“What have you learned since using your Fitbit?” I asked a patient of mine, nodding toward his wrist. It seems that half my patients wear them.
“Well,” he said, “I’m more aware of when I move versus when I don’t.”
“So, you are more mindful because of it?”
“I’d say so,” he said. “I do notice when I’m low on steps and I’m moving a lot more—the more you move the more calories you burn, yes?”
“But what if what if you need is to rest?” I asked. “Does it track that?”
He continues without answering my question. “Oh, I like how I get an email about how well I’m sleeping. You know, how many times I wake up and whether my sleep was restful.”
“But don’t you know that when you wake up?” I ask, curious and careful not to burst his enthusiasm. “Doesn’t your body give you that information?”
“I suppose, but it’s so cool. It’s nice to get information when I’m not paying attention,” he said. “I have a friend though who got worried about his sleep and movement when the Fitbit emails would come in,” he continued. “He interpreted the information to mean that he wasn’t doing anything right and abandoned it.”
The limits of relying too heavily on a technology.
There’s no argument that medical technology is expanding. There are chips like mini octopi, surgically inserted into a person’s spine that can reactivate nerves so they can walk again. There are implants to restore hearing for a mother who’s never heard her child’s voice. There are umpteen number of fascinating medical advances, including personal technology that measures a body’s systems. This burgeoning consumer market is still in its infancy, and more technology will certainly come. But what exactly, we need to ask, are we measuring, and how are we connecting this information to what our bodies are actually telling us?
We are a knowledge thirsty society with the idea that more data will improve our health. If this were truly the case, however, our road to being the fittest country in the world would surely be paved. But generalized numbers and statistics—and reliance upon their streaming updates—can serve to disconnect, rather than connect people to their own bodies.
After talking with many people who use a Fitbit or similar device, I believe the device can make you more aware of your body—your movements, your goals, the food you put in your body. In our increasingly sedentary, eat-for-convenience lives, such devices can awaken awareness. But too often they are used as impersonal personal trainers, clip-on technology with engineered unaccountability that most often disregards whether taking 8,000 steps is wiser for you in colder months and 12,000 works better in summer after you’ve lost 10 pounds. It’s not individualized medicine because it fails to connect people with their own internal compass.
I’m not saying that you abandon the Fitbit. Rather, simply question the sales pitch about what it offers. America’s Fitbits, if kept in the proper place in our ever-growing “technology will save us” belief system, can aid in waking up your own inner guidance system. But your body speaks to you all the time, telling you when to rest more and eat less and avoid dairy (not to be overridden by Lactaid). Your own body provides more answers than you may imagine. Are you listening? Have you been taught how to listen? And how are you interpreting this data?