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How to Set Healthy Boundaries With Your Fitness Tracker

Halevy says fitness trackers can help gauge our health, but “numbers only give us part of the story.”

The other part of the story is analyzing how you feel in your day-to-day life.

“I definitely think that they’re beneficial for you to know how much effort you’re putting in, or it’s encouraging to see, like, ‘Oh, I did this amount last week,’ right? And then, ‘Oh, this week I did a hundred more steps,’ that’s super encouraging. But I think where the slippery slope happens is when you’re only motivated by that alone and not about how it makes you feel, or about how maybe you lowered your cholesterol or how you slept better because you walked those extra hundred steps,” Murdock says.

“It should really be about overall wellness, mind, and body.”

Be Kind to Yourself

“No day is the same,” Murdock explains. “There may be a full week of interviews or deadlines or whatever, and you’re not meeting those goals.”

She recommends you don’t punish yourself for not meeting those fitness goals by overexercising or undereating. “That’s where it can become toxic.”

Spada says that when she struggles with a bad body image day or bad feelings about her fitness, she asks herself three questions:

  1. Am I nourishing myself?
  2. Am I moving my body out of respect for it?
  3. Am I resting?

“And if I am choosing to intentionally rest, and I’m doing the joyful movement and nourishing my body, well, then I can only thank my body for what it’s doing for me. Otherwise, I’m not really in control of how my body changes … Those are the only things I’m in control of.”

Know When to Take It Off

If you find yourself feeling bad or anxious when wearing a fitness tracker, it’s OK to take it off.

Murdock says that recognizing those feelings is half the battle, and they can be caused by a number of different things: an eating disorder, past trauma, fatphobia, and pressure and messaging from society about diet culture and “wellness.” And if you do reflect on how your tracker is making you feel and discover that it’s become unhealthy, Murdock suggests you take a break from wearing one.

During that break, she says, ask yourself: “Do I need this all the time? Do I just need a break for a reset? Do I need it at all?”

“I think that that will help you figure out the next step you want to take with your tracker, whether you continue to use it or not, or maybe opt for a different one,” Murdock says.

Halevy says a family member of his became unhealthily obsessed with a fitness and nutrition tracking app.

“It very quickly became, hands down, the most-used app on her phone,” Halevy says. “And she realized that she was getting stressed out—actually experiencing stress—about what she was seeing.”

Halevy’s advice to his family member was similar to his approach to recovering from his own substance abuse: Count the small victories. Delete the app for the next meal, for a few hours, or for a day at a time to regain some control.

“That’s enough to start that process knowing that if you really want to, you can always put the strap back on, the app can be downloaded, all of those things are there,” Halevy says. “But just starting with that next one, I find it to be a very valuable approach.”

Halevy acknowledges that it can be incredibly difficult, because not using them “makes us feel like we’re giving up this valuable thing because it has our data in there.”

Spada also encourages anyone who is experiencing negative emotions with a fitness tracker to seek professional help, “because oftentimes, the things that we’re doing are really just the symptoms.”

“You can take off the fitness tracker, sure, but are you really addressing the main concern? If not, it’s going to manifest in other ways,” she says.

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