Technology is pretty cool. Because of technology, we can locate long lost friends and go on vacation without getting lost. A quick internet search yields countless recipes for healthy lemon squares. We have white noise apps to help us sleep, productivity apps to help us work smarter, and shopping apps to help us spend money.
Fitness and nutrition apps especially, are having a moment. Mobile and wearable technology are dominating the space for workout and diet tracking.
If I had to guess, I’d say about 65% of the people I see at the gym (or in a health coaching capacity) are using one of these apps and/or gadgets to help them lose weight.
Here’s what’s good about that:
If you’ve never paid attention to what you put in your mouth or how many calories you burned on the elliptical, it’s a great way to bring some awareness to these things. It’s pretty eye-opening to see that your half-hour stroll on the treadmill didn’t even TOUCH the turkey sandwich you ate for lunch.
Mindfulness is always a good thing, and it’s non-negotiable if you’re trying to make serious lifestyle changes.
I have no problem with clients using these tools in conjunction with their health coaching and workout programs. Oftentimes, the FitBit was THE thing that pushed them to initiate change. I wouldn’t dream of taking that away from anyone.
Here’s what’s not so good:
Even the best, fanciest products can’t give you a truly personalized program. At the end of the day, these apps and gadgets function on a numbers-only basis. Your tailored program is generated by the numbers you enter – your weight, your age, your resting heart rate, how much weight you want to lose, etcetera.
Also, I get that weight loss is an important goal. But, in and of itself, it’s not usually enough to facilitate the kind of permanent lifestyle change required for lifelong health. I think this is largely because of one simple truth:
Weight loss is complicated. And really unpredictable.
If all you’re tracking are numbers, and the numbers stay put for three weeks or more – despite all your hard work – there are three possible outcomes:
1. You blame yourself. You must not be “doing it right.” You need to work out even harder, eat even less, make more sacrifices. This all boils down to a core belief that you’re just not (fill in the blank) enough. Not smart enough. Diligent enough. Motivated enough. Good enough.
2. You get discouraged and give up. If you weigh 225 without doing anything differently, and you still weigh 225 after depriving yourself and sweating like a maniac in the gym, why bother?
3. You take it all in stride as part of the process, keep doing what you’re doing, and have faith that it will all work out.
How many of you choose Option 3? Be honest.
This is why it helps to have non-numeric goals for your health. How’s your energy level? Your mood? Your digestion? Do you have skin irritation or dry, brittle nails? What about mental focus? Are you able to concentrate for long periods of time, or are you easily distracted? Do you have brain fog? Do you sleep through the night?
A gadget can’t track those things (except for sleep). But often, those factors are the first areas to show improvement when you make positive changes for your health. If you’re not tracking things like mood, energy and digestion, you’re missing out on all manner of celebration-worthy milestones.
One more thing: all the gizmos in Silicon Valley can’t tell you if your hormones are out of whack, or if a medication’s side effects are behind your excess weight.
That doesn’t mean your efforts to eat cleaner and move more are in vain. It just means there are other factors at play that can’t be fully addressed by lifestyle change alone.
Here’s how to get the most out of a tracking app:
Meet with an expert. Sign up for a health coaching evaluation for help with implementing healthy changes that actually fit in to your daily life. Have a few sessions with a personal trainer to learn how to get the most out of your workouts. And if you suspect hormonal or other systemic factors, make an appointment with a physician.
Take some time to check in with the rest of your body. Rate all the factors listed above on a scale of one to ten. Ten = unbearable; one = nonexistent. Every month or so, revisit them and see if you notice any improvement. (Then celebrate it!)
Always, always, ALWAYS eat real food. There’s more to food than calories, milligrams, and recommend daily allowances. Read the ingredients on your food labels instead of the Nutrition Facts, and make sure you know what you’re putting into your body.
The conclusion: fitness and nutrition tracking tools have their place in a successful weight loss journey, but they’re not the end-all. Even in this age of technology, it still boils down to education, compassion, and dedication to change. The gizmos and gadgets just make it a little easier.