New Study Says Fitness Trackers Can Actually Sabotage Weight Loss Goals

September 23, 2016  |  

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Fitness trackers serve quite a few purposes: from helping you see how many calories you burn, to how many steps you take, and how many more you can take when your family and friends are on your tail in a challenge. But according to a new study, if you were looking for trackers to help you lose weight, you may lose more without the help of such gadgets. It depends on what motivates you.

According to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers followed the weight loss of 471 participants (ages 18-35) between 2010 and 2012. Those tracked were put on a low-calorie diet, given recommendations for more physical activity, and went through group counseling sessions. They all saw progress in their weight loss.

Six months in, a random number of the participants were given fitness tracking devices (older models worn higher up on the arm, not today’s complex FitBits and Jawbones) to count their steps and calories burned. Other participants were told to self-monitor their diet and log their exercise habits into a website. Eighteen months down the line, those who just logged their exercise without the help of a tracker lost, on average, five more pounds than those who used the activity tracking. As it turns out, those who used the trackers ended up moving less. The study’s lead author, Jack Jakicic, told The New York Times that he thinks people were discouraged by not reaching certain daily goals they set for their steps and calories, goals they could monitor very closely via the tracker. Because of that, they gave up on certain days, burning less calories and losing less weight overall. Jakicic also said, “People may have focused on the technology and forgotten to focus on their behaviors.”

So it seems that for some people, fitness trackers left them feeling a bit discouraged at times, while those who were just instructed to focus on exercise patterns did much better. It’s very interesting and speaks to individual discipline and drive. I believe that trackers can definitely motivate you by encouraging you to meet step goals, which, in turn, help you burn quite a few calories. However, I also know the disappointment of not getting far with a step goal during the day and deciding that I might as well just stay in the house during the evening because I wouldn’t reach it. When I didn’t focus on any of that, pre-tracker, and instead, just focused on working out by myself or with a trainer, I was super motivated to keep going because I was seeing results. Too much tracking sometimes left me feeling overwhelmed. Therefore, I can see how this study could turn out this way. Again, it pretty much just depends on the person and what really pushes you — and what deters you.

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