Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why You Don't Need a Fitness Tracker

The request was innocent an enough.

A friend, by social media standards, was requesting a fitbit. You know, if someone had lying around. She promised that she would put it to good use.

 photo NewYearsResolutionDietSign_zps6483cd5d.jpg

After all, it's that time of year. The time when people commit — or recommit — to eating healthier, exercising more and losing weight. Before I go any further, let me be clear: I have no problem with New Year's resolutions. I think they can be great. Heck, my journey started in 2005 with a New Year's resolution.

The problem? The idea that one needs a tracker to lose weight.


First and foremost, a fitness tracker can only do so much. Sure, it tells you how many steps you took, how many calories you burned, when you were most active, how much you slept. What it doesn't do? It doesn't get you off the couch. It doesn't drive you to the gym or put in an exercise DVD. It doesn't cook you healthy dinners or put an apple in your mouth instead of a piece of cake.

The fitness tracker cannot and will not do the work. It is up to the person. Period.

Other grievances:

By the numbers. The science of losing weight is often simplified to calories in, calories out but there is a key component to the process. KNOWLEDGE. Fitness trackers can give you a lot of numbers but don't necessarily tell you how to interpret them. A friend of mine purchased a fitbit, by my suggestion actually, when she was stuck in her weight loss. It told her she burned far more calories than she anticipated, and it left her confused as to how much to eat. Should she be eating 1,800 calories instead of 1,500 or stay at 1,500? She used the a piece of gym equipment but it didn't register. Should she go for an extra walk to hit 10,000 steps?

You are what you eat. Exercise and, in general, moving more are key to weight loss but diet plays a significant role. Though many of the trackers do sync with food diary apps, the emphasis is on things that are measured through heart rate and movement. In a way, it takes food out of the picture. Also, some people might see that they burned 500 calories on the treadmill and use it as a "reason" to make a less-than-ideal choice.

Commitment before reward. I have seen many people go out and buy all.the.things when they show interest in a new activity or pursuit. The idea is that they should have everything they might need during the journey so that they can feel supported and ready. However, it is my belief that gear should be earned — not given. When I started Couch to 5K in 2009, I used a $10 stopwatch for Target. It wasn't until after I successfully completed the 9-week program  and was half-way through an extended plan for the Flying Pig that I asked for a Garmin 305. It seemed silly to invest that money in a watch if I didn't know whether running would stick. Same goes for fitness. Start by tracking on free sites, such as MyFitnessPal. If you want to be accountable for your exercise, choose an affordable heart rate monitor. Use the fitness tracker as a reward once hitting a certain milestone rather than something to start with.

Don't get me wrong — I think there are benefits to wearing a tracker but I don't think it is the be all, end all of weight loss. It is not a $100 insurance policy for success.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Love this! As you know I'm currently wearing TWO fitness trackers which feels ridiculous. I agree with everything you said pretty much. I read an article once about someone who was complaining that they weren't losing weight because when they got an activity tracker that they started eating MORE because it told them they could. It just doesn't work like that. I think that it's another "tool" and people need to look at it that way. It's a TOOL, not a gimmee.

    1. Thanks! I'm particularly spiteful about this because I actually contributed half the price of a heart rate monitor to said friend. I think it was used for a week, via social media, for a couple weeks. Haven't seen it since. But, if she had a fitbit, you know it would all work out.

      Note: I am easily agitated when pregnant. I need to hide somewhere.

  2. For awhile I was wearing 2 of these suckers too. Now I wear none. I think they're fun. I especially like the sleep stats, but I soon got a feel for what 10k steps feels like. I don't need a tracker to tell me when I'm too sedentary. The Fitbit would entice me to go up and down more stairs, but that is all.

  3. I agree with your perspective. It is up to the person and sometimes a fitness tracker clouds the picture with useless info.

  4. I like this. And just the idea that you don't need all the things. And to earn gear.

  5. I like your point that fitness gear should be earned, not given. Definitely keeps the motivation high!

  6. Hi Kimberly.

    I totally agree with you. Nothing to add to this, you nailed it. Well, except that these things aren't that accurate either. And for someone with a heart condition or diabetes, for example, the discrepancies a fitness bands shows up may lead to serious consequences than for "normal" people.

    Thanks for the post.