Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fitness Wearables

Fitness wearables don't help you lose weight. This is coming from someone who uses technology to maintain his weight and fitness. I use the LoseIt! app on my phone to track my calories, and my Garmin to track my runs. Before I had my watch, I used MapMyRun to track my runs. And I still use it today to track my biking and swimming (um, I don't bring my phone into the water).

I'm talking about this because I stumbled across a couple of articles. This one about a study where folks lost less weight with a fitness tracker than a similar group without. And this one that's pretty interesting, the big takeaway being that people get bored and stop using their wearables.

Fitness wearables, to me, are just an evolution of the "miracle diet". It's an "easy" way to lose weight and get in shape. Folks feel good having a FizzBit on their wrist, the same way they feel good posting on Facebook® that they just started a diet. But as it is with drinking nothing but chocolate milkshakes, wearing a tracker won't make the pounds magically drop off.
"Booyah. Ten thousand steps! Gimme the cake!"

You can lose weight eating nothing but frosted donuts.... as long as you consume fewer calories than you burn. Or you can lose weight knitting aggressively... as long as you burn more calories than you consume.

A diet can work, because it limits what you can eat, which makes you eat fewer calories. If you're eating only raw vegetables, you simply can't jam any more carrots into your face before your stomach explodes. But it only works if you stick with it. Forever. Some people do. Their whole identity is kale and sprouts; sometimes they're snobby about it. Most people quit diets. Because they're too restrictive and Oh My Gosh look at that eclair!

Exercise too can work. But much to their frustration, many folks who hit the treadmill actually gain weight. If you walk on the treadmill for an hour, and then reward yourself with a sundae, that's a net surplus of like 700 calories. Sorry to disappoint you, but exercise burns crap for calories, unless you do it for a really long time. Every day. Forever.

Fitness wearables don't replace hard work. They're useful tools once you have committed to doing the hard work. I track my calories so I know how much I've eaten and to keep myself accountable. I didn't just install the app and say, "whelp, I've taken a step towards health; now I can go eat a bucket of fries." I track every single meal, and have been doing so for almost 3 years.

"Where's the transition area? I can't find my bike!"

My Garmin doesn't help me get up at 5:30 in the morning. It does sometimes push me to run a little faster, if I see that I'm only a few seconds off breaking a 7 minute overall pace. But in general it's a tool. After I run, I log those burned calories into my app. So that I can go eat a bathtub full of ice cream.

This appeals to me because I'm a math nerd. I like numbers. I like seeing my progress and measuring my successes in numbers. This isn't true for everyone. Although most serious athletes eventually develop an addiction to their "stats". Wearing a step counter is fun, but for most folks it's just a fashion accessory that says, "look at me! I'm stylish and fit!" 

Eventually they realize that they're not using their step count in any meaningful way. It's just a number. Walking 6000 steps is "better" than walking 5000 steps, but most folks have zero idea of what that actually means in terms of their health. Maybe they reward their achievement with a hamburger. Nevermind that a 1000 extra steps only burns about 35 calories, or about 9 peanuts. And then they think, "well it's not that stylish."

You have to choose to lose weight and get fit. You have to make (or Google) a specific plan for how to do it. And then you have to commit. Forever.

"I can't stay for the bridal shower. I have to run!"

That forever part is important. You don't have to do the same thing all the time. It's OK for your eating habits and workouts to evolve and change over time. I've always counted calories, but the source of those calories has changed a lot in the past couple years (for example, I now get zero calories from booze). So too does my exercise constantly change.

You do have to change your lifestyle. And not just your lifestyle, but your entire identity. If your friends get together for coffee and donuts in the morning, fast food for lunch, and pizza and margaritas for dinner, that's just not compatible for you any more. You have to abandon that old you, as hard as it is. The new you may very well replace that morning donut with a 5am workout. Your old friends will think you're crazy.

And you have to accept that.

A fitness wearable is mainstream. Many folks wear one these days. You don't feel weird or out of place wearing one. And - 99% of the time - it accomplishes nothing. So you don't have to abandon your old friends. And you can sympathize with one another about how you totally were walking 10,000 steps per day until your knee started acting up. But you'll, like, totally pull the watch out of the drawer once you're fully healed.

And then you forget and drink margaritas instead.
"Just another mile- Oh Shoot it's happy hour!"

Original images credits:
  •  By Eric Steinert - photo taken by Eric Steinert at Paussac, France, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=338403
  •  By Jcwf from nl, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=836272
  •  By Kmanoj - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2683173
  •  By Appaloosa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1468092
  •  CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110005

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