Feeding Your Fitness Tracker

Wearable fitness tracking devices were available in consumer-grade electronics by at least the early 2000s. The first trackers were essentially nicer looking pedometers with a few additional capabilities like calorie expenditure and heart rate. Today the wearable devices have become sleek, thin watches worn as statements of a healthy lifestyle with a futuristic fashion forward style.

Much of the appeal of activity trackers that makes them effective tools in increasing personal fitness for some individuals comes from their making it into a game of sorts, and from the social dimension of sharing your results. The device can serve as a means of identification with a community of like-minded people who perhaps are competitive and want to stay in shape.

I had never used a wearable fitness tracker until recently. A few months ago my entire company received an email from our HR team explaining how we would begin a new health challenge and anyone who signed up would receive Fit Bits to track their steps. The challenge was to beat out other teams over an eight week period in number of steps to win a cash prize and bragging rights. I happened to be training for the Chicago marathon at the exact time so I figured that as long as my assigned team wasn’t awful we would have a good chance at winning.

I was logging between fifteen to twenty miles on the weekends, walking to and from work, taking my dog on multiple walks a day. The numbers that appeared on my trackers screen where never satisfying for me. I would constantly check my ranking on the company’s wellness portal. Third place, eighth then back to third then fifth. Up and down the list multiple times a day.

I started taking the long way to work. I would wind, zigzagging, through my neighborhood streets in South Boston trying to get in as many steps as possible. And yet, I was annoyed at the total numbers at the end of the day no matter how high I ranked among my company of 500+.

I’ve always been fairly active but I’m not very competitive, or so I had thought. Seeing other colleagues ranking higher than me made me annoyed. I was active! I hardly even sat down during the day! How does this make any sense!

Always one to look into new running gear I had done research on fitness trackers and GPS watches years ago but decided I’d stick with my running app which I use on my iPhone, kept securely in my handy running waist pack. When my company offered a free fitness tracker I thought, sure why not, maybe it’ll motivate me to get in more miles.

A few weeks into the challenge, I had grown frustrated. Not only with myself (I never placed first) but with the technology. I would run and my iPhone app would tell me I logged in 18 miles but the Fit Bit would say I did 15 miles. I realized both devices track different units, strides and miles. Of course I’d have 15 miles worth of steps on an 18 mile run because my strides were longer. After making this connection I started manually adding in the additional miles that the Fit Bit would miss.

I do not feel any fitter than before beginning the challenge. The motivation created by the steps measured on my Fit Bit were anxiety inducing. I was feeling stressed out trying to “feed” the Fit Bit steps. It literally buzzes and tells you things like “take me for a stroll?” or “250 more to win the hour!” and I always gave into it. I would see those words come through ticker style and off I’d go begrudgingly. I was in a toxic relationship with my fitness tracker and it wasn’t helping me be any fitter. Each step I took belonged to my tracker.

I’m sure that many types of fitness trackers have helped people get more active and stay in shape, and that’s great! But I have been active my whole life and at 27, a fitness tracker is only another gadget that I have to rely on. I have a smart TV, Roku, Netflix, Hulu, Audible and Amazon Prime subscriptions, I order my groceries online from time to time, and I have an Instagram, a twitter account and a website, two email accounts, an iPhone, an iPad mini and a kindle reader. This is already more tech than I need. All of these have nothing to do with fitness. My relationship to tech for the most part is not conducive to fitness. When I think about electronics I do not associate them with an active life, they are for the most part, indulgent conveniences.

For me, running is my form of meditation. I feel a massive sense of “flow” when I’m running that I hardly ever feel when doing anything else. I always run outdoors because treadmills feel stifling. I put my phone on airplane mode and I start up my running app, pop in my earbuds, play an audio book and go. That is all the room for technology I have when I run.  No distractions just me and a story and my miles. These are my miles. They belong to me.

 

Meditation

The benefits of meditation are well known. Everyone talks about trying it. The New York Times has covered it. There are apps you can download to help you meditate. Meditation is not reserved for wealthy yoga retreat goers any longer. But as accessible as the practice has now become for many beginners it can still seem daunting. Sitting alone with your thoughts while trying to silent the mind and focus on your breath is not easy for many of us. In fact, it’s the opposite of how we have been conditioned to function.

When you start meditating you will quickly notice just how unruly the mind is. Most people assume that to meditate you have to think about nothing, or “clear your mind”. But when you have it in your head that you have to DO anything when the goal is to quiet the mind, it’s totally counterproductive. So don’t think about thinking about nothing, simply “think neutral”.

When you begin practicing meditation do not be hard on yourself. Some days you will ease into it and other days you may get frustrated with yourself and be unable to defuse the non stop thoughts from coming in. When I first started, I would be bombarded with thoughts , to do lists that I had to get to, work tasks to be completed, an itch on my nose etc. We are so used to moving and thinking and working that when we stop to be still our brains don’t know what to do. It’s like all of a sudden you are tuning into 20 different crappy mind cable channels that click through rapid fire. Click – I should get that mole checked out,  Click – should I get bangs again?, Click – can’t forget to call mom back, Click – am I a good daughter? And on and on.

Tune out, think neutral, focus on your breathe, hold a comfortable posture, and if you are still having trouble I suggest coming up with imagery that helps you. I like to picture a lotus emerging from the mud and slowly blooming. If imagery isn’t your thing maybe focus on a body part. I sometimes will pick a body part, like the top of my forehead or my hands to focus on.

