I was one of those people who were impressed and excited when fitness trackers came out into the market. I started with my smartphone and these apps that could monitor my movements. Then on my birthday, I received a wearable one as a gift, and I immediately put it on. Because I had been planning to join a company run and along the way, lose some weight, I looked forward to being more successful with these devices.
The potential of these gadgets is enormous, especially at a time when lack of exercise and bad diets are causing an obesity epidemic. Should they really help, this trend might finally be reversed. However, many people are now starting to question whether they are able to fulfil their purpose.
Just because some people were not able to utilise their trackers doesn’t automatically mean we should all throw it away. I personally found it useful and have lost almost 12 kilograms in the past 4 months. The important thing is to understand how fitness trackers can and can’t help with losing weight.
What studies say
The data on its effectiveness is quite mixed. Some users report not only being unsuccessful with weight loss but actually gained weight during this time. In recent scientific studies, where the factors are more controlled, the results have been more inconclusive.
In one study by the University of Pittsburgh, 471 overweight women between the ages of 18 and 35 were subject to a low-calorie diet, regular exercise and weekly group counselling sessions as part of their weight loss project. After 6 months, these meetings became monthly, but they received counselling through telephone and received motivational messages through text messaging. They were also able to receive online support.
However, one-half of the group was given a wearable fitness tracker as well to be able to monitor what they eat and how much they exercise. They could also sync these gadgets with their computer to keep track of their progress. Much like other fitness trackers, the device they used reported on the number of steps they took that day, how much physical activity they undertook and how many calories they burned. Moreover, they could track their nutrition, specifically what they eat and receive notifications if they skipped a meal.
At the end of the 24-month study, 75% of the participants were able to finish the program. The results surprised the researchers, though, because those who were in the fitness tracker group ended up losing less weight than the others who did not have the gadgets. Specifically, they lost an average of 3.5 kilograms versus the other group who lost an average of 6 kilograms. However, both groups showed similar and significant improvements in muscle to body fat ratio, as well as fitness and physical activity levels and diet.
What can be the reason for the huge difference?
The question is probably not whether the trackers are effective or not. According to the researchers, participants started to find the devices less useful after a few months. After around 12 weeks, they started to overlook it and by 3 to 6 months, they are left relatively unused.
These results do not mean that there aren’t any patients out there who are very motivated and have been hugely successful with their weight loss with the support of their wearable gadgets.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the success or failure of fitness trackers lies mostly on the user. In general, with or without these gadgets, a number of people who try to lose weight give up or lose interest after awhile, especially when they hit a plateau. Keeping people interested in staying in the program does not lie completely on a gadget. A different interface, for example, and other efforts to use them to keep users motivated might dissuade them from giving up, but this is not a sure thing.
After all, no matter how your fitness tracker will remind you to stick to goals, it cannot drag you to the gym or work out for you. This is the good and the bad thing about free will and motivation is highly personal. What might push me to keep exercising and dieting will not work for the person beside me. No matter how technology evolves, it will never be a magic solution that will help people lose weight in an instant.
What I believe is that these gadgets are there to support and help you fulfil whatever goals you have. So long as you are determined to watch your exercise, movement, and nutrition, your wearable is more than willing to provide this information to make it easier for you to track them.
For me, personally, I loved seeing those number of steps and calories burned go up. Eventually, I used it a bit less, as I started the routine of eating less and burning more. I believe that they are not completely useless, as it has really helped me lose a lot of weight. And for as long as there is a need and an advantage of using them, they will continue to be a great product to have around.