Your motivation may vary

I have been reading a lot of fitness-related books in the last year. The ones I laugh at and put down are the ones that claim to have secret and universal knowledge. The ones I re-read or recommend say things like, “I can’t know what results you will get from this, because your body is unique and I am not there while you exercise and eat.” In that vein, the following statements are true for me, and may not be true for you.

I bought a FitBit last week. This is a high-tech pedometer sort of thingy, that tracks steps and stairs and effort expended during the day. While I am dubious about some of its claims (more on that in a moment) I find it very motivating. I look at the little colored chart of my activity and I think “Seriously? That’s all I’ve moved in the last three hours? Maybe I could go for a walk … ”

I can easily see how such a device could lead some people to feel that they were failures, that they might as well continue on the couch because there was no use. I used to be one of those people. A setback was as good as a catastrophe. But somewhere along the line — when I got kids, I think — I stopped aiming for perfect and just started aiming for better.

My daughter, yesterday morning in a discussion of her handwriting and composition schoolwork, said, “You want me to be PERFECT.”

“No,” I said immediately. “No-one is perfect. I want you to learn and improve. Do it better than you did before.”

In this vein, the four hours I spent sitting at my computer are an opportunity — for me to spend the next half-hour doing something more active. Like the dishes, and cleaning off the dining room table. My goals, they are not lofty, I assure you. But in this way FitBit has caused me to walk my dog twice this week. (Well, FitBit and the shockingly gorgeous weather.)

A note on FitBit and MyFitnessPal, before I go.

I keep track of the food I eat on MyFitnessPal for a couple of reasons. I am eating low-sodium, and I cannot do this unless I keep track of how much salt is in the food I eat. I am also trying to eat a lot of protein and am a vegetarian, so keeping track lets me know if it’s time to have some nuts or almond butter or eggs for a snack. However, the thing that MyFitnessPal is squarely designed for is counting calories. I am impossibly aware of how many calories I am eating, every day. This is … odd.

FitBit and MyFitnessPal talk to each other. And FitBit tells MyFitnessPal how many “extra” calories I “earn” each day through exercise. There’s a whole language of assumptions here, things like presumed basal metabolic rate, and the presumed caloric needs of fat tissue vs muscle tissue, and the presumed activity level of a “sedentary” or “lightly active” person — a whole trough of presumptions. Mostly I nod at the data and move on.

Eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m not hungry. Eat food. Mostly plants. Try to ignore the calorie thing.

But the fascinating part is that the two computer programs do not agree on how many calories I “should” be eating, or on how many calories “extra” I “earn” through exercise. I am choosing to take this as validation of my view that the whole thing is a bit guess-work-y and that I should continue to do what feels right for me.

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