If I am naked, will my steps still count?

The other day, the battery on my Fitbit unexpectedly died. It was a new battery, just two weeks old, so it took me by surprise. I wasn’t prepared with an immediate replacement battery. I was also traveling at the time so it wasn’t like I had a stash at home to run to. So there I was, in the middle of an active day feeling naked because my Fitbit died, lamenting all the steps that would go uncounted.

I got the Fitbit Zip about 6 months ago to participate in a work sponsored team walking event. They gave out T-shirts and cheap clip-on pedometers. When I broke the latter immediately after taking it out of the box, I had to find a replacement. I did some quick research online to decide what to get to replace my now broken cheapo clippo. I studied the various options from the various brands that do and do not offer fitness tracking (e.g. a simple step counter that you manually reset and manually record should you choose to track from day to day vs. something that syncs with an app and become the ‘Big Brother’ of every move you do or do not make).

fitbit-contentsI decided to get the Zip because it would do what I needed (count steps for the then upcoming 30-day walking challenge with colleagues), minimize the effort required on my part to count said steps (auto syncing with my phone/laptop and reseting itself every night at midnight), and was reportedly durable ($60  for a strong clip in a discrete form factor that is water resistant compared to $15-20 for another cheapo clippo that I would immediately also break). Did I need a sleep tracker? I thought “No.” I sleep like crap. I am a trauma surgeon who does most of her academic work in the middle of the night as well. “So what’s the point,” I said to myself. Finally, every day I wear a watch on one hand and a bracelet on the other. There’s just no more room on my wrists for some of the more high end fitness trackers, not to mention that I would have gone insane on the days the fitness band clashed with my choice of outfit.

In the 6 months that have followed, I have clipped the Zip to my bra every day. Yup, every day. My everyday bras, my going out bras, my on-call bras, my sports bras, and my strapless bras worn under ball gowns. I. CANNOT. LIVE. WITHOUT. MY. FITBIT. (And yes, I guess I have a lot of bra categories and no you won’t read about them here since my dad and many male colleagues follow the blog).fitbit-bra

So when that battery died, I might as well have been topless. I was a frantic mess knowing that my stroll to the bathroom from the armchair in the corner of the hotel room was not being measured, knowing that my steps around the convention center that day were not tallied, and knowing that my deliberate choice to walk back to the hotel after dinner to repent for the bread and dessert would go uncounted.

Why did losing Fitbit’s diligent counting of my steps leave me feeling so exposed? Why has the Fitbit become the accessory (yes, not a scarf or a particular shade of lipstick for this fashionista) I cannot leave the home without? Because…

1) Fitbit keeps it real. Despite trying to be a fit and healthy person, I was blind to how sedentary I can be on some days, in particular non-clinical days, before the Fitbit came to rule my world. Now, I know the good days and the bad days. There’s no lying to myself.

2) Fitbit changes mundane behaviors. Since my office is 8 doors down from the division’s admin office and  7 doors down from the billing office and since the bathroom is past those two offices, the pre-Fitbit me would have gathered my mail and my billing and dropped it off on my way to the bathroom. Now, I take three separate trips to drop off billing, drop of mail, and answer nature’s call. Some other more obvious examples include parking in the regular garage even when my on-call status allows me to park in the much closer trauma attending parking spot or always taking the stairs on rounds, no matter how high the floor. It’s not like I didn’t know these things before but somehow knowing that the Fitbit is watching makes me more diligent.

3) Fitbit helps overcome mental exhaustion. Mental exhaustion tends to deplete me as much as physical exhaustion. There are days when I have been rather montionless, no where near my daily goal of 10K, but I still feel exhausted perhaps due to a trying OR case or a challenging grant write-up. Before the Fitbit took reign over me, such exhaustion had a 100% chance of leading to me being glued to the couch eating a bowl of chips or a box of caramels if I was lucky enough to go home that night (if on call, it led to the very disheartening inner voice chanting for a quiet call night). Now, most of the time seeing the frowny face on my Zip’s display get’s me to the basement workout room (most nights) or the work gym (if on call) for, at the very least, an easy jaunt on the treadmill or elliptical. All the steps, even a low speed, count.

4) Fitbit provides positive reinforcement on the good days. Who doesn’t want to know that they walked a half marathon a day for three days in a row at Disney? Who doesn’t want to get a congratulatory e-badge for exceeding 40K steps on the same day they get a real medal for completing an actual half marathon? That’s right, I like being congratulated for my achievements and Fitbit’s tracker is a master congratulator for movement related achievements. Go me!

