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Fitbit? No Thanks.

by Nicole Christina, LCSW

Ok. I admit they look cool. Especially the Jawbones. They look like something I might buy in the Museum of Modern Art catalog. Or a fashion statement worn by a character in the film Bladerunner. But I have a real beef with this supposed “health trend”.

For the benefit of discussion, imagine using this computerized tracking system for your dog; counting their steps, weighing and entering their kibble into an app. Doesn’t it make more sense to use your pet’s behavior to judge how much exercise and food they need? Don’t they have an internal system which tells them when to eat and how much to exert themselves?

Dogs’ food and exercise requirements might depend on the day, the weather, and their energy level. When they are out for a walk and they slow down and appear tired, it’s time to go home to rest. A nap on the couch might follow. Exercise feels good because, like us, they are designed to move. It’s about their individual bodies, combined with some simple, time-tested guidelines: movement is good for bodies, and eating regular, satisfying meals works well. It’s basic, common sense.

Using a fancy counter, however attractive, to indicate how much exercise, rest and food I need makes as much sense as counting Fido’s steps. Do I really believe that these plastic fitness counters have as much wisdom and value as our internal hunger cues, which have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years?

Talk about a successful ad campaign! It’s not in Fitbit company’s best financial interest to state the obvious: We are the experts on our own bodies. Each of us is different. What works for me may not work for you. (My kale smoothie trial landed me in my doctor’s office with terrible stomach aches. Other people swear by them).

But even worse than allowing a device to trump my internal wisdom, using a sophisticated counting machine sucks the joy out of exercising. So instead of noticing nature or my breath, I’m checking to see how many steps I need to meet an arbitrary goal. It’s like having the food and exercise police follow me everywhere! Not so different than an ankle monitor worn by prisoners.

For me, it is much more effective and self-respecting to ask my body what I need. Case in point: This morning I was dragging a bit, having left the house without my usual coffee. I went to take my dogs on their favorite trail hike, but couldn’t bring myself to put on my weighted walking vest. Instead, I walked with my nordic poles, and immersed myself in the fall scenery. It was about to rain, so the light was particularly interesting. The leaves crunched, and the woods had that woodsy-earthy smell. It was gorgeous. Did I fail at my exercise goal? Should I have felt badly because I wasn’t “working my core”? I would suggest that this particular walk did more for my spirits–and therefore my body–than reaching any daily fitness goal.

Instead of using a device to give you marching orders, how would it be to allow yourself to tune into what your body wants to do…run, walk, swim, bounce, stretch…or even nap!

Here’s a little secret… as much as I embrace many “alternative” practices, I’ve found that yoga is just not for me. I really want to like it. But I’ve tried it enough times to know that walking and tennis are the activities that make me happy. Yoga does not. So even though I wish I were a yoga girl, I stick with what works for me. Because I know what works best.

The same goes for eating. Entering meals and portion sizes into an app effectively hijacks my body’s innate intelligence. Imagine what our ancestors did without these calculations? How did they survive? No Fitbits? No scales? No MyFitnessPal? It’s amazing our species survived!

Now imagine the more sane alternative: Eating fresh, whole, delicious foods (without getting overly rigid) until you are satisfied. Instead of noticing a number on a machine ask yourself, “How does this taste? How do I feel? What is my energy level before, during, and after eating?” No Fitbit can measure that. Imagine feeling secure in the fact that your body knows what is best for you, that you can rely on yourself and trust your own judgement. That if you listen, all the information you will ever need is already part of your own time-tested operating system.

So this is my advice: Put away the electronics. Taste your food. Breathe. Enjoy the experience.Throw in a little gratitude about having such varied and fresh choices (you can even say it by name: Wegman’s). Eat slowly. Stop when you are satisfied. Try to get some movement in most days. Take out the ear buds. Notice your surroundings–the trees, the birds, the light.

These practices will stand you in good stead long after that FitBit is gathering dust in your junk drawer.

Nicole Christina, LCSW is a writer and psychotherapist in private practice in Syracuse, NY. She has specialized in food and eating issues for 25 years. Her new webcourse DIETS DON’T WORK (but Mindful Eating does!) can be found on her website

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