks how often you actually report to the weight goal. You will set the commitment on the weight goal to be really gradual, but you will set the commitment on the meta goal to get you to weigh in daily. Our goal here is something like “first do not gain”. As the exercise and diet stuff gets easier and you maybe even add new habits in on top of those, you can gradually dial the weight commitment to be a bit steeper. But at least weigh in daily and make sure you don’t gain weight.
First, a weight goal
Go to beeminder.com/new
Select “+ manual” (or if you happen to have a fancy Withings scale or a Fitbit scale, then pick that integration directly)
Select “Lose Weight”
In the first box, enter your weight units – do you think in pounds, or kilograms?
In the second box, put your current weight
In the third box, for the most your weight might change in a day, we suggest 1 kilogram or 2 pounds
The rest of goal creation is the same… you’ve done this twice already.
Second, a weigh-ins goal
Go to beeminder.com/new
Select “Beeminder” on the “how will you track” page (yo dawg, etc)
In the PUSH FROM section, select your new weight goal
In the DEADLINE section, select midnight – should be the first / default before the big long list (unless you set up a Withings or Fitbit weight goal, in which case, if you want to be extra careful you can pick 00:15am)
For the COMMITMENT, leave it at one datapoint per day
The rest of the setup is standard from here
Weighing in regularly
We’ve effectively set up two goals in one, but the goal that should be your main focus is the weigh-ins goal. At this point the goal is to pick very small habits that will contribute overall to weight loss if they are adopted and stuck with for the long term, and then get Beeminder to make sure you do stick with them for the long term. To stay on track with that goal all you have to do is get on the scale and report it to the weight goal every day. Every time you add a weight to it, Beeminder will automatically add a +1 to your weigh-ins goal.
Selecting a rate
Now, you might want to fiddle with the settings of the weight goal a bit. Simplest is to go and set the rate there to zero. First do not gain, etc. Setting the target to something exciting is counterproductive. So go to your weight goal and open the Commitment tab below the graph. The very first item there is labeled “Commitment dial”. Just change the value there to ‘0’. At some point in the future you may be ready to set the line for losing some weight, but even then, I counsel you to be conservative. Set a target rate of something like -0.1% of your body weight per week. E.g. if I currently weigh 180 pounds, that would be -0.18 pounds per week, or -0.026 per day. But again, the real meat of this habit is the weigh-ins goal.
Whoopsies! – this plan takes four goals, but Beeminder’s free plan only affords you three… so, voila, for the month of January, you get up to four free goals on the free plan. Enjoy!