Tony Pichette was trying to lose weight in 2003, mired in yet another weight loss cycle. He went on a diet and successfully stayed on it for two months, until the blackout struck New York City.
"How do I prepare healthy food during a blackout?" he wondered. He succumbed to his old eating habits, and continued to steadily gain weight for another seven years.
"For so many years, I blamed that blackout," he says now. But it takes more than electricity to power healthy eating and fitness, he's since learned. It takes a mental state of determination and true readiness to lose weight.
At the end of 2009, 349 pounds and beset with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and the possibility of diabetes, Pichette finally took control of his debilitating weight.
“I decided that 2010 was going to be my make-or-break year,” he said. “I just got everything in order.”
A self-professed tech geek and iPhone devotee, Pichette found the Daily Burn app on his iPhone as he began researching health and fitness tools.
He liked the FoodScanner feature -- which scans a food product bar code and automatically pulls up its nutritional information – and immediately began using it to track his daily food intake. There was also a corresponding Internet browser toolbar that synced up with his app, allowing him to easily view and enter his data and track his progress from a computer.
Before long, he was scanning food left and right, pulling up calorie information at restaurants and tap-typing in his own intake.
“You suddenly eat much better when you track your food,” he says, and “as the days went by, I became really kind of comfortable. And I just kept going.”
He started doing yoga, too.
“Once I got past the initial class, it became easier and easier… I loved the community and the people in the classes," he said. "I felt I was getting stronger and more flexible.”
On September 2, he lost his 100th pound.
“I called my dad, and we had a nice conversation on the phone,” says Pichette. “We were both crying.”
Since then, he’s lost another 15 to 20 pounds, and still uses Daily Burn to maintain his weight. He says he’s looking to tone up and lose the remaining fat on his body.
Pichette admits the app is only as valuable as a person makes it. He was prone to appreciate the simple and discreet functions of the app’s food tracker – even how fun it was, scanning bar codes and taking photos and punching in numbers
And he liked how he could go out in a city of endless bars and restaurants and still keep himself accountable simply by whipping out his phone. After all, he points out, everyone takes their phones everywhere.
But when it comes to permanently losing weight, Pichette emphasizes, “I don’t think anything’s going to help them if they’re just not there yet.”
And even after a transformation has started, setbacks are likely. “There are bumps along the road, and you run into old habits,” Pichette says.
He recalls eating too much at his brother's wedding reception, and later feeling "this overwhelming despair, this sense of doom. ‘Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, I’m not gonna do it, I’m not gonna do it.’”
“The next day, I said, ‘Okay, you’re going to do this,’” he added.
It was when people started approaching him about his weight loss that Pichette reached out to Daily Burn with his story, he says.
Daily Burn began as a social website for performance athletes about three and a half years ago, says company CEO Andy Smith. Since then, food-tracking was added and has become the more popular feature, and the program has become more general-interest fitness and nutrition-oriented, says Smith.
“We see the most success in people who are really detailed about tracking their food,” he adds. “You manage what you measure. We even see results who aren’t meticulous but do track their food.”
New York City nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix agrees, saying the patients she's seen who have lost weight have kept food diaries.
"Just the act of writing it down makes a huge difference ... Even knowing you have to write it down could change the way you eat -- it makes it more real," she says
The Daily Burn program is mostly free, though there are extra features for subscribers. Another Daily Burn feature, Meal Snap, was released Tuesday, allowing iPhone users to take a photo of food they intend to eat and upload it to a database that returns calorie range information to the user.
"It's kind of fun talking about it," Pichette says. Now he says he knows it takes "a combination of trial and error, and figuring out why things go wrong before they do."
"Give yourself no excuse," he adds. "Give yourself a backup for everything."