Wearable Fitness Trackers – Are We Creating A New Addiction?

As a society we’re all very attached to technology.  I love my phone so much I’m getting closer to answering the question, “How many children do you have?” with the answer “Three.  One human, one canine and one technological” because there are times that I know I’m more attached to my phone than any living creature.

I realize that this attachment is a problem (which is a subject for another post entirely) but I also know that isn’t only my problem.  This attachment issue isn’t just in day-to-day life but it’s especially prevalent in the health, fitness and wellness world with the increasing popularity of wearable fitness trackers.

Wearable Fitness Trackers, FitBit, Shine, Polar Loop

21 fitness trackers may be overkill but you get the idea. Image: ekai

Be honest, how many times have you heard, seen or maybe even said the following statements….

“I ran naked today.” (read: without my Garmin)

“I forgot my FitBit at home and now my whole week is ruined.”

“I had to pace around my apartment to reach my 10K steps before I could go to bed.”

“Great day!  I reached all of my tracker goals today!”

“I need to workout harder/longer.  My calories burned during class were not enough.”

 

Statements like these scare the crap out of me because it makes me wonder if we’re already taking a numbers obsessed culture of fitness enthusiasts and fueling the fire (pun not intended).

Don’t get me wrong, I love numbers both personally and professionally.  However, I know how difficult it can be to stop letting a number on a scale rule someone’s life and now with this very sexy technology, there’s an even easier way to be able to feed that instant gratification need with immediate quantification of every physical (and not so physical – like sleep) effort.

FitBit, Statistics

Who wouldn’t want to see this kind of feeback every day?  Image: Serdar

 

The appeal of the technology and its usefulness for someone starting on a health, fitness and wellness journey is undeniable but it’s the need and attachment to the feedback that concerns me.  In our efforts to get healthier are we starting an unhealthy addiction to fitness feedback?

 

Fitness Tracker Addiction

This usually means bodily changes but could fitness tracker information be interpreted the same way?

 

Despite the imperfect technology, the wearable fitness tracker trend isn’t going away soon.  Instead, the data driven sect is being welcomed by the fashion industry – one well-known designer is getting on the bandwagon (the Tory Burch FitBit Flex is due out this spring) and further elevating the wearable fitness tracker as a status symbol.  I’m certain that other fashion designers won’t be far behind.  With the evergrowing appeal to the masses, I’m certain that the technological accuracy of tracking will only continue to improve as well.

Cards on the table, I’m definitely tempted by these lovely pieces of flair.  Even though the marketer in me should know better, I’m not immune to the allure (I’m a package slut extraordinaire) and the instant gratification (I am a New Yorker at heart you know).  I even  contemplated getting a tracker to monitor my sleep quality (before the big sleep apnea diagnosis came down) but I knew it would be an open door to my own obsessive nature and decided against it.  There was a time that I only did cardio on machines to (imperfectly) monitor my calorie burn.  It took me a very long time to appreciate exercise for it’s health and wellness benefits to my mind, body and soul instead of just acknowledging the numbers.

Fitness Trackers, Wearable fitness trackers, FitBit, Nike Fuel Band, Shine

Top L Image Source, Top R Image Source and Bottom Image Source

 

Instead, I continue to develop a closer relationship with my third child, my iPhone.  I do utilize apps to track my intake (this is a new thing that I thought I’d try because if I’m going to make clients do it in my private practice, I figure I’d better walk the walk) my running, for music accompaniment and to navigate any distance further than the 3 blocks away from my house with GPS and for now that’s about all I can bear without starting to slide down the slippery slope of needing more.

I want to envoke my #optimistflip mentality for the potential that this accessible and relatively affordable wearable fitness tracker technology can do to motivate people to lead healthier lifestyles.  However, from a personal and professional standpoint, my antennae sense danger for the many people interested in health, fitness and wellness  that also have the precursors to addictive or obsessive behavior (aka the ” better, faster, harder, longer and more” mentality.)

Perhaps time, evidence and improved technology will change my mind but for now, I remain cautious where wearable fitness trackers are concerned. I wonder how they will play a part not only in my future private nutrition practice but in the health and fitness industry as a whole.

What are your thoughts on wearable fitness trackers?  Do you have one?  Why or why not?  If you have one, why did you choose it and how do you like it?  If not, do you want one?

