In my day-to-day life, I’ve noticed a peculiar bracelet cropping up (the latest in a never-ending steam of weight-loss gadgets). This bracelet has the strange effect of making the wearer walk around a room in circles for minutes on end.
“What is this sorcery?” You ask?
It is known as a “fitness tracker”, sold by leading brands Fitbit and Jawbone, to name a couple. This high-tech pedometer aims to aid fitness goals and healthier lifestyles by counting steps and tracking sleep patterns and heart rate. Smartphones now also have apps that essentially do the same thing.
Seems like a sweet deal, right? Your daily step activity is effortlessly tracked for you! All you need is a minimum 10,000 steps per day and Bingo! You’re on your way to a better you!
I see my friends constantly pace around the room at the end of the day to get the holy number of steps in. Horror ensues when a panicked friend accidentally leaves their Fitbit at home, because today’s step number will forever be unknown and untracked. I wonder: Where is the line between healthy and obsessive?
The bracelets light up and the apps congratulate you once you reach your 10,000 steps. But only for steps. Yoga, sit-ups, push-ups, biking, swimming…sorry, those don’t count in the eyes (circuit boards?) of the divine Fitbit. In addition, all steps are considered equal; there is no way to differentiate between walking, hiking, running, hopping, dancing, or what have you with these devices.
To keep you motivated and on your feet, you can even see the step number of other friends! As long as you run 30 miles this weekend, you can be #1 and sleep easy knowing that you aren’t “the lazy one”. Who needs moderation when you will be applauded for more and more exercise and less and less calories?
Yup, sure sounds like a balanced, wholesome fitness routine to me!
The reality is that these weight-loss apps and fitness trackers don’t even contain some of the most integral parts of a long term weight-loss regimen. These include research-backed behavior strategies such as “stress reduction, relapse prevention, social cues, negative thinking, developing regular eating patterns, time management and instruction of how to read nutrition labels”.
In 2014, health and fitness apps were the fastest growing downloads from Google apps, and sales of fitness trackers are expected to triple, exceeding $5 billion by 2019 .
This information makes me skeptical of fitness trackers. If we actually lost the weight and kept it off by using these apps and wrist bands, we wouldn’t need them anymore. If we don’t adopt long-term healthy habits, or if we feel obsessive and fear weight-gain without our dear friend, the Fitbit, we are ensuring that these companies have repeat customers. Kah-ching!
Don’t get me wrong: Fitness trackers have great potential and have helped many adopt more active lifestyles from previously sedentary ones, but we can add to these apps and fitness bracelets to make them more effective and mentally healthy.
Behavioral strategies instrumental to weight loss should be implemented in these products (like the MyFitnessPal warning picture above). There could also be an upper limit to prevent over-exercising that notifies users after multiple days of intense exercise and encourages them to take a break, or a provided hotline or information center for users who consistently over-exercise. This would be helpful for the vast amount of people who become obsessed with step trackers.
Only time will tell whether fitness trackers are here to stay or if they will dwindle away with other weight-loss fads. But, in a culture obsessed with quantifying everything, it is helpful to remind yourself to listen to your body and emotional well-being.
And, most importantly, remember that you and your health are more than just a number.
Alessandra Lichtenfeld is currently pursuing her dreams of becoming a writer and filmmaker for social justice. She is particularly interested in media’s portrayal of women and the effect media has on a culture’s values.