All About Fitness Trackers

The year after I got married (almost 14 years ago! Yiiikes…), I lost quite a bit of weight. Sidenote: it was significantly easier then than it is now, haha. Anyway, as I was on that particular journey, the one thing I wished for was to know (or at least have some kind of educated guesstimate) how many calories I was burning, both in workouts and in my day-to-day activities. But stuff like that just didn’t exist then (way back then), at least not to the general public.

Well, these days, fitness trackers are everywhere, from big companies like Nike and Garmin to small (although ever-growing) companies like Fitbit.

I haven’t tried all the fitness trackers, but I’ve tried a few different types of trackers. Right now, both Sara and I have the Fitbit Flex and we love it. But first, I want to talk about the other ones I’ve tried to give you guys kind of an idea of why I wound up sticking with the Flex.

BODYBUGG1

The first fitness tracker I tried was the BodyBugg. It’s been on the market longer than most of the other fitness trackers and kind of had the corner on the market for a long time (I also discovered it has recently been acquired by Jawbone, so I’m not sure what that means for the future of the Bugg.) I used it for awhile and there was a lot to like, like all-encompassing fitness tracking–it tracked your daily activities as well as workouts with pretty accurate measurements (this is one of the shortcomings of many of the other fitness trackers.) It also automatically tracks and monitors your sleep, whereas with some of the other trackers, you have to tell it when you’re going to sleep.  Sara used a BodyBugg for several years, with great success.

That said, there were things I didn’t like about it. First of all, it looks like a medical device. I can’t even count the times I caught people staring or asking me straight-out if I was okay and why I was wearing this big, scary thing on my arm. It’s not waterproof, so you can’t wear it to track swimming. The interface was not user-friendly. I also hated the nutrition tracker, which is common with the trackers, but it didn’t sync well with MyFitnessPal (which is how the other trackers redeem their struggles). It also is one of the more expensive trackers just to purchase, then there’s also a mandatory $6.95/month subscription fee; you have to pay to use it (and who wants to pay seven bucks a month for an unfriendly interface?) After awhile, everything just kind of piled up and I decided to go another direction.

POLAR1

The Polar Heart Rate Monitor is a great choice if you want to just track workouts. Devices like the Fitbit Flex kind of piece together that you’re probably working out, but unless I’m running or walking, I usually have to go in and adjust my workout afterwards because it’s just guesstimating. But the Polar actually tracks your heart rate (by a band you wear around your chest whilst working out), so it has a good idea of how hard your body is working. That said, it is not designed to track your overall activity levels or footsteps. So if you need to keep your heart rate in a certain zone (I loved that when I was pregnant!) or if you really want to track just your workouts, this is a great choice. But if you want to track overall activity and steps throughout the day, you’ll want to use something else (or this in conjunction with something else.)

FITBIT FLEX1

I wrote about the Flex a little in this post. Ultimately, this is what I’ve been the most happy with and I’ve used for about a year. It doesn’t have the intense, in-depth tracking of some of the other devices, and I have been jonesing for a little more information for awhile now (which is why I’m still eyeballing the Fitbit Charge HR–it seems to be a lot of things I like about the BodyBugg and the Polar, like the heart rate/activity monitoring, it being a watch, and automatic sleep tracking, minus the things I don’t like. I’m kind of waiting to see what the users have to say about it before I take the plunge.) I love that you can have Fitbit friends (and they don’t even have to have a Fitbit, but it helps) and you can challenge each other, which can be really fun and hugely motivating. In fact…if you want to be Fitbit friends, go to your dashboard and invite us by email! The email address I’m using is kate@ourbestbites.com and Sara’s is sara@ourbestbites.com. We’re toying with the idea of doing spontaneous challenges to keep you guys AND ourselves motivated!

fitbit friends

 

All of this said, the longer I’ve used the Flex, and fitness tracking in general, I’ve come to a few realizations about what fitness trackers are and what they’re not.

ACCURATE

When it comes to nutrition and exercise, there are so many variables that it is impossible to track things with 100% accuracy. Unless you’re hooked up to a machine every second of the day and have a lab to test every single thing you put into your mouth, everything is an estimation. Sometimes meat is fattier than other times. I can tell you that having worked in restaurants, there’s some ad-libbing going on in the kitchen and that nutritional information is an estimate under very controlled, un-restaurant-like circumstances. Some workouts are more intense than others. Sometimes your fitness tracker will (or won’t!) track things it wasn’t (or was!) supposed to.

I got really caught up in trying to balance everything perfectly, making sure my calorie input was matching up as perfect as possible with the output. Not only did I go to kind of a weird, obsessive place psychologically, but guess what? It didn’t work. I gained, or, at the very least, stalled my weight loss.

THE POINT

That’s a good question. One I’ve asked myself, and one my husband has asked me when he sees me sporting a new device.

First, kind of like tracking everything you eat (even if you’re not eating perfectly), it gives you an idea of what your activity looks like. You start to recognize patterns (my weekends can be a little, um, sedentary) and that gives you kind of a subconscious motivation to get up and move.

I’ve found that unless I am burning an insanely huge amount of calories, I shouldn’t really venture much over the 1400 calories a day mark if I expect to lose weight. Even if my fitness tracker tells me I can eat them. If, at the end of the week, I have an enormous deficit, then it’s cinnamon roll time. Otherwise, it’s mostly there to keep me accountable to myself and my goals and as a reward for my hard work (all green lines! Yes!)

tracking cropped

The other reason why I find fitness trackers super helpful is that they keep me motivated to move. If that afternoon nap is calling my name, but I’ve hit my step goal every other day that week, then I’ll run out to the backyard and play with my big dog instead of snoozing. If I’ve spent a lot of time at my desk working, I can see that maybe we should go for a walk as a family after dinner. And if I’m almost to my daily goals, it pushes me to do just a little bit more. Because all those little things add up to big results.

