Jillian Michael's BodyMedia Fit Armband Review--Now Updated!

Remember when Jillian Michaels went to the gym with me, and I got all excited and announced that there'd be an upcoming review and giveaway?

Well it's below, and it's now been updated!  The giveaway is over, sorry.  And speaking from the future (July of 2012) I can add, at the bottom, some follow-up information.

Anyway, technically this is not a review of Jillian Michaels herself.  But as I explained before, I'm easily confused by celebrity endorsements! Jillian has lent her name and image to the BodyMedia Fit Armband, which is a high-tech activity monitor.

At least you don't have to make up the guest bedroom for this Jillian.

So if the BodyMedia Fit armband and Jillian want to merge identities for marketing purposes, then I'm happy to go along. I will continue to treat them in my own mind as a single entity, because that's what a good consumer does.

So what is it like to exercise, go to work, eat meals, watch tv, hang out, have a beer, and go to bed with Jillian Michaels?

Life With the BodyMedia Fit Armband... The Short Version

When I first started parading around with Jillian on my arm, I have to confess it was sort of a lark. Sure, I figured it would be fun for a while... but I didn't see us having any sort of long term relationship. I couldn't help feeling a little conspicuous, for one, and I didn't feel I was at a place in my life where I needed a constant companion. I was determined to keep things casual.

But damned if she hasn't seduced me!  Perhaps it's her steely gaze and patient attentiveness.  Or the way she just seems to know me, accepting my shortcomings and celebrating my successes.   Despite my reservations, and some frustrations (detailed below), I have to confess I'm a bit smitten! Obsessed, even.  I often find myself thinking of Jillian... what's her reaction going to be? An I exercising hard enough? Would she be disappointed if I drove to the store instead of walked? Am I eating more than I should? Did I toss and turn too much last night?  And why do I care so darn much???

So yeah it's been several weeks, and we're still inseparable.

You're Still Into Me, Right Crabby?

Sigh. Just Can't Quit You, Jillian!

OK, so had enough of the metaphorical relationship talk? For the sake of future BodyMedia Fit googlers, and the sanity of Cranky Fitness readers, I will attempt to get a bit more serious and specific about the armband. Oh, and to repeat the usual disclaimer: I got mine for free.

What Is the BodyMedia Fit Armband and What Does it Do?

So according to the flesh and blood Jillian, it's "the ideal way to track calories, activity, sleep, and more, and the only body monitoring weight loss tool on the market that I recommend.” It measures galvanic skin response, skin temperature, heat flux, and has a 3-axis accelerometer, and somehow manages to capture over 5,000 data points per minute.

Is the BodyMedia Fit the Same Thing as a Body Bugg?

I can't quite figure out the relationship between the two, though I'm convinced there is one. The Biggest Loser folks have been wearing Body Buggs for years, and Jillian is now pushing the BodyMedia Fit product.  And researching an earlier Body Bugg version lands you on a old BodyMedia Fit page. The two systems sound very similar, with slightly different bells and whistles. Is it the same basic product, just different licensing? Completely different product? Was there some sort of ugly corporate falling-out, ending with some top executive storming out the door yelling and cursing and vowing revenge by creating a new competing brand to kick Body Bugg's plastic ass? I got bored googling after 2 minutes couldn't find an answer, so if anyone knows the scoop on whether they're the same thing or not (especially if there's any scandalous gossip involved), please let me know in the comments and I'll update.

What Are the Advantages of the BodyMedia Fit Armband?

Accuracy: It's quite a bit more comprehnsive and accurate than other activity monitors like pedometers, heart rate monitors, accelerometers, and gps devices that just pick up one or two measurements and extrapolate from there. At first I thought the FitBit was a comparable device, but this a much more high tech toy than the FitBit. Because Jillian cozies right up to your skin, she can measures physiological data that a wear-in-your-pocket device just can't.

It's not 100% perfect (see below), but it seems pretty much on target with my own tracking of calories, activity, and weight loss data. While my HRM isn't bad for cardio, it overestimates a bit.  The machines in the gym are sweet-talking liars and are way off.  Jillian is far more strict than most other monitors. But she also knows that it's not just your cardio, but your everyday activities that impact overall calorie burn.

Motivation & Accountability: Knowing that every movement you make is being recorded really does provide an incentive to do more! You can set targets, find out your calorie surplus or deficits, and use it to track your results over time. You can get a sense of perspective if you have a bad day... because you can see how you had them before, and are still making great progress.

Also, if you spring for the clip-on display (costs extra), you can find out  during the day how you're doing relative to your targets.  Did you say you were gonna walk 15,000 steps?  How many minutes of vigorous activity did you commit to?  If you're coming up short, it can be very helpful to know that while you can still fix it by moving more or eating less.  I got to test out the clip thingy (not part of the giveaway, sorry) and found the real-time feedback to be very motivating.

Ease of Use: If you're trying to track your daily calorie expenditure, the fact that the BodyMedia Fit records all your everyday activity, and not just your cardio, means you don't have to come up with wild-ass guesses for non cardio activities.  Hmm, went to the mall, spent an hour shopping. Is that like walking? Slow-dancing? Yoga? Who knows? But if you wear this thingy, it just takes care of it automatically.

It gets even easier over time, because as it learns things about you (like how many calories you log on a Light Eating day versus a Total Pig Out day) you can use more shortcuts for entering data.

