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Your Fitbit is Lying to You and Other Cautions for Using Fitness Apps

Don't get me wrong, fitness apps can be a fantastic reinforcement and tool for increasing health behavior.  People like tracking their steps or even challenge others to get more steps each day. This arguably should improve and increase a person's movement for the day. This is a positive!   Apps like myfitness pal can help you track your food and thus hopefully make you aware of your daily calorie intake. This should inspire a person to think twice about having that 4th slice of pizza.  Smartwatch users love seeing other health stats like sleep quality and heart rate. These can be useful in possibly detecting dangerous health conditions like heart arrthymia or sleep apnea. All positive. 

Here is the BUT.....

As a Licenced Mental Health Counselor and a Certified Personal Trainer, I am an expert in behavior and I have witnessed first hand the negative side of using fitness apps and devices. Here are a few to watch out for if you are a fitness app user or are thinking about using one. 

#1: Assuming the data is accurate. One of my most repeated phrases is "Your fitbit is lying to you." There is data out there that suggests your smartwatch may OVER ESTIMATE your activity by as much as 80%!  I have had people come up to me after fitness classes to tell me their smartwatch said they just burned 800 calories in that workout. And guess what I say? "Your fitbit is lying to you." Unless you are an Olympic, Iron Man or Professional athlete and you just completed some amazingly long athletic feat, you did not just burn 800 calories. At BEST, you may possibly burn about 200 calories on a very hard workout. This caution leads to #2.

#2 Making health decisions based on fitness app data. This is what drives me batty about apps like myfitness pal is because they add back your workout calories to your food. Basically, they are saying, hey you burned 800 calories, go ahead and eat 800 more calories today, you earned it! Um, no. A: this is not how the body works. And B. this is setting you up to consume more calories than you should based on faulty data (see #1). It has long refuted the whole calories in - calories out + weight loss belief. The TYPES of calories are much more important than the amount you consume. Case and point, if I wat 800 calories a day worth of only vegetables for a week then the next week I ate 800 calories of cake each day the next week, which week do you think I would lose the most weight? Yep. Quality not quantity. 

#3  Getting put into a box. Many fitness apps put you in a box. They ask you a few questions, your age, your weight, your sex, and whether or not you are trying to lose weight, gain weight, or stay the same weight. Then walla, they magically give you a box to live in. Everybody is different. We have different health conditions, metabolic rates, body types, insulin resistance, physical limitations, etc. None of these are being considered with these apps. This creates frustration with people who are following what their app told them to do and they are not losing weight. Keep in mind that your app does not know your body inside and out and you should be checking in with a professional to help you personalize your health and fitness plan as much as possible and to make adjustments when you are not seeing results. 

So whatever app or smartwatch you use, take this data with a good dose of caution and always be wary. As the old saying goes, if it's too good to be true, it probably is. 

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