Fitbit seems like a fun way to track fitness and health. Users can set up their own profile, including their body weight, and set personal weight and fitness goals. The psychological rewards are high when the Fitbit and its accompanying phone app celebrates the user’s goals.
Every time a person meets a goal, the Fitbit band buzzes and lights up. On the phone or desktop app, users can track their total steps, calories burned, and numerous other data regarding their “health and fitness.”
The Fitbit will even provide encouragement, badges, and messages about pushing towards ever-increasing goals.
And, of course, because Fitbit markets exercise as a path to weight loss (which is false, by the way), it will track weight loss and reward users for every pound they lose.
Can you see the trouble with Fitbit use in the eating disorder community?
The fact is, those of us who have a history of eating disorders are immeasurably drawn to tools like the Fitbit. They tap into our obsession with our body’s activity and weight, and we love the feedback that tells us we are “good” and even “great.”
The message “You’ve reached a new low!” should tell us everything we need to know about the Fitbit and those of us who have eating disorders. They just don’t mix.
The combination of buzzing, lights, emails, phone notifications and more give us a charge of energy and the confidence that we are doing exactly what we should be.
Fitbit addiction can begin in just one day of use. We can set our own goals and track everything we do through the day so that we can feel in control. If we miss a goal, we can feel like a failure, and if we meet every ridiculous goal we set ourselves, we are motivated to increase our goals, because if we did so well at this level, why not do more?!
Many of us who have eating disorders also identify as Perfectionists, meaning that we are strongly driven to succeed in the drive to please our Fitbit. Succeeding at Fitbit means we are perfectly aligned with our weight loss and activity goals – even if those goals are disordered.
Some of us will feel like failures if we don’t meet our goals. If we can’t even meet the goals we have set for ourselves (on our Fitbits), then are we in control of anything? We’ll walk around the house, pacing endlessly until we are well beyond fatigue to try and accomplish the goal we set.
We desperately seek screens that look like this:
We can quickly increase our workouts and decrease our food intake in an attempt to be rewarded for the pleasure of seeing that we “beat” our goals that day.
Of course, our Fitbits can drive us to our disordered behaviors despite the fact that they have been shown to be very inaccurate. “A class action lawsuit against Fitbit may have grown teeth following the release of a new study which claims the company’s popular heart rate trackers are “highly inaccurate.” (See more from CNBC)
Why Fitbits are dangerous if you have a child who has an eating disorder
Fitbits put the focus on counting and tracking, which is a danger sign of and trigger for an eating disorder. They become quickly addictive, pushing the user to pursue excessive exercise and minimal calories every single day.
If your child who has an eating disorder, or is in recovery or recovered from an eating disorder, and is wearing a Fitbit, this is a dangerous sign. Of course, we don’t want to trash Fitbits without our children’s permission. Work with your child’s treatment team to compassionately discuss the role of a Fitbit in your child’s life, and explore options for eliminating Fitbit use.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.
She’s the editor of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.