Do Fitness Trackers Need to Be Accurate?

There’s been a lot of press about fitness trackers in the last couple of weeks. The issue is that most fitness trackers do not track calories expended correctly. So you may not actually have burned 300 calories on your run or 500 calories on your spin class.

Does it actually matter that much?

First of all, of course, it would be nice to get an accurate representation of the calories burned. I think we’d all welcome that but it’s something we are aspiring to and not yet a reality.

So I’ve decided that it only matters if you are using a straight calories in vs. calories out calculation to lose weight. And just as we’ve been hearing that fitness trackers do not have accurate calculations for calories burned, we’ve also been learning that calorie counting isn’t doing much good either.

Personally, I feel that my fitness tracker holds me accountable. I strive to burn the same number of calories or more each day but I’m also mindful of what foods I’m consuming. I don’t count calories anymore except if I’m feeling a need to reset. Instead, I try to make sure that my plate is full of nutrient-rich foods (otherwise called “whole foods”) with little or no added sugars, few refined carbs, and lots of vegetables.

If I know I’ve been eating well then I just need to make sure that my activity level is consistent. A fitness tracker helps me with that, it counts my steps (which has been proven to be pretty accurate), it gives me a window into how many calories I’ve burned (however flawed) and from there I can make adjustments.

It’s important to take both of these numbers into account because some days your workout consists of cardio and high energy movements which will crank your step count up, but on the days when you are lifting weights or doing yoga or another strength building type of exercise, your step count will not accurately reflect the amount of energy you have expended. That’s why I use both and then I ask myself to honestly reflect on what I have done that day and whether I pushed myself or if I took it easy. Sometimes, that means I’ll try to squeeze an extra walk in somewhere or I just resolve to try harder the next day.

The Bottom Line

Where we get into trouble is when we’ve had a particularly active day and we use that as an excuse to reward ourselves with food. If you are using a fitness tracker to determine whether you can have dessert in the evening, it puts us into a bad feedback loop. You probably haven’t burned enough calories to afford that every night however, if you’ve been out hiking all day and you’ve been eating healthfully, then by all means have that s’more back at the campsite.

Fitness trackers are a tool that can help inform but at the end of the day, you have to be honest with yourself, the energy that you’ve expended and the quality of food you’ve consumed. YOU are in control of whether to have that cake, ice cream, etc. and what those consequences are, regardless of what your fitness tracker is telling you.

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