The Dark Side of Fitness Trackers

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Grazia – 18th October 2016 – The Dark Side of Fitness Trackers

They’ve become almost as ubiquitous as smartphones, but could wearing a fitness tracking gadget actually be dangerous for your health? Grazia’s Maria Lally investigates…

So, are fitness trackers healthy, or do they have a dark side? ‘They can be great motivators, but in the wrong hands they can exacerbate the kind of obsessive calorie-counting that goes with eating disorders,’ says Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma, a psychologist specialising in body image at London’s Nightingale Hospital. ‘One of the key symptoms of an eating disorder is a need for control and a huge focus on calorie counting via eating or exercise. There’s been a significant increase in people using trackers to track under eating or over-exercise and I’ve seen patients who have become obsessed. However, this is usually only the case if you’re already vulnerable. They’ll rarely cause an eating disorder out of the blue.’

And it seems they aren’t going anywhere. A study by the Future Laboratory and found that 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds in the UK have a fitness app or tracker. Last year, over 70 million wearable tracking devices were sold worldwide and the wearable health market is predicted to grow from $2 billion in 2014 to $41 billion in 2020. The likes of Apple Watch, Fitbit, Jawbone and countless health and fitness apps can monitor everything from your steps to calories burnt and sleep quality.’

Dalton Wong, who trains Jennifer Lawrence, told Grazia: ‘Ironically, I’ve heard of people waking in the night to check their sleep trackers are working, which kind of defeats the object.’ He also thinks these trackers can often take the joy out of exercise: ‘One problem I see is people forgetting to be “in the moment” when exercising. For me, part of the joy of working out is clearing my head by going for a run. I don’t want to be looking at my wrist to see how many calories I’ve burned. We have such limited time in our day when we’re not tied down by technology and I believe exercise is a time we should be free of it.’ Dalton says there are also other ways to monitor your health too, like how well you sleep, how much energy you have and if your workouts are getting easier.

‘If anyone feels they are becoming compelled to track calorific output or activity, they should seek the advice of a healthcare worker as soon as they can,’ says Mary George, spokesperson for eating disorders at charity B-eat (…

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