Study says fitness trackers don’t help with weight loss. Why and how can we use them the right way?

A recent study shows that fitness trackers may not give users an advantage in reaching weight loss targets. The study tracked two groups of participants, one using fitness trackers and one without. Both participants were prescribed increased physical activity, low calorie diets and group counselling activities. At the end of a 24-month period, the participants who used the fitness trackers lost less weight compared to those who didn’t. The study didn’t explain any reason behind that result.

The result might come as a surprise to most of us. If you could track your fitness, you should be able to optimise your weight loss, right? However, the more we thought about it, the more the result made sense.

10,000 steps? I’m done!

fitness tracker steps

Fitness trackers are great for monitoring activity levels and helping you sustain them. What they’re not so good at is pushing you beyond fitness plateaus. Most trackers will tell you how far you ran, how many calories you (approximately) burnt, and your heart rate. That’s all great if you’re in a maintenance mode. Unfortunately, weight loss requires an “above and over” attitude to see success. In essence: The more calories burnt during an exercise phase, the better. 

Confirming the agony

The other thing is a sort of “confirmation bias” that happens when people use fitness trackers. When you’ve suffered through a workout session, the most important thing you want to see is some kind of result. When a fitness tracker tells you that you lost 500 calories, it is confirmation that the workout was “effective”. However, this information exists in a vacuum, because the tracker doesn’t tell you if that’s sufficient for weight loss or not. All you know is that you’ve endured some agony, and you’ve lost calories.

What you don’t know is whether your metabolic rate has increased, what your lean muscle mass is, or where your body fat composition is at. Just a few data points are insufficient for efficient weight loss. Sure, you’ll lose weight, but not as quickly as if you didn’t have an arbitrary number of steps or fixed caloric expenditure to meet.

You may be saying “But without a fitness tracker, I won’t have any data”. You’re right. But how did we lose weight before fitness trackers came along?

But fitness trackers can help if you use it right

Stretching-Workouts-Cool-down-exercises

But fitness trackers can be turned into an advantage, if you use it for these two things: Maintaining discipline and using it as a tool for outdoing yourself.

When you first place your fitness tracker on, and start working out, you’re establishing a baseline. You shouldn’t be worried about how long you ran yesterday, or how many steps you took today. You should be pushing yourself a little harder to know when and how you get winded. Then, and only then, should you check your data. That result is your baseline difficulty and intensity of fitness. Now you know where you stand, your objective is to never fall below that line on bad days, and always aiming to go above it on good days.

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Fitbit Charge 2

If you’re looking for a great general fitness tracker, then this year’s FitBit Charge 2 is a pretty good choice. Runners might want something a little more sophisticated. Garmin’s Forerunner series, especially the 735XT, is a solid choice. It has a GPS, heart rate tracking, knows how to advise your recovery timings, and even tracks your VO2 .

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Garmin Forerunner

Of course, if you’re looking to crush it in the gym, then Atlas WristBand 2 is the wearable to go for. It is one of the few fitness trackers created specifically for the gym. The companion app can even tell you what muscle groups you hit during your gym sessions!

Atlas WristBand 2

Atlas Wristband 2

 

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