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How I built an app to help my dad lose 60 lbs and keep it off

When my dad turned 70, I started to see the toll being overweight was taking on his health and quality of life. I wanted to help my dad lose weight.

I started by talking to him, delicately of course, and asking questions about how thought about his weight and health. I learned that he also wanted to lose weight, but was struggling to do so.

Probing further, I realized that he already knew how to lose weight, he just wasn’t doing the behaviors that would make it happen. Weight loss is personal. Different diet and exercise strategies work for different people. At 70 years old, he had already tried many strategies, and he already knew what works for him.

The details of his preferred strategy are not the topic of this article. The point is that he didn’t need more information about how to lose weight. I realized that what he needed was encouragement and accountability.

To give that to him, I drew upon my own experience receiving encouragement and accountability.

The slimmest and fittest time of my life was during a semester in college when I had roommates who were serious about health and fitness. They exercised, watched what they ate, and weighed themselves every day. I think they were involved in sports that had weight classes, so knowing their weight was important to them. I was feeling chubby at the time, and I wanted to be more slim and fit as they were, so I also started weighing myself every day. My roommates were very positive and encouraging, and they would ask me my weight from time to time, and then usually say something like, "great job" or "hey the weather is really nice today, you might enjoy going for a jog along the river."

Pretty soon, and without much conscious effort, I was eating better, exercising more, and losing weight. I attribute this to the positive peer pressure around my daily weigh-ins, forcing me to face reality, and some kind of unconscious psychological tendancy to adopt the values of my peers.

This college experience taught me the importance of daily weigh-ins for losing weight, and woke me up to the amazing power of positive peer pressure and encouragement to help drive behavior changes.

So in order to help my dad lose weight, I wanted to provide him with some form of these gifts that had helped me. But I didn’t want to be roommates with my dad. 18 years of that was enough.

So instead, I did what every software engineer loves to do to solve problems: I wrote some code.

In order to recreate the daily weigh-ins, I bought my dad an internet-connected scale with an API, and wrote a web app to show me the graph of his weight.

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