OTHER OPTIONS

Like I said, I haven’t tried all of the fitness trackers on the market; the big brands that I haven’t ever used are Garmin (ranging from simple trackers to much more thorough monitors), Jawbone, and Nike. And all of these companies (as well as Fitbit and Polar) have monitors I haven’t mentioned just because this post would then be 10 million words long and I have no experience with any of them. So. If you have tried them and want to share your experience, please do! Hopefully between all of us, we can help other people research out what would work best for them!

34 comments

  1. Kate, you burned approximately 3000 calories in one day? That’s amazing. Is that most days per week? If you’re burning that much, you still limit calorie intake to about 1400 daily? Wow.

  2. I have the Garmin VivioSmart, and I absolutely LOVE it!!
    I love that it prompts me to move every so often, and that it is waterproof. I love that
    I can receive my text messages and other phone notifications, when I have
    It hooked connected through blue tooth. And I love that it looks cool,
    and sporty! It also tracks sleep, has a lost phone button so when I lose my phone (which happens often) I can send an alert and it will help me track my phone nearby. So many more features ! Oh and I love that it syncs automatically to myfitnesspal.

  3. I just bought a FitBit Flex at Costco – comes with 3 bands of different color! I think it was $99.

    This is off the topic…but are either of you on Weight Watchers? Or do you follow a plan/pyramid – i.e. 1/4 plate carbs, 1/4 plate protein, 1/2 plate veggies or only 300 cal carbs or certain amount of grams per day?

    IN IT FOR THE FINISH! LET’S DO THIS!

    1. I did weight watchers for YEARS and loved it. But I don’t know if it was me or if it was the program change in 2011, but it just doesn’t work for me anymore (well, it did when I was nursing.) I shoot for about 70-75% of my calories to come from proteins and good fats and then 25% from carbs (ideally mostly veggies, then whole grains and fruits with very limited refined carbs like white flour, rice, and sugar). It doesn’t always happen, but that seems to be a happy place for my body, both in terms of weight-loss as well as overall well-being.

      1. The change in 2011 totally didn’t work for me either. So, I try to follow the previous program that did work for me. I actually gained weight on the pointsplus program.

  4. I use the Nike Fuelband 🙂 I love it, because I can track not only sport sessions but also cooking sessions, and work.

    I choose it because it syncronize with nike+ running and thats the app I have been using to run since I started doing it.

    It really motivates me to do something and it has reminders to move 5 min in each hour. The only thing I would love is that it worked with MyFitness pal and iOS health :c

  5. I have a fitbit flex, I love it! I know it isn’t super accurate, but it motivates me to be active and I love to feel that little ‘buzz’ when I reach my goals. Not super accurate is better than no motivation at all for me!
    I also have a Polar heart rate monitor. I bought it for training for a triathlon last year, it works really well and isn’t uncomfortable to wear. It is water proof, so I wore it for training in the water as well. I love that it is more accurate, I feel like I can really eat all my calories on MyFitnessPal on the days that I use it over the flex. I take my flex off when I have my heart rate monitor on so I don’t get double points.

  6. I’m quite involved with weight watchers and have had the active link, active link 2.0 and now they are selling fitbits in their stores so I got the fitbit one around christmas. I loved the active link 2.0 but wished it tracked steps and milage. Fitbit one does it all! I love my watch and don’t want to wear another thing on my wrist and since the fitbit one clips on your bra it is perfect for me. So far it has been pretty accurate. I also love that you can synch your fitbit or jawbone to etools and it will calculate activity points as well. I like tracking my food with small numbers so points plus is awesome, but I LOVE seeing that I’m burning THOUSANDS of calories when I wear a fitbit. But even on a good day I am nowhere near 2700 like you Kate. That’s awesome!!!

  7. I use the fitbit zip and it is nice for the price. It doesn’t do the sleep tracking or the floors climbed but it was very affordable and does a good job of keeping track of steps. Plus I never have to charge it since it uses a watch battery. I love it but do wish it was waterproof. There’s a new brand called misfit that’s even cheaper that is waterproof and is supposed to keep track of laps but I haven’t tried it yet.

  8. I have a Garmin Vivofit, and I love it. I chose the Vivofit because I sit at a desk all day, and it seemed to be the only one that warns you to get up and walk around every hour or so. Also I like the fact that it does not have to be charged (the battery will last for at least one year, then you replace it), and you can see all your information with the press of a button. I don’t like the idea of having to use my phone to see how many steps I’ve taken, etc. It is water resistant, and you are supposed to be able to wear it in the shower etc, but I haven’t. I prefer to take it off when I shower. I highly recommend it.

  9. I received the Flex for Christmas and love it! It’s so fun to do FitBit challenges with my friends. I’m very competitive so when I see that my sister is at 8,000 steps by 9am and I’m only at 4,000… I step up my game! It really has helped increase my activity. I love synching it to My Fitness Pal too. I’m down 7 lbs for the year and I know this device has helped. Great purchase for sure!

    Fit Bit customer service is amazing too! I had an issue and then quickly responded to my email and resolved my issue within days!

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