Why you should delete your fitness apps today

I still remember the day it happened. My friend and I wanted to get in the best shape possible for senior prom and decided to download MyFitnessPal. The app asked me to enter my age, weight, height, activity level, and goal weight. I only wanted to lose 3-5 pounds. The app did its computing and in large numbers on the screen, 1,200 calories popped up. That was my daily goal. And that number would haunt me for the next 3 years of my life.

 

I fell victim to the tracking craze. I then fell victim to an eating disorder. The scary part about these food and fitness trackers is that they become addictions that are near impossible to break. I’ve witnessed people cry and mourn as they have deleted these apps that have become such a key part of their identity and self-worth that they cannot imagine functioning without them. The day has come when technology tells us what our bodies need instead of our own bodies telling us what we need. While I honestly believe that the reasons to delete your fitness apps are endless, I want to share a few with you that I have found to be helpful.

 

  1. Our bodies already know what to do. In one second’s time, you cannot even begin to think of all of the functions that your body just completed without a computer’s help. Imagine having to calculate and track the volume of oxygen you need to inspire, in order to properly transport and diffuse it to your cells. What if you had to track your blood pH and input a certain number of carbon dioxide or bicarbonate ions to keep it between 7.35-7.45? If your body doesn’t require you to calculate and track numbers to complete thousands of functions, then why would it need a tracker to help control metabolism? It can be scary to put down your phone and actually listen your body. But remember, your body is smarter than you are and it knows what it needs. It will tell you when it needs more food, and when it is time to slow down. It will let you know if it needs more carbohydrate (sweats and shakes, anyone?) or micronutrients. Try to respect the amazing creation that your body is and actually tune into it.

 

  1. Trackers skew your self-worth. They will leave you to think that you’re good for staying within your calorie limit, or bad for going 1% over your carbohydrate goal for the day. I mean, MyFitnessPal even uses green font when you stay under a scary low number of calories for the day, signaling that you’re in the clear. It uses red font when you eat 1 more cheese cube than you should, leading your sodium goal to rise to 2,350 milligrams instead of the 2,300 milligrams your app told you that you need. Think about what that conditions your brain to do. Now, instead of eating that 1 cheese cube that you desired, you put it down out of fear that the color of your sodium level number will turn red and you’ll get a message warning you that you are over your daily goal (and you are now a bad person). Depleted self-worth is a recipe for addiction. The high that you feel from meeting your goals will continue to feed your dependence on the tracker. What about when you are UNDER your calorie goal? You feel like you have so much self-control and are exceeding the app’s expectations of you. And on the days when you are “bad” and exceed your limits, you are going to try harder the next day. The addiction continues.

 

  1. Food-tracking apps take intuitive eating out of the picture and replace it with arbitrary numerical goals. I can remember so many days of going to bed with my stomach growling, afraid to put one more bite of food in my mouth, knowing that I had already met my calorie goal for the day. The food that I so desperately needed would send me into the red zone and then I would have to go to bed feeling bad about myself. I can remember wanting to eat another roll at dinner, but resisting because that one roll could ruin my entire day of “perfect” eating and ruin my numbers. Eating was no longer about what my body, mind, and soul wanted; it was solely about what the app told me I had to do. In my book, intuitive eating has so many more benefits than a tracker ever could. It can lead to reductions in disordered eating, increased satisfaction, improved emotional and mental health, and increased enjoyment of eating. Can your tracker do that?

 

  1. Tracking takes the joy out of food and movement. How can you enjoy a piece of cake on your birthday or an ice cream outing with friends when that little voice in your head keeps calculating the estimated number of calories in every bite that you take? Do you even enjoy taking a walk when you keep looking down at your watch, waiting to reach 10,000 steps so that you can be done? You may have started noticing a theme to many of my posts by now: food and exercise are meant to be enjoyed. Eating is not supposed to be a miserable, viscous cycle of calculating calories and macronutrients, compensating for those calories and macronutrients, and punishing oneself for not staying within computer-generated ranges for those calories and macronutrients. Likewise, exercise doesn’t have to be about forcing yourself to go for a run when you really want to cuddle up and watch a movie just so that you meet your 5 miles per day goal, just so that your app tells you that you accomplished something that it deems worthwhile.

