Footloose and Fitness Tracker-Free

In June 2014, I bought a fitness tracker. I got myself a Fitbit One to wear on my hip rather than a wristband tracker because I really liked wearing my watch.

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Snazzy watch, much nicer than any fitness tracker.

I wore the tracker all day and all night, every day and every night. In 2016, hoping to shake things up by increasing the intensity of my exercise (coincidentally, this was also the upshot of Fitbit’s advertising at the time), I added a Charge HR to the mix. I wore the new tracker for daytime activities and the One for sleep tracking and felt confident that positive results would follow.

If you believe the reports, many people only wear their fitness trackers for a few months, but not me. I wore one fitness tracker or the other twenty-four hours every day for three years, even under my dress at my brother’s wedding. Gotta get credit for the Chicken Dance! (N.B., There was no Chicken Dance at my brother’s wedding.)

And then today, I deleted my Fitbit account.

Deleting my account was quick and easy, but the build-up took a while. There are three main reasons I fell out of love with my Fitbit(s), and with fitness trackers in general.

  1. They didn’t help me get more fit. I was fairly fit to start with—I walked every morning, did Fitness Blender workouts every day, and complemented those with yoga and meditation—but after moving to the suburbs, I’d developed some not-so-healthy habits related to the driving culture and lack of sidewalks or anywhere good to walk. I hoped that a fitness tracker would help me develop new, suburb-friendly habits and that maybe I’d lose the extra five pounds I’d gained along the way. But the net result was in the opposite direction. In the three years I wore a Fitbit, I gained ten pounds. I know that weight isn’t the only indicator of fitness, but…ten pounds?
  2. They stopped working properly. I moved back to the Fitbit One full-time when my Charge HR wristband became uncomfortable (no interchangeable wristbands on that version). This worked okay for a while until my Fitbit One began shutting itself off randomly, causing me to lose step or sleep data for hours at a time. Last month, I did three and a half hours of intense yard work, and when I took off my gardening gloves and checked my One, it had shut itself off, apparently very soon after I started working. “To hell with this,” I said. I decided to punish the tracker by not wearing it anymore, but I found that I really liked being tracker-free.
  3. They encouraged behaviors in me that increased anxiety and didn’t support fitness. After I started wearing a fitness tracker, I quickly found that some activities showed up as steps better than others. I could spend an hour lifting weights, but I’d only get credit for the jumping jacks I did between sets. The steps I took up a mountain counted the same as the steps I took around my relatively flat neighborhood. My step total became my primary goal—first 10,000 a day, then 20,000 a day—and I found myself scrapping my weight training and yoga in favor of more step-intensive activities just so I could hit my step goal. And once I started food tracking, I tapped into a whole new level of obsession. I’d never been a calorie tracker, but soon after I started tracking calories on the app, I couldn’t finish a meal without recording every bite I’d eaten and comparing it to the recommended total for the day to determine how much I was allowed to eat at my next meal. I became fixated on calories and on food in a way that felt distinctly unhealthy to me, and the scale reflected that. To be fair, I’m prone to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. But while the fitness trackers didn’t cause these things, wearing a fitness tracker triggered my obsessive tendencies in a way that increased my anxiety and didn’t help me get more healthy.

 

I liked the fitness trackers a lot for a while, but after three years, I had to admit that they weren’t doing what I’d hoped they’d do for me. I had been trying to fix what wasn’t broken, and in the process, I taught myself to trust a number rather than trusting my body. I boxed up my Fitbits to give away and got my plain old comfy analog watch out of the drawer and back on my wrist, and I feel much more free now.

And although it’s been only about a day since I deleted the app, I’m already adjusting to the new arrangement of icons on my phone.

Now to get rid of my scale.*

*Not really. I’ll just hide it for a while.

7 comments

  1. Michael Packard · 9 Days Ago

    Charity, thanks for the candid review of your three+ year analysis. I am only under a year into a FitBit world and I can see some of things on the horizon: the random turning off during yard work has happened and I have noticed being at the beach I do a lot of exercise swimming/playing in the water with it off and then obsess if I still don’t make my goal on those days. And then there is the part about what it logs and doesn’t log (my wife has that issue as you did). My one positive, other than the “awards”, has been forcing myself to do physical activity later in the day when I have not yet met my goal. My body thanks me for being active at night, so this gave me motivation to be in sync with that positive behavior.

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    • Charity · 8 Days Ago

      I think that could be a real strength of a fitness tracker: bringing awareness to our activity throughout the day to allow us to address and, if necessary, change our habits. I hope someone’s doing studies about the long-term use of wearable fitness trackers; it would be interesting to see what effects look like over a period of years. Do habits change, and if so, are the changes lasting? And what mental/emotional effects does the type of focus wearing a fitness tracker encourages have over the long-term? How might this differ from the effects of wearing a straight-up pedometer (if anyone’s wearing those anymore)?

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  2. Charity · 10 Days Ago

    It’s so demoralizing not to see hard work reflected in the numbers at the end of the day. And I might have been employing a bit of hyperbole when I said I would hide my scale. At the very least, I don’t want to be surprised when I go to the doctor’s office.

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  3. lindabdecker · 10 Days Ago

    Charity, me too! Mostly I just got tired of the darned things not working properly (I had 3 of them over several years). I haven’t worn one for several months now and don’t notice any difference in how much (or little) activity I get each day. Don’t think I’m ready to hide the scale yet though, as a regular weigh in does seem to help keep me from gaining; I gained 10 pounds during a period of not weighing and it’s still here after more than 6 months (at least it’s not continuing to increase!).

    Thanks for the post.

    ♥ Linda

    Like

  4. Victo Dolore · 10 Days Ago

    Good for you! 🙂

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    • Charity · 10 Days Ago

      It’s especially nice to hear that from a member of the medical profession! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charity · 10 Days Ago

        Or rather, medical professions.

        Like

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