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Web coach

Scores of people are now registering on websites for nutrition and exercise advice. Sai Raje enlightens us...

india Updated: Jan 08, 2009 15:48 IST

Scores of people are now registering on websites for nutrition and exercise advice. Like Anjan Banerjee, a 34-year-old pilot with a commercial airline, who needed to lose weight before the mandatory bi-annual health and fitness check up conducted by the airline.

Weighing in at 72 kg, he was carrying around five extra kilos and his job depended on his ability to lose them. Banerjee signed up for an online weight loss diet and counselling programme with Lifecentury.com, an online nutrition advisor and managed to reduce his weight to 65 kg in a few months’ time. “This feels great! I just had to lose weight before my bi annual checking, now I feel so relieved. I have also joined a gym now,” says Banerjee on a testimonial on the website.

Track your fitness
From tailor-made diets to suit your health condition and healthy recipes, to free fitness tracking tools that let you calculate your ideal body weight, BMI (body mass index) and BMR (basal metabolic rate), the site offers all these services online. “We are getting a good response from people all over the globe, not just India,” says Dr Deepika Malik, CEO, Lifecentury.com. “For users who sign up for our services online, all diet counselling is done via email.”

Scores of similar websites now offer heath and nutrition help online. Nutritionvista.com, has an online self-health assessment, a daily exercise calculator, nutrition and activity quiz and recipes suitable for a variety of medical conditions, as part of its services.

And once you register as a user, you can even post your queries to an online dietician or read blog posts by the site’s nutritionists. Clearly, the newest weight-loss coach is a mouse-click away, with scores of websites and online news groups offering guidance and support to dieters and exercisers.

Some sites are free, offering calorie-counts, and nutritional and activity databases to help users understand just how long they’ll need to exercise to burn off the calories they’re logging every day. Other sites charge an annual or weekly fee for similar services, along with access to how-to fitness videos and other coaching tools. Some track a user’s activities from showering and shopping to a spinning class.

Then there are gaming programmes such as Nintendo’s Wii Fit, and My Weight Loss Coach. The Wii Fit is a particularly kid-friendly set of hardware — a pressure-sensitive pad that communicates wirelessly with the Wii console — and software activities based on aerobics, strength training and yoga.

Which works better?
Do the high-tech programmes work better than old school diet-and-exercise regimens? Medical studies suggest that they can — if the participants stick to the programme and make behavioural changes in their lives. A 2006 study of Internet weight loss programmes, published in the scientific journal Nature, compared participants in eDiets, a commercial online weight-loss programme, with participants in VTrim, a weight-loss programme delivered online and led by a therapist.

Both groups lost weight, but the VTrim subjects lost significantly more weight and kept the weight off. The VTrim group’s advantage? Following a structured curriculum — online lessons and activities to modify eating behaviour and exercise habits. “Still, widespread online weight loss is promising from a public-health standpoint,” the authors wrote, praising the 24-hour support offered by online weight-loss programmes. Chat rooms, discussion boards and e-mail support can help motivate faltering dieters and bring them back on track.

How to sift through thousands of online weight-loss sites to find the programme that will work for you?

Look for these basics
Questions that determine your height, weight, age and weight loss or fitness goals (and, ideally, your body-fat ratio). A food journal to monitor daily calorie intake. An activity log with a drop-down menu of tasks and exercises. An educational element (behaviour-modification articles, e-mail access to a therapist or personal trainer). Community support via e-mail, chat rooms or discussion boards.

Then stick with the programme. Merely keeping an honest daily food journal can double weight loss, according to a Kaiser Permanente study published last year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Pedometers (which keep count of the number of steps a person takes) and monitors serve as motivators and nags.

The bottom line, as fauljosh, a user at My Weight Loss Coach, noted in a discussion group, requires commitment. “I bought this a few weeks ago hoping to use it to supplement my Wii Fit workout,” fauljosh wrote. “The software is decent but I ended up not really using it much. Only be-cause you have to really stick to it.”
— Claire Martin,

NYT With inputs from Sai Raje
(Names have been changed on request)