What your Fitness Tracker Can’t tell you About Weight Loss

Posted by: Christie Lanasa
Date: October 31, 2016

There have been articles on the internet claiming that people may lose more weight without their fitness trackers. It reminds me of the research claiming that diet sodas can actually cause people to gain weight rather than lose it. This doesn’t seem to make sense. If someone is tracking their physical activity and they weren’t before, how are they not losing weight? Let’s dive in a little deeper into the world of exercise, weight management, wearable devices, and behavior change to find out what fitness trackers can’t tell you.

Physical activity is not necessarily the biggest hurdle for those who struggle with, or have struggled with, weight loss. For most it’s a combination of exercise and nutrition, along with deeper layers of mental health, sleep patterns, stress and also having a strategy that paves the way for long-term success. Weight management for many adults is multifaceted, complicated, and often fluctuates.

That means the key to weight loss needs to be just as flexible and unique as the individual.

Fitness trackers and physical activity

Fitness trackers, while great to track daily activity or lack thereof, tend to emphasize the physical activity factor in the equation. Users begin to rely on the tiny computer on their wrist or belt buckle. There is little autonomy and, thus, less ownership of creating and achieving health goals. Without autonomy and ownership, there is little accountability. Without accountability, sustainable change is less likely to occur.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in order to gain health benefits. The Guidelines also recommend more than 150 minutes of exercise as part of a program including calorie restriction in order to lose weight or keep it off. The Guidelines continuously emphasize “health benefits,” but we tend to focus our attention on weight because it can be a constant struggle for many of us.

This skew in comprehension of the Guidelines, as well as fitness trackers, can create a false sense of security. People might believe that if they just exercise 150 minutes or get 10,000 steps per day, they should be able to lose weight. The Guidelines say that any physical activity is good, and fitness device results may look promising; but this can limit a person’s potential to set more challenging goals related to exercise, or reach for the comprehensive approach they need.

Achieving change that lasts

To make significant health-related changes, people need to feel invested and empowered by their decisions and accomplishments. They also need to be challenged, reassured, and supported. Wearing a tracking device may be able to provide data and help make friends. However, it can’t have a genuine conversation with its users to evaluate their situation and make sure they are on the right path to reach their goals, inquire about long-term vision, work through challenging situations, or know when it’s time to up the ante to allow owners to reach their full potential.

Consequently, people strive to reach the bare minimum exercise requirements without properly creating goals, outlining a plan, and considering other behaviors such as nutrition, sleep, and stress.

Wearable devices are fantastic ways to generate awareness, engage people in their health, sometimes create comradery, and boost morale. They can help people understand how much or how little they are actually moving during the day. For some, this data can be eye opening and exciting. But to create sustainable change that works for an individual and his or her personal needs, a unique plan – with or without a fitness tracker ­– is the most effective way to help  lose weight, stay healthier, and be happier.