The benefits of using a fitness tracker are widespread. While some people use them for a short time only to toss them into a drawer and forget about them, others use them religiously. There are a growing number of people who wear their Fitbits, Misfits, Garmins and even Apple Watches all the time, regardless of whether they are awake or asleep.
Many people have reached the point that they are virtually addicted to their trackers. They check their stats for everything from sleep quality to the number of steps they've taken each day. Many of these devices come with apps that also allow food and water intake to be tracked as well.
A new study has shown that when a consistent fitness tracker user suddenly stops monitoring activity and food each day, there is a powerful emotional response. This is typically a combination of guilt and relief.
This study supports a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence that illustrates the impact of fitness trackers – and stopping their use – in a person's life. Some people have stopped using them after having stuck to them for months, while others have been wearing them for years.
Among the other feelings people experience upon ceasing the use of their fitness trackers is one of being lost. People get used to looking at the number of steps they take in a day. That said, as many of these devices have a social component, people judged their progress not only based on their own stats but also based on competition with the rest of their friend groups or communities. Wanting to keep up a certain position or reach first place could be a considerable motivator. Stopping the use of the tracker removed that motivation, leaving the sense of being lost behind. Without knowing how many steps were being taken, it was easy to feel as though they were somehow being wasted.
Other people felt like being free from being monitored allowed them to return to previous bad behaviors. They would go back to ordering take-out and drinking wine because they were not holding themselves accountable for it through their tracking apps. The motivation to keep away from diet-unfriendly behaviors because you'd need to "admit" to it in a tracking app was removed. Therefore, the immediate deterrent was gone and people would go back to the behaviors that had caused them to gain weight in the first place.
Some people also felt frustration and anger. Knowing their steps weren't being recorded was stopping them from being able to obtain that sense of accomplishment at the end of an hour or a day. People who were used to setting and meeting tracked goals suddenly found their efforts came without instant reward. They felt disappointed and unhappy.