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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.