Why I Stopped Using My FitBit

*Trigger warning: eating disorder behaviors*

In recent years, fitness trackers have become all the rage. From Fitbits and Garmin trackers to Apple Watches and the preinstalled Health app on iPhones, it seems like there are countless ways to keep track of the steps you take, the calories you burn, and your day-to-day activity levels. These trackers were designed to be useful tools for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, they can inadvertently pose serious health hazards (and not because of carcinogenic radiation). When your whole world revolves around the numbers on a little band on your wrist, you run the risk of inflicting serious physical and mental harm on yourself. This is precisely what happened to me.

I received a Fitbit in the spring of my freshman year of high school, and in my eyes, I couldn’t have gotten one at a better time. Over the past month, I had started thinking more about how active I was and how many calories I was eating each day. With my Fitbit, it would be so much easier to keep track of these things! I could look up the calories in the foods I ate so I could make sure I wasn’t eating more than I burned. My step goals would motivate me to move more, since I had something concrete to work towards. This was the one of the best gifts I had ever received!

But, it turns out, this was the most harmful device I’ve ever used. I’m very thorough when it comes to recording information; between overflowing planners and extremely detailed phone contacts, I keep track of as much data as I possibly can, for better or for worse. And of course, I had to document every aspect of my life with the Fitbit app: food, water, sleep, even the steps I took when I was forced to remove the sacred band from my wrist. Every single step and calorie mattered. I had to make sure that what I ate was appropriate for my activity levels each day.

Thus began the downward spiral of eating less and less. As long as my calories in were fewer than my calories out, I was fine. Reaching my step goal made this a lot easier, and I used every opportunity I could to sneak in extra steps. This quickly became an obsession; I would even spend an hour or two almost every day walking around my house while watching Netflix on my phone! Of course, I only saw that as multitasking. As the calorie gap grew, my weight dropped relentlessly. But I didn’t see any problem with this for the longest time.

Slowly, I became aware of how thin I looked, and I grew self-conscious of the band on my wrist. Would people judge me if they saw my Fitbit and my thinness? I didn’t want people to think I was married to this device, so I began hiding it in my pocket or my purse whenever I could. It was invisible but it still counted my steps pretty accurately. It was the perfect solution!

I think this was the point where I started to realize that my relationship with my Fitbit was somewhat of a problem. If I was afraid of people discovering my obsession, that meant something about it wasn’t right. I told myself that eventually I would gain the weight back, and I would use my Fitbit to make sure that I was eating enough rather than a calorie deficit. But I was lying to myself, and I think I knew that on some level. It was too tempting to fall back into old habits, and I still aimed for a smaller intake than output, even by just 50 calories.

About a week before I was to begin my freshman year of college, I went to a checkup for my ulcerative colitis, and, as always, my height and weight were recorded before the appointment. I was also seeing a new GI specialist, so she had not previously seen my weight trends throughout the years. When she saw the downhill slope of my weight in my charts, she asked about my eating habits, and I tried to downplay my restrictive diet. I wasn’t fooling anybody, though, myself included. The doctor recommended that I get evaluated at the behavioral health unit of the hospital. And for the first time, I heard these words: “I think you have an eating disorder.”

As soon as she said it, I knew it was true. I had been denying that I had a problem for years, chalking my habits up to a “healthy” lifestyle. And my Fitbit was the disorder’s biggest supporter, but I was lost without it. The thought of giving up my Fitbit was utterly terrifying – how would I know what to eat and how active I was that day? I didn’t know how to live without recording every detail of my life. But I always knew that this day would come, as much as it scared me.

I took an eating disorder evaluation several days later, and based on my weight the doctors recommended that I receive inpatient treatment. I vehemently refused this; I wanted to go to college, and I could find a way to receive treatment while I was there! This was false, however. I went to college and took assessments at several other treatment facilities, and they all said the same thing: residential treatment was the only suitable way to go. Finally, after five or six weeks of school, I took a medical exception, withdrew from my classes, and entered treatment.

On the day I left for the treatment center, I removed my Fitbit from my wrist (fitness trackers were banned there, of course), and I haven’t touched it since. It handcuffed me to my eating disorder, and without it, I feel so much freer. I’m back in school now, and I’m a lot less worried about whether I’m eating the “right” amount of food. I no longer count the calories I eat, and I don’t eat less on days that I’m less active. Sometimes, I still feel tempted to pace around my room to rack up steps, but it’s easy to fight that urge, and it gets weaker every day.

Now, I’m not opposed to the concept of fitness trackers. When used properly, they can be great motivators for making healthier lifestyle choices, such as getting more exercise or sleep. But they can quickly become an obsession. If you have a history of disordered eating thoughts and behaviors, I would strongly advise against using a fitness tracker. Due to my problematic use of my Fitbit, I will never use a fitness tracker again. If you do choose to wear a fitness tracker, please use extreme caution. Humans are complex beings, and your needs cannot be defined by a set of numbers in an arbitrary device. You are worth more than what the tracker says about your goals and habits. Take care of yourself: eat if you’re hungry, be gentle with yourself if you don’t meet a goal, and know that everything is okay in moderation. And know that you don’t have to record every piece of information or wear your tracker every day!