Tell-Tale Signs That Your Obsession With Tracking Has Gone One App Too Far

Tracking Options Are Endless – flickr photo by Dru Bloomfield

‘More’ Tracking – A Virtual Monster

Modern technology has created a virtual monster.  Or maybe what I really mean is, modern technology has virtually created a monster.  Trackers.  Does anyone know anyone that is not tracking something with a Smartphone, iPhone, iPad or computer?

I’ll be the first one to say that if you set a goal – for example – to put more steps in your day – you need to know how many steps you’re taking now.  It’s the old “if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there” adage.

Plus, the word ‘more’ is ambiguous.  The definition of the word ‘more’ is “an additional quantity”.  So, in the example of taking ‘more’ steps, ‘more’ could easily mean ten. Taking ten more steps won’t have much impact on our overall health. Tracking steps with a pedometer would help you see if you’re taking enough extras steps to make a difference.

More Is A Popular Word

As a wellness coach, I hear the word ‘more’ everyday. “I’m going to drink more water.”  “My goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables.”  “I’m going to the gym more this week.”  My response to all of those statements 100% of the time is, “How much more?”

Using My Fitness Pal or one of the other popular systems is the obvious way to track how successful we are at doing more.  Putting the data in a gizmo to track your workouts, water consumption, or calories is okay.  But are you able to recognize when you’ve become more concerned with the tracking than you are in reaching the goals?

Tell-Tale Signs You Have A Tracking Obsession

You’re Cheating The System (and yourself) – When people start using a calorie counter they put in their weight and their desired weight. The app calculates how many calories they should eat daily to reach the desired weight.

I’ve noticed that when people first start using the app they put everything they eat in.  After awhile only some of the foods go in; others don’t make the cut. There are plenty of reasons for not including everything.  Maybe you just forget, or ate such a little bit of it that it didn’t really count.  Or – here’s a big one – you had such a bad day that you just couldn’t bear to admit to yourself – or the phone – that you really ate all of that!

The day that you are no longer putting everything you eat in the tracker, is the day that the tracker has lost its effectiveness. When you have to cheat to reach the calorie goal for the sake of the tracker, it’s time to give it up and find a new strategy to assist with calorie and portion control.

You Continue To Track Even Though You Never Meet The Goal – Let’s say you have a goal to eat five servings of fruits and veggies everyday and decide to use an app like Munch-5-A-Day.  The first three weeks you had a success rate of between 65 and 75%.  Now you’re at week six and still only eating two or three servings a day but, you’re still tracking everyday.  Is the tracker helping?

Using a phone app is like a lot of things. It’s a novelty and increases our awareness. Over time we lose interest in it and it’s no longer useful yet we continue to track.  Just because you delete the app from the phone doesn’t mean you have to give up on reaching the five-a-day goal.  You can find other things to do that will keep you motivated.  ‘Like’ Five-A-Day-The-Fun-Way on Facebook.  Updates will automatically land in your Facebook News Feed with ideas on ways to add fruits and veggies to the dishes that you’re already preparing.  It’s a helpful reminder that eating five a day doesn’t have to be a chore.

You Rely On A Tracker To Guage Your Exercise Intensity – There are some fancy, high-tech pedometers on the market that will track every step you take along with how many calories you burn when you take them.  If you’ve purchased one and it’s helpful in increasing your motivation to exercise and pushes you to increase the duration and intensity of your workouts, keep it up! At the same time, proceed with caution.

How many calories a person burns doing specific activities is based on Basal Metabolic Rate which is as individual as your fingerprint.  We’ve talked about this before.  If you don’t trust me that determining BMR is a complex, scientific calculation, take a look at Wikipedia’s article on the subject.  To accurately determine your BMR, you first need to have your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) calculated.  There are ways to get this done so that the results are accurate, but putting data in a phone app isn’t one of them.

If you’re using an app to calculate calorie expenditure, keep in mind that it is an estimate and should not be used as a free pass to eat as many calories as the calculator says you’ve burned.  The best way to gauge exercise intensity is still perceived exertion.

You’re Obsessed With Tracking But Your Goals Elude You – If you’re tracking every breath you take and every move you make, you may be headed towards an obsession.  It may be time to take a break from the tracking – at least for now – especially if the tracking is no longer helpful in getting you to your goals.

Motivation is a moving target.  Your strategies to stay engaged and enthused about a healthier lifestyle need to evolve as you reach your goals and the subsequent plateaus.  Put down the phone and engage the right side of your brain.  Create a colorful, non-virtual vision board that outlines your goals.  If you’re totally addicted to using on-line tools, you can create your vision board in Pinterest.  You can also check out some of the other amazing and inspiring boards while you hang out there.  I have a feeling finding the pictures and arranging them on the board will inspire you as much as putting stats in the phone does.

Sometimes To Go Fast You Have To Slow Down

Sometimes Less Is ‘More’.

Tracking calories, exercise, water, etc, may be one piece of a very large puzzle.  If tracking is used as a means to an end it can be helpful.  Keep in mind the end goal is long-term behavior change, not keeping up with the tracker.  When the habit of putting stuff in the phone no longer affects change, it becomes a waste of time.

Lifestyle change is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash.  It requires considerable training that’s fraught with trial and error, starts, pauses and maybe even some temporary stops. You’ve got to learn to pace yourself so you can make it to the end of race. Is there an app for that?


  1. I think this article was written for me…I am the first to say I have a problem…..I have a water app (to chime me to drink my water), I have a Mynetdiary, Myfitnesspal and Fitbit account. I am on app overload!!! This inspired me to take a look at my app obsession. My life has been dominated by apps.

    • Marylyn, You are not alone. We’ve all become obsessed with the technology our phones allow us to have access to 24/7. There’s some other things that work too though.