All about the numbers: Are tracking devices driving us crazy?!

Has anyone else noticed how much we are encouraged to track EVERYTHING lately?

– We’ve got heart rate monitors to track our beats per minute during exercise, which correlates to total calorie burn

– We’ve got running watches to track our distance, pace, calories, etc.

– We’ve got apps galore! Ones to track our runs, our workouts, to provide us with workouts, to track our food intake and calories

– We’ve got devices to track our steps

…. the list goes on, right?! I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I have or have had/used most of these. I was slightly addicted to my heart rate monitor while it worked- I loved seeing how high my heart rate would get and how many calories I burned in my workouts. Even worse? I loved sharing those high calorie burning workouts on Instagram!

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I have a Garmin running watch, which I really do love, but will admit that it doesn’t make running as fun for me because I’m constantly checking my pace and splits and therefore always pushing myself to run faster and further. Granted, this isn’t always a bad thing, but since I’m not training for anything I don’t need to beat myself up during every run! I’m better at just running to run these days, and less to for beating my mile time from previous runs. Now I mostly just use it to track my distance.

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When my Garmin battery dies and I don’t remember it until I’m leaving for a run, I use the Mapmyrun app which does pretty much the same thing as a Garmin. Again, I’ve shamelessly posted screenshots of my runs on Instagram more than I’d like to admit.

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I luckily have never tracked my calories or food intake as I know that is total danger zone for me.

And now, I’m tracking my steps because of the Fitbit Charge that RM got me for Christmas, but I can’t help but wonder if all this “tracking” is making us all a little crazy… always trying to be better than we were the day before or participating in a friendly competition with friends also using those tracking devices. Will there ever be a time when we say “enough is enough. I’m just going to run/walk/exercise/eat/etc. based on how I feel on that particular day.”? Will there ever be a time when we are not introduced to a new way to track a piece of our daily activity?

RM sent me an interesting article, which is what sparked my thoughts on this topic. It talked about 7 health fads people don’t want to see in 2015 and one of them was on tracking. From the article:

These days, it seems there’s an app or band to track every aspect of your health: Your steps, mileage, altitude, speed, even your breath and your sleep! Sure, there’s benefit to knowledge: Having an idea of how many steps you took yesterday can help you motivate you to be more active today, and training for a race is easier to do when you know your pace. But there is such a thing as overdoing it: Do you really need to be keeping tabs on absolutely everything, and is doing so taking the pleasure out of the activity itself? And the things that you are tracking, do you know why you are doing it in the first place? Go ahead, track away — but we also encourage you to incorporate some mindfulness into your activities (the act of staying in the present while walking, running, skiing, even breathing) and try going a day or two without a gadget clipped to your shirt or wrapped around your wrist.

I really couldn’t agree more with this statement. For me, I like my tracking devices to get an understanding of my general movement, activity level and the impact that has on my body. I want to be able to understand what my workout is doing to my heart rate and calorie burn so I know how to properly fuel my body before and after those workouts. I want to be able to know what my average mile pace is because that helps me figure out how long my workout will be. I like to see how many steps (or lack thereof) I take in an average day and how working out affects that number.

But, this piece of the statement really struck a cord for me: But there is such a thing as overdoing it: Do you really need to be keeping tabs on absolutely everything, and is doing so taking the pleasure out of the activity itself? And the things that you are tracking, do you know why you are doing it in the first place?

I don’t need to keep tabs on everything, but sometimes it’s harder to try and NOT do that. And, the bigger thing for me is that it’s too easy for me to become overly obsessive with whatever I’m tracking, which in turn takes the fun out of it. Like I mentioned above, running was not so fun for me when I was constantly trying to run faster than the day before. When I didn’t burn as many calories during a workout that I had burned doing that same workout the previous week (teaching cardio kickboxing, for instance), I found myself getting upset over my “poor” performance. And even at this point, I have to make a conscious effort to not obsess over my steps and often times take the watch off when I can feel myself starting to obsess over trying to hit my 10K step goal.

Finding the balance with tracking devices is so important because at the end of the day, there is so much more than just a stupid number on a device. Just because I didn’t walk 10K steps doesn’t mean I was a bump on a log for the day, but even if I was, SO WHAT! We are all entitled to those days. Just because I didn’t run a sub-8 minute mile doesn’t mean I didn’t work to my best potential.

So, for me, tracking can be a dangerous line, one that I’m learning to avoid which is something I’m proud of. But remember, this is just me- if you have a specific goal where tracking is going to help, well, keep you on track to achieving that goal, then by all means track away! I just encourage you to remember there’s so much more in what you’re doing than whatever the number on your device tells you.

Questions for you: Do you use tracking devices like a running watch, heart rate monitor, Fitbit or something else? Does tracking work for you?

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18 thoughts on “All about the numbers: Are tracking devices driving us crazy?!

  1. Fiona MacDonald says:

    This is such a great post! I started tracking my calories and exercise about a year and a half go as a motivator to push me at the gym and help me just keep check of what I was eating. Some where along the line, it became dangerous and unhealthy. I would only feel like I got a great workout if I burned more then 500 calories, I would feel awful the days I didn’t work out and my calories went over 1600 /day (which is LOCO). I finally came to the realization that even though my intentions starting out were good, it had crossed the line. It took a while to step away from both my heart rate monitor and my fitness app but since I find I just focus on how I feel after the workout and try to ease up on the pressure when eating. Great post!

