With all of the FitBits and Apple Watches around the world - tracking your movement and your calorie expenditure is easier than ever. People around the world wear them every day to assist them with their individual fitness journeys. Not only that, but apps like MyFitnessPal can directly plug in to some of these to make it even easier to calculate input versus output. But is that a good thing? Are these devices accurate enough to rely on?
Long story short - the answer is NO. Fitness trackers have been found to be notoriously inaccurate - the Apple watch was found to be the most consistent as well as the most accurate. Still, the most accurate feature on all fitness trackers is said to be the step count - which would only vary if you had an unusual way of walking or if you walk very slowly. The heart rate monitor is the least accurate feature, and since this feature links directly in to calorie expenditure, it makes the rest of the data incorrect.
Knowing how many calories you have burned in a day is very difficult, especially for your trusty FitBit, since it is a very precise, individual, internal calculation that would need to be measured by a health professional in a laboratory setting. Your FitBit can account for age, gender, sex but it has no idea of knowing your BMR (basal metabolic rate) or muscle to fat ratio, which creates a huge gap in knowledge and will result in inaccurate calculations.
Now the danger in all this, aside from inaccurate heart rate calculations during exercise, is looking at your calorie expenditure during the day and matching it to what you eat. Relying on technology to give you a precise number of how many calories you have burned in the day can result in you overeating. Not only that, but creating this mentality that you are trying to burn calories so you can eat more OR burning calories because you ate too much will result in a bad relationship with food.
Viewing movement as a means to ‘erase’ what you have eaten is setting you up for an unbalanced relationship with food - trying to ‘undo’ something that you have done, instead of accepting and moving on. Movement is something that we should be grateful for, something we are happy to do, and something that we love to do - no matter what it is. When you start to muddy the waters, it makes it impossible to forge a balanced relationship with food, which is of course key in creating a sustainable lifestyle of healthy habits.
SO.. WHAT DO YOU DO?
I know that we have discussed in blogs before how, why and when to calorie track - and it IS an important component of any weight loss journey. Knowing how many calories are in your food is critical to maintaining a deficit and maintenance as well. Do you need to calorie count forever? Absolutely not! But there is nothing wrong with doing it for awhile, and once you learn portion sizes, you will be able to estimate your own caloric intake as well (with the help of the internet and packaging on your food, of course!)
Notice that now we are talking about calorie input. THAT IS KEY! Monitoring your calorie expenditure will NOT help you to lose weight - monitoring your input is what will help you be successful on your fitness journey.
Additionally, exercise only accounts for about 10% of your daily expenditure - 10%! The rest of that figure is dependent on your individual BMR (this takes up a whopping 70% that you can't even control), NEAT and thermogenesis.
So while you are working to create a balanced relationship with food via healthy habits and lifestyle change, it’s important to look at movement as well. What do you enjoy? What don’t you enjoy? Aim to get between 30-60 minutes of exercise in daily, depending on age, fitness levels, etc - OR if you are using a fitness tracker and are a keen stepper - aim for between 8000-12000 steps (on average)
If you LOVE your fitness tracker and aren’t keen to give it up - don’t! I for one have my own Apple watch that I wear daily to keep track of my step count though, and that is all. I have worked hard to learn about nutrition and calorie input and expenditure and I think it’s important to pass on what I know to you guys - fitness trackers will not correctly calculate how many calories you have burned in a day. But, they can be fantastic as motivational tools to get you up and excited about fitness and movement - so please don’t be discouraged!
It’s important to know what will be beneficial to you on your fitness journey and what will not - in this instance, fitness trackers are great for step count and motivation, but when you are counting cals, make sure you are tracking input, not output!