Fitbit - Fitness Failure or Friend?

by DeanMcKillop 4216 views Lifestyle

Fitbit - Fitness Failure or Friend?

Whether you are one of those Fitbit owners who saw the novelty in knowing your daily activity and still wear your device proudly, or if you are one of the many who has left their Fitbit in the draw to collect dust, this article is for you… 

Fitbits, what are they and what do they do?

Well, when discussing Fitbits, it’s important to recognise that a Fitbit itself is a specific brand. It’s like calling all mowers a John Deer.

In practice, a Fitbit, or a device that is similar, is a digital wristband that provides biofeedback on you’re your total daily energy expenditure and in some instances, your sleep patterns as well.

In essence… they are a fancy pedometer with some extra ‘stuff’ added.

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to omit the ‘stuff’ and focus more on the pedometer aspect of a digital energy tracking device.

Why? Because that data is the most useful! At least for weight management anyway… And I will explain why soon.

A quick caveat

While these trackers offer sleep quality information, they are largely inaccurate unless purchasing the top priced items when compared to the gold standard of a sleeping ward (1). Despite this, however, they are still an ok alternative, although their data should not be taken as gospel. (2)

Similarly, their distance and calorie tracking measurements have been found to be consistently inaccurate (3-5) and as such, I only use the devices with clients for the purpose of managing activity, not caloric burn.

With all that being said, let’s discuss why activity trackers could become your friend in your fitness journey, but more specifically, how they can support more consistent fat loss.

It’s actually pretty simple…They make you move more!

And, on the off chance that you sit outside of the ‘norm’ whereby it has been found that by simply wearing a tracking device people will generally move more, we can use the objectivity of step counting to support weight loss in a conscious manner.

I have spoken about this at length in prior articles, and you can read more about NEAT here, however, let’s put this in simple terms.

Let’s say you want to lose weight…

First, we must acknowledge that long-term weight loss achieved through caloric restriction is in essence long-term death being caused by starvation.

I know, I know, it sounds morbid! But it’s the reality and this reality is what we need to try ‘trick’.

Here is what happens in a nutshell
  1. You reduce calories
  2. You lose some fat
  3. A hormone from your fat cells tells your brain it’s starving
  4. To prevent further starvation, your brain releases other hormones to increase hunger, enhance flavour, enhance your sense of smell and to basically try and make you eat
  5. Those same hormones begin a separate ‘fight’ against fat loss and make you subconsciously move less 
  6. As a result of all of this you either: (a). Eat and give in, essentially fixing the 'problem', (b) Don’t eat but begin to move less, which offsets the calorie reduction you've put in place to try and lose weight, (c). You know better, fight it and win by losing more fat

In scenario 6a and 6b your body wins the battle. DAMN YOU BODY!!! But what about scenario 6c?

Well…First of all, you need to realise that hunger is a part of fat loss. It means you're eating less than your body needs to maintain its current weight. This is a good thing!

Secondly, you need to maintain your activity…

See where I'm going with this?

Yup, you guessed it, your Fitbit or Apple Watch is about to become your best friend.

Despite both devices being inaccurate in energy expenditure (how many calories you burn), the one thing they are primarily accurate for is counting steps.

And guess what… steps = activity! BAM, mind blown right?


Not really, but even though this sounds so simple you would be AMAZED at how many people subconsciously move less and stop losing weight purely because they become subconsciously lazy. So much so in some instances, you can reduce your NEAT (including your steps) upwards of 500-800kcal per day.

Just think about that for a second…

If you were maintaining weight on 2000kcal, then reduced it by 500kcal to lose weight, only to start moving less each day, you have essentially created a new maintenance of 1500kcal.

And that SUCKS!!

So…Instead of falling victim to the power of the human body, count your steps daily and make sure you never go below your daily target. And yes, this means even on the days when you don’t feel like it.

If you work an inactive job, aim for 8000-12000 steps daily and make sure you maintain this every day.

Do that, control your calorie intake and lift weights and you are destined for body composition success.

Hell, even if you didn't lift weights but just focused on maintaining activity, that alone will have a profound effect on your attempt to lose body fat.

Remember…These devices aren’t great for measuring calorie burn, sleep quality or even distances covered but they are exceptional devices for tracking your steps and even ensuring your heart rate is at a healthy level.

Use them in a way that benefits you the most.

Fitbits - I say Fitness Friend, not failure!

Lee, J., Finkelstein, J. (2015) Consumer sleep tracking devices: A critical review. European Federation for Medical Informatics, 458-460.

Lee, H. et al (2017) Comparison of wearable activity tracker with actigraphy for sleep evaluation and circadian rest-activity rhythm measurement in health young adults. Psychiatry Investigation, 12(4): 179-185.

Shcherbina, A. et al (2017) Accuracy in wrist-worn, sensor based measurements of heart rate and energy expenditure in a diverse cohort. Journal of Personalised Medicine, 7(2): 3.

Dooley, E.E., Golaszewski, N.M., Bartholomew, J.B. (2017) Estimating accuracy at exercise intensities: a comparative study of self-monitoring heart rate and physical activity wearable devices. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth, 5(3).

Evenson, K.R., Goto, M.M., Furberg, R.D. (2015). Systematic review of the validity and reliability of consumer-wearable activity trackers. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition Physical Activity, 12.



Exercise Scientist

I completed my Exercise Science Degree at the University of QLD and have worked in the fitness industry for over 8 years, including a short stint at the Brisbane Broncos in 2010 as a student. I also hold my Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Coach accreditation (ASCA) and have competed in 1 bodybuilding season, placing 2nd at the IFBB u85kg Nationals.

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