No, Fitness Trackers Do Not Make Us Fat!

No, Fitness Trackers Do Not Make Us Fat!

Anyone keeping up-to-date with news in the fitness world recently won’t have missed the latest revelation on fitness trackers. Headlines are booming with statements such as “Fitness trackers can make you fatter”, “No weight loss benefit for fitness tech” and “Fitness trackers not useful for weight loss“.

So, it’s no surprise that fitness fanatics in their hundreds have abandoned their fitness bands in the belief that this bit of kit may actually cause them to gain weight.

What, Really?

On closer inspection, these headlines are the result of a study from the University of Pittsburgh*, which followed 471 young people trying to shift a few pounds.  After receiving weight-loss advice for six months, half the group were given a fitness tracker, and all participants were given a low-calorie diet and exercise plan to follow for two years.

In the end, both groups lost weight,. Yep, no one got fatter! However, the group using the fitness trackers did lose less weight (around 3.5kg in two years compared to 5.9kg from the non-trackers).

There are a number of theories as to why this may be.  People who track their activity are more likely to reward themselves with a post-workout treat (see gym binge!). For others, tracking can actually make them demotivated when they don’t achieve their set daily goals (the old, ‘well, I might as well start again tomorrow!’) See other lame excuses here.

But the clincher is, a fitness tracker is a piece of technology. It’s not going to hit the crosstrainer for you, and it’s not going to remove that double cheeseburger from your mouth! As with any technology, it has to be used correctly if you want it to work.

The accurate use of a fitness monitoring system is crucial, and it’s different for every user. Sure, we can forgive it for not being right on the mark with our daily step count, but if we fail to tell it truthfully what we had for lunch and how much exercise we’ve done, how can we expect it to know if we’re on track?

This is an issue many personal trainers face when monitoring client’s diet and activity in between sessions. Nobody wants to fess up to their personal trainer about the takeaway and beers they had last night. So, many clients are selective about what they share, to appear virtuous and dedicated to their fitness regime.

They’re not fooling anyone! Under-reporting your diet and exercise to a trainer, simply means that it will take longer for a client to achieve their goals. Inaccurate input into a fitness tracker is pretty much the same. Though, unlike a personal trainer, a wristband isn’t going to call you out on that shifty look in your eye as you provide details of that ‘Caesar salad’ you had for lunch.

This is where the support of a personal trainer can prove invaluable over and above fitness tracking technology. A (human) PT  can offer educated advice and consistently tailor an exercise programme to suit the client.

Either way, whether working with a fitness tracker or a qualified personal trainer, the devil is in the detail. And it’s the incorrect reporting of activity that can slow down fitness progress. Neither a personal trainer, nor a fitness tracker is going to make you fat.

*Published in the journal of the American Medical Association
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