I want to talk about data and tracking in the context of health and fitness. There are all sorts of ways to track our physicality: FitBits for steps and sleep, progress photos of our physiques, scale weights, body fat percentages, ect... Is your head spinning yet? I have mixed feelings towards these things. They have the power to be both invaluable tools and tormentors. They provide objective data, but this isn't always what we need. I'd like to share my experience with health tracking, and the lessons I've learned along the way.
This is arguably the most important lesson I've learned: adopt healthy practices that serve YOU; discern which messages pertain to YOU. The mantra "eat less and move more" is relevant to individuals who live sedentary lifestyles and over- consume calories. It is NOT relevant to the thousands of people who live healthfully, but question their bodies because of unrealistic societal standards. Consider this. Humans exist at all ends of the health spectrum. Some need to build muscle and strength; others wish to lose fat. Many have high blood pressure; others seek increased respiratory function. Each of these goals requires particular methods, and relies on specific data to indicate progress. Feel empowered to choose the technology that serves YOUR goal. It can be instrumental if used wisely.
I come from a background of disordered eating, body dysmorphia, and over- exercise. Thus, my long- time goal has been a balanced approach to health. A couple months ago, I relapsed into a phase of self- doubt. I tore my body apart in the mirror, restricted carbohydrates, and did cardiovascular workouts to failure. I couldn't shake the (completely false!) belief that I was fat and lazy. I needed a reality check: an objective source of information that would prove my disordered brain wrong. Enter the FitBit. My step counter showed me that I was walking 7-10 miles a day, in addition to the cardio I performed in the gym. This data revealed the reality of my lifestyle: I am an active human. It settled my restless soul and changed my self- perception. My mental health is vastly improved as a result.
Over time, however, my FitBit savior became my tormentor. I began comparing daily step counts, and felt like a failure for anything less than my average. Even on days where I walked 7 miles, I'd think "but I could have done 10". I began to feel guilty each time I sat down. I became acutely aware of my wristband, each day awaiting the 10k step vibration. (a number, by the way, that is FAR from magical. It means nothing). Thus, I had to walk away. I removed the device and deleted the app. It served its purpose as empirical evidence for my active lifestyle. To continue to wear it would have been equal parts unwise and unsafe- an active deterrent to health. Now, I trust my intuition. I can feel when I have exercised enough, and when I need to get a move on. I bet you can too :)
There are lights and darks to all forms of tracking: a full color spectrum of health and harm. For example, scale weight. First of all, this number represents nothing more than your numerical relationship to gravity. Breath, and give it no more power than that. It can be a good indication of progress, but ONLY if done skillfully. Individual weights should be averaged on a weekly basis to account for fluctuations. Note- fluctuations occur ALL the time for reasons such as menstrual cycle, sodium intake, recency of BM, hydration status, ect. Averages over time give you an accurate picture of how your weight is changing- up, down, or consistent. If the number serves you, check it. If it's torturous, let it go. You can find your healthiest self either way. The same is true of body fat percentage, progress photos, MyFitnessPal, and all the rest... By definition, they are only health tools when they serve your health.
So, my recommendation is this. If the data helps you, absolutely utilize it. You track, measure, and document each aspect of your progress and you celebrate it. I commend you for all of that. If the information haunts your dreams and imprints itself on the backs of your eyelids, preventing any chance of escape... turn it off. To do so is not to walk away from your health; rather to give yourself the opportunity to find it organically. Do not underestimate the power of intuition. Whatever approach you choose, do so because it aligns with your truth. Make sure it sits right with your psyche and makes you excited to wake up each day. I cannot recommend anything more than simply getting to know yourself.
**All photos taken in the beautiful Pinecrest, CA on a recent hiking expedition!