Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weight Watchers - ActiveLink

I decided to blog about this today to share my experience with Weight Watchers' new "activity monitor," ActiveLink.  This device is a joint venture between WW and Philips. 

This is a long post.  Here's the short version:

BUYER BEWARE - you must be sure that you understand what this device is and what it does and does not do.  You must be sure this device is what you want, because once you buy it - once you break the seal on the box - you cannot return it and you cannot sell it/transfer it to anyone else.  Once you pony up the bucks to buy the thing, you must then pay a monthly $5 fee to access the service.  You cannot get your money back.

Here's the rest of the story . . .

I know that some have had a great experience with ActiveLink, but mine was very poor, and my experience with WW's customer "service" was a joke. 

But - let me start with the positive - I did like the size of the device and that it could be worn under my clothing unobtrusively, unlike my otherwise awesome Omron pedometer which always made me look like a geek and made an unsightly bulge at what's left of my menopausal waist.  I also liked that it was waterproof and I could wear it in the pool.  I liked that it was a joint venture withi Philips because years ago I worked for a division of Philips and they were great people  :-)  What I really liked, though, was the idea of it tracking my activity all day long!

That's key - AL was sold to me as a TRACKER.  A device that would track my activity points and automatically enter them in my online eTools tracker.  To be fair, it does automatically add any Activity Points one earns directly into the eTools tracker.

But it's not a tracker - it's an activity monitor - a tool to get you to move more. 

You have to wear it for 8 days when you get it to set a "baseline," and here is where it gets confusing:  WW says that your baseline is set based SOLELY on your age, weight, height and gender.  Philips says that the amount of activity you do during the assessment period has a direct correlation to the baseline that it set for you.

I used mine for about 11 weeks.  I bought it the day it was released in my former meeting room and activated it as soon as I got home that night.  I was instructed to wear it daily, and to not change up my exercise or normal daily routine.  Once it was activated, I lost access to the Activity Tracker that is part of my eTools online tracker - both the big tab and the smaller calculator tab over on the left sidebar of the tracker.  The sidebar calculator just disappeared, and the large tracker became linked with ActiveLink.  Those things mean that you can no longer calculate your own activity.

I figured it didn't matter because ActiveLink was going to be calculating all that for me anyway . . .

The eight days of the assessment were weird because I'm one of those people who actually eats her Activity Points - I use them before I use my 49 Weekly Points - and now I had no real way to track them.  But it was only eight days, so I didn't get too worried about it.

Finally, my baseline was set and I was really excited to not have to think about calculating my activity points anymore, or even entering my "active steps" from my pedometer every day.  I am a pretty active person.  Those of you who know me in person know that.  I mean really - my friends and family know not to call me after 9 p.m. because I have to go to bed to get up to work out at 5 in the morning.  I already work out as much as I can given the constraints of having to have a job to pay the bills and living my busy life.  All ActiveLink did was constantly tell me to move more.  And I found that on days when I should have earned at least 3 or 4 Activity Points, I wasn't earning any. 

As mentioned, I am usually up around 5 a.m. to either lift weights with my trainer at the club (2x week), or walk for about 40 minutes on the treadmill in the basement (3-4x week).  I walk from my house to the train (7 minutes) and I walk across the Loop from the train to my office (15 minutes) five days a week.  I often walk somewhere at lunchtime.  Chicago is a walker's paradise  :-)

As the weeks went by, I became increasingly frustrated with ActiveLink.  The only day I got 4 Activity Points was the day I was with my friend Tammy, The Proverbial Knitter, et al., at Silver Dollar City in Missouri, where we walked pretty much non-stop (including some fierce Ozark hills) from 10 a.m. when the park opened 'til about 3:30 or 4 p.m. when we collapsed into the car to go home.  I'm not kidding.  That was a 6-7 Activity Point day for sure . . . but no, I got 4.

So, since it's not possible for me to walk every day for 6 hours (hell, if it was, I'd be on The Biggest Loser instead of working at a job I love), I rarely got any Activity Points.  Initially, I'd connect it to my computer every day, excited to see how many Activity Points I would get, and for the first week I thought, "well, maybe I don't move as much as I thought."  But after weeks of being electronically told daily that I had failed to reach my baseline or reaching it but not getting past it enough to earn even 1 Activity Point - even on days where I KNEW I had earned at least 3 or 4 - I rang Philips, and they said to do the assessment again but "don't move around at all."


