Tearing the wrapping paper off her gift, Sarah Wasserman had no idea the toll the fitness tracker would take on her body.
“I liked it because it kept me accountable for my fitness,” she said. “I thought it would help, but it did the opposite.”
Wasserman felt the once coveted device begin to consume her. Unless she could punch in numbers that put her in the “low calorie” and “high physical activity” range, she felt guilty. “I was obsessing over the numbers,” the Indiana University student said. “If they were too high, I felt like I was failing.
Wasserman is one in 10 Americans over the age of 18 that owns a modern activity tracker, according to Endeavors Partners, but not all of them know how to use them to successfully reach their goals.
People who used fitness trackers over the course of two years lost 1.1 percent less body fat than those who self monitored their activity, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Here are four helpful tips on how to take advantage of your fitness tracker for optimal weight loss.
A Fitness Tracker is just a device
Most people who buy fitness trackers idealize the devices so much they believe snapping one on will magically melt off the pounds. That’s their biggest mistake, says Dr. Mitesh Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Fitness trackers are like gym memberships; having one doesn’t mean you’ll actually use them.
“Just being aware of your levels of activity don’t necessarily correlate in a meaningful change of behavior,” said Dr. Brandon Alderman, an associate professor of The Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers University.
The catalyst for leading a healthier lifestyle is a change in mindset. “The most important thing is that until you’re ready to lose weight, you’re not going to do it,” said Ann Marie Michaels, author of Cheeseslave, a health care blog.
Five months before the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, Michaels was finally committed to shedding her post-pregnancy weight. She refused to walk down the red carpet alongside her award-winning husband until she felt good about herself. One month after buying her fitness tracker, she lost 10 pounds.
“There’s tricks and tools to losing weight,” said the Californian. “But what it really comes down to is wanting to do it and not letting anything stand in your way.”
Face your calories
When she started losing weight with the fitness tracker, Michaels jokingly said she was on the “pizza, cookie and wine diet.” She ate whatever she wanted, as long as she tracked it and stayed under the calorie deficit.
Weighing what you eat with a digital scale and inputting it in your tracker is critical for results. “It’s so easy to underestimate what you’re eating, and it’s amazing how fast you can overeat,” Michaels said.
Losing weight is like making money— you have to invest. People hate budgets because they don’t want to look at what they’ve spent, and then they never get out of their debt or fat jeans. “People are in a state of unconsciousness and don’t want to look at it,” she explained.
Gamify your life
Working at a hospital and in need of a watch, Amy Feinberg bought a Fitbit Ulta. It wasn’t until her friends hopped on the fitness tracker train that she started to use the “watch” for weight loss purposes.
“It makes the process more fun when you add a social aspect to it,” said Feinberg, from Atlanta. Every week her friends battle to see who can make the most steps. The winner gets taken out for dinner and drinks.
The key to reaching goals with fitness trackers, Patel said, is to combine them with strategies or programs that give incentives for losing weight.
“We’re wired to play games because we’re motivated by challenges,” Michaels said. “But, we need to see results. If we don’t, then we quit.”
What motivates Michaels is stepping on the scale every morning and tracking weight loss results on her Fitbit.
“You get to the point where you’re more interested in getting on the scale and seeing that you lost weight than getting a cupcake,” Michaels said.
Hit the hay
You’ve cut calories and logged your physical activity, but the skinny jeans you bought last fall still don’t fit — what gives? You’re probably not spending enough time in your bedroom.
One of the most overlooked factors contributing to obesity is lack of sleep. People who sleep 5 hours or less per night weigh an average of 5 pounds more than those who get 7 hours, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The National Sleep Foundation recommends young adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
“You need sleep to recover and restore your body from the day before,” Feinberg said. “If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll lower your functioning level the next day which makes you tired and lazy.”
Hold your horses before cramming in those extra z’s. The quality of sleep you get is actually more important than the quantity, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
Before utilizing the sleep tracker on her Garmin Vivofit, Bo Lefkoff took for granted the impact sleep has on her morning workouts. The feature shows her how lightly she sleeps, when she enters REM sleep and if she gets up in the middle of the night.
“Tracking it has really helped me be more aware of how important it is to have a good night’s sleep,” said Lefkoff, a stay-at-home-mom from Atlanta. “I used to go to bed at 11 p.m., and now I sleep at 10 p.m.”
Now that you know how to work the fitness tracker to your advantage, strap it on, get tracking and watch the pounds melt off.