Two Christmases ago I was surprised and delighted to open my very own Fitbit Flex. I hadn’t even asked for it, but was excited to have the gadget that all of my peers suddenly seemed to have.
I hadn’t even known long what a Fitbit was. A coworker had to explain it once, after weeks of seeing small groups huddled together to compare what their band’s light-up screen showed. Funny – if you had told people five years ago that the most popular arm candy for men and women would soon be a device that counted steps and heart rate, I’m not sure you would be taken seriously. The Fitbit is one of those inventions that has to happen to be believed. I for one was amazed that a small wristband could so accurately measure how a person moves.
Being an active student on a large college campus, I was ever-entertained by how many miles I moved and how well I slept each night. Reaching 10,000 steps was a breeze – if I worked an open shift at my on-campus job, I would meet the goal by noon, and sometimes after a night out I would wake up already with 10,000+ steps. I never needed my Flex to encourage me to be active, it just put values on it. Still, it went everywhere with me, always dressed in a silicon band that matched my outfit.
How would I review Fitbits? I think they are an outstanding idea, and an extremely valuable tool. They make exercise a tangible thing for people who have never been educated on physical activity, and even better, hold wearers accountable. They are friendly and fairly simple to use – not complex or clunky – avoiding making people shy away from tracking their daily activity. What’s more, Fitbit keeps improving, adding more models and more features to entice people to take their health even more seriously. Or at least spend more money.
So why did I decide to unclasp my Fitbit and shut it away in a drawer? Like I said, I didn’t need the device to get me going. I already worked out and walked at least four miles around campus every day. But things changed when I graduated and got a full time job. I wanted to maintain my same activity level, but walking to and from class and work was no longer a part of my schedule. I had to build in time for walking and gym into my daily life, and I had to come to terms with college mileage just not being attainable. I relied on my Fitbit to keep me in line – to make sure I was surpassing a certain number of steps and minutes of activity each day. If I didn’t hit my goals I felt like a lazy failure. The tiny screen on my wrist became an obsession. It had a power over me that I didn’t like.
To the average person, this may seem ridiculous – a glorified pedometer controlling you. But there’s more to it than that. When you have a history of poor body image and an unhealthy relationship with diet and exercise, it’s not so outrageous an idea – and I know I’m not the only one who has had these experiences. The Fitbit can become dangerous if it becomes an obsession, which can easily happen when it’s something you wear 24/7. Higher end models that tell you how many calories you burn can be especially destructive. Fitbits relieve you of judging your own success and failure. Instead, a small accessory tells you to do better.
That’s why I took my Fitbit off, and I let it die, and I’m not even sure where the charger is now.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from buying a Fitbit. They aren’t intended to be dangerous, they’re meant to be useful, to help people make lifestyle improvements. I’ve seen lots of people benefit from them, and for most they are probably a worthwhile investment.
I’m just here to offer a little warning/advice, because most people wouldn’t consider the potential dark side of a fitness bracelet.