Why Fitbit and Cheat Day Might Be Making You Fatter

“What is wrong with these people? They have no willpower. I once went 28 years without having sex. And then again for seven years.” – The Office

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How Cheat Day feels.

Fitbit® will not make you skinny.  In fact, Fitbit™ might make you fatter (or, make you lose less weight).

Why?  Although exercise is very, very, good for you, you still can’t run faster than your teeth (LINK) . . . exercise is not the biggest factor in losing weight – it’s calorie intake(we’ve covered that before, too (LINK) – remember the Scottish dude who didn’t eat . . . for over a year?  Yeah.  He got skinny.  Remember, he started at 456 pounds.

Sure, he exercised, but his ace in the hole was the “not eating” component of his plan.  But if he would have had a Fitbit® . . .

It’s not just Fitbit™ – it’s any fitness tracking device.

Why?  Well, it’s all in your head.  Really.

The most crucial part of the equation when it comes to weight loss (or, really, kicking any habit) is hacking your own brain first.  And if you don’t do it, there are tons of companies that want to do it for you.

Let me give an example:

Once upon a time after I graduated college, I was in a department store (this is in the BA time – Before Amazon) and was looking at a stereo.  It was awesome!  Speakers big enough to use as a coffin for a large dog.  I wanted it, but knew that I shouldn’t.  I owed people money, like my mortgage company.  I had just moved.  It was expensive.  Ohhh, but it was pretty!  And it had . . . surround sound!  I could listen to my TV with speakers located behind my head!

I would have walked away, but the person I was in the store with said, “You studied really hard in school.  You work really hard at work.  You deserve it!”

Brain hacked.

I bought the stereo (and ended up paying probably 10% more than the price in interest) since I couldn’t pay it off that month.

But I deserved it, right?

No.

I totally didn’t deserve it.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Nobody Deserves Anything.  If we could just tattoo that on each other’s foreheads, we’d all be better off.  I never hear The Boy or Pugsley EVER say deserve.  It’s a dirty word around our house, and no one wants to hear the 45 minute lecture that goes with that word.

That word successfully hacked my brain, though.  In a way, that was worth the whole price of the stereo, five times over.

And that’s what Fitbit© does.  It creates the concept of deserve in your brain – and that’s the danger.  I walked 10,000 steps today!  I deserve . . . a pizza.  Not a slice.  A pizza.  I walked 15,000 steps – that’s a pizza and some ice cream.  Oh, and beer.

So, an activity tracker might just make you fatter.  Are there other self-sabotaging behaviors we engage in that might add in to the mess?  Sure there are:

  • “I’ve already slipped up today, so I’ll eat the whole pizza.” – This makes sense – it combines a temporary defeat with a complete and total surrender of the day. Yay!
  • “I’ll restart the diet after the weekend. And this pizza.” – Ah, the good old future you, paying for the sins of present you.
  • “My cheat meal can be a cheat day.” – Well, meal is a lot like day in that they’re both words.
  • “My cheat day can be a cheat weekend.” – And what weekend isn’t made up of days?
  • “Chips are good for you, right?” – Only if you own stock in Frito-Lay©.
  • “Those cookies will go stale if I don’t eat them?” – And they will slowly kill you if you do . . . .

These have the common theme of “deserve” followed by “victim” followed by “extreme rationalization.”

And how do these come to mind?  These are already tricks I use to convince myself that this makes sense.  I’ve had to abandon cheat meals because . . . I’m not good enough to deal with them.  Likewise, any system that depends upon your willpower to for long term support, especially when you have a friend like your brain, is doomed.

Scott Adams works the idea that he uses choices to work around willpower.  Now I’m not sure that Scott has ever weighed a pound over his ideal weight, but he does have a point – willpower for a long term diet is a difficult partner, so he has a system.  Sadly, as a vegetarian, none of his choices involve bacon, and my choice the other night to eat all those chips was probably not as bad as it could have been (I might have tried to inject them into my eyes), but it wasn’t a great choice.

So, an activity tracker might be a calorie enabler, and another tool for your mind to tell you that you deserve something.  And whatever you do – don’t make me give you that talk.

Reminder:  John Wilder is STILL not a doctor, nor will he regenerate as one.  Consult your Doctor, Attorney, Car Mechanic, and Podiatrist prior to following any advice that you might get from here.

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.