By Alisa Hrustic
When good relationships turn bad…
Are you in a toxic relationship with your fitness or weight-loss tracker? Here’s how to know if it’s time to take a step back from the data-craze.
When anxiety, guilt, and shame flare up every time you check your stats, or exercise becomes a punishment for failing to meet your goals, it’s probably time to take a step back from the data-craze, says research neuroscientist Nicole Avena, author of Why Diets Fail.
Another sure sign that your fitness and nutrition logging is getting out of control is when it interferes with your body’s natural hunger signals. That’s what happened to Alex Baccam, 21, when she started to track every single ingredient in her meals.
At first, logging everything she ate was a helpful way to see the nutritional value of her go-tos. But when the fat percentage of her meals increased after she logged a snack that wasn’t crazy-healthy, Baccam felt discouraged and annoyed with herself for eating the kilojoules she burned during a workout (though, FYI, fatty snacks can actually help you lose weight). That frustration led Baccam to ignore her natural cravings for snacks and nosh on her favourite “junk food” when she wanted it.
Whether you’re tracking for weight loss, fitness, or nutrition benefits, feeling addicted to your device or app stems from one problem: your negative thoughts outweighing the positive, says Avena. “It can put a lot of people in the position where they feel like they are never good enough,” she says.
“Instead of motivating you to meet your goals and showing you how much you’ve accomplished, health data can be a constant reminder of how much you want to lose or how many kilojoules you ate,” she says. And that’s not something you should be thinking about 24 freaking 7.
The next time you find yourself obsessing over your kilojoules burned, steps, or kilojoules consumed, these expert-backed tips will help you say adios to negativity and maintain your focus on what really counts.
Be Aware Of Taking It Too Far
“When tracking starts to distract you from living your life, then it’s actually counterproductive,” says Michelle May, founder of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program. When feedback interferes with your enjoyment of physical activity and eating healthy foods, it makes you want to give up altogether because you’re not happy. Willpower isn’t enough to help you make healthy changes, but actually enjoying activities that lead to a healthier weight is. So when you find yourself at boot camp class solely for the kilojoule-burn benefits, it’s time to reassess.
Become Your Own Tracker
“Rather than looking at the numbers, use mindful awareness to notice how your body feels,” she says. Translation: Instead of checking your tracker, pause and internally evaluate what’s happening to your body during or after a workout. Focus on things like your heart rate, breath, and energy so you don’t need to rely so much on the watch or app.
Rethink Your Goals
To keep your attention on the positive side of tracking, try to set realistic, attainable goals so that you can be proud of yourself when you actually achieve them, says Avena. “If you want to shoot for 10 000 steps a day, make it a goal, but don’t make it a requirement,” she says. If you meet that goal three times a week, then try to boost it to four or five times a week. Keep it fun; there’s not much use in being your own personal drill sergeant.
Remember Why You Started
“It’s not failure, it’s data,” says clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love. “Instead of beating yourself up or being obsessed about it, just ask yourself why: write out a list of why you’re doing this. What are the benefits?” Look at how your health goals are making a positive impact on your relationships, confidence, work life, and even spirituality (what’s up, SoulCycle). Read that list every day to keep yourself level-headed, she says.
Show Off Your Success
“Focus on the wins,” says Lombardo. If your goal is 10 000 steps and you only get to 5 000, that’s better than zero, she says. Boo-ya! That mean voice in your head can suck it.