For the last two years, I've forced myself to get up at an unpleasant hour at least three days a week to fit a morning run into my already hectic schedule. Surprisingly, I learned to love running. As soon as I hit my stride and feel the endorphins flowing, my mood evolves from testy to unbearably chipper. A sweat-filled run through the mean streets of Los Angeles is my favorite way to start the day.
Running changed my body in ways I didn't even think were possible. I was never overweight, but I certainly wasn't slender prior to my morning ritual. Once I started liking the way I looked, fitness became an even higher priority. As one can imagine, getting a Fitbit as a birthday present from my boyfriend was perfect. Now I could track my physical activity with a hideously designed and clunky bracelet!
How much sleep do I get? How many steps do I take? Does my heart rate fluctuate enough? Am I burning enough calories to justify the Famous Amos cookies I inhale at work on a daily basis? Should I switch to the smaller bag of Nutter Butters? Oh, I can add friends and track how much exercise they get? Awesome!
No. Not so awesome.
After about week, my Fitbit added a noticeable amount of stress to my life, and here's why:
1.) I don't exercise as much as I thought I did.
My job requires three things: sitting, reading, and talking. Unfortunately, while all those things take up the vast majority of my time, none of them burn many calories. According to my fitness bracelet, I need to walk at least 10 thousand steps a day to meet my fitness goal. When I do manage to go for a run, I barely meet that goal. If I don't make room for workout time, I'm lucky if I get half my steps in. That stresses me out and produces more cortisol in my system, which in turn makes me eat more cookies. I believe some would call that counterproductive.
2.) Tracking my friends made me bitter.
My competitive nature led me to check my ranking among friends regularly. The competition revolves around who takes the most steps on any given day. I wasn't checking the score once a day, or even three times a day. I was checking to make sure my friends weren't beating me every hour, and it led to moments where I questioned my own sanity. I HAD to record more steps than everyone, with the exception of my boyfriend who must have a secret power-walking job that he's hiding from me. I don't even try to compete with him and his 25-thousand-steps-a-day ass.
I noticed that most of my friends don't have a job as sedentary as mine, and it made competing impossible. So I did what any mature adult would do and got really bitter about it. Then I deleted everyone from my Fitbit app so I wouldn't compete with anyone anymore. It was taking over my life! Sure, part of the purge had to do with me giving up. But it really had more to do with the fact that competing added unnecessary stress to my already stressful life. No thanks.
3.) I don't sleep enough.
While it's recommended that we all sleep 8 hours a night, I average 6 hours based on my Fitbit data. Last week was particularly bad considering I averaged 5 hours. So I don't exercise or sleep enough, which is a great reminder that I work too much and I can't do anything about it.
4.) All my data CAN and WILL be used against me in a court of law.
There are more criminal and civil cases that rely on fitness bracelet data to track a given person's movements. While I'm not breaking any laws or causing any problems, I'd like to limit the number of entities spying on me. I'd argue that the NSA tracking the type of porn I watch is enough interference for my taste.
In essence, my fitness bracelet became the kickboxing instructor that I hated at my last gym. It's always yelling at me for not working hard enough. It doesn't care about the marathon workdays, family obligations, and general responsibilities of being an adult. I'm not walking enough, or sleeping enough, or doing anything right in the world of fitness.
I still wear my bracelet, and I do my best to avoid feeling rage when I get the near-daily reminder that I failed myself and my body. I try to remind myself that what I'm already doing is enough to maintain the body weight I want. But ultimately, I've realized that Fitbit and all these other bracelets do what American culture has been doing for decades - they unleash these unreasonable expectations on us and make us feel terrible when we don't meet their goals.
I have parents for that.