Can a watch help you lose weight?

These days, a watch can help you with much more than whether the train is on time.

Amid the down economy of July 2012, health care costs are ballooning faster than the average American waistline. It's a killer combination, particularly for those with obesity-related illnesses -- such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes -- who can't swing high premiums, copays or deductibles [sources: CDC; Abelson; WHO].

The lesson (for those of us without the means to support a personal trainer, masseuse and towel boy) is that we must take charge of our own health, but that doesn't mean we have the time or know-how to do so. We're busy, stressed, bogged down with habits and assaulted by the fad diets, pills and exercise torture machines flogged on late-night television. Meanwhile, most of us have no idea how our caloric intake stacks up to our daily burn.

Surely, this is a job for a gadget.

Enter the Basis band, a watch that monitors your heart rate and body temperature throughout the day. The band also detects activity level via an onboard 3-D accelerometer, while galvanic skin response sensors estimate sweat based on skin conductance. A chart showing heart rate, steps taken, sleep duration and calories burned is available via the company's Web portal [sources: Basis; Mendes; Gorman].

By checking vitals throughout the day and not just while hoofing it on the treadmill, users can better grasp the fitness impact of daily activities, exercise and sleep patterns [sources: Basis; Gorman].

But the game mechanics and social media integration built into Basis are where the training shoe rubber meets the road.

Behavioral scientists know that, even when faced with a life-or-death situation, most people can't make significant, permanent changes on willpower alone. In fact, unless you're smart about it, the odds are stacked about 9-1 against success [source: Krause]. Hence the chain-smoking, oxygen-huffing emphysema patient or the two-time coronary case who's working on his trifecta. Losing your gut takes more than, well, guts -- it requires changing the way you live and how you approach food, altering your outlook and seeking support [sources: A.D.A.M.; Krause; Deutschman].

Don't make weight loss your goal. Rather, focus on improving your health or well-being, exploring a desired lifestyle or reducing your risk factors. Don't just record what and how much you eat -- track how long you take, how you feel, who you're with and what you're doing. Break the patterns. Don't go it alone! Share your experiences with a therapist, an expert or a support group. Set goals and reward yourself in non-food-related ways for meeting them [sources: A.D.A.M.; Deutschman].

Popular smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal already enable users to monitor food intake and track their exercise habits. The Basis band and more basic exercise watches could help fill in the fitness picture. In the end, such products not only keep you honest -- they also make you an active participant in your health, and that's a key ingredient for accomplishing true change [sources: A.D.A.M.; Krause].

Author's Note

Probably the toughest challenge most of us will face in our lifetimes is change, and the most difficult kind of change is self-improvement. Many of us were raised to tough it out, to dig deep and summon willpower to win but, as studies increasingly reveal, it's not that simple.

Radical self-change is terrifying, and -- like guilt, shame and failure -- can drive us from embracing the strategies we need to accomplish our goals; hence the increasing popularity of device-based solutions, which subtly prod us to stay on task while also keeping our secrets. In short, we're taking B. F. Skinner out of his box and putting him into our phones.

The methods of behavior modification have almost limitless applications in society, many of them beneficial. But it's hard not to be a bit creeped out by the various ways they plug into the unconscious mechanisms of our psyche -- even if we're the ones who choose to let them in.

Related Articles


  • Abelson, Reed. "Health Insurance Costs Rising Sharply This Year, Study Shows." The New York Times. Sept. 27, 2011. (July 12, 2012)
  • A.D.A.M., Inc. "Weight Management." The New York Times. May 30, 2011. (July 12, 2012)
  • Basis. "Product Tour." (July 10, 2012)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Obesity." May 26, 2011. (July 12, 2012)
  • Deutschman, Alan. "Change or Die." Fast Company. May 1, 2005. (July 12, 2012)
  • Krause, Kendall. "Keeping Food Diary Doubles Weight Loss." ABC News. July 8, 2008. (July 12, 2012)
  • Mendes, Wendy Berry. "Assessing Autonomic Nervous System Activity." Methods in Social Neuroscience. Guilford Press. January 2009.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). "Estimated Overweight and Obesity Prevalence." Jan. 20, 2011. (July 10, 2012)