Fitness apps are all the rage. A raft of new companies and products want to track your steps and count your calories with the aim of melting that excess blubber. There is just one problem — most of these apps do not work. In fact, there is good reason to believe they make us fatter.
Researchers found these devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users. It was found that more than half of US consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.
While the report mentioned several reasons why people do not stick with these tracking devices, here are three surprising reasons why fitness apps may be making us less happy and flabbier.
It is not as simple as calories in, calories out: The first reason fitness apps make us fat is that almost all of them are based on a pervasive myth. Most of these gadgets and apps attempt to push people to eat less and exercise more. They ask users to track what they eat and record their physical activity in order to quantify whether dieters intake a surplus of calories for the day.
Evidence that the calories in, calories out theory is too simplistic is plentiful. According to Dr. Peter Attia, co-founder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, “All calories are not created equally … The energy content of food (calories) matters, but it is less important than the metabolic effect of food on our body.”
To most fitness apps, a calorie of high-fructose corn syrup is the same as a calorie of protein despite the fact that science, and our bodies, tells us otherwise. Clearly, a calorie is not just a calorie and by perpetuating this untruth, fitness apps help people tack on the pounds instead of shedding them.
You will not exercise yourself thin: Exercise is probably bad for you. Did you read that right? Let it sink in. For one thing, exercise tends to makes us hungry; maybe not immediately, but eventually. However, most fitness apps ignore the fact we work up an appetite.
When we exercise, the blood stream is drained of glucose so the body activates an uncomfortable sensation to get us to refuel. A few extra bites at lunch and an extra piece of fruit after dinner and we have negated the 300 calories we burned running for 30 minutes on the treadmill.
Want to, not a have to: But exercise is not bad for everyone, just those who hate doing it, which is most everyone who is not already doing it. The beef with most fitness apps comes down to the fact that they miss a critical component of long-term behavior change. It is no fun.
Most successful consumer technology companies in the world are so good at changing user behavior because among other things they are fun to use. In contrast, by and large fitness apps are a drag. Attempting to form habits for behaviors people feel they have to do instead of want to do just does not work over the long-term.
Someday fitness apps will focus on helping users enjoy the activity itself instead of making artificial and often frivolous goals the aim. We’re just not quite there yet.