03/25/2016 10:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is Your Fitness App Making Your Life Smaller?


Using an app and/or a device strapped to your body to track your calories in and/or out may seem motivating, fun, cool, logical, or even necessary. And for some people, there's no harm in it. But for others, these devices create and feed an obsession with what they eat and how much they exercise.

Fitness bands, calorie counting apps, body composition monitors, and the countless other devices and gadgets on the market for consumers to track their food, nutrition, calories, and activity leave less room to focus on their lives, relationships, and work. Worse, when these diet and activity trackers are misused, they contribute to guilt, disordered eating, orthorexia, compulsive exercising, and other symptoms of a natural system of consuming and using energy gone awry.

Ask yourself these questions to understand how you are using your fitness app.

  • Does my device distract me from being in the moment?
  • Has health and fitness become a contest with myself or others?
  • Am I doing all this to be good or feel good?
  • Do I think or talk frequently about eating and exercise?
  • Is "accountability" becoming more important than the experience of eating and moving mindfully?
    • Do I choose my activities based on how much they'll "count"?
  • Do I choose food for the numbers, not for nourishment and enjoyment?
  • Do I vacillate between tracking then ignoring everything I eat?
  • Do I track my activity to earn the right to eat?
  • Do I pay penance for eating by logging more steps?
  • Do I exercise to bump up the numbers rather than to experience my body moving?
  • Do I measure my success or self-worth by the numbers on the scale and/or my percent body fat?
  • Do I exercise even when I'm exhausted, sick, or injured?
  • Am I postponing my life until I reach some goal?
  • Is my focus on getting healthy leaving me enough time to enjoy being healthy?
  • Is there enough space in my life for balanced self-care of my body, mind, heart, and spirit?
  • Is tracking all of these numbers making my life bigger or smaller?

While fitness apps have brought the old diet diary, bathroom scale, and pedometer into the digital age, they must just be the next generation of misused tools.

(Full disclosure: We have an app too! The Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Virtual Coach app guides you through the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Cycle. It is a powerful tool for putting you in charge of your eating decision without having to resort to rules and restrictions.)