Living by the Numbers
Credit: Illustration by Eddie Guy
Some people build their lives around numbers. Bankers. Athletes. Nerds. These people thrive on competition, accomplishment, and measurement. I am not one of these people. I have never liked numbers. I like wine, women, and song. I built my life around those things, though over time, with less wine and one woman. Still, there is no running from the numbers.

In my teens, it was the SATs. In my twenties, my checkbook. In my thirties, my waistline. Forties, cholesterol. I have always conceived of my life with numbers as an ongoing war, one defined by the unshakable certainty that one day the numbers – which have no feelings, no allegiances, no vulnerabilities, nothing but their own certitude and progression – would win.

Fitbit makes the numbers into something fun. For one thing, the tables are turned: Instead of the numbers weighing me down, I'm moving them around. Applied effort yields quantifiable results.

If Fitbit is my digital girlfriend, the Fitbit log is my instructor in the language of numbers. I try out a lot of tracking sites and mobile apps during my numerical journey, but the Fitbit dashboard stands out as the most useful. I record my mood and sleep quality in the morning, my post-gym activities, and (thanks to the mobile app) anything I eat.

The food log is the game changer. I've studied up plenty on the nutritional basics in the past, but beyond understanding the essential difference between cheese fries and brown rice, I've never thought hard about calories. Yet soon I'm inputting the nutritional deets of my breakfast cereal into the Fitbit database and haunting websites where posters argue over the caloric content of black coffee. And once I'm in, I'm in. Measuring cups come out (turns out I'm eating a half cup of low-fat yogurt in the morning, not a cup – 85 calories saved!), I'm buying less food at lunch (580 calories in a large lentil soup? I'll have a medium), and I'm cooking at home more (which gives me portion control and detailed knowledge of ingredients).

Is this a pain in the ass? You bet. It makes eating feel like a math equation where I'm constantly checking the answer key in the back of the book. Does it work? Totally. Quickly. Scientifically. A 2008 Kaiser Permanente study says the more you log, the more you lose, and it's easy to see why. I'm conscious of everything that goes into my mouth. So naturally less goes in, and what does is more of the right stuff.

But it's more than that. The tech thing is a gas at first, like turning my body into a video game. The Fitbit dashboard has a handy pie chart of the calories you have left to eat in a given day – looks like Pac-Man! I also geek out on the bar graphs for calories burned and steps taken and the line graphs of weight and body fat.

And I like what I see. Two weeks after I start with Fitbit, I'm down six and a half pounds, and my BMI is 24.7. I've hit my goal, and it feels like I've barely started. So I upload a new goal (185) to the Fitbit dashboard. This takes just two more weeks, during which time I notice my body fat starting to dip. I'm adding lean mass. The numbers are good. Fitty is impressed. I want more.