Fitbit Freedom

Disclaimer: The opinions I share on this blog are just that–opinions. I am in no way qualified to give health or medical advice, and I do not intend to with my words. I only hope that my experiences may resonate with others in some way. I am, however, qualified for you to sit on my couch and problem solve your struggles–just not physical health ones–so have at that if you wish!

Those who know me well know that finding fitness has exponentially increased my quality of life. Finding an accepting gym and a true family of people, twice might I add (I am one lucky woman!), has been a Godsend in so many ways I could write a series just on this. That is not why I find myself front of the keyboard tonight though. Tonight the tone is a little different.

Those who know me well also know that, despite my love of the gym, I am the most anti-diet culture person you may ever come across. Over the past year, I have seen countless friends, acquaintances, and people I might only know through six degrees of separation, fall victim to the latest “wellness” craze: low carb, Gluten-free, shakes, plant-based, Keto, gut health regimens, the list could go on and on.

Now before any of my friends who sell, partake, or are believers in any of these things try to jump on here and tell me why I’m wrong, you can save your energy.

I am no cynic. I understand and believe that there is a time and a place for any of the aforementioned ways of eating, I just don’t feel they are a necessity to be pitted up against one another and I don’t believe they are for anyone to advise on without knowing a person’s complete background.

With each scroll of my Facebook feed over the past few months, I have become increasingly saddened by the frequency with which I see these posts. I have become saddened for the women reading them thinking that they are lesser and need to do this to make a change.

I felt saddened and angry for all of them, but never myself. Until today. Until the moment I was in the middle of a group fitness class and realized that I have fallen victim to the “wellness industry”, too. My experience was not one focused around food, rather focused around the other F word: Fitbit.

I began wearing a Fitbit about three years ago. Prior to that I had worn a heart rate monitor when taking classes. My motives were innocent. I wanted to see just how much energy it took for me to do things. I grew up with parents who always told me that it took me more energy to do the basic tasks that Neurotypical individuals may do due to my Cerebral Palsy diagnosis. I never really could quantify that, and was always looking for a way to do so. What started out as an interesting way to track my heart rate and energy expenditure as a person with Cerebral Palsy, slowly evolved into a game of chasing benchmarks.

For years I have joked that I never have to worry about what I eat because I burn more calories just by existing. Friends have coined the term Calorie Power for CP instead of Cerebral Palsy. But once I begin wearing a Fitbit, the game changed, and Slowly so did my thinking. There would be nights when I would leave the gym completely exhausted from the work out but then looked down at my Fitbit to only see that I had burned half the calories as I did the last time I took that class. I would immediately judge myself for the difference, thinking that I must’ve done something wrong, but I wasn’t strong enough tonight, that I was being lazy. Some nights the judgment wasn’t as overt. I would see the numbers flash on my screen without necessarily paying attention to them. The reality of it was though I was paying attention to them I just wasn’t saying those thoughts out loud. In those moments the judgment, the feeling of inadequacy, and the need to be more and do more would seep into my psyche without my noticing. Instead of saying to myself, “nice job for moving your body tonight after a long day of work when you were injured and already tired before you left the house”, I would find myself feeling defeated that I only got 3,852 steps instead of my goal of 4,000. For the record this in and of itself was a completely asinine thought since, for what Fitbit makes up in accuracy versus other trackers it lacks in accessibility. Because I hold onto a walker all day long not all of my steps are counted since my arms aren’t moving. So, those nights that I went to bed feeling like I was a failure? Completely unjustified.

Let me be clear: this is not an attack on the makers of fitness trackers. This is me sharing my story, and asking others to think about theirs.

We are walking around wearing tracking devices. Let that sink in for a second. we are walking around wearing the same type of a device, albeit with a different purpose, That someone who committed a potential heinous crime would have to wear. They would have to wear one. We are choosing to. Why? We already live in a world where we are connected to everyone around us with the swipe of a finger or the press of a thumbprint, and now we are wearing a device with the potential to track everything down to our feminine health cycles, leaving the door wide open for judgement, comparison, and the chance that we may now be susceptible to now joining in on all the diet-culture laden messages thrown in our faces based on those readings.

I know you’re probably saying to yourself alright Molly get to the point. Let me step down off my soapbox and bring this back full circle to this morning. Let me tell you why this is so important to me now and how it came to be.

I’ve gone through three Fitbits in just as many years. While I wore one every day and their price point wasn’t that expensive compared to others, when my last one broke I decided I had more important things to spend $150 on at the time. In the midst of all of this I was still battling pain and injury and trying to figure out how I was going to get back to my love of the gym in a way that felt safe but rewarding to me still. A few weeks ago I reached a breaking point and turned to my physical therapist to ask him if I was just supposed to accept this pain, if this was my new normal. What followed was a conversation that I wasn’t necessarily ready to have. In reality though are we ever really ready for the tough conversations? We discussed my achievements both in and outside of the gym. They were commendable and no one could take that away from me, but they came with a price. Years of spending 2+ hours to complete a 5k race, repeatedly choosing to walk because I thought that was the measure of success over using another assistive device to conserve energy, taking spin classes because I wished so badly I could ride a road bike without a care in the world for the wreckage I was doing to my alignment, doing every single life task by myself without asking for any help, because I told myself that’s what everyone did, and I needed to do that too.

It was during that conversation that everything began to light up faster than the alphabet wall in Stranger Things. Quality over quantity. I could go to the gym for three hours, I could do everything myself, and I could be in excruciating pain on the couch for three days, Or I could go to the gym for an hour and a half and give 100% of myself, and still feel okay to go the grocery store and to my niece’s sporting events. Quality over quantity. As I looked down at my wrist today, naked but for the Fitbit tan time that still exists but will soon be gone, I realized the freedom I felt. The freedom I gave myself by simply not purchasing another Fitbit. My measure of success today was through the way I felt when I could tell a different and perhaps new muscle group was firing, through the sweat that for sure left it’s visible mark, and through the strength that was built my adding a bit more weight to my bar.

That success had nothing to do with bacteria, or gluten, or calories, or steps. It was not tracked. It was felt. And it has left a lasting mark that will stay with me far longer than any numbers.

Just something to think about the next time you look down at your wrist. For now, back to my ice cream…