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      Hi Fiona- I’m glad you enjoyed the post… it’s always a better feeling when you know someone can relate to you, but even better when you’re both getting through the issue! It’s so easy to have these things start out as well intended and as a good way to be motivated, but then make the switch to an obsession and a dangerous thing. The thing is, even if you burn less than 500 calories it doesn’t mean it was a bad workout! Going by how you feel is such a better and happier way to be! I’m proud of you!

  2. Athena @ Fitness & Feta says:

    Like anything else, I think it’s all about self awareness. It’s great that you are able to recognize that tracking is sometimes a trigger area for you. I think the important thing is for people to be able to say enough is enough, this is too much for me. I like having my Fitbit on my wrist to help me move more throughout the day at work (at days I don’t have that number flashing at me, I’m more likely to sit at my desk engrained in my work until I go home). But I’m not big into checking in with my phone app and dashboard except to get a general idea of my sleep patterns – I’ve really noticed the connection between hunger levels and not so great sleep from using my Fitbit. An example of when I just put my tracker aside recently though was during our winter getaway in NH – I just didn’t feel like using it!

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      I totally agree, Athena, the scary thing is that sometimes it takes going to a bad place before self awareness comes into play, at least for me, anyway. It seems as though you’re able to separate the motivation aspect from obsession aspect, which is awesome! That’s an interesting observation… I’m going to have to check that out. I usually take the fitbit off when I sleep, but I have noticed that when I go to bed hungry I don’t sleep as well.

  3. Carson says:

    I use a running watch, but stay away from the other stuff. I admit, I could probably stand to use a little but MORE technology, as I am more of a laid back, do what feels good kinda person. Which doesn’t help me improve anything. But it sure does make it more fun!

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      Carson- Haha, your comment made me laugh! It’s funny how people are either addicted to technology or totally oblivious about it, but you’re right, sometimes it’s exactly the motivator that you need to get your butt moving. Can you send some of your “laid back do what feels good” over to me? I’m quite the opposite!

  4. Kim says:

    So funny that you wrote this today because I have a post about my tracking devices planned soon – I like them but agree it is a line between obsession and just using them for data.

  5. Dana says:

    Were you writing this to me lol?! I’m basically you in that my heart rate monitor is my life. I “can’t” work out without it. On the days I forget it, I obsess the entire time about how hard I’m working, if I burned enough calories, etc. I’ve even gone home and been late for classes due to goig back for the stupid piece of plastic! One day I would like to be able to just be mindful of my workout without caring about the numbers. That being said,

  6. Dana says:

    Were you writing this to me lol?! I’m basically you in that my heart rate monitor is my life. I “can’t” work out without it. On the days I forget it, I obsess the entire time about how hard I’m working, if I burned enough calories, etc. I’ve even gone home and been late for classes due to goig back for the stupid piece of plastic! One day I would like to be able to just be mindful
    of my workout without caring about the numbers.

    That being said, there are some great things I have learned from my heart rate monitor.
    1. Sometimes when I mentally feel off and feel as though I’m not working hard, I realize that my body was actually working quite hard based on my heart rate zones and calories. It helps me to remember that my mind has a strong hold over me.
    2. Sometimes the hardest workouts don’t burn the most calories, and that’s OK, because I know it was hard-I did it!
    3. It actually does help me in spin. Sometimes I have to use a new bike and it feels different, so it’s helpful to know if a 10 on one bike is my 10 on another bike (which would mean I’m pushing as hard as I can-which is a goal for me in cross training for marathons, halfs, and maybe a tri!)
    I appreciate your very thoughtful post and truly hope that I can one day find comfort without the tracking!

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      Hi Dana, We are very similar in a lot of ways! I love the points you’ve learned, especially number 1. I’ve totally felt the same way before- ending a workout feeling like “ugh that sucked” and then looking at my watch and seeing that it was actually a really high calorie burning workout. It makes me feel so much better (I just hate when I think I’ve worked so hard but the watch tells me differently). I hope you’re learning to let go of the heart rate monitor a little more… baby steps, don’t forget that!

  7. Sam says:

    So funny you wrote this! My fiancé and I decided not to get his Mom a FitBit for Christmas because she’s become overly obsessive about exercise and calories. I felt like giving her a tracking device would give her another thing to unhealthily obsess about. I personally use one, and like Athena said, am generally just motivated to move more by the sight of it. I don’t really care about specific numbers, I just try to move “more” than I would without it. I also use it to remind me to drink more water because I’m a tea fiend and I forget : )

    • Burpees to Bubbly says:

      Hi Samantha- I think you guys made the right choice! I was actually surprised when my boyfriend got me one because he’s always telling me i’m too obsessed with numbers and working out. I tend to move a lot anyway (even without a fitbit I would make extra trips to get in extra movement), so I’m not sure it makes me move that much more, but it’s interesting to see how much I move or don’t move in a day. I hope you’re starting to drink more water- it’s so good for you 🙂

  8. Kristen@goodngoodforya says:

    I used to use mapmyrun and myfitnesspal but I found myself getting a little ridiculous. I’m definitely not interested in getting a fitness tracker or heart rate monitor. I have this long term goal/ picture in my head of myself as a fit, fun old lady and she isn’t wearing a tracker, worrying about how many calories that yoga class or hike is burning.

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