Should You Have an Activity Tracker Post-Eating Disorder?

Published on 7/29/2020

The First Fitbit

When I was at the deepest pit of my eating disorder, activity trackers were not as popular and common as they are nowadays. I’m thankful for that, as I already struggled with the danger of calorie counting apps. Instead I got my first Fitbit at a time when I was eating better, but still struggling with body dysmorphia and the urge to purge.

I became fixated on the numbers shown. You have a daily goal to reach 10,000 steps and I was more than determined. I would walk circles in my room to complete my steps in the evening. I wasn’t exercising for two hours a day anymore, but I still struggled to let a day go by without going for a jog or trip to the gym. I woke up and did sit ups before anything else, I chugged two glasses of water before every meal. I was very focused on the number of calories being burned. I was ‘recovering’ or so I said.

The Fitbit was enlightening though, as it was far more accurate than the calorie counting apps I had been using. I realised that my workouts burned more calories than I had estimated, and in a day I used more calories than my app had counted. This highlighted just how calorie deficient I had been during the previous period. It quelled my fears a bit, as I had numbers to rely on instead of the voices in my mind. But it also made it easier to slip into old habits.

I eventually stopped using my Fitbit, as I realised that I wasn’t in a place to not be triggered by it. I had transitioned to vegetarianism to help my eating disorder, and was managing to cope more and more. I was teaching myself to ignore calories and focus on health. I still panicked when I didn’t work out, holidays and trips were always stressful. I still had urges to make myself sick, but I was able to silence them. This was mainly helped by training for a half-marathon and learning to fuel my body.

The Second Fitbit

I reached a place where my actions were in check, and only my mind had slip ups. But I don’t believe that you ever fully recover from an eating disorder, so this was enough for me. Then last year I decided to run a second half-marathon. Since leaving university and starting to work I was struggling to exercise as much as I used to. The weight scared me, and the lack of movement gave my dark thoughts too much space. As I started training again, I realised how much I would benefit from having a Fitbit again. I missed my Fitbit, and aside from the stress caused, it also gave me pleasure. Accomplishing those goals felt good, and in my day to day life I missed those small successes. I wanted to measure my runs and have them tracked in the same place to compare. I wanted to know how I sleep, as my depression wreaked havoc on my sleep cycle.

So after a lot of thought, I purchased a Fitbit Inspire HR. I was nervous, this was one of the first times I felt like I was in control of my ED and I didn’t want to lose that again. I knew how easy it is to slip up. When the Fitbit arrived, it started with the same days of fixation. Checking my numbers hourly, determined to complete my steps, curious of my calories. But this time was different. I checked how many calories burned, but I didn’t change my behaviour based on it, my eating habits were never adapted. I knew how many calories I was burning and not how many I was consuming, and that led me to just feel positive. I liked knowing my steps, and I would walk extra to hit an hourly goal. But on the days that I didn’t reach 10,000, there was no guilt or desperate attempt to make it up. It was a shame, but I went to bed and knew tomorrow was a new day. I tracked my runs, and loved adding the 21.1km of the half-marathon to it.

I think getting a Fitbit as this progressed point in my recovery actually helped me. It can be hard not to fixate on my reflection, to ignore the new size I’m wearing or calm my mind during a takeaway meal. But this gave me small wins, small things to feel proud of. It almost took the worry off my shoulders, as if I could hand over my fixation to it and trust that it was guiding me. I could feel proud about my exercise or movements without torturing myself in a gym for hours. When the mean voice of my eating disorder started whispering in my ear, my Fitbit had the answers, the reasons why I did deserve to eat a delicious dinner and even some dessert.

And so, I think the decision to get a Fitbit as someone who struggles with an eating or body related disorder is a subjective one. I think it requires the responsibility to examine yourself, and whether you’re actually ready for it. You need to be at a place where movement is for health and happiness, and no longer for weight. I’m not there every day, I have weak moments, but it’s a place I work to be at and believe in now. You also need to be prepared to put the activity tracker away if it is going in the wrong direction, to acknowledge that old habits are creeping back and this activity tracker is fuelling them.

It isn’t a step to be rushed, but if included at the right point, an activity tracker can be an ally instead of another enemy.

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