Are You Drinking the Fitbit Kool-Aid?

Everybody and their mom has a Fitbit. It’s trendy. It’s hip. It’s the thing to do.

It’s also mind-numbingly boring, and—in my experience as a personal trainer for the last 13 years—I have rarely seen it change anyone’s life for the better. 

Several studies have come out recently about the inaccuracy of fitness tracking devices. Calories-burned and steps-taken have been shown to be wildly off base. Some brands are better than others, but overall, they are proving to be relatively unreliable. True believers claim that it isn’t the accuracy that matters most, what matters is the potential for these devices to help change our habits.

But do they? And at what cost to our authentic, uninhibited sense of wellbeing?

It’s fair enough to say that fitness trackers can be helpful tools in the short term. They give an interesting, clinical snapshot of our daily rhythms—but for most of us, once that curiosity is satisfied, they become meaningless appendages at best and nagging reminders of our shortcomings at worst.

Entertaining? Maybe. Transformative? Not so much.

If I sit on my backside all day, typing away in a vortex of lighted screens, I’m probably not moving enough. I don’t need anything other than the dull ache in my low back to tell me that. And if I really want to quantify how lazy I am, I can put my smart phone in my pocket for a day and have a gander at my scores at the end of the night. I don’t need to spend extra cash and wear a sticky, plastic band around my wrist 24/7/365 to figure that out.

Even better, what if—instead of counting, measuring, and attempting to manipulate my body into submission—I shifted my focus to bringing my body to life, in every way my half-asleep, half-awake, tireless, quirky mind can dream up.

I get it. We are all in a delicate dance with our bodies, a dance firmly based in relentless measurement and control—and we’re convinced that if we stopped dancing, everything would fall apart. We’d pack on a ton of weight, right? Except, no, we wouldn’t. Because we’re already doing all of the things we spend so much precious time and energy desperately trying to discipline ourselves not to do.

We track our steps all day before shellacking our bottoms to the couch all night. We resist every morsel of food during daylight hours before digging for crumbs at the bottom of the cookie bag after dark. And our weight stays pretty much the same—one step forward, one step back—a few hours of regulation and limitation in exchange for a few hours of freedom.

Nothing changes because the trackers aren’t really all that interesting after a while. They’re cold, mechanical devices, utterly unrelated to the experience of being present and alive. Once we get past the endorphin rush of fulfilling our electronic objectives a few times and get a thumbs up from the e-cloud in the sky, the beeps and buzzes lose their luster, and the tracker morphs into a glorified wrist watch that alerts us when we’ve got a text message. Whoop dee doo.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to drop the whole brain game and go looking for activities that get us moving, which also happen to excite and liberate us? Olympians, marathoners, and yogis aren’t out in the world tracking every move they make to achieve a negative calorie burn. They figured out what lights them up and went for it. Why can’t the rest of us do that on a smaller, more manageable scale?

In my book, Lightness of Body and Mind: A Radical Approach to Weight and Wellness, I beseech my clients to release themselves from the chains.

Stop trying to regulate your every move once and for all. Defy the urge to tie your body down to a set of meaningless numbers, and cut yourself loose to tiptoe through the proverbial tulips. The world is too full of sunlight and sidewalks to be occupying your mind with how many steps you’ve taken since breakfast.

Even if you had access to a totally accurate, numeric analysis of every breath you take—every step, calorie, and bowel movement—it wouldn’t get you any closer to a body that feels vibrant, alive, and ready for the passions that move you.

Fitness trackers don’t change lives and bodies. Engagement, action, exploration, pleasure, rest and playfulness do. The way to achieve a body you can love is by bringing it to life, not nailing it down.

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