I have been using the Fitbit Flex along with the Myfitnesspal app to track and monitor my fitness. I’m not trying to lose weight, I am already at an appropriate weight. I started doing this in order to have adequate experience to help my clients who are trying to lose weight, and just because I’m curious.
I’ve made several discoveries from this. First, it is addictive. Normally, I try tracking things and lose interest rather quickly. Since the software provides lots of feedback, with it’s charts, graphs and goals, it creates motivation in me to reach those goals. I have started recommending some kind of tracking software and hardware to all my clients. Doing this tracking has changed my behavior, possibly permanently. I will go for a walk at the end of the day, even if I’m tired, just to up my step total. I won’t eat something if I see I’ve reached my calorie goal, or I will make a lower calorie choice to keep from going over.
The extrinsic reward of seeing the happy face on my phone is powerful. If you wonder how strong of a motivator could that be, ask anyone who plays video games how important hitting a certain score is, or clearing a level. This is the same motivator, only with a real world application. I feel very strongly that we should harness this behavior pathway to change our society. We keep talking about the obesity epidemic, and I think this is a potent tool to counteract the social trends leading to obesity. We talk about the difficulty of getting kids to lose weight, this would be a way to reach them without shaming, embarrassing or harassing them. They could monitor their own progress, and own the whole process. There could be an app that gives a visual reward when they reach their calorie goal, that would be removed if they go over. Food choices could earn them points, and every day and every week they could improve their score.
I don’t see a down side to this use of technology. Too many people tell me, “oh, I eat all right”. Or, “My nutrition’s ok”. Looking at them, I don’t believe it. People need real feedback to know where they are. We all have rose colored glasses on when thinking about our eating. Once you have a mirror held up to your behavior, it does change.
Another potential use is research. So often research suffers from bias, when the subjects put down what they think the researcher wants, or what vanity dictates. We have millions of people keeping digital logs. If researchers were allowed anonymous access, what could they glean from all of that? I’m not saying all those logs are terribly accurate. If I go to a buffet, I just quick add 600 calories, rather than try and log each food. That’s average for what I normally eat in a meal, and I figure it covers it. Could it be a lot more or less? Sure. I’m certain most people out there are like me, guesstimating amounts, rounding portions up or down and leaving things off. I’m under my calorie goal most weeks. If that were really true, I would be losing weight, and I’m not, so we know there’s some fudge factor in there somewhere. Still, it is better than a questionnaire sent out once a week, or once a month, asking people to remember how much they ate.
I’d like to know what you think. Do you use tracking software? What software/hardware do you use? What do you like or dislike about it? How has it changed your behavior? Do you feel good about how it’s changed you? What was your biggest surprise? How accurate do you think it is?