If all else fails, take a seat, and smile. Smile to yourself and think about the things you are grateful for. Take 10 minutes and just dwell in that warm, cozy feeling of gratitude.

The human mind is an infinite journey. We possess the power to go anywhere and do anything but in order to do so, we must learn to tap into the depths hidden beneath our messy thoughts and meditation is a wonderful tool that can help us get there.

The Burnout Epidemic

Chronic fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, anxiety, impaired concentration, weakened immune system and depression. These are the tell tale signs of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. At 27, I’ve experienced burnout a few times in my life and I’ve needed to learn how to balance my energies to stay healthy and happy.

During my senior year of college I worked as a waitress and bartender, I was a nanny to three small girls, I was VP of my schools Hispanic student association and I was interning at one of Bostons top advertising firms. I was 21 and I thought I was invincible. I was an overachiever hell bent on doing it all who sustained herself on caffeine in order to make it through. To decompress, instead of taking it easy and catching up on sleep on my nights off, I would go out with friends. This lifestyle completely destroyed me.

Sure I graduated with honors, a solid internship experience to add to my resume and some money in the bank from my various hustles but it all came at a price. By the time I graduated I was in rough shape. I remember feeling totally uninspired, anxious and emotionally depleted. After graduation I thought to myself “Okay,crazy you did it, now stop!” I remember spending a good two weeks at my parents house doing nothing but watching Harry Potter and working on my tan. It was glorious. It was also a bit of a wake up call.

I’ve written about my last bout of burnout in Letting Yourself Be. Both of these instances of burnout where tough to get through because I had to recondition myself to live a more balanced life. I had to train myself to know when to stop pushing beyond the brink and when to cut myself some slack. It’s not easy to keep yourself in line if you are someone who has high expectations and no patience for themselves. Add to that, living in a society where social media has elevated standards of what having it all and doing it all looks like. We can’t all attend barre class 5 days a week, work full time, keep a tidy apartment that is decorated impeccability, make Instagram worthy organic meals each night, go on exotic vacations around the globe, dress like a street style blogger all while managing to get enough sleep and maintaining healthy relationships! Unless you have a personal assistant, this just isn’t going to happen. More importantly it DOESN’T HAVE TO, despite what all the Pinterest boards and GOOP-esque blogs depict. 

So, what are some ways to avoid burnout? Here are a few things that have helped me and I hope that you find them useful!

  • Know where the stress is coming from – Burnout can be caused by internal factors so ask yourself where is the stress coming from. Knowing the source can help you figure out what is stressing you out and what you can do about it.
  • Take rest seriously – Take time off. This doesn’t need to be a fancy trip but even a long weekend to get yourself organized, and catch up on rest. Go ahead, binge watch that series you haven’t had time for!
  • Enrich your life with hobbies – Always wanted to learn piano? Take lessons! Want to improve your photography skills? Make it a point to get better! Devote just a few hours a week to an activity that has nothing to do with your day job. Whether it’s an exercise regimen or taking up DIY projects, your hobbies will help you unwind and increase your confidence in an array of skills.
  • Unplug – It is hard not to stay connected when you have a demanding job. But make your free time a priority when you can and unplug completely. Sometimes even leisurely scrolling through twitter can be a mind numbing time suck! So drop the phone and get centered, go on a walk, or do a meditation exercise. I have an adult coloring book that I enjoy doodling in occasionally and its very calming.
  • Know when enough is enough – Gauge yourself at the end of each day. Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling healthy? Are you feeling mentally drained? Are you getting enough rest? We all need to motivate ourselves to be challenged and engaged in both life and work but there is a difference between motivating and forcing. It’s great to push yourself but there is a point in which that can become determental for your well being. Know yourself and know where your breaking point is and stay away from it!
  • Get sleep – I can not stress how important this one is. Sleep is vital! Did you know that women need more sleep than men? Not getting enough sleep throws everything off and is incredibly bad for your health. If you are having trouble sleeping, try sticking to a bed time routine, avoid screen time in the bed room, drink soothing tea and make sure your bedroom temperature is comfortable. If a routine or natural supplements (try melatonin or Natural Calm) are not helping you may want to speak to a doctor. I once had a terrible bout of insomnia that lasted about 4 months and toward the end of it I was seeing visions…it was by far the most frightening health scare of my life. Please take sleep seriously! 

Avoiding burnout starts by putting some preventative measures in place. Also, its important to have support from a partner, colleagues, friends or therapist that can help you implement these practices and know when to call you out if your veering dangerously close to burnout.

I’ll Have Mine With Extra Gluten Please!

Like anyone who has been alive during the last few years, I was under the impression that gluten was bad for you even if you don’t technically have Celiac Disease. I never went gluten free and didn’t really care to do so until I recently started up my marathon training regimen and did some diet research.

Turns out, experts estimate that about 1% of Americans actually have a gluten allergy and that those who are making this actual dietary restriction a diet trend are doing so under the false impression that gluten is bad for you. This was good news for me! Even better news was learning that gluten itself doesn’t offer any special nutritional benefits, but the many whole grains that contain gluten do. These whole grains are rich in vitamin B, iron and fiber. Additionally, studies have shown that whole grains as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some forms of cancer.

Doctors warn that eliminating a whole category of food that you’ve been used to eating makes you run the risk of becoming nutritionally deficient in vitamins such as iron, zinc, fiber and magnesium. So basically, there is little point in taking that risk unless you genuinely have a gluten allergy. And if thats not enough for you to stick with gluten, keep in mind that gluten free products tend to be pricier than non gluten free versions!