 

  1. Trackers take the individuality out of health. As a dietitian, that’s a scary thought because I believe that food and fitness are so personal and individual. No app can possibly take every factor into account. But now we trust these apps more than we trust ourselves. They rule our lives, as every decision we make about food or fitness is dictated by the tracker. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big proponent of eating for your health. But, I think that it should be completely up to you to determine what that looks like. For some, it may mean trying to get in 3 servings of vegetables per day and walking with friends. For others, it may mean eating as much as possible to get to a healthy weight, and avoiding cardio. For me, it looks like eating from each food group and enjoying foods that I want to eat, while also moving when I want to and enjoying activities like dancing or lifting weights. All that trackers can do is spit out arbitrary numbers that they make you feel like you need to meet. They cannot take into account your health status, moods, emotions, stress level, social life, schedule, and wants or needs. Believe me, only you are capable of knowing what is right for you.

 

I cringe when I think about all of the time I wasted counting, tracking, and calculating and think about how I could have used that time in so many more productive and rewarding ways. Your mind was meant for way greater things than counting calories and steps. Trust me, if you trust yourself, your body will take care of the rest. No tracker needed.

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Your personal trainer is NOT your dietitian

If you’ve made contact with a personal trainer, coach, or fitness instructor, you may have heard some familiar phrases such as:

“You need this supplement to help with your joint pain,”

“You need to cut out carbs to burn fat,” or

“Follow this diet plan to manage a healthy lifestyle.”

But did you know your trainer is NOT LEGALLY allowed to give you this nutrition advice?

 

Clients are often misinformed and don’t realize that their trainer is not a qualified, licensed nutrition professional—- and unfortunately, gym-goers typically utilize  trainers as their primary source of nutrition information. Furthermore, personal trainers may unintentionally give clients information that could be harmful.

For example, a friend of mine has a history of an eating disorder and went to a trainer. On their first day, the trainer instructed her to lose 1 pound of body fat. This may seem like a small task, but for someone who previously dealt with an unhealthy view of food and body weight, this is very dangerous. The trainer failed to ask the client about eating disorders, disordered exercise patterns, or body image issues.

Furthermore, he instructed her to take a multitude of supplements, including things like fish oil. Did he check if she was on medications that could present potentially dangerous interactions with the supplements? You guessed it, no.

You have to be a nutrition expert in order to act as an expert on nutrition. You wouldn’t have someone fill a cavity who wasn’t a dental professional. You shouldn’t accept nutrition advice, supplements, or diet prescriptions from anyone who is not a RD.

 

There is only ONE professional who is licensed to legally and safely provide medical nutrition therapy: a registered dietitian (RD). Some RDs may also be personal trainers, but not all personal trainers are RDs. Fitness instructors, coaches, personal trainers, and non-RD professionals are (supposed to be) very limited in what they can say about nutrition, and some cross the line. RDs complete a 4-year degree program that includes classes such as organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and countless nutrition courses. They must complete a rigorous internship program and log over 1200 hours of supervised practice while working with patients. Then and only then are they allowed to sit for an intensive board exam that they must pass to earn the RD credential.

This RD credential allows one to:

  1. Diagnose nutrition conditions
  2. Prescribe diets or meal plans to treat medical or nutrition conditions
  3. Prescribe supplements or medications to treat conditions

Therefore, if your personal trainer attempts to give nutrition advice to treat your diabetes, prescribes nutritional supplements for health issues, or gives you a meal plan for weight management, they are working outside of their scope of practice. These are examples of medical nutrition therapy. This is illegal for any non-RD to practice.

