On Fitbits and fitness trackers

Recently, someone in a Dessert Club asked me about fitness trackers. I know you don’t believe in weighing yourself, they said, but what do you make of fitness trackers?

Frankly, I have no inherent objections to fitness trackers. Counting the number of steps you take in a day seems...fine. If that's what you're into, have at it.


However, I do think that if you are considering using one, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Why are you considering using a fitness tracker? 

    Are you hoping the fitness tracker will help you improve your mood? Manage anxiety? Feel good in your body? Lose weight? Get stronger? Get healthier?

    Are you able to be real with yourself about whether those motivations are useful for you? For example, the desire to use a fitness tracker might come from the mean voice in your head that is always saying life would be much better if you lost five pounds. Is that a voice you want to encourage?
  2. What is the result of using this device?

    You might start using a fitness tracker with the best of intentions. I just want to help myself walk 8,000 steps a day because I feel so much better when I do! 

    But, over time, how does using a fitness tracker affect how you relate to movement and your body? Do you still feel a natural appetite to move? Do you feel like you're allowed to rest?

A couple of additional notes about “tracking”:

1. I have no inherent objection to “tracking” movement or setting movement goals.

I don’t use a fitness tracker, but I have a personal movement intention: I try to get in ~45 minutes of movement per day. Usually this means a long walk, but sometimes I go to a yoga or a dance class. Movement is an extremely effective stress reliever for me, and knowing approximately what I need to do every day simplifies my life.

But some days, I don’t exercise. Maybe I’m tired or I’m busy, and forcing myself to “get it done” would make me more stressed. And I’m fine with that, too.

The key here is that your intentions or goals should help you take care of yourself, rather than impede your ability to do so. You need to be honest (and it's hard to be that honest!) with yourself about whether these goals are actually helping you.

However, please remember…

2. Depending on your past relationship to movement and exercise, any kind of goal-setting may not be a good idea for you right now.

Maybe you’ve spent so long “forcing” yourself to exercise, that you’ve lost all natural appetite for movement. Maybe setting any kind of goal sparks a competitive part of you that tends to compare yourself to others and become too fixated on a particular body type.

Maybe you need to just spend a long time resting, and waiting until your body truly wants to move.

Just because any kind of goal-setting isn’t healthy for you right now, doesn’t mean it couldn’t work for you months or years into the future. But please honor what you are needing now.


3. Notice if you have a tendency to outsource your self-care.

I think Fitbits are part of a larger trend towards outsourcing our ability to care for ourselves. We don’t trust our internal signals, or we’ve completely forgotten how to tune into them. So instead of looking within, we look for guidance from fitness trackers and food plans and diets and articles online.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with expert or technological advice. But it troubles me that many of us have come to privilege external, often technological, insight above our own.

On one hand, buying a fitbit or otherwise outsourcing our self-care is sometimes easier than the alternative. The alternative means actually checking in with our bodies and ourselves. Intellectually, it doesn’t sound that hard to “check in,” but in our world of busy-ness and buzzing and having a million things to do, it can be hard to actually check in with how our bodies are doing. Doing so requires feeling things, and we doing always want to feel things. 

And yet, what is the cost?

Oh, and one final reminder: when in doubt, err on the side of gentleness.