Life After Diets
Should I Break Up With My Fitbit?
We need to talk. You haven’t done anything wrong, but I want to be honest with you about how I feel. You’ve given me so much, but I’m worried that I was too clingy and dependent on you for a long time.
Still, Fitbit, we’ve been through a lot together — vacations, new apartments, a marathon — and I think we owe it to each other to talk this out.
My current Fitbit came into my life on a warm spring day in 2018, an impulsive splurge from the Memorial Day Weekend sales I tried halfheartedly to resist. It was a simple Alta HR, an unobtrusive model with a small face and a slim, black band that looked good on and blended into both professional and leisure outfits quite nicely.
“I’ll use the heart rate monitor for my Orangetheory classes,” I argued to myself, hovering my mouse over the checkout button. I’d been resisting buying one of their branded wearables for a while. This seemed like a great alternative, and one I’d get far more use out of outside of class.
“And my office is starting their annual step challenge,” I thought. “This will be more accurate than using my phone.”
This wasn’t my first experience with fitness trackers in general or Fitbit in particular. I could rationalize this anyway I wanted, but mostly I wanted to make sure I was hitting some arbitrary step count so that I could ensure I was getting enough exercise each day. Enough exercise for me, until very recently, was whatever amount was required to lose weight. This was almost exclusively about weight and control.
Still, when I opened the box and tried on my new watch, a sleek design that didn’t immediately scream, “I’m cool and fit and special,” I was instantly in love. I set up my profile and started tracking my daily steps, flights of stairs climbed, and calories burned. This quickly became a habit, and, being a bit of a data nerd, I really enjoyed tracking my activities and the trends by days, weeks, and months. I could feel and see a difference in the way I felt and looked, and my Fitbit provided a way to quantify those results without ever touching a scale, which was a welcome change for me at the time.
Don’t Cry Because It’s Over, Smile Because It Happened
I started with the usual 10,000-step goal, but I started increasing my goal pretty quickly after I started tracking. For one thing, the 10,000 steps per day goal is entirely arbitrary, and is not actually tied to any objective health metric. In fact, the only reason we use the 10,000-step benchmark is because a Japanese pedometer company released a product in the sixties that translated into English as the ‘10,000-step meter’.
Most studies on this benchmark since that time have shown it to be a relatively useless metric. In a study that looked at step counts in older women, Harvard University professor, I-Min Lee, found lowered mortality risk in women who increased their step counts by just 2,000 per day over their baseline. These benefits plateaued after 7,500 steps per day. It seems that what people should strive for is a step goal that’s a bit higher than their daily average.
I live in New York City, and I commute to work each day. My average commute includes a 10-minute walk to the nearest subway stop, a transfer that includes several flights of stairs, and then a 15-minute walk from the subway to my office. All this before I even get to work. Then, I do it again in the afternoon. On average, I hit 10,000 steps just from this daily commute and the little bit of walking I do to and from meetings or at lunch. So, 10,000 steps isn’t really a challenge for me in my current lifestyle. Over time, I increased my goal first to 12,000, then 13,000, and now I regularly strive to hit 14,000 steps per day, every day.
It was fascinating at first to see my progress and track my daily walks and runs. I definitely felt encouraged to get off the train earlier, walk into Manhattan from my Brooklyn apartment, or spend entire summer days outside walking around the park with friends. I loved seeing the numbers tick up and feeling like I was really living as healthily as I could. I spent a lot more time outdoors, which is something I genuinely enjoy but never do enough of.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
There’s nothing really wrong with my Fitbit use at this point. I’ve started moving away from my dependence on it to tell me how “well” I’m doing at achieving my fitness goals. However, I think that my Fitbit was a great tool in establishing a baseline for how active I enjoy being and how that affects my overall health. I can now tell how active I’ve been and how I feel on any given day without checking my wrist. I understand how to reach the level of physical activity that works for me, and that matches the range I usually achieve with my Fitbit.
I also don’t tie my sense of accomplishment to my Fitbit the way that I used to. There was a time not too long ago when I wouldn’t leave my house without it (and if I did, I’d retrace my steps to retrieve it, closely counting what I had missed so that I could add it on later). I even bought a special gold metal band accessory because I refused to attend a wedding without it, but wanted it to look dressier. How would I know how many dance steps I had accumulated? How would I match my activity to my increased calories for the night? It was horrible to even imagine.
Now, if I forget my watch on my way to work or the gym, it’s not the end of the world. The steps, flights, and calories still “count” despite the anxiety I once felt about this very idea. I just don’t need it the way I used to.
There’s No One Else, I Swear
There is no shortage of wearable fitness technology, including a variety of other Fitbit options, Apple Watch, Garmin, Suunto, and Xiaomi. Each one offers the same basic features, with some unique add-ons in the more expensive models. In fact, many of these wearables are becoming much better at monitoring user activity and setting ambitious but achievable goals.
Studies have shown that people who use fitness trackers rarely show any improvement in quantifiable health measures, including weight loss. According to a study published in The Lancet in 2016, even incentives like cash or charitable donations don’t seem to have much of an impact on behavior change or weight loss.
However, strategies for behavior change, social support, and coaching are being incorporated into the newest generation of fitness wearables, making them some of the most sophisticated fitness and health tools available. Whether or not this has any impact on health or weight loss is still debatable, but many of these features reflect the best data available to us and may show better results over time.
It’s unlikely that my Fitbit, or any other wearable technology, will have much of a real impact on my overall health or fitness goals. I probably won’t be investing in any other devices in the future, but I’m content with the data tracking features of my current model when I choose to use it.
Can We Still Be Friends?
Like an ex you just can’t seem to break up with for good, I don’t think I’m quite ready to give up my Fitbit altogether. I like data, and it’s still fun for me to watch trends in my activity levels over time. I still get excited when I feel the buzzing on my wrist at the end of the day, announcing that I’ve met one of my goals. And when I go to Disney World in a few weeks, I’ll enjoy seeing the ridiculously high step count at the end of a day walking around one of the parks.
I’m also considering running another half marathon next year. If I do, I may rely on my Fitbit more often. There are plenty of better styles and options that would more closely track my pace and distance, but I don’t want to make running a chore again. I want to run for the joy of it, while still training appropriately to avoid injury and feel good about my race performance. Any other pressure feels unnecessary.
On a more practical level, Fitbits and other trackers function well even as simple watches. I like that I can twist my wrist and have the time flash on the screen. It’s small, and I appreciate that it blends in well with my wardrobe, even at work. It’s also quick to charge and has a relatively long battery life. All in all, it works well for me, and, even if it doesn’t improve my health, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
So, dear Fitbit, I likely won’t be breaking up with you for good any time soon, but I know we’re growing apart. We’re moving in different directions, and I just don’t need you in the same way I used to. I’m strong enough to go out on my own and achieve my own goals and dreams now. Without you.
But, I hope we can still be friends.