Extremely Useful Data: This is relative, of course. Some people already have all the information they want. But recently I've been trying to put a stop to early signs of menopausal weight gain, and I badly needed to recalibrate my ratio of activity to calorie consumption. Finding out how many calories I burn with various levels of daily activity... fascinating, and often surprising! And the sleep info is also really useful, especially if you tend to confuse time in bed with time spent sleeping.  NOT the same thing.  Like Santa Claus in the song, Jillian knows when you are sleeping.  She knows when you're awake. She knows when you've been bad or good... so be good for goodness sake!

What Are the Disadvantages of the BodyMedia Fit Armband?

Accuracy: Well, despite her general reliability, Jillian and I still had a few trust issues. And I'm sad to say some of these occurred... in bed.   While BodyMedia's assessment of my activity levels might be the best out there, according to the data, I burn exactly the same number of calories when I'm lying down asleep as I do standing at my workstation. Really?  Either I have quite an active nightlife I'm unaware of, or it confuses my non-moving left bicep while at my desk with full-body catatonia. Or perhaps I have some extraordinary ability to arrange my body in a standing position that requires no muscle activity at all?  Jillian was also apparently asleep a couple of nights and missed it when I woke up, got up to use the restroom, and stayed awake for what seemed a long time. I think Jillian got most of my night-time wakings recorded, but the algorithm isn't entirely perfect and she missed a few.

Calories In, Calories Out Model: That's what this weight management system is based on. But this is kinda old school thinking, isn't it?  For me, it's fine--I'm already doing a lot to optimize the nutritional quality of the foods I eat and the fat-burning and muscle building efficiency of the exercise I get.  So a purely quantitative measure of input and output was actually the missing piece I needed to reverse the weight gain I was experiencing.  But more and more research points to the idea that what you eat and how you exercise that are tremendously important in weight management, not just how much of either you do.

Eating Disorder/OCD Alert:   If you are at all prone to eating disorders, or to obsessing about your weight, calories, or exercise--this gizmo will escalate you into full-blown straight-jacket wearing, gibberish-spewing, walk-24-hours-straight-'cause-look-how-many-calories-it-burns insanity.  It is a very rich source of information.  Use with extreme caution.

Conspicuousness:  If you want to wear short sleeves, people are going to see it.  This can be a bonding experience (I've had several long conversations with people I've run into at Whole Foods and the gym).  But at a cocktail party or a formal work environment?  You may feel a bit awkward unless it's cold enough for long sleeves. The new "Core" Armband is smaller, but still noticeable. (Jillian is wearing the Core version; I've got the older one. The giveaway is the older version).

Not Water-Proof:  It's water resistant, but you can't wear it swimming or in the shower.

Skin Sensitivity: If you are prone to allergic reactions or otherwise have sensitive skin, this thing might drive you crazy.  It sits there snugly in the same place most of the day, and leaves a noticeable impression when you take it off.  And you need to wash and disinfect it periodically even if you don't have skin issues or it starts to get itchy. Um, hypothetically.  Because of course I am always on top of the hygiene issue and would never just space that out.

Off Body Activity Logging: If you're not wearing the armband, you can manually log your activities. Great! But the interface totally sucks. There are very few choices relative to possible activities, and you can't just enter a calorie total even if you have a pretty good idea what it might be. I ended up jiggering with my calorie consumption data to compensate several times because my chosen activity wasn't listed.

Price! It ain't cheap (the one I was given, the "Advantage" retails for $179 and up) though there are frequent specials & deals at Costco and other places. However, it's not just the armband you have to pay for; the online software package that you need to read the monitor is by subscription only after a trial period! (Though in fairness, it's not terribly expensive). And if you want to read your activity levels throughout the day, there's no display on the armband; you have to wait until you can sync with your PC or spring for the optional clip-on display unit... which doesn't even come with a wristband. That's extra too!

My suggestion to the BodyMedia Fit folks: stop looking like money-grubbing tightwads and give people a lifetime subscription when they buy the armband! It's software that lives in the cloud, fer goodness sake, throw it in for free. And a display should come with the unit if you can't build it into the armband itself.

Recap (Nov 2011): Jillian would not be everyone's best friend, but if you're serious and motivated about weight management, and don't mind wearing an armband, she's pretty darn helpful and fun and motivating. I went in skeptical and now am totally hooked.

Update! (July 2012) :  Sadly, Jillian walked out on me a few months after we took up together.  The device stopped synching with my computer.  Was this an easy free fix or an expensive hassle?

I don't know because by then I was getting pretty tired of being chained to a clunky armband all the time.  So I didn't even try to find out. Plus I was too cheap to contemplate paying for my own subscription.

It served it's purpose well while I wore it, but for me to be a long-term user, the monitoring device would need to get substantially smaller and more discrete. (Note: they gave me a larger, older version but even the one Jillian has on is not exactly invisible).  Plus ideally the thing should not stop working a few months out of the box.

Note: if there are any sad BodyMedia Fit reps reading this in the future who have a New Improved version that ain't gonna feel cumbersome and will keep working for more than a few months, I'm game to try again!

So, would you like to have Jillian on your arm, sharing all your meals and activities day and night? Or does the whole idea of comprehensive activity monitoring give you the heebie-jeebies?

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