Fitness Trackers: How do they make you feel?

Fitbits and Apple watches are everywhere! Which is great because having data as baselines for creating autonomy over our health is key. Just like getting bloodwork done, In Body scans or stepping on the scale. All the metrics are data to help us understand more about ourselves. 

But, they can also be taken too far.

The problem is not the thing - the tracker, the scale - it is our relationship with the thing and how it makes us feel.

Getting more movement is certainly necessary because we have such a sedentary society. But getting hung up on arituary numbers can also cause us damage.

I will encourage my clients to get 10K steps a day (some more some less depending on what their goals are) because I want to encourage them to move more. This is not about more intentional exercise, but more daily movement. 

However, that 10K number, that’s become popular in the health and fitness space, is completely arbitrary. It isn’t backed by science but it does give people a framework in which 'getting more movement’ means. 

The number comes from a 1960’s Japanese marketing campaign whereby a Japanese company had designed the world’s first wearable step counter, which translated as ‘10,000 step meter’. The company felt that 10K was an indicator of an active and healthy lifestyle. They’d concluded that the average Japanaese person took between 3500-5000 steps a day and that if people increased to 10K they could decrease their risk of coronary artery disease. 

The studies in present day that have been done to test whether 10K steps is optimal for health themselves are not very revealing. They compare numbers of people who have done less than 10K steps and then measure caloric expenditure, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. 

Basically there’s no scientific proof that 10K is the magic number we have to hit.

But it is a useful framework for people to use. And that is fine! 

If you track your steps and see that you are getting in 4K a day. Fine. That’s feedback for you that you might want to get some more movement in your day. So maybe tomorrow you aim to get to 5K. From there, assess how you feel. How difficult was it for you? Do you feel better? Then try a little more and see how that feels. You don’t need to go from 2K to 10K in a day. That’s not realistic. But using the tool is a way to figure out how you can get a little more movement is key.

The Issue

When we use these tools to dictate how we feel about ourselves depending on what number is spit out at us from these external tools. We start internalising the external measurement. We start to see ourselves as good or bad, as successful or a failure depending on what our tracker says, how many steps we got, how many calories we burned, what the number on the scale says.

If the scale or your tracker is determining your mood then you need to consider how you’re using it. The goal is for you to not need an external thing to determine how you’re feeling but to develop body autonomy by using these things as a baseline to help understand your biofeedback. 

The thing is you shouldn't need to rely on a thing to tell you whether or not you have moved enough today or not. Is it changing your mood? If it is manipulating how you feel about yourself and how you feel about your body then consider having a break, take it away and begin to explore internally how you feel.

Getting more steps isn’t necessarily a good thing. I know that if I get over 20,000 steps I feel exhausted, my hips hurt and I am starving. I also know if I haven't moved enough because my hips will be sore. Just like being below 18% body fat and a certain dress size, doing 10K steps a day doesn’t mean you are healthy or you are good or bad.

With steps, the bottom line, though, is this: when in doubt move more. Go for a walk, park your car further away, take the stairs. But note that more cardio is NOT movement. More purposeful exercise is not movement. Going for a run or doing more exercise to get more steps is not the idea here. That is just an extra stressor in your life which is the antithesis of more unintentional movement is. 

Image credit: Fleur van der Laan

Creating Body Autonomy

You are in your body alll the time, you’re never out of your body. If you’re so reliant on your tracker or the scale to tell you how you feel you are completely disconnected to your body.

Creating body autonomy takes a lot of time. But it starts with creating awareness and being open to it . You need to use that data and then ask yourself how you feel and decide on what you need to do to feel better. Use it as a way to monitor your baseline and then go from there. How is your mood? How do you feel in your body?

If you feel that you are getting a little hooked on your devices or the scale try this:

Before you get on the scale ask yourself how you feel. Write down in a journal how you feel in your body. Do you feel energised? Do you feel happy, do you feel confident? Internally assess.

Weigh yourself then ask yourself how you feel from the number that you see. 

If your mood changes, then it is evidence not about what your body is or isn't but that you need to dig deeper into your relationship with the scale and what it means to you.

Check Yoself Before Yo Wreck Yoself

Check yourself and how you are using trackers, measuring tools and metrics in your life. They are all cool things but necessary and unnecessary things depending on your circumstances. But the goal should always be to use them as a way to develop more autonomy over YOUR body. To learn more about yourself what feels good for you, what feels like optimal health to you and how you can live your best life. So, if they cause you to feel anxious, stressed, like a failure because of the numbers they spit at you, then ask yourself how and why you are using them.

Remember: It is not the thing it's how we feel about the thing. Resist the urge to let an external thing tell you how you feel. It is just a distraction. The real change has to originate in YOU.