Comments

  1. says

    I own a body media body bug which goes on your left arm, I stopped using it a year ago because I got tired of wearing it to sleep, wearing it all day my arm would get this little rash from the band. I use the nike+ app and USB that goes in you shoe to track my walks, I do this mostly because I want to increase the distance I can jog to. I sometimes track what I eat on my fitness pal app but also do it for informational purposes to see how I’m doing. I have been honestly debating to get new tennis shoes, why? Because of the nike+ app USB not having a place for it in new shoes. Ridiculous I know. Which has made me lean towards the polar watch/calorie burn/hrm but paying an additional $150 for one well I just can’t decide. Your post made me think of how much I’ve been obsessing on numbers including the scale.

    • says

      Maribel: I do think trackers have a place for some people especially if you’re just starting on a journey but not if you already see yourself sliding on a slippery slope. I know many people who swear by their heart rate watch though but for me, I just can’t walk down that road at this point in my life.

  2. says

    Great post! I am interested in these wearable fitness trackers. I don’t have one but I like numbers. Flywheel is one of my favorite classes because I can track my progress using their torqboard. I use a heart rate monitor to track my heart rate and aprx calories burned. Not because I count calories but it helps me gauge my exertion level and the intensity of a workout. I think the key is to try not become too dependent on them if you can!
    FitBritt@MyOwnBalance recently posted…Friday’s Food & Fitness: The Valentine’s Day EditionMy Profile

    • says

      I love my numbers but whenever I’ve been to Flywheel, I DON’T use the Torqboard because it stresses me out. I get the usefulness but it fuels my inner compulsive and I need to go by perceived rate of exertion alone. I wish it wasn’t that way for me but it just is.

  3. says

    So funny that you wrote this today… my Polar Watch has been dead for 3 weeks… and I forgot my FitBit charger at work over the weekend. I wear then, but I also appreciate the times when I can just “be free” and enjoy exercise without the added tracking. It’s so easy to get addicted! BUT it’s also so nice to know where you stand fitness wise too.
    Kimberly (Manifest Yourself) recently posted…Journey to Wellness…with T25My Profile

    • says

      It’s a tough spot. I see the usefulness but it’s that damned attachment that kills me. It took me a long time to wean myself off of the feedback from gym machines so for now, I just get to look at the pretty technology and hope my own huffing and puffing tells me where I stand. Kimberly, are you going to get another Polar Watch? Also, why the Polar AND the FitBit? Just curious.

  4. says

    I got my Jawbone UP because I need to move more at work. I have the older version that you have to manually sync, and I may go a few days between syncing, so I’m not too obssessed. (I rely on “idle alarm” to nudge me to move every hour). On the other hand, I have to fight off a bad mood if I realize that I forgot my Garmin or it’s not charged up when I’m about to go for a run!
    Coco recently posted…Running In Circles In The RainMy Profile

    • says

      My husband wants the Jawbone but like me, he likes his numbers a little too much. It’s a delicate balance. I guess if you know your own limitations and motivators then these devices are fabulous but if it’s only going to make you spiral out of control, it’s best to do without.

  5. says

    Fantastic post! I do have a Garmin 305 watch that I use for running – to keep time and to track mileage. (I don’t even use the heartrate monitor – hi, if my heart is beating, I think I’m alive.)

    While others may find the watches/devices useful, I don’t think you have to have one to remind yourself to walk, eat, move your butt a little. I know a few friends who use them for sleep monitoring but that’s a real health issue for them.

    I hope that we all don’t go that crazy for tech. I’m awaiting the pendulum to swing the other way…
    Chris recently posted…Friday Five 2.14.14: Valentine’s Day Edition – Customer ServiceMy Profile

    • says

      I like your philosophy – I try to use something similar (if I’m huffing and puffing, I’m working hard, right?). I’m not so sure the pendulum is going to swing the other way but it will be interesting to watch…..

  6. says

    Great post – too many things can become obsessive. I too am seriously attached to my phone. And I do track my steps, although I’ve been doing it long enough now to know what it takes in a day to get me to my goal.

    I also track my food for periods of time with My Fitness Pal (on my phone). I try to not be obsessive about it and relax some days and be on point other days.
    carrie@familyfitnessfood.com recently posted…A week of Nourish – Move, Nourish, Believe ChallengeMy Profile

    • says

      The fine line is difficult to manage. This post has been bouncing around in my head for a long, long time and finally it came out. The delicate balance is something all of us involved in the health, fitness and wellness environment battle in some way or another I think. Thanks for the support Carrie!

