I started wearing a fitness tracker band in the fall of 2015. I was convinced, in my type A, organized, uber-controlling way, that monitoring my steps, activity level and food intake would provide me with hard data to help me reach my fittest, happiest, sveltest self ever. In my mind, my pre-tracker lack of data was obviously hindering my progress. There was some missing key in that information that would help me unlock unconscious habits I didn’t know were preventing me from reaching a new level of fitness.
My quest to challenge and change my body began over a decade ago when I lost over 70 pounds (and mercifully, have kept most of that off as my 30s creep into view). Since then, I’ve been an ongoing personal experiment to find the best workouts, the best ways of eating, and the best lifestyle choices to keep my person happy and well. Having never used a pedometer or calories-burned tracker, I decided this next level of observation would be a helpful tool to feel awesome and appreciate my body more.
Little did I know that a year later, I’d be more stressed out, more self-loathing and more critical of my choices than ever. Here’s what I learned from my year of obsession (and why my wrists are now naked and my heart so much happier).
I Felt Like I Was Never Living and Moving Perfectly Enough
I lead a pretty active lifestyle. At least one, usually two, workouts daily, and an active job where I often walk more than 13,000 steps in a work day. To some standards, it’s a little crazy, but I get my energy from moving and truly love working out. While wearing the tracker, I would be moving upwards of 26,000 or 28,000 steps a day (I began with a goal of 12,000 last fall; at the time I broke up with my tracker, I had a daily goal in the high 20,000’s).
While it was nice to see my goal go up and up, it became an obsession. What I did last week wasn’t enough, and no matter what I accomplished in a day, it still felt like I was falling short. I found myself in a cycle of pushing as hard as I could and still feeling under-accomplished. This is hardly the point of wearing a tracker, and as self-loathing took over feelings of motivation, I started to realize that perhaps this tool was no longer helping me.
Movement Became Obligatory, Not Fun
All of my activities in a day started to revolve around steps—getting in more, beating yesterday, sitting for as few minutes as possible—and not in a healthy way. While I love the focus of talking on the phone while walking, I started to resent any activity that required me to sit—including hanging out at home with my husband or having to do seated work. Workouts that wouldn’t count towards my steps, like swimming and cycling, which I love and do often, started to feel annoying. Why bother doing them if they don’t increase the arbitrary number of steps I’ve set for myself? I was no longer working out to enjoy myself but instead to amass quantitative data. It was getting ridiculous.
Tracking My Workouts in Terms of Calories Really Messed with my Eating Habits
For the majority of my time using the tracker, I was also inputting my food intake into the app. Seeing my “calories left to go” for the day was highly motivating. I would put off eating and continue working out so that I’d end the day with over 3000 calories still to consume. Ordinarily, I detest calorie counting and would never recommend it to the health coaching clients I work with. But somehow, I found myself eyes-deep in meticulous tracking of portions and ingredients, finding weird satisfaction in watching that number of how much I still could eat that day go up. Invariably, I would be starving by the end of the day (those two workouts and 28,000 steps really do take energy!), and I would find myself bingeing to make up for the day’s deficit. Not conducive to athletic performance, weight maintenance or digestion. What was I allowing this tracker to do to me?!
About eight months into the year, I stopped logging my food. It made a tremendous difference in how I felt in my body and took a little edge off the self-loathing. This was the first step towards breaking up with the tracker altogether.
I Didn’t Allow Myself Any Rest—and My Performance Suffered
Any minute spent not in movement felt like a failure. I set my “idle alarm,” which goes off at a set interval to remind you to move, for every 15 minutes. I’d boxer shuffle behind the couch in the evening and do butt-kickers in the morning, just to get that count as high as possible, eschewing every possible moment of stillness. There were few rest hours when I wasn’t sleeping, and there were certainly no rest days.
Fun fact: If you actually want to improve your physical performance, you need to rest. Not allowing myself to do so meant I was overtired and probably phoned in a few more of my workouts than I should have. If you’re too exhausted and not recovered enough to work out, you shouldn’t. I wasn’t allowing this to be an option when the numbers in the app meant so much.
I Let My Tracker Consume My Decisions and My Life
Perhaps most notable of all, I started to let the potential for steps, or the potential for stillness, dictate what I said yes to, socially and professionally, for far too long. I would turn down movie dates or going for a picnic if I felt it would interfere with my total steps and total calories for the day.
How Breaking it Off Changed Everything
My breaking point came when I realized that, despite my obsessive tracking and data crunching, I was in fact not any fitter or slimmer than I had been when I started. Perhaps due to all the late-night calorie-refilling or the fact I was overdoing my workouts without rest, my body was not at all what I’d hoped it would be after 12 months of hard effort. I knew that I had stopped listening to my person and what I needed—instead of letting a device tell me how well I was doing—was to tap back into my own self knowledge of what I need, how I feel best and what “enough” looks like.
I promptly put the tracker away. I started working out for fun again. I stopped assigning every day a level of success based on how many steps I’d taken. I felt free to rest (and free to push myself) without needing to overdo it on food or self-loathing. Suddenly, my decision to say yes to activities didn’t rely on how many steps they would achieve and I now find myself less focused on whether or not I’ve hit some random goal I set—just to feel like I was doing something “meaningful.”
What has been most interesting is that I continue to move just as much I did before. I continue to work out a ton and find reasons to be active—walking the dog, working, commuting by foot instead of by car—and my body has settled back to its happy place. I feel better. I move better. I’m less stressed out. And my husband is thrilled I no longer spend our evenings boxer-shuffling to make sure I get those last 4,000 steps in.
The takeaway? Data and information can be useful, but they’re only helpful as long as they don’t make you crazy.
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