Picture it. You’re walking by that bakery, you know the one, when the smell of something ooey and gooey and not-so-good for you but oh-so-delicious reaches out and lights up all your comfort-food smell sensors. You think, “Oh, but I couldn’t” and then you look down at the fitness tracker strapped to your wrist. It flashes a hopeful signal. It tells you that so far today you’ve burned 500 calories! Ah!…you think…surely you ‘deserve’ a little treat for all your efforts, right?
Well, not so fast!
Recent studies show that while the popular fitness trackers work well for measuring heart rates (6 out of the 7 studied revealed errors of less than 5%), they have a long way to go before accurately measuring the energy expended, or calories burned, by the individuals wearing them.
How much were they off? Well, anywhere from 27% to 93%!
If you are making food choices based on the calories you think you’ve burned as displayed on your fitness tracker, you may be taking in more calories than what your burning in any given day. And, while “calories in and calories out” is only one part of the equation for easily maintaining a healthy weight, it’s the one people are most familiar with.
Measuring anything when it comes to health is a great way to gauge your progress. You can measure things like calories eaten, energy (calories) burned through exercise, heart rate, blood pressure, the time it takes to run or walk a mile, or weight.
Tracking your progress through measurements is a great way to determine what works best for you and help you stay motivated because you become more aware of even small changes. For example, if you are trying to lose weight and start strength training and running or walking and track your progress, you may not see a change on the scale right away, but you’ll notice you can run faster or walk further with less effort each week.
Tracking gives yourself information about your activities and results. From that information, you’re able to determine what’s working (so you can do more of that) and what’s not (so you can determine if it’s something you should eliminate). The real benefit for all of this is you become more aware, are able to trust yourself, listen to your body, and then relax into a holistic, whole-body approach to maintaining and improving your health.
The Fitness Trackers in the study showed accurate results for heart rate with a small margin of error (within 5%); however, were not as accurate for measurements of calories burned. The trackers used in the study included:
Basis Peak (Note: the manufacturers website currently reflects a recall on this device. Go here for more information)
For example: I love chocolate cake! Like, I could sneak to the fridge and devour an entire rich, moist, dark chocolate layered cake in the middle of the night and not apologize to anybody about eating it with my bare fingers. But I don’t.
Why? Mostly because I don’t love how my body feels the morning after. (I won’t tell you how I know this!)
Cake has a lot of “stuff” in it that I don’t normally eat. So when my body is doused with an unexpected avalanche of “cakeness”, it rebels!
Don’t worry. I still eat cake, and you can too if that’s what you like. Just dial it back a little bit. I may have a slice of cake a few times a year. I choose something gourmet, made with the best chocolate, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite.
Even better, when I bake at home I have total control over what goes into my chocolate treats. Normally, I cut the sugar in a normal recipe in half, sometimes more. I’ve found when doing this there is nothing lost in texture or taste. Try it, you may be surprised how easy it can be to cut back on total sugar intake.
What about regular meals? I love to try new things; however, maybe I’ll have just a few bites in order to enjoy the flavors and only as much as what leaves me satisfied but not full. I’ll often share a meal with whoever I’m eating because I know that if we are still hungry, we can order more.
And, we rarely order more because after enjoying the meal and our time together we are often filled – both emotionally and physically.
At the end of the day, it’s about honoring the health of your body and your total wellness, by learning what works for you and then acting (and feeding yourself) accordingly.
Eating and exercising with purpose and with pleasure allows you to slow down enough to enjoy the whole experience and a richness of life. You don’t need a number on a wristband to tell you when you are happy.
How wonderful would it be to have dinner with spouse, friends, and family and concentrate more on your conversations and time together than how many calories you’re eating? How liberating will it be to walk by a buffet table and be confident when filling your plate with the healthiest stuff, passing on what doesn’t work for you, and choosing a small amount of “something special” if that’s what you want.
You’ll know when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat without scales or measurements or clocks.
Technology is great and just know that your body and brain are the most fascinating “machines” you’ll ever encounter. Learning to understand what makes them tick will allow you to self-track and fully enjoy your life!