Whether you use a FitBit, apple watch, or one of the many other heart rate monitors and fitness trackers to help you reach your fitness goals you might be finding that instead of losing weight you are actually gaining! How can this be?!?!
Estimated calorie expenditure can be off by 15% or more as measured by fitness trackers. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health compared the Fitbit to a lab-based method for estimation of energy expenditure. They compared 6 minutes of various activities including running and biking. The researchers found the Fitbit to either underestimate or overestimate energy expenditure by 1-25 calories. That difference might not seem like a lot but multiply that over the course of an hour and your estimated calorie burn could be off by as much as 250 calories! So, you can get a rough estimate of calories burned during exercise but you probably don't want to count on that exact number when it comes to planning your calorie intake..
Using your fitness tracker to track your energy expenditure over an entire day may be even more misleading. If estimated energy expenditure can be off up to 250 calories for one hour of activity, imagine how much error this could lead to over the course of an entire day!
If you use a nutrition tracking program, your daily calorie intake probably already takes your activity level into account. For instance, if you told your app or nutrition coach that you workout 3-5 times a week, your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) accounts for your exercise. Your daily calorie and macros goals assume that you will continue to exercise at the same frequency and maintain the same activity level. If you burn 500 calories during your workout and then go home and eat 500 extra calories worth of ice cream, you are not going to lose weight. In fact, you may gain weight! Yikes!
Fitness trackers can be a very useful tool but, one major issue with using one is adopting the wrong mindset. Yes, calories out versus calories in is very important for weight loss; however, tracking each calorie can backfire. Chances are you aren't going to burn the exact same number of calories in your workouts each day. If you have a harder workout and burn more calories does that mean you should reward yourself with a treat? Absolutely not! You will definitely sabotage your weight-loss if you have this mindset.
Don't stress yourself out by paying too much attention to the daily fluctuations of your calorie burn! Remember that weight-loss comes from maintaining good habits (like exercising regularly and eating right) over time. One bad day or one good day isn't going to result in that much change. Don't let your fitness tracker trick you into this faulty mindset!
So Should You Ditch Your Fitness Tracker?
Does this mean you wasted your money on that new apple watch? No! Fitness trackers are an awesome tool when used appropriately! They can help motivate you to exercise or get more steps in throughout the day. They can also help you to be more effective during your workouts (especially those that have heart rate tracking). It's important to keep you expectations in check. Remember your FitBit isn't going to do the work for you. It can help remind you to get moving but you have to make the choice to exercise (and eat right).
Do you use a fitness tracker? What is your experience? Please comment below!