5) Fitbit feeds a competitive streak. Using the Fitbit app one can connect with other Fitbit users no matter which particular Fitbit device they have chosen to track with. We can egg each other on (umm, and also support one another) to see who moves the most in a given week. I love checking the app to see who I am better than in a given week. And if I am doing worse, well see #2 and #3 above. Time to get moving.

6) Fitbit syncs seamlessly with MyFitnessPal. I have been an on again, off again MFP user for nearly two years. When I track, I achieve my weight-related goals, when I don’t the weight slowly creeps up (so yes, in many ways, MFP is to calorie consumption as Fitbit is to moving). I get derailed when I get busy or eat a complex meal because I lack the time or mental capacity to log every calorie in or every calorie out. Manually tracking steps in MFP is cumbersome (not because of the MFP app makes it difficult but because, really, though it is easy to make note of 30 minutes spent walking the dog or running, how does one measure the steps accrued during various trips to the billing office or the bathroom). So, that the Fitbit automatically tells MFP exactly how many steps I moved in any day is truly a tracking victory. And, while MFP  allows me to up the calorie out for more intense movement, if I get too busy or forget to log concerted exercise, at least the baseline calorie burn from the steps taken during that exercise is measured with any extra effort on my part.

7) Fitbit is easy. All I need to do is wear it and be near my smart phone to get all the benefits listed above. The device and app do the rest. It’s all uploaded over the cloud to all versions of software. Voila. I am held accountable to myself for my activity or lack of it.

So, without my Fitbit clipped closely to me I wonder about all those steps I may or may not have taken and I feel utterly, completely naked.


[NB: in general the battery lasts 4-6 mos and this was truly unexpected and in no way detracts from my wholehearted recommendation for the Fitbit Zip.]

NOTE: From time to time we will write about some of our favorite things. Unless specifically noted, we have purchased these items on our own and have not received any royalties or other perks for sharing our product opinions with you.

Calling an audible on health and fitness goals

I like to consider myself goal oriented but sometimes I call ‘an audible’ on the goal at hand.

For example, I might say to myself on a Saturday that I have off that my goal is to enjoy a day trip with the family but when Saturday arrives I might decide that overhauling the basement storage situation is a better a goal.

When it comes to health and fitness, these on-the-fly goal adjustments are fraught with dangers.

First the good. I will sneak in a treadmill workout with a goal of running for 30 minutes. However, as 30 minutes approaches I will notice that the machine says 2.78 miles so I will say to myself “just keeping running until you hit 3 miles.” But, when I hit three miles it’s only 7 more minutes until hitting a 40 minute workout. When I approach 40 minutes I reflect on the 15 minute increments that break our hours into quarters and I say to myself “you can do anything for five more minutes” Voila, I managed to workout for 15 minutes longer than my original goal. This kind of audible is clearly beneficial for me. I wish it would happen more often but I often call an audible in the wrong direction (see example below) of getting a workout in because the alternative goals are just easier to meet.

Moving on to the bad. I have been tracking with MyFitnessPal for nearly two years now. When I am consistent (e.g. minimum of 4 weeks in a row), I know that I meet my weight loss goals so my daily goal is to track. But, along comes a bad call night when my tracking lapses or it’s a day like Thanksgiving and by noon my daily allocated calories are spent so why keep tracking for the rest of the meal or it’s my kid’s birthday and I absolutely must have a cupcake but I just can’t bring myself to see the caloric value staring me back in the face. I just say to myself “oh well, tomorrow’s another day.” The problem is that if tomorrow also presents a tracking challenge (for example, last week Thanksgiving was followed by a busy 32 hours on call was followed by my kid’s birthday) then I just say “oh well, I will just start tracking again next week.” And, if next week is an on-service week….

You get the picture, it’s so easy to put off this kind of a goal and the ensuing cycle of self-sabotage is vicious. If I make it to the workout in the first place or if I make it to my final meal of the day very close to being in my daily range for caloric intake, I am apt to meet my goals. In fact, the positive feelings of being on the mark inspire me to be an over-achiever during those moments in time (see the good above). But if I let myself down, I am liable to give up, hate myself for giving up, and be so mired in self-hatred that I can’t pick myself up again.

This same scenario is why 3 years passed between attempts at basement storage overhaul. The hate is so much easier to feel than the positive energy that will surely follow a challenging workout, an excess pound shed, or an alphabetically arranged garage storage unit. I called an audible on writing about this topic. You’ll have to wait and read about guilt-ridden mom sporting some gold heels on a later date, I am trying to get motivated for a Monday morning workout and my first complete week of tracking in a long time.