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Commentary

A thin line between health and unhealthy obsession

Beth Teitell Jun 12, 2012
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Am I better off knowing that in the course of one evening, while packing for a trip to Southern California, I went up and down the stairs 70 times? That’s to the basement to wash multiple loads because somehow all of our presentable clothing was dirty; to the kitchen to make sandwiches that my kids would later shun in favor of pricey in-flight offerings; to the attic to hunt for sandals that would turn out to be too small anyway? And I mean literally 70 times. I know because I was wearing my new Fitbit.
 
It’s a high-tech activity tracker that’s no bigger than a thumb drive — you wouldn’t even notice it on my waistband — but it’s come to dominate my world. On days I don’t walk enough, I’ve caught myself saying “Fitbit is not going to be happy,” as if the $100 gadget is my supervisor in a sales job, its compensation based on my success.

My husband and I — partners in the rest of life — are now locked in a Fitbit competition to see who can amass more steps. I’m fantasizing about secretly hiring a Fitbit “walker” who could spend days strolling around wearing my device, earning miles for me while I relax on the couch.

And on the way back from that trip to California, when we got to LAX and learned that our flight was delayed by three hours, other passengers were despondent, but not me. I cheerfully circled gates 40 through 49. Who cares about getting home at 1 a.m. on a school night if it means you get to feed your Fitbit?

Everyone I know who self-tracks in this way loves all the monitoring. They’ve started taking the stairs at work, they’re meeting friends for walks instead of a cup of coffee. Imagine the health care savings if the whole country could become so obsessed.

But me, I almost think I’ve taken the whole counting thing too far. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even feel that I’ve worked out unless Fitbit is there to measure my efforfts. It’s the modern version of the old question about a tree falling in the woods, I guess. If a woman spends an entire day walking around the San Diego Zoo with her children, but forgot to charge her Fitbit, did she get any exercise?

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