We all know the myriad benefits of wearing a fitness tracker—like motivation, weight loss, and a connection to a community of like-minded healthy people. But what happens when you stop wearing it? A new study shows that when a user suddenly quits monitoring her workouts, something happens emotionally, whether it’s a sense of guilt or relief. Here, six women who shelved their trackers share their experience. (Get a flat belly in just 10 minutes a day with our reader-tested exercise plan!)
“I felt absolutely lost without it.”
I wore a tracker for 3 months. I didn’t have much of a workout routine because of my full schedule, but I knew I needed to start incorporating exercise into my life. The tracker inspired me to start; the more I saw how many steps I took each day, the more competitive I became—with myself and with other users, who I interacted with in their online community. For the first time ever, I wanted to exercise on a daily basis.
But then one day, it vanished. And I still have not found it. I feel absolutely lost. It’s like a big part of my day is wasted because I don’t know how many steps I’ve taken. I went from doing no daily activities to wanting to work out because of this little device. —Brianna
“I went back to having wine after dinner and ordering takeout food.”
My health and fitness had taken a back seat to all the other obligations in my life. There were a lot of takeout dinners and falling asleep on my laptop during those days. I’d seen friends on social media challenging and motivating each other to get more exercise through their tracker’s app, and I wanted in. I figured this would be exactly the kind of support that I needed.
Here’s the thing about me: I’m pretty all-or-nothing. When I’m focused on my health, I’m focused. When I wore the tracker, it was rewarding to see that parking a little farther from a store or taking the stairs instead of the escalator really added up. I began to accept nothing less than 10,000 steps a day, even if that meant putting in a load of laundry at 11 PM to get steps going to and from the basement.
Eventually, something would come up—a vacation, a weekend away, family visiting—that disrupted my regimen. Just like that, I stopped wearing the device and went back to having wine with dinner and settling for takeout twice a week. Working out doesn’t seem too appealing when you’ve fueled your body with crappy fast food. At first, it’s freeing to be able to eat what you want and not have to pencil in a workout before or after a busy day. After a while, though, you remember why you started wearing the tracker in the first place.
My spirits are higher when I’m in shape. My skin is clearer when I’m eating right and drinking lots of water. I have more energy when I get in aworkout before my workday. I guess there are plenty of people who think that trackers are just a pedometer, and I totally get that. But for me, it’s a visual reminder that I need to hold myself accountable for how I look and feel. —Melinda
“I felt angry thinking about all those thousands of unrecorded steps.”
Once I forgot to charge my tracker, so I missed out on earning my steps for an hour and didn’t “win” the hour. Another time, I forgot it at home and actually felt angry and disappointed thinking about how those thousands of unrecorded steps would affect my stats. I posted about it on Facebook and thought about deleting it because I was worried about looking silly. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a few people agreed with me and shared their own stories. —Sherring
“I’m just as disciplined without it.”
I was very disciplined when I first started using my tracker. The first week I had it, I remember walking back and forth between my living room and kitchen at 11 PM, over and over, trying to beat my friends in steps. I must have looked ridiculous.
But eventually I went from being obsessed to being disinterested. I started forgetting to charge it or put it on. Now I haven’t worn it in months, and frankly I don’t miss it. I feel fine not knowing how much I walked. I work out with my husband, and he always got twice as many steps as me. Without the competition element—knowing I would never win a challenge against him since the stats were pretty clear—the novelty eventually wore off. My workouts didn’t change when I stopped using my fitness tracker; I was just as disciplined without it. —Johanna
“All I feel is relief to be free of what had come to be an obligation.”
At first, it was really fun to have all that data at my fingertips—I am a scientist and data junkie, so I live for this kind of stuff. Not too long ago, I ran about 5 miles, which was a personal record for me. When I finished, I realized that my tracker had very low battery and hadn’t recorded my steps. I immediately felt despondent that my record run had been “wasted,” then realized that the quantification had come to feel more important than the exercise itself.
Now I run for the general health benefits, and while I know roughly how far I’ve gone, I never quantify anything now. I’m happier for it. Ultimately, I found that the actual activities I did lost a lot of their inherent joy because I was preoccupied with the data. All I feel now is relief to be free of what had really come to be an obligation.—Erin
“I started to enjoy working out more.”
After buying a tracker, I quickly became a slave to it. I wouldn’t go to sleep before hitting those 10,000 steps. If I was short by the end of the day, I would walk around my house for as long as it took me to reach my goal before bed. I would even grab it before I climbed out of bed in the morning and bring it across the hall with me to the bathroom because I wanted those few precious steps to count.
When I got a tattoo on my wrist, I had to give up wearing the tracker for 2 weeks while it healed. At first I was really disappointed, but after a few days I was relieved to be free of it. I was still mindful of being more active, but I enjoyed not having to monitor my wrist throughout the day. Every now and then I will dust it off and try wearing it again, though it never lasts more than a week. The feeling of having to constantly check it drives me nuts. —Whitney