First off, fitness tech is amazing. Ten years ago, who would have thought that we'd be able to know our heart rate, sleep patterns, steps taken, workouts, calories and more just from a little wristband or clip? But as more universities, schools, and workplaces encourage or require you to wear fitness trackers, experts warn that all of this data may have a downside for some. (Related: Find The Best Fitness Tracker for Your Personality.)
Fitness trackers can hurt your health if it instigates or encourages disordered eating behaviors, says Kaitlin Irwin of Proud2BMe, the youth arm of The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), in a new petition, asking her school to stop requiring students to wear Fitbits.
At first glance, the requirement might seem like a genius idea, helping students stave off the "freshman 15" and start a lifetime of healthy habits by "gameifying" eating well and exercising. University provost Kathaleen Reid-Martinez said in an interview earlier this year that the school's 10,000-step requirement and Fitbit monitoring has made students more aware of their daily physical activity and that students have formed social groups to hold each other accountable. Great!
But what one student may see as a fun game, another student may take too far. "A lot of these initiatives or technology associated with fitness and health, while it might be well-intentioned, it's actually backfiring for a lot of people who are in a space where that level of tracking and counting can either trigger disordered thoughts and behaviors or further entrench a disorder," Claire Mysko, CEO of NEDA told The Daily Dot. (Here's What It Feels Like to Have Exercise Bulimia.)
Of course, trackers can be a great tool that helps you stay on track and meet your goals. But if you're already hyper aware of your activity and food consumption, it's probably not the best tool for you. And that's a problem when companies and schools require people to use them. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and with one in 200 U.S. women suffering from one, this seems like one instance where our "health" tech may be at risk for making us seriously unhealthy.
Bottom line? Wear one if you enjoy it and feel like it's helping you stick to your healthy habits—but don't structure your life around it. If you notice any of these eating disorder symptoms, drop your tracker like a bad Tinder date and get help ASAP.
For more information or to get help with an eating disorder, contact NEDA or call their confidential, free 24-hour hotline at 1-800-931-2237.