Is your fitness tracker ruining your health?
I’m a recovering tracker addict. If it could be tracked I had the device, app, or tool to do it. It started with spreadsheets tracking my run times, then in college calculating my macros like a boss, and well into my 40’s relying on an arbitrary step count to define my worth as a professional, an athlete, and even as a person.
In recent years after a whole lot of personal reflection, deep dives into the rabbit hole of research studies and anecdotal science, and a better understanding of the dark side of wellness it has become clear to me that trackers can lead down a very dark path.
I write this with full disclosure that if you watch my yoga videos, catch me live on Facebook or Instagram, or meet me in person (who does that in 2021?) you will see that I have my tracker with it’s whimsical band firmly in place. Because I believe that there is value to keeping track of food & fitness, but also that there is a wrong way to do it.
Working extensively with clients seeking health and wellness goals ranging from reducing blood sugar to managing menopause symptoms, I use science based nutrition strategies and mind-body yoga techniques equally. The first step in making lasting impact in your health is awareness. A great place to use a tracker of some kind.
Whether keeping track of carb intakes for diabetics, or tracking your steps in perimenopause, a tracker can be a valuable tool for being more conscious of your decisions. It’s important to know where you are right now so that you can continually work to make improvements and grow in whatever direction you want.
The many kinds of trackers
It’s true that there is an app for everything these days: steps, calories burned, food, even symptoms of perimenopause and menopause! You can keep track of your macros to help you get stronger, your run time to build endurance, and even how many days that you meditated last week for emotional well-being. You can even old-school it, creating a spread sheet or purchasing a pretty journal and pen set.
Not all trackers are created equal- there are different price points, manufacturers, styles, and purposes to the devices, gadgets, and apps. You can even buy fitness trackers for kids! One thing that I will note here is that I have yet to find a tracker that is all the things- which gets pricey if you are trying to make a lot of changes.
But should you be tracking all of that or simply living it? Where do you draw the line? Is there such a thing as too much awareness? Can you overdo it? I’ll let you decide.
The dark side of tracking
Awareness is awesome, and definitely something you need to work on- everyone has their own blind spots when it comes to health & wellness. Using your powers of observation to help you make informed decisions around food, fitness, and self-care is the basis for finding success in your wellness goals, but like most things, it can become unhealthy when taken to the extreme.
First, it’s a device- there is no critical thinking, and I don’t care how “intelligent” a device is, it will never be able to distinguish between the mental work and physical work related to a workout. You will never be able to track your quality of life based on tracking macros, and so far I haven’t found a single person that values a perfect macro ratio over a shared special meal with a loved one. “I’m sorry grandma, I know that it’s your 99th Thanksgiving, but I need to cut carbs today so I’ll see you next year”…said no one ever!!
Next, facts aren’t always the facts (hang on it’s about to get bumpy…). It’s true, your tracker is lying to you. It says 3000 steps but it could actually be closer to 5000 or even 1500- there are dozens of variables that go into these tech gadgets spitting out numbers and they may or may not be spot on for you.
My battle with my sleep tracker
I’m going to share my recent argument with my sleep tracker. I recently became obsessed with sleep- mostly because somewhere around my 45th birthday I just stopped sleeping. Then for about 10 months I got the most glorious deep and productive sleep of my life. I have no idea what happened, but those are the facts.
I decided to start paying attention to my sleep tracker. I even upgraded my current fitness tracker to one with a better sleep function…and so it began. The first thing every morning I eagerly clicked on the app to get the report of how I slept the night before, and depending on the report I felt rested or tired. No matter what I actually felt, if my tracker said that I slept like shit, then I felt like shit. If I had 23 productive minutes of sleep but my tracker said “good to go!” then I was amazingly well rested despite the vague memory of staring at my husbands snoring form for approximately 5 hours straight.
Sorry, no “aha!” moment here, just a gradual return to sanity driven by the frustration of the impossible nature of reaching a perfect sleep score. I realized that I was letting a gadget determine how I felt- and it did not feel good!
The moral to this story is that trackers are not perfect. They are only as good as their algorithm, or in the case of a handwritten tracker- the data collected. Life is not lived in a lab, so take the clinical data and apply it with a grain of salt, because much of life is the untrackable stuff that really matters.
Using a tracker wisely
All of this to say that there is a place for a tracker and a place to let it go. I hold firm with my belief that awareness is the foundation to a successful wellness journey, and I am going to give you a few tips to build awareness in the healthiest way possible:
Only track 1 metric at a time. Choose something that is the most meaningful for you right now and just focus on that. Did you have a recent health scare? Just started experiencing perimenopause symptoms? Want to lose weight after a year of being stuck inside at home? I can help you figure out where step one is.
Watch trends not numbers. This should be in bold with all kinds of stars and arrows. No one cares about the numbers. You could be starting at 150lbs or 350lbs, you still have the same work to do. You could be a marathon runner wanting to increase endurance or a stroke victim who just wants to walk again- your journey is your struggle to bear. Begin with tracking a few days to get your baseline. How many steps do you walk on average for 1 week? What weights are you using this week? Start there and gradually do more. Beginning with eating no veggies every day, next week eat 1 veggie 5 days. If you are able create a graph of the cumulative effort and watch the line go up. 3000 steps this week, 3500 steps average next week, and so on.
Work to improve slowly. It’s ok to set an endpoint- in fact that’s scientifically sound advice. When you have a “due by” date you’ll stay motivated and work to improve over that time. Pick a time frame that allows you to win and follow the trend. There will be ups and downs in your trend line, and that’s ok! You won’t always reach your goal, but you can always be working towards it.
Pivot when necessary. Watching the trend gives you more opportunity to evaluate and pivot when necessary without over correcting. When watching daily streps it’s tempting to do double after a day of missing your goal. Then you might get shin splints and have to skip 4 days- setting you back a whole week. Whereas, if you watch the trend you can slowly add in a few extra steps each day to course correct after a day spent sitting still and still reach your weekly or monthly goal.
Let it go. It’s a tracker. It’s meant to provide you with data. What you do with that data is entirely up to you. Check in routinely to see where you are then let it go. The goal isn’t to get to your 101st birthday having logged a specific number of steps, the goal is to get to your 101st birthday at all! Steps (calories, sleep quality, etc.) are irrelevant.
Are you ready to begin a new wellness journey? There are a number of ways that you can work with me to reach your goals and it all begins with a connection call. Let’s chat about where you want to be and how I can help you get there.