Years ago, after my twins were born, I bought a pedometer. It was just a simple thing that I attached to my clothing so I could keep track and I committed to myself to increasing my activity level, in hopes of speeding up the return to my pre-baby weight. I think my first goal was 5,000 steps. Over the years since then I’ve graduated from that simple pedometer to my Fitbit which, in addition to tracking my steps, let me know how long I was sleeping, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really pay attention to. I used the Fitbit to keep track of my progress toward that 10,000/day goal. I enjoyed that Fitbit when we were in Rome clocking 20,000 every day surrounded by ancient architecture. Here at home I kept the dog and I moving in precise ways for specific amounts of time to meet my goal.
This relationship with my weird watch seems pretty reasonable if we make some basic assumptions. The first assumption that we have to agree to is that more activity is always an inherently good thing. The second assumption that we have to agree to is that measuring is the way to get that to happen. The third implied assumption here is that if we didn’t use some device to spur on a competition with ourselves, there would be no change.
These assumptions make the Fitbit just one more in a long line of devices and strategies used by women to make our bodies “better,” “right,” “more beautiful,” which means: “smaller.” The goal of being smaller is assumed. We agree that measuring (and shaming) is a good way to get there. And we are certain that without some sort of external discipline giver, there will be no change. We will be hopeless.
I had bought in. I’ve judged myself in the mirror based on size. I shuddered at the “big boned” title I bore in earlier years. I have been an external discipline-giver extraordinaire. I’ve used all manner of measuring (how many steps, how many miles, how many calories, how many inches, what size number, what BMI, what heart rate). I’ve created a variety of rules for myself (no fat, low fat, high fiber, no meat, clean meat, whole grain, no grain, less sugar, no sugar, no dairy, no soy – no these weren’t all at the same time). I’ve assumed that if left to my own devices nothing would ever change.
What I didn’t realize is that I was never actually left to my own devices because I was not paying attention to the best device I had. I was not paying attention to how I felt. I was not paying attention to how foods felt in my body. I was not paying attention to how different kinds of exercise felt to my body (hello bone spurs and surgery). I was not paying attention to the good feelings I got from healthful foods and stopping eating when I was satisfied. I was not paying attention to the energy and lightness of being that I felt after exercising.
I needed the external device because I wasn’t paying any attention to the guidance I had all along. I needed the external device because I was determined to look how I “should” and I was sure I couldn’t be trusted to handle that mission.
As you can guess if you’ve been following along for a while, things have changed a bit. Now the internal guidance IS the device. It is where I turn for instruction on how to take care of this body. It is where I turn to hear the signals and feel the signs. It is where I turn to take note of what works and doesn’t work. It is where I turn to decide what weight feels good, what exercise feels good, what kind of food feels good.
THAT is what being left to your own devices can be, if you learn to listen.
I was still wearing my Fitbit until a couple of days ago, mostly out of habit. The toggle button had fallen off a while back, so it’s functions were more limited, but I kept on charging it up and putting it back on. I would occasionally look at it while walking, but more and more often I noticed that I wasn’t using that information to make any decisions.
More and more I was using my own feedback and considering factors like the weather and the capacity of my aging canine friend. We go longer on good days, shorter on bad. The pace and the path are determined by what I and he need. Whether I listen to a podcast or not is determined by whether or not I need quiet. My other exercise has been figured out by trial and error – what makes me feel strong and capable, what makes my body feel good, what leaves me feeling energized and satisfied.
And so a couple of days ago I took that Fitbit off. I set aside its measurements and its task of inspiring me to compete with myself (and others). I set aside the ugly band that I hated seeing. I set aside its online awards and graphs. I am left to my own devices and boy does that feel good.