 

Overall, be wary of any nutrition advice you hear from someone who is not an RD. Signs of misguided nutrition advice include:

  1. Over-recommendation of supplements: You need whey protein, fish oil, creatine, ginseng, garlic, Echinacea, etc.
  2. Quick fixes: If you follow this meal plan, you will lose 5 pounds of fat per week!
  3. Extreme diet recommendations: Cut out all sugar, you must go gluten-free, dairy is bad for you, etc.
  4. Non-RD approved meal plans
  5. Rigid feeding rituals: Stop eating after 7:00 pm, only eat carbs before workouts, eat 40 grams of protein with each meal and snack, etc.
  6. Arbitrary recommendations for weight or body composition changes: The example mentioned earlier about my friend needing to lose 1 pound of body fat to be considered in “optimal shape”

 

For answers to any and all of your nutrition questions and concerns, contact a Registered Dietitian and leave your personal trainer, coach, or fitness instructor to the exercise.

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What your mirror won’t tell you

I have trust issues. With mirrors, that is. Even on the days when I spend an hour doing my hair and putting on makeup, I look into the mirror and still see the flaws. You see, mirrors magnify our weaknesses and drown out our strengths. They allow us to view a skewed reflection, believing it is the truth. As much as I would like to believe that I use my mirror to see my favorite traits, telling you that would be a lie. I, like every human, pick myself apart when it’s just the mirror and me. I focus on that new zit that magically appeared, despite how well I take care of my skin. I focus on those tan lines that will ruin how I look in a strapless top. I focus on how my hair is frizzy (dang humidity). I focus on how the stretch marks across my thighs and hips refuse to disappear.

Did you know that what you see in the mirror isn’t even true? There is a phenomenon called body dysmorphia where our brains skew our own perceptions of how we look. Furthermore, we tend to focus on the things we don’t like and our brains make our flaws seem bigger and more important than anyone else would think they are.

As I remind myself of these truths, my body whispers, “Be gentle to yourself. Your mirror will never tell you anything besides lies.” I’m here to remind you (and myself) of what your mirror will never tell you:

Your mirror will never tell you what a great friend and family member you are. It will not remind you of your giving, selfless heart. It will not prompt you to call your friends or schedule a dinner date with your parents. It will always keep you focusing on yourself.

Your mirror will never tell you how much you’ve accomplished in your lifetime. It will remind you of your perceived failures: the muscle you’ve lost, the hair you can’t tame, the remnants of a body of your past. It won’t remind you that you’ve graduated college, landed your dream job, gotten published, started your own business, raised a beautiful family, and followed your dreams.

Your mirror will never tell you how you’ve changed your own life. It will remind you of the things you haven’t changed and of where you’ve been. It will make you focus on your scars, not on the healing. It won’t tell you how you’ve recovered from an eating disorder, walked again after surgery, given birth to new life, or worked your way up from rock bottom.

Your mirror will never tell you that you are valuable. It will magnify all of the reasons that you feel unworthy and not good enough. It won’t remind you that you are so loved by many. It won’t remind you that you are an integral part of your workplace. It won’t remind you that you have purpose beyond what you may comprehend in this world.

Your mirror will never tell you that you are unstoppable. Your mirror will hinder you, as you focus on the things that bring you down. How can you tackle a big project or presentation when you are subconsciously fixated on the gap in your teeth or the zit on your face? Your mirror won’t remind you that you are a force to be reckoned with.

Your mirror will never tell you that you are more than your appearance. It only knows appearance. It won’t remind you that your “big thighs” are strong and can take you places. It won’t tell you that your “fluffy arms” take care of people. It won’t tell you that your “puffy eyes” reflect joy and see the best in others.

It is up to you to look past the mirror and move beyond the surface level, deeper into the core of who you really are. Use your mirror to help you get ready in the morning, and then say goodbye to it for the rest of the day. You are so much more than what your mirror tells you. And after all, who wants to be a slave to lies?

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