They were also VERY clear that the amount of activity done during the assessment phase was directly involved in setting the baseline (I was more confused than ever by that assertion, since it was directly opposite of what Weight Watchers says).  So, another eight days of assessment with me taking off the ActiveLink anytime I worked out.  I ended up with a very low baseline (which seems to me to be clear evidence that the activity done during the assessment phase does, indeed, have bearing on how the baseline is set - but, you know, I'm not a scientist so I could be wrong).  Once the assessment phase was over again, I gave it another week - a week where I was regularly well over 100% of my new baseline, and still I wasn't receiving any Activity Points. 

I called WW customer "service" and had them shut it off.  That was on October 18th.  They told me that my ActiveLine was cancelled, but that they has "taken a payment" on October 13th and that my online tracker was linked with ActiveLink until November 27th.  Really??????  SIX WEEKS out they take a payment and hold my tracker hostage???  I didn't even ask for my 5 bucks back, I just wanted access to my online eTools Activity Tracker that I already PAY for every month as part of my monthly pass. !!!!!

I was told a supervisor would call me back.  Yeah, right.  No one ever did.

So, I wrote a letter to WW CEO, David Kirchoff, who has a pretty good blog, BTW - hey, the guy has Brene Brown's TEDx speech from 2010 in his most recent post - that's pretty awesome stuff! I wrote thinking that written communication might be more effective.  Um . . . not so much.  I never heard back from anyone.

I was resigned to wait out the six weeks, but I wasn't happy.  And then, yesterday, I read on one of the message boards that another member who had a poor ActiveLink experience had succeeded in getting his Activity Tracker restored! 

I got right on the horn.  First I called WW again, and - once again - they were no help whatsoever, telling me that no, I had to wait until November 27th, that it was not possible to unlink my online tracker from ActiveLink when I already knew that it WAS possible.  Then, while sitting on hold forever with them, I got the bright idea to call Philips.  Talk about Customer Service.  :-)  They transferred me to their billing department and I had my online tracker restored in MINUTES.  Only wish I had thought to call them four weeks ago . . .

Everything does happen for a reason, however - and in the meantime, I figured out the Heart Rate Monitor that I bought at least two years ago  :-D  I got new batteries for it, changed them up in both the chest strap and the watch, wore it to my workout on Thursday and burned 300 calories.  Doesn't sound like a lot, but to me, that equates to 3 Activity Points.  Conventional wisdom says about 80 calories is an ActivityPoint, but I am conservative when calculating activity.  On the calculator I always choose "low" for my perceived exertion in order to not overestimate how many Activity Points I'm earning.

What I still can't figure out:  (1) If my baseline was calculated based solely on my age, weight, height and gender, then why on earth did I have to have an 8-day assessment period?  I mean, if those are the only criteria for setting a baseline, shouldn't you just be able to enter that info and go right out of the gate?  and (2) Why is WW customer service so poor?

What I think is likely:  From what I'm reading on the WW message boards, ActiveLink seems to work well for people who are runners - they rack up the ActivityPoints pretty quickly.  For those of us who move when we can, as much as we can, but perhaps are limited by having lives and/or injuries (elliptical and swimming - even when "named" as recommended on the ActiveLink site don't track very well at all), ActiveLink is pretty much an exercise in daily failure, which for me anyway, is exceptionally de-motivating.

What I do know for sure (thanks Oprah :-D):  (1) Thanks to Philips, I have my tracker back  :-)   I'm a happy gal!  (2) I really needed to write this all down and get it off my chest - and hopefully help someone else who might be in the same situation; and (3) In my heart of hearts I think Weight Watchers is awesome.  I KNOW it works when you work the program.  I just wish they could get their technology together a little better (I can enter my OWN weight into my online tracker, thank you very much, and I can calculate my OWN activity :-) ).

p.s.  I do love me some gadget . . . I just bought a FitBit One.  Early Christmas!! Can hardly wait for it to arrive!


candy said...

I'm glad you got that worked out. I hope you made a difference somewhere

A :-) said...

Thanks Candy - I also left a review on Amazon, and someone there said it helped them. So, hopefully I helped at least one person avoid the frustration I went through. :-)

Sandy said...

I've been using the Active Link for about 8 weeks now and have the same feeling as you, although I'm not nearly as active as you to start. I hate the fact that if I don't reach goal I don't get credit for anything. I joined the AL group on WW to see if I was just missing something, but I'm still not convinced. I use a HR monitor and compare it to WW charts for exertion and should be getting much higher APs than the AL is giving me, even when I name my activities. It's slightly motivating to get credit just for moving more during the day but it seems hugely skewed in what it actually tracks. I find that truly DE-motivating. I'm giving it another couple of weeks but am thinking I'd rather go back to the original tools. I'll keep in mind your comment about calling Phillips!