Fitbits make you fit . . . and a bit crazy

I stopped wearing my Fitbit for the first time in six weeks, and I feel weird. The walking competition hosted by my work is over, but all the odd habits I formed to gain extra steps are still there. I just don’t get points for them anymore.

 I want the gamification of my life back.

For those who are curious, a Fitbit is a pedometer on steroids. It can track all kinds of previously untrackables and post them to the Internet and your smartphone so people can see how lazy or productive you are.

This is horrifying news to some, but if you’re even slightly competitive like I am, it’s maddening fun. You have friends on there that you can “taunt” or “cheer” or message. The app shows your 7-day step count and how you stack up against others. And there’s nothing quite like that feeling when you sync your phone to your Fitbit and your name rises above a rival, or the agony you feel as it slips below.

The general goal of a Fitbit, which gives me mild OCD until I hit it, is 10k steps a day—which is easy until it’s not. You learn how many steps it takes to the mailbox, to the Target, and to the Albertson’s. You learn how to trick your small children into yet another jaunt outside. How to deviate dates with your spouse into a walk on the waterfront rather than sitting in a theater. Forget your keys? Don’t worry, it’s extra yardage points to fetch them.

One day my six-year-old son was being hyper, so my wife strapped the device on him and said, “I’ll pay you a dollar if you run a mile,” to which he responded instantly, “Can I get four dollars for running four miles?” “Why don’t we do one and go from there,” she answered.

He only did one mile. Not greedy enough.

Now, these are all the cool things about the Fitbit. But that’s the thing. They are good at making you exercise more, but they are even better at making you into a weirdo.

Someone bumped into a guy walking at a park. This dude had a bowl of salad looped inside his arm, with a cup in one hand and a fork in the other. He was walking as fast as he could while chomping away at his rabbit food. The crunch crunch of his feet matched the crunch crunch of the carrots in his cheeks.

That person was me, and I have no idea who caught me awkwardly maximizing my lunch hour. I was all about that step count, I didn’t care who saw.

And that’s just one of many sad examples. 

My trick to getting those extra 300 steps? Strap that Fitbit to your undies as you get ready in the morning. Pace while brushing your teeth. Always use the bathroom that’s farthest away.

While out and about, park far away from any destination (to the chagrin of your entire tired family).

Waiting for your prescription at Walgreens? Just pace the store for twenty minutes. Sure, you’ll make everyone nervous—especially the employees—but maybe that will make them fill your prescription faster.

Down 3,000 steps at 11 p.m.? Watch TV on your phone and pace the living room until you wake up your wife and she rightly gives you an earful for being a dork.

The most I walked in my own living room one night was 2.5 miles. The exercise was ramping me up when I should’ve been winding down, and I ended up staying awake way too late. I was watching a scary show in the dark with my earphones, nervous that my wife was going to sneak up on me. I worried about this until I realized that only I would do that to her, and not the other way around.

Needless to say, the Fitbit was taking over. I was doing inconsiderate things masked as considerate things to hit my mark—like offering to walk the Redbox DVD back to the kiosk at 8:30 at night, right in the middle of the kids’ bedtime routine. “But we’ll save a dollar!” I cried. “Nope, you’re staying right here.”

It was time for a change. My competition over, I gave the device to my wife as she had been asking to try it. It was like passing on a drug addiction. Like passing on the One Ring from Lord of the Rings. It was my precious and I had to give it up of my own accord.

First I made sure to give lots of unasked for advice. “Loop it like this, or it’ll fall out. No, you have to tap the screen like you mean it. Be sure to [insert unnecessary spousal advice here].”

Then later in the day I got a text from her, “Over 3000 steps already.”

An evil smile spread across my face.

A new cycle had begun.

Fitbits take you on a neurotic journey of self discovery and foot pain. But they’re totally worth it.

I can’t wait until she finds the “taunt” button.





  1. Today I went for a walk and a few minutes into
    It, I realized I didn’t have my Fitbit on me. My first thought was “Why am I walking?! I could
    be driving!” So sad. And pacing while brushing my teeth? Guilty! I even went so far as to just hold my Fitbit to my leg so I could gain extra steps in between changing out of my pajama pants and putting on my clothes for the day. I think I’ll still try to count steps each day, but the motivation had died without the competition. 😦

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