Life after Fitbit
When Laura Hart first discovered Fitbit she was convinced the device would be life changing. She diligently tracked her steps and started paying close attention to her energy expenditure.
It was more than a fitness tracker, it was a digital companion that encouraged her out the door and rewarded her with metaphorical gold stars when she did a good job.
But Hart’s love affair with Fitbit came to an unceremonious end when the device broke. Flung into a drawer, along with good intentions to get it fixed, it was abandoned.
But while her Fitbit languished unworn, Hart says that her lifestyle hasn’t actually changed. In fact, as a gym regular she notes that her fitness levels are always getting better. “My fitness has improved purely because I’m going to the gym everyday – I don’t really need a Fitbit to tell me that,” she says.
According to a new study from the University of Washington, it is a common scenario. Researchers surveyed 193 people who had abandoned their tracking device and found that many of them didn’t experience a difference in their lives. Life after Fitbit was, in fact, much the same as life with Fitbit.
While ceasing to track activity didn’t make much difference to the amount of exercise people were doing, there were some interesting emotional side effects. In fact, half of the respondents said that they felt guilty for abandoning the device.
Dr Joann Lukins, a sports psychologist, says that there are many reasons why people might feel guilty for abandoning their fitness tracker. It could be as simple as regretting the money wasted or that the Fitbit was a gift.
But Lukins notes that it many cases, the guilt probably has more to do with self-judgement than the actual device.
“It’s less about the Fitbit and more about the person’s judgement of themselves for not self-regulating their own behaviour. For whatever reason, they have committed to the Fitbit and possibly this isn’t the first thing that they have ‘given up’. So guilt ensues,” she explains.
Is the guilt factor an indication that people should make an effort to return to their device? Lukins doesn’t think so.
“The key thing to ask themselves is why might they want to use a Fitbit and why might they not? The ‘why’ of behaviour is crucial to understanding what drives behaviour. I would much rather hear of someone who uses a Fitbit because they WANT to rather than feel they HAVE to,” she says.
Interestingly, giving up a fitness tracker isn’t the only reason that the device makes people feel guilty.
Hayley Atkinson was an early adopter, and found her ‘zip back’ Fitbit really motivating. But when Fitbit became more popular and friends and family started to connect with her via the Fitbit app, the pressure to compete in challenges spoiled the device for her.
“I work full time and some of my friends are uni students with only their feet as transport. I’d feel guilty if I forgot to wear it. Eventually I stopped wearing it. I couldn’t beat them so why try?” she recalls.
In a similar vein, Kelly Exeter says that while she found aspects of her Fitbit useful she feels relieved now that the tracking is over. “I felt really guilty on the days I didn’t get my steps in,” she says.
For Lukins these tales are a red flag. “Guilt really seems to be one of those emotions that doesn’t do a great job of promoting better health decisions but seems to contribute to sell-loathing or other forms of negative self-talk,” she says.
However, she also notes that exercise is fundamental to our wellbeing. “The bottom line is that physical activity is a great option for all of us. I would prefer to think that people use motivators other than guilt to pop on the sand shoes and go for a walk or get out and do some gardening or go to the gym.
“I would rather someone think, ‘I should exercise because otherwise I won’t live as long as I could’ if it gets them moving, rather than keep them on the couch,” she says.
Fitbit can be a useful tool for some, but when it comes with a side of guilt, it might be better off gathering dust in a drawer.
“The most important thing is that people find physical activity and a style of exercising that suits their purpose, lifestyle, and situation,” says Lukins.
Fitbit can’t do it for you, with or without the guilt.
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