Okay, friends, here’s the deal. You all know I love my fitness tracking. I wear my FitBit every day and count steps. Nothing looks better than seeing the numbers on my wrist hit my daily goal before tossing my kids a breakfast bar. I’ve also counted calories, tracked my weight and logged my water intake. I like my numbers, and I can focus on a hard goal like a teenager building a gold mining camp.
But….there’s a downside to all that tracking. As much as it helps us see areas for improvement or track progress, it can also become obsessive. Yep. Like anything else in life (donuts, Netflix, running gear), fitness tracking can easily tip over into the world of too much of a good thing. The key is to pay attention to how we use all of this technology that helps us monitor our lives and to be sure we know not just what we’re tracking but why we’re doing it.
Here are 5 Signs Your Fitness Tracking is OBSESSED:
Mood Control - Do you ever get on the scale in the morning and, depending on the number, feel good or bad? Yeah. Been there; done that. It sucks. If your mood depends on how many steps you took that day, what you weighed buck-naked or how many fat grams you consumed, you are probably obsessing. We want to be able to gather information without letting it rule us, and the biggest way we can spiral downhill is to have a negative outlook or energy. If you’re mood depends on tiny calculations, it might be time to take a break from monitoring daily fitness measurements and just go with a big-picture approach for a while. It’s equally effective and can help people prone to compulsive checking see the bigger picture, which is overall health instead of specific numbers.
Walking on Eggshells - Do the people around you walk on eggshells, afraid to take a sip of your water or a bite of your salad? Do your kids complain about having to walk from the farthest possible parking spot so you can log more steps? If you said yes (or have a lingering suspicion you should), you might be tipping into obsessive mode. I have friends who won’t let their kids drink from their water bottles because they’re tracking every single sip. I have measured out my food to the point that an extra bite offered by one of my kids sends me into an internal debate spiral, which is no fun. If the people around you feel nervous about your healthy-living habits, it might be a sign to pull back. The whole point of being healthy is to enjoy life and the people around us. It’s impossible to do that if everyone is afraid to ask us for water as we death march them through the Arizona desert on a hike to log at least 5k steps before we sit down to our low-fat, low-sodium, wheat-free, dairy-free, perfectly proportioned dinners. And forget dessert. Did someone even say that word??? Yeah….nobody wants to be that person or be around that person. So, if the people around you walk on eggshells, take that feedback and look at where things might have gone off the charts a little. Most times, it’s an easy course correction and we’re back on track, happily swaggering through life and offering water to our parched kids.
Compulsively Check Numbers - Do you hop on the scale more than once a day? Do you find yourself checking your wrist every time you walk across a parking lot? Do you do constant mental math, adding up the calories in a piece of chewing gum or debating whether or not you just burned off the piece of cake at the office birthday party? Do you log in to check your calorie count every few hours? There is a fine line between keeping up our goals and obsessing over them, and compulsive checking is a red flag! I typically try not to track stuff more than once a day. I often don’t weigh-in more than once a week or month. I know, after years of paying attention to my health, what works and what doesn’t. When I compulsively check the numbers, there is usually something I’m feeling anxious about, and the constant checking doesn’t help. Recognizing that I’m doing it is the first step and then calmly reminding myself of my overall goals, my plan to get there and the reasons I’m getting fit to begin with help me keep it all in perspective.
Punishment & Reward - Do you punish yourself for not hitting certain marks? If you don’t take 10k steps per day, do you skip dessert? If you don’t hit a certain number on the scale, do you refuse to go out for happy hour with friends? This kind of thinking can often turn into a distorted, negative cycle of punishment and reward, with fitness tracking as the catalyst for either punishing ourselves for not meeting a goal or rewarding ourselves in ways that thwart our progress, like a cookie binge for losing five pounds. It’s fine to acknowledge our progress. It’s okay to use measurements to see where we might be getting off point. But punishments and rewards can turn into a roller coaster of ups and downs that ends up leaving us exhausted, like hamsters on a wheel. If you’re starting to punish yourself for not meeting certain numbers, it might be time to take a step back. Giving these numbers or measurements too much attention shifts the power from where it ultimately needs to be coming from: ourselves.
Make a Deal - Do you make constant bargains with yourself? If you get 12k steps today, you don’t have to go to yoga. If you eat under 1500 calories, you can have dessert. If you sleep at least 7 hours all week, you can go out Friday night. This type of bargaining can become obsessive real fast. And it can also set us up for constant emotional swings and feelings of failure. It goes something like this: you check your weight in the morning and see it’s up a few pounds, so you make a deal with yourself not to eat any sugar all day long. You avoid the donuts in the office break room. You decline dessert at lunch with your friends. You skip the candy bar your co-worker offered as a mid-afternoon snack. You eat a carton of yogurt for dinner. By 8:00 that night, you’ve used up all your willpower avoiding sweets all day and, when your kids haul out the ice cream bars, you eat one and then two and then three. And then you make a deal with yourself that tomorrow you won’t eat a single carb and will drink 110 oz. of water and flush it all out. Similar to punishments/rewards, constant bargaining is like trying to balance the scales all day long, every day, until you’re exhausted and give up. The best balancing acts are the ones that are intuitive, the ones we don’t have to think about, the ones that are natural. They don’t swing too far one way or the other, so there never has to be drastic course correction. Making deals and bargaining with our own health is a sign of obsessing and taking fitness tracking too far.
I’m all for monitoring my health, logging numbers, looking at the data and using it to get closer to my fitness and health goals. I love posting sweet pics of my FitBit flashing 12,000. I love to see a healthy number on the scale. I’m not going to try to sell myself as some kind of uber-evolved fitness expert who never lets the numbers get to me and who just saunters through life naturally keeping everything in check.
If I were that person, I wouldn’t have wound up 100 pounds overweight and afraid to have my picture taken.
Obviously, I can take things too far….in any direction. But recognizing that part of my personality and working with it has helped me to achieve my goals and sustain a healthier weight and happier life.
Do you ever obsess about your goals or the numbers or the apps or gadgets?
, half-marathon runner, triathlete, and mother of four, founded the online community called Run, Heifer, Run! as a way to connect with and encourage others who are on the journey to healthier and happier lives, one step or mile at a time. Five years ago, Melissa cut the bull and got serious about her health. Starting with a few steps, she lost over 110 pounds, worked her way up to running races and even completed a triathlon. She cleaned up her diet, shed weight and ultimately found a fitness enthusiast underneath her extra baggage.Melissa does all of this from her HeiferHood in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where her husband, teenagers and two crazy puppies remind her that we're all a little happier in a herd.
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