  7. says

    Very nice post. I have a FitBit Zip. So far I am loving it. While I worried how I would react because I’ve gone down some rather scary rabbit holes with number/stats and trackers in the past, so far this has been a healthy process for me. I like to see my 10K each day, but I also know there are days this isn’t going to happen. So I try to be more active the next day or the next week. I make little changes in my day like walking on lunch, or walking for a cool down after the gym. I also emphasize the need to do things like core class, yoga and Pilates knowing I won’t “get steps” but those are the items I need to stay strong and healthy in order to keep getting more steps. I’ve seen a world of improvement in my sleep, mood and energy in the last 2 months. All because I started wearing something the size of a quarter clipped to the cup of my bra. Because I don’t see it until the end of the day, I don’t obsess over it. I look at my stats before bed or the next day and I make a mental note of what I would like to possibly do differently. It’s been a slow, and healthy change process.
    Julie (@ROJRunning) recently posted…Race Report : Mandel JCC Indoor Triathlon 2014My Profile

    • says

      Julie, perhaps a bit of “out of sight, (sort of) out of mind”? Thank you for your honesty about your own attachment to the numbers and trackers. I really wondered if I was alone in how polar (no pun intended) I’ve felt about this subject. I’m glad to hear that your device has helped you and that you seem to have an exceptionally healthy attitude about incorporating it into your fitness/health rather than letting it rule your fitness/health.

  8. says

    Great post! I found myself doing this even when I only notate on Spark every day — I don’t currently have a wearable tracker, and while I’ve wanted one, my husband even said “I wouldn’t go that route, too obsessive.” He knows me well. I think I’m glad I didn’t do it, I could easily see myself feeling obligated to work out just to meet the right numbers, like I did with Spark sometimes, rather than doing it for me and my health.

  9. says

    This a great post and timely since I was just invited to a Wearable Tech Fashion Show for Social Media Week in NY! I definitely think that my Polar, my Nike FuelBand, and also any other interference (and even checking email on my phone, getting my wireless bluetooth headphones to work) messes with my workouts and I see how it does for others. If I forget one of my wearable fitness trackers it does makes me a little miffed but I keep going. So easy to get addicted but thankful for the technology that allows me to hav more efficient workouts and reminds me to move more!
    Aliah recently posted…My Love Affair With Zumba ToningMy Profile

    • says

      Aliah: I’m looking forward to your report about the Wearable Tech Fashion Show. I really think this is an arena that is going to blow up in the future not only as a statement piece but as developing technology to be put to further use other than vanity. I appreciate your feedback and see your point about the reminder aspect. It seems you have a good handle on incorporating the technology into your life rather than letting it rule your life.

    • says

      Brittany: Thank you for sharing. I was wondering if I was the only one who needed to be nearly physically restrained from using these things. Glad to know I’m not. We huff, we puff, we workout and we get healthier.

  10. says

    I’ve been wearing a FitBit Force since the beginning of the year and find that it does help me stay more active during the day. I do fine during my workout but with our the tracker I tend to slack during the rest of the day – now I make an effort to stay active all day long!
    Kim recently posted…Racing – Then and NowMy Profile

    • says

      Wendy: I’m glad that your FitBit helps you stay focused. I know these devices are wonderful for the right people. I just don’t think I’m one of those people right now. I wish it were different but better to know yourself, right?

    • says

      Jennifer: I love that these devices can help people stay focused on being healthy. I just worry about those with the personality traits (like me) who would go beyond focus and just fixate.

  11. says

    This is attempt #2 at leaving a comment. I tried on my iPad earlier and had some issues…anyway, I think this is a fantastic piece with so many great points! I personally don’t own one of these and I can’t say I like the growing trend. When Tory Burch gets involved with “fitness”…I’m OUT! That’s just too much. I agree that people do not need one more thing to obsess about AND, some of these things aren’t even accurate! I have enough on my plate just keeping my Garmin charged and I’ve never actually downloaded the info from it until I started my training with a coach. This whole thing reminds me of when people were obsessed with the calorie burn numbers on the treadmill or other machines at the gym. Clients were always asking me how they can stay in the “fat burning zone” – remember that? Great post here Melissa. You’ve given a lot of people a lot to think about, including myself. Love it.
    Allie Burdick recently posted…The Rundown: Payoff WeekMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks Allie! I was one of those people attached to the number on the exercise equipment and that’s why these wearable fitness trackers scare me. I’m curious to see how technology and psychology affect (or is it effect, I never know) the health-minded community at large. I see great health potential for the technology in medicine but for the recreational user, I see trouble.

