Your Fitbit is Making You Fat


Your Fitbit is Making You Fat

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

Remember the good old days when walking was for broke end-of-the-month college students and middle-aged aunties hoping to vent about their maids? Well, that’s as last season as the first season of Stranger Things.

Welcome to the world swept away by Fitbit fanatics walking around purposefully to complete their allotted number of steps, as mandated by the colourful, flashing bands tied dedicatedly to their wrists.

Said fanatics are everywhere. Walk into any bar post happy hour and you will run face first into a group of Fitbit-wearing MILFs, judging your outfit and looking for the band that assures them you’re also “into fitness”. Fitbits are at weddings and funerals with equal consistency, and I last saw a guy strapping one on as he walked to the toilet. Fitbit is so omniscient, it might as well be God and its disciples might as well be zealots. The degree of the obsession is palpable in the throbs per minute of the veins in their forehead, as they walk their way into validation from an app.

Fitbits capture our imagination because they’re like hammer pants of the millennial generation, lying somewhere on the fine line that separates cringe and cool. They’ve hit this generation’s fad spot on the head and become as staple a part of our lifestyle just like memes and fidget spinners. And maybe that is because they’re redolent of the  ’90s — they have all the charm of Bappi Lahiri’s jewellery and all the mystique of the OJ trial. It is that device which we fixate on and talk about, the mythical creature that has improved the lives and Instagram pictures of so many of our friends, the signifier of discipline. It’s a reminder of our insensitive relatives, who gift us fitness trackers because it’s politically incorrect to fat-shame people in 2017. It is understandable why the world is enamoured.

I’m not.

I have been a FitBit-denier since the first minute that I saw the device on the wrist of a colleague, who could best be described as the unthreatening stoner type. The worst of my doubts were confirmed, when I saw him transform into a kale-eating, step-counting man-bot, who suddenly started paying attention to his salary, thanks to Fuhrer Fitbit. The switch on his likeable traits had flipped and started a revolution.

There’s also the fun fact that one third of the Fitbit devices are abandoned in the first six months of being purchased.

Fitbit activates the sheeple aspect of everybody’s personality and turns every social situation into a cheap knock off of a zombie apocalypse. It’s a predictable reaction; humankind is biologically programmed to buy and flaunt any and all devices that make us feel healthy. Whether or not it actually makes us healthy is another matter, but a dedicated section of the global economy is earmarked to these feel-good purchases and their consumers. Nothing else explains the rise and fall of the Livestrong bands, those Nike running apps which are the modern-day version of “Look how fast I can go”, and the cavalcade of bootcamps that you can download in a second and ignore for the rest of the year.

Having watched Black Mirror too many times to put a device on my person and let it record my heart rate, I never climbed aboard the crazy train, but every rational person I knew did. The stats were all there. With over 13 million fitness trackers made and sold all over the world, this needless industry is expected to balloon from $1.5 billion to a projected $50 billion by 2018. I felt like I was on the wrong side of history.

Then, to my unbridled delight, somebody dropped a class-action lawsuit on Fitbit, alleging that this human cattle herder’s heart-monitoring technology – called PurePulse – is inaccurate as hell. Then a slew of separate independent studies burst several collective bubbles the world ever, when they made allegations aplenty about the failings of the Fitbit: Everything from its inability to track high-intensity workouts where the heart-rate lag is often 20 points or higher, to Fitbit having a massive blind spot for activities such as cycling, skiing, or gliding. It turned out that other people were also paranoid about devices that track your vital stats with the reductive “it’s for your own good” argument, because they realised that insurance companies and other dangerous organisations can easily participate in this culture of “benevolent surveillance”. This mega mud-slinging exposed the one phobia that Fitbit heads all over the world shared. It was possible that this device, the 2016 counterpart of a proverbial “chip on the shoulder”, was… gasp… actually useless!

There’s also the fun fact that one third of the Fitbit devices are abandoned in the first six months of being purchased, and that out of the 20 million users who are registered on the tracker, only half remain active users post six months. And then the shit really hit the ceiling. Personal accounts of Fitbit users started cropping up on the internet, stating that their Fitbits had made them fatter. How? Well, for every 10,000 steps they completed, these reward-driven Fitbit users gorged on junk food as if it were their last meal. And why shouldn’t they? If Fitbits are going to behave like they’re our mothers, nagging us from dawn to dusk about our posture, inactivity, and generic garbage behaviour, then we should get the rewards that our mothers taught us we’re entitled to if we behave like obedient children to the dictates of this device.

But what irks me most about Fitbit, is that exercise is the only thing in our miserable adult lives that still has the potential to be fun. We don’t have to walk around like wanton tourists in our own neighbourhoods to feel productive and active, when we could swim, play basketball, learn Zumba to make our partners feel threatened by our newfound sexual aggression, or join a CrossFit class as soon as we’re done Googling what crossfit really is. Contrary to the popular urban myth, we do not exercise autonomy over our own lives as much as we’d like to. So if we want to drag our body out of beanbags and into motion, should that decision not be a product of free will as opposed to what a watch, that looks like it has been designed by the creators of Mario Kart, tells us. So in my humble, non-sheeple friendly opinion, the nag machine on our wrists is never going to make us fitter. Consistent workouts that we can motivate ourselves to sustain are. TL,DR: Fuck that Fitbit.