Tech-Aided Weight Loss—Does It Work?

Potential Pitfalls of the Fitbit and Other Wearable Fitness Devices

by BodyLogicMD


If you’ve been eyeing an expensive fitness tracker to help you lose weight, a recent study suggests that you may want to save your money. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that wearable gadgets may be less effective than plain old diet and exercise interventions in aiding weight loss. In fact, their use in conjunction with a weight loss program may actually backfire.

In the JAMA study, 471 overweight or obese young adults were put on the same low-calorie diet and asked to exercise more, and while everyone dropped weight, those who used fitness trackers lost an average of five pounds less than those who didn’t.

Why? Aren’t these wearables supposed to track your activity so that you’re motivated to exercise more? John Jakicic, the lead study author and University of Pittsburgh health researcher, thinks that wearables may inflate your sense of achievement. If you’ve walked or exercised a lot on a particular day, it could make you think you can indulge more. Another possibility is that the information logged can be discouraging; if you know you will fail to meet your fitness goals on a given day, you might give up on moving altogether. Lastly, it’s possible that fitness trackers provide a false sense of security, giving you the idea that you don’t have to pay as much attention to your activity or food intake because the device is taking care of that.

The study sought to determine whether the addition of wearable technology would improve weight loss when compared to a stand-alone weight loss program. It randomly divided participants between the ages of 18 and 35; one group was given and encouraged to use wearable technology and the other group was asked to self-report their diet and physical activity on a website. They were monitored over the course of two years, and all of them received nutrition and exercise counseling throughout. The group wearing devices lost 7.7 pounds on average while those who self-reported lost 13 pounds—quite a difference.

Both groups showed significant improvements in body composition, fitness, and diet—which means both interventions produced beneficial health results, regardless of pounds shed. However, the study suggests that wearable devices are not a magic weight loss bullet, and that there are probably better ways to lose weight.

One thing this study makes absolutely clear—which Jakicic echoes in his recommendation that these tech companies focus on developing features in their wearables that positively impact human behavior—is that behavior is the single most powerful factor when it comes to losing weight. And changing your diet and exercise behaviors is the tried-and-true method that is most effective. But as you’ve probably experienced, sticking with it is near impossible without guidance and support.

If you’re going to keep wearing the FitBit, a word to the wise—don’t make it the only tool you use on your weight loss journey. The practitioners of the BodyLogicMD network are dedicated to helping patients develop a diet and exercise program that suits their needs, goals, and schedule. Every practitioner is dedicated to working with you to understand your weight loss struggles, to identify the root cause of any health issues you may be having, and to develop a nutrition and weight loss plan that meets your needs. Contact a BodyLogicMD physician today for a customized health plan that really works.

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