I am a large woman, who worked for a decade on size-activism. My work included helping women both love their bodies more, regardless of size or appearance, but also on reducing the importance they place on their appearance. More controversial, I also suggest that people needn’t bow down to the golden cow of health. But I love my stupid Fitbit, and think it is interestingly helpful in increasing movement, which is a good thing for all of us.
So let me say a few things about being a big gal. I actually like to call myself a fat gal, but the internet tries to shut down posts with that “offensive” word. It isn’t offensive to me; just descriptive. I have been big most of my adult life, and for the most part experience myself as sexy, attractive and comfortable enough with my appearance. In the same way we all like different kinds of flowers, and don’t judge dogs looks against each other, I think lots of things are beautiful and wish women, and men, would look at themselves and each-others bodies with generosity.
My beauty has its limits, like all of us, which is at least in part why I also think we all need to care a little less about how we look. It just isn’t that important in a world where there are so many things that matter, about our own selves and our worlds. I would rather have someone say I was ugly than mean, or shallow, or stupid. I am not saying it wouldn’t hurt, especially living in this society that worships beauty, but I refuse to succumb to beauty worship.
As part of my work in size-activism, I talked about health as more important than size. For instance, arguing against people doing unhealthy things to be thin, like drinking fake sugars, and fake fats, or taking diet pills, or certainly the extremes some folks go as per purging, diuretics and laxatives. A lot of my work was with women with eating disorders*, at both ends of the spectrum in terms of size and symptoms. With women who were large and desperate to lose weight, I would urge them to focus on health instead of weight loss; eating more fruit and veg, less processed food, and increasing their movement*.
*(I want to make a distinction here between size-activism, and my efforts to have folks think about society’s impact on body hatred, and the world of eating disorders and obesity. No one who has been large for extended periods of time is suddenly going to lose weight because of some random suggestions about diet and movement. No one with an eating disorder is going to find recovery without some serious unpacking of family dynamics and internal emotional distress)
But back to the controversy. I think as an American culture we are over obsessed with health. We refer to exercise as self-care, and think people who don’t exercise must not love themselves. It is as if we can’t imagine any other ways people would want to prioritize their time, like learning a new language, volunteering at a local library, playing with their children, or gardening. Instead we are supposed to spend significant time a week exercising or we don’t care about ourselves. And of course we are the most important thing to care about…more than our community, politics, family, or the environment.
I have never really prioritized exercise, have never tried particularly hard to lose weight, hate all “rah rah”, reject notions that positive thinking changes the world/life/us, and want to throw up if I have to see another blog post about mindfulness meditation, even though I practice it every morning. All this to say I am an incredibly unlikely person to get, much less love and find helpful, a stupid step tracker.
So the reason I got my Fitbit is someone convinced me that counting my steps would increase my steps. I believed her. And even though I don’t bow to the golden calf of health, I really do care about my health, want to live long and well, and do lots of things towards that end. But I have never done well with increasing movement, and movement is the greatest indicator of health.
Here is what happened when I started to wear my Fitbit.
The goals for health set by the American Medical Association is 10,000 steps. A lot of folks seem to report that they get around 6 or 7 thousands step into their normal daily movement. Not me. I found out I got less than 3 thousand steps in an average day, sometimes even less than 2 thousand.
Now in my defense, I work out of my home, so there is very little walking to and fro. But still. While I don’t believe in comparing myself to others, I couldn’t help but feel shocked by the smallness of my step number compared to others. It seriously woke me up in a way nothing else ever has. Some people treat weight numbers like facts, but they don’t account for things like genetics and bone density. But steps are steps, and I wasn’t taking enough of them.
Easy Access to Change
Once I realized my near absence of basic movement, I started to notice when I did and didn’t take steps. I noticed insane things, like that I could sit at my computer without getting up for 2 entire hours. That meant I wasn’t getting up when I was thirsty, or when I had to pee, or when I wanted to heat up my coffee, or when I realized I needed something from the other room. I was waiting until the last possible minute for everything and then doing it all at once. Ending that practice alone added hundreds of steps a day.
I noticed tons of ingrained habits I had developed over my life to limit my movement. I didn’t go into the basement to change the laundry but would rather just wait until I was down there. I used a huge bowl for my composting so I didn’t have to dump it into the bin too often. I parked as close to store entrances as possible. The list was endless, and yet each could be easily altered. The changes were so little, and sprinkled through-out the day, that it has been some of the easiest change I have ever made.
Easy Instant Gratification
One of the things that made it so easy to make small changes was the instant gratification of seeing my numbers rise. It is ridiculous how often I look at that dang step tracker. But the same way people talk about watching treadmill numbers rise, or scale numbers lower, it finally happened to me. I liked seeing the numbers rise and could pull off little things to make that happen. It hasn’t gotten me to start taking long walks, or go to the gym, or any of that stuff, but it has made me increase my movement more than anything else ever has.
You know what requires some steps? Cleaning! I have always wished I could stay more on top of my house responsibilities, and now, I have this additional ridiculous excuse to give me a push. Swiffer the floor…a couple hundred steps, vacuum the bedroom…a couple hundred more, put something away instead of waiting until I am going in that room anyway….you get the point.
So, it is highly likely that my step tracker was just the right tool at the right time for me, and not something that can help other entrenched snarky non-exercisers, but for a hundred bucks, it might be worth a go.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additional the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
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