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The New York Post
In 2013, when David Stewart tipped the scales at 200 pounds, he slapped on a Fitbit, thinking it'd be a quick way to shed the weight. Instead, the opposite happened.
The activity band tracked his sleep and exercise and gave him a goal of 10,000 steps a day - approximately five miles - to complete. But every time the 5-foot-6 tech manager from Crown Heights would meet his fitness plan, he'd gorge on pizza, doughnuts or ice cream, gaining more than 20 pounds over the course of four months.
"It just gave me a license to let me eat whatever I wanted," Stewart, now 45, tells The Post. "It's a good tool to keep you active, but it's nothing more than a tool."
More than 20 percent of adult Americans wear fitness trackers, according to a survey by tech company Forrester, but not everyone's scale is moving in the right direction. A September study by the University of Pittsburgh found that people who had activity monitors lost less weight than people who weren't wearing them.
Chris Piegza, personal trainer at DavidBartonGym, says fitness trackers can produce effective results if you enlist help from someone to hold you accountable.Stefano Giovannini
One possible reason: While activity monitors track how many steps you take, the number of calories burned fluctuates from person to person depending on factors such as height, weight and metabolism.
"Walking 200 steps, I can be burning [a lot fewer] calories than you do," Dori Arad, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells The Post. He says he's seen an increase in patients who've had trouble losing weight while using activity monitors.
Plus, while it sounds impressive, Fitbit's 10,000-steps-a-day goal doesn't have a very scientific origin, nor does it guarantee weight loss. The first pedometers were sold in Japan in the early 1960s and named "manpo-kei," which translates to "10,000 steps meter." That number was decided by a group of doctors who believed the average person takes about 5,000 steps a day - and if that number increased to 10,000 or above, they'd be healthier.
Arad doesn't recommend this step count for everyone. The CDC recommends about 150 minutes of exercise at moderate intensity every week, and Arad says 8,000 steps a day could get you to that goal.
"I use steps with my clients, but not necessarily 10,000, because some need more, some need less," Arad says.
A Fitbit representative tells The Post, "We are confident in the positive results our millions of users have seen from using Fitbit products."
Stewart ditched his Fitbit in 2014 and hired Chris Piegza, a personal trainer at DavidBartonGym, to whip him into shape. Stewart now clocks in at 180 pounds.
"Activity monitors can be effective," Piegza tells The Post, "but you need some sort of supervision by a trainer or peers who can monitor your progress and guide you to the right path." (For those who can't afford a personal trainer, Piegza suggests finding a workout pal to keep you in check.)
Vail, Colo., resident Simón de Swaan started using Fitbit in 2012 when he weighed 170 pounds to jump-start his fitness routine. Instead, the 5-foot-8 food and beverage director's weight fluctuated slightly, and he gained up to five pounds, despite running up to 20 miles a week.
"The Fitbit is a crutch sometimes," de Swaan, 51, tells The Post. "I go, 'Well, if I'm gonna get my steps in, I can binge eat' I think the Fitbit gives this false sense of, 'Now I can eat more.' "
To turn back the scale, de Swaan stopped relying on activity monitors in 2015. Now he focuses on working out five days a week, doing high-intensity interval training, and eating a balanced diet of veggies, proteins and complex carbs.
New York City-based food coach and personal trainer Brigitte Weil agrees that fitness trackers have given clients permission to eat things they normally wouldn't.
"They'd order that extra glass of wine or slice of cake on top of their food plan," Weil says. "[Trackers] allow people to make excuses for themselves."
Instead, she says, people should focus on what they put into their bodies over how many steps they take.
"My biggest recommendation would be to set up a food plan geared toward weight loss and not let workouts be an extra allowance to eat more," she says.
Being wired up to fitness trackers has also made us overly dependent on outside sources to tell us information about our own bodies, says Midtown psychologist Alexis Conason.
"We consult our Fitbit to decide whether to exercise rather than relying on how our body feels," Conason tells The Post. "This type of disconnection from our body's internal signals can lead long-term to overeating, sedentary behavior and health problems."
Rather, Conason says the best approach is to engage in pleasurable forms of physical activity.
"Once we do exercises that are fun and enjoyable, it's no longer about being a chore or counting steps, and we're able to better take care of ourselves," she says. "That kind of activity is much more sustainable to achieving your long-term [health] goals."
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