  12. says

    I want a fit tracker so bad but just haven’t had the extra $100- $150 to spend on one. I am especially interested in the ones that track your sleep and records your heart rate. I think these can be useful tools for folks to really know how hard they are working or when/how they don’t sleep well. It would contribute to overall well being- I think. I have to try one out first.

    • says

      Rachel: I definitely see the potential usefulness of the wearable fitness tracker technology. I definitely wanted to one to track my own sleep in the past but with my personality, it would be a slippery slope. LMK when and if you get one and what you think.

    • says

      Hi Jenn: I know I would love a wearable fitness tracker too but it’s the potential attachment to the device that keeps me from taking the plunge. I love my phone too much – I know I’d get addicted quick. Glad that you love your FitBit though. I can’t say I’ve met anyone who doesn’t love these amazing pieces of technology.

  13. says

    Great post Melissa. I definitely don’t think that the trend is going away and I think that there are some benefits to have additional data but there’s a fine line between having useful information to help you make healthier choices and becoming obsessed with that information. I’m curious – mainly because I want to know about my sleep more than anything else.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Click. Snap.My Profile

    • says

      Thanks Christine. I’d love to know if you get a tracker which one you choose and if it gives you data about your sleep that you find useful. I’m tempted no doubt but I just can’t.

  14. says

    I wore a pedometer every single day of my life 10 years ago and this went on for 5 years. It actually caused some extremely unhealthy habits, so I had to STOP this, and you know what? It was an AMAZING feeling to finally break FREE from something that felt like a TRAP! My sister and mother still wear theirs, but I just cannot do that.
    GiGi Eats Celebrities recently posted…Quiz: What Food-borne Illness Are You?My Profile

    • says

      Gigi: It’s funny how some people get unhealthily attached to healthy info (me included) and how others (even in the same family in your case) don’t. I’m glad that you were able to break free and recognize your tendencies and reroute them to healthier behaviors. I fear for people like us that may get caught up in this wave that doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. I think this will be an arena to watch for a long, long time. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s good not to be alone in these unpopular feelings.

  15. says

    I’ve been thinking seriously about getting the FitBit but unsure of which one to get. The force or the flex. I’ve also recently began using My Macros+ for tracking my diet and I find it much better than myFitnesspal for what I’m looking for.
    Jamie recently posted…The Best BCAA SupplementMy Profile

  16. says

    I have a FitBit Zip which I bought last year to track my steps. Two weeks ago the battery died and I didn’t have any on hand to replace it. I bought some on Ebay, but until they arrived the FitBit was useless. This actually kind of made me anxious at first (which is pretty ridiculous), but after a day or two I got in my head that it’s just a gadget and nothing I can’t live without. Yes, I like to track my steps because I work a desk job and don’t get to move around much, but over the past months I’ve gotten pretty good at judging how many steps I took without my FitBit. And in the end it’s just that: a gadget which is meant to help me with something and not to stress me out when I don’t have it on me.
    Sarah recently posted…When life gets busy…My Profile

    • says

      I’m glad that you were able to move past the anxiety and recognize the amazing piece of tech for what it is/can be. I do wonder if many others aren’t able to do what you were able. I hope so though.

  17. says

    Oh trackers can be addicting for sure! But I think anything can be addicting for certain personalities…without trackers people would just take to the scale or clothing size or counting calories, you know? I have a fitbit and although I can admit a small attachment to it, I think it’s because I am competitive and want to beat my friends in steps haha. I also think it helps me see how active I have been on a particular day. If I’ve already hit my 10K steps I don’t feel the need to do a workout since I’ve already gotten a lot of movement in. The other days even though I’m only at 2k steps, I know I’m tired so I just sit on the couch all day. It’s all about balance. :)

    • says

      Amanda: You’re right. I definitely think anything has addiction potential if fit with the right personality but I worry with the proliferation of these devices in the hands of an environment where longer, faster, harder and more are all considered dedication and revered can’t be a potential generator for a new level of disordered exercise or eating. Achieving balance is key but not everyone has that ability.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Wearable fitness trackers: Are they creating a new addiction? I don’t own one and that surprises even me. I wanted one, but I don’t need one. I already take my fitness and eating game too seriously. I don’t need it as motivation. My friend has one and will get obsessed over walking enough. Yes, she will walk more, but do I really need another thing? I remember when I wanted to buy a heart rate monitor – would that really be a big deal in my overall fitness? Probably not for me. […]

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