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Why I Broke Up With My Fitbit

Wendy Kennar
Rear view of young woman wearing pink skirt with backpack crossing the road at pedestrian crosswalk on sunny summer day.

I decided to break up with my Fitbit.

We were involved in a somewhat complicated relationship from the start. My Fitbit and I were set-up, kinda, sorta like a blind date. Actually, more like when your friend dates somebody and then realizes you should be dating them instead.

Last year on my birthday, my friend, my very good, more-than-20-years-of-friendship-friend, gifted me her old Fitbit when she upgraded to a newer model.

On many previous lunch dates, I had asked my friend questions about her Fitbit. Did she use all its features? What was her daily average step count? And I was curious about the number of steps I took on a daily basis. Did the days I walked more directly correlate to the days I felt more pain? Was the tightness in my calf amplified on days I took more steps than others? In other words, would wearing a Fitbit finally provide me with some sort of cause-and-effect relationship to explain the pain and fatigue in my legs that are a daily symptom of my autoimmune disease?

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The short answer is no.

I only used the Fitbit to record my daily steps. I wasn’t interested in my sleep patterns, and I wasn’t recoding my meals and snacks. Just my steps.  And even that, it couldn’t seem to get right. When my husband and I would go for walks together, his AppleWatch always recorded more steps than my Fitbit. A lot more steps. (And he was convinced that Apple technology was superior to Fitbit technology).

The Fitbit proved to be unreliable in other ways too, and you just don’t want to deal with unreliability when you’re involved in a relationship. The darn thing would sometimes turn off during the day, and I wouldn’t always notice it right away. I wouldn’t notice it until I looked at my wrist to check the time. And then the rectangular screen would be dark, and stay dark, no matter how much I tapped it. No clock. No steps recorded. An inaccurate step count for the day. Even though I had begun the day with my Fitbit promising me it was fully charged, it conked out prematurely.

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My Fitbit and I began our relationship somewhat unevenly. I was curious, but a bit hesitant, and not sure if I was ready to fully commit. But I wondered — how many steps did I walk when I went grocery shopping? Gardened? Cleaned up around the house? Because our home has two floors, I felt certain I walked more than I realized. But my Fitbit came into this relationship with specific expectations for me — 10,000 steps. And if I didn’t meet it, there were no fireworks, no stars, no celebratory vibration on my wrist. Not even a, “Hey, you did great today. The numbers don’t matter as much as your effort.” It was an all-or-nothing deal for my Fitbit. And that doesn’t work in a relationship either; at least in regard to many things. (I’m thinking of infidelity and committing a felony. Those are generally, and understandably, deal-breakers.)

Who came up with this 10,000 step ideal? Why must I try to conform to someone else’s ideal of the ultimate daily walking goal? (I know I could have edited that goal and set my own, but to me, it felt a bit like cheating.) And I had no idea what number I would have changed it to. Any other number seemed arbitrary. I didn’t want to make my daily goal too low, where I was certain to meet my target. But then again, I didn’t want to have an unrealistically high goal and never feel the pride that comes with meeting my objective. It felt like a no-win situation, so I left it alone. It stayed at 10,000 steps. And, truth be told, most days I didn’t make it.

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And the days I did take 10,000 steps I felt awful.

For almost a year, I wore my Fitbit and felt as if I was under a sort of house arrest, with this wrist monitor recording my movements. My friend had set us up, after all. She had generously shared this device with me. I felt obligated, which I now see wasn’t the most positive way to enter into a relationship.

And I couldn’t just stop. My friend was watching. She could see my steps, and each week I received an email notification comparing our step count for the week. She almost always “won.” And it did feel like a competition. The email listed her as first place; I was second.

There were days when I felt guilty. That my numbers were so low. I felt as if I had to reach a certain number of steps to have “earned” my feelings of tiredness and pain. How could I be so uncomfortable when I had “only” taken 2,500 steps? It was frustrating that the numbers didn’t always match my pain level. My Fitbit made me feel unworthy of my fatigue, my slow walking pace, my need to take a pain pill at 5:00 in the evening.

I didn’t want to give up on us. I wanted to stick it out, because that’s what you do in a long-term relationship. You don’t walk away the first time things are hard or unpleasant or uncomfortable. You try to work on it and work it out. You try again.

So I did. I began parking just a little further away as a way to sneak in a few extra steps. I stopped being as efficient as I normally was, stopped carrying so much in my hands and started making extra trips up and down the stairs in my home or from room to room. I pushed myself to go for neighborhood walks, even when I didn’t feel like it, but just so my Fitbit would know that I had done it, I had tried, I had walked beyond my usual daily chore walking.

But in hindsight I can see that I wasn’t being true to myself. I was doing these things, acting this way, to try and please the other party in this relationship. And that’s not healthy either.

My relationship with my Fitbit continued to feel very one-sided. My efforts were never praised. I didn’t feel empowered or admired for even trying. After all, I was not spending hours on my couch reading a book or lounging on my bed watching a favorite DVD. No matter how lousy I felt, no matter how much my left calf felt tight as if pliers were squeezing it, no matter how much my left thigh felt as it was being wrung out like a washcloth, I got up and got moving.

And still, my Fitbit refused to acknowledge my strength, my fortitude, my resilience. And I realized I needed that more than I needed a daily step count.

When my 11-year-old son expressed interest in my Fitbit, I took it as a sign and passed it on to him. He immediately lowered the daily step goal to 8,000. He learned how to set an alarm on it (something I never did). He wears his “new” Fitbit daily, and because he’s a strong, healthy 11-year-old, he regularly meets his step goal. His wrist vibrates and his Fitbit screen showers him with shooting stars!

My son hasn’t changed his daily activities in any way since he began wearing the Fitbit. For him, it’s just another accessory, like the “dinosaur tooth” necklace he wears each day.

As for me, I’m back to wearing a watch. A non-digital, analog watch that I’ve owned longer than my son has been alive. It’s pretty and comfortable and non-judgmental. It makes me feel good about myself, because this watch and I have a history. I wore it when I was a teacher. I wore it before I was a mom. I wore it on road trips with my husband.

The time I spent with my Fitbit wasn’t wasted in any sense. I did learn that sometimes an increase in daily steps did cause an increase in pain. I observed that I seem to suffer from what I call a “pain hangover;” the day after a very busy, high-step-day, the pain and fatigue lingered.

And I learned more about myself. I don’t need validation from any sort of electronic device. I know I move my body and don’t veg out on the couch. I don’t succumb to the pain.

It was a healthy breakup in every sense of the word.

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

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