I remember well the day I first wore my Fitbit. It was nearly three years ago, and I strapped that thing on my wrist certain it would prove how conscientious I was about getting up and moving between bouts of writing.
I quickly forgot I was wearing it, so I didn’t peek at the steps screen until the end of the day. I was shocked. Only three thousand steps. I was embarrassed – no – ashamed. Before having kids, I was a regular road racer and a veteran of six marathons. Life, not necessarily kids, got in the way after that — a couple of cross-country moves, freelance writing, contract work, elder care, injuries, surgery.
Over time, I stopped running, but I hadn’t realized that I had also stopped moving.
It was a revelation so intense I became obsessed with my new toy, challenging myself to hit 10,000 steps and 20 floors each day. When I was short of my goal, I sometimes walked in circles around the living room, often carrying a glass of wine in one hand and ducking into the TV room to catch the next development in a show because it was time to relax, but I wasn’t ready.
I learned my Fitbit didn’t record steps when I pushed a shopping cart or my father’s wheelchair, so I shoved it in my pocket during those adventures to ensure that I wasn’t cheated of my goal. The hip movement triggered the step counter. I connected online with other Fitbit users, including my sister and my husband, to compare achievements and gloat when I beat them.
I made sure I carried the mail up our quarter-mile driveway in my left hand, so my right hand could swing with my body and accumulate steps. I monitored my sleeping habits and my pulse on my Fitbit, getting so worked up about getting a good night’s sleep that I couldn’t sleep. I wore that watch night and day and regardless of my outfit. I worshiped that thing.
Then it broke.
It happened in August. My Fitbit had stopped working before, but I had always been able to resuscitate it with the help of customer service. Not this time. This time it was dead-dead, probably because I so rarely took it off that I had accidentally dunked it in a hot tub on spring break three times. It had been behaving oddly ever since.
Fitbits are expensive and I couldn’t afford a new one.
I felt naked.
I was lost without it.
I bought a cheap knock-off, but it didn’t work. Sometimes it counted steps. Sometimes it didn’t. I probably would have rejected it even if it counted steps precisely the same. It wasn’t a Fitbit. I wanted my Fitbit. I was sad.
But something strange happened a few days after I chucked the knock-off. I was at the grocery store wearing pants with no pockets. For an instant, I stressed about where to put my Fitbit. Then I felt my wrist and remembered. And I smiled. I didn’t have a Fitbit, which meant my step total didn’t exist. Since it didn’t exist, it didn’t matter.
Without a Fitbit, I was free.
I have to wonder if fate played a role. Over the next few months, a nerve problem in my foot worsened, limiting my ability to walk long distances. If my Fitbit had been functional, I would have failed to meet my goal every day. I found I had gained weight over those three years, not lost it. In trying to figure out how to battle the weight gain with fewer cardio opportunities, I realized I had forgotten all about strength training. I used to do floor exercises regularly. I had stopped in favor of steps.
Last month, I resumed my floor exercises and, this month, I signed up for Weight Watchers. I am down five pounds and I am feeling stronger every day. I am sleeping better and I am living better. I will soon have surgery to fix the nerve, which will allow me to run and hike again, but I won’t get another Fitbit.
I know better now.
I know I didn’t own that